President Jonathan wore a winsome smile while donning Fulani clothing and trying on the tribal hat. It was on March 19, 2015; a few days to the general election, and the day Miyetti Allah appropriated the former president as its life patron.
Jonathan panegyrised the pastoralists, describing them as a “major economic group in Nigeria”, and applauded their “substantial contributions to food security in the country”.
He said his administration was working at “developing cattle rearing in Nigeria to a level where the nation can earn higher revenues from meat exports”. It was reported that the former president made some “promises” to the group at this meeting. Though there had been previous meetings of pacific complexion; that of March 19 was very symbolic; it was to send a strong political message before the elections.
At the time Jonathan was companioning with Miyetti Allah, there was a raging herder-farmer crisis; there was banditry and kidnapping by some strayed herdsmen, but these tragedies were not enough ammunition for an explosion of outrage because the zeitgeist was that of “political convenience”; the government was desperate to win the heart of the north, and the southern-Christian population was not deliriously edgy about conspiracy theories of Fulani invasion and conquest of their lands because there appeared to be no logic or symphony in the sentiments – Jonathan was a Christian and from the south.
But what has changed? The head of the Nigerian leadership now is Fulani and so are some members of the commanding heights of the government. It is now politically convenient to put asterisks on the security crisis, and frame them sectionally. Though, I admit there have been incidents of attacks by some herdsmen across the country; I am strained to believe they are happening now because the president is Fulani. These attacks have always happened, and their seeming “eternality” is a blot on all Nigerian governments.
So, it is not outplaced to surmise that the rising “Fulaniphobia” is a protest against the government of President Buhari. This is just situational outrage.
Also, the ruckus over the proposed establishment of Ruga farm settlements across the country accents the deeply fractured lines of our country. On the one hand, we moan for an end to open grazing of cattle, but on the other hand, we fuss over a solution to the problem. Are we really committed to solving this crisis or do we extract some form of masochistic pleasure in outraging over the matter?
As it is, we do not want cattle herders to roam the land; we also do not want them to settle in it? In fact, some groups will want them removed far from their area. Why should this be the case? How does demonising and isolating a people who are an integral part of the country help in deescalating the current crisis?
We should condemn the attacks and criminality of the few persons in the cattle-herder fold, but we must not make an enemy of all herdsmen.
However, I must say, the right to cede land for the purpose of this exercise (Ruga settlement) resides with the people, even though the Land Use Act says otherwise. The people must be consulted and involved, and their fears allayed. Railroading through this psychological process and exerting control on the land of the locals will spur resistance, negative commentaries and conspiracy theories.
But I understand some governors had pledged to give out land for this purpose, perhaps, for political reasons, even without consulting their people. And now, some of them are playing possum following the outcry.
How do we solve the “herdsmen problem”? Do we really want it solved? If we do, then we must be willing to accommodate every Nigerian. Nigeria is for us all.