Recently, the video of hundreds of slaughtered cattle, was making the rounds, on various social media platforms. An old classmate posted it on my Secondary School Class WhatsApp platform; and because he neither spoke Fulfulde nor Hausa, he was sufficiently alarmed, to request for translation of what was being said, by the obviously distressed people, in the video. I made a translation of the conversation; but I thought it was proper to provide some more engaging context for the video. There have been circulated in.the recent past, several videos, in the same vein, of the slaughter of cattle; the wholesale massacre of Fulbe clans, which has, especially, become rampant in the South-East of the country.
The people in the most recent video, were asserting that 1,200 of their cattle, were slaughtered by some people. Who those people were, they never mentioned. We were not even sure of exactly what the location of the dastardly act was! But the killing of the cattle of the Fulbe, either in locations of farmer-herder conflicts, such as Southern Kaduna; the poisoning of rivers to kill cattle, in places like Plateau State; the rustling of cattle in many states of the Northwest; the systematic killing of cattle, and slaughtering of entire clans of Fulbe people in the Southeast, have fuelled the “banditry” and vicious blowback taking place, all over the country.
Thousands and thousands of herds of cattle have been lost, to people whose entire lifestyle was constructed around cattle and a pastoral economy: as store of value; family assets; and a culture (a way of life). Most of the crimes committed against pastoralists are not adequately captured in media reportage, or in popular discourse. What has been over-pubicised and weaponised, are attacks by Fulbe nomads and “banditry”; often reported within dangerous ethnic frames. The slaughtering of 1,200 cattle, in that video, meant the end of a lifetime of existence, for those affected. Of course, it probably won’t get reported, and they are not likely, ever to receive compensation from any levels of governmental authority. Nor are they likely to be served any form of justice, in terms of adequate forms of punishment, for the perpetrators of the crime! But there are often, young men affected, in such circumstances, who can never be pastoralists, anymore.
However, they have an intimate knowledge of the bush, its routes, and its hidden places; they are aware, that there are several groups inside bushes, around the country, who now earn huge sums of money, kidnapping people for ransom; huge ransoms! They will join them, or form their own groups! It’s an economic necessity and for them, compensation for all they’ve lost; and the fact that there’s no government anywhere, to offer them succour. In reality, we have descended into a Hobbesian State of Nature, where life is “Nasty, Brutish and Short”!
Unfortunately, instead of seeing the hard-nosed political economy underpinning the problem, most of the elite response to the phenomenon, is ethnic: “Fulani terrorists”; “Fulani kidnappers”; “Fulani herdsmen”, etc. The Fulbe, as a people, are profiled in hate and dangerous speech. And ordinary people have become de-sensitized to profiling, because it has become everyday language of social discourse.
It might assuage emotional ethnic anger, and deepen fear and hatred of the Fulbe, as they do amongst the Yoruba and Igbo, and other ethnic groups; and they might also offer platforms of mobilisation of ethnic feelings of solidarity, as permanently exploited, by Afenifere and OPC; Biafran militants in the Southeast; or the construction of a “Masada Complex” for an incompetent, and frankly irresponsible, Governor, like Ortom in Benue, who has systematically failed in every indices of governance in Benue State, but has retained a permanent propaganda onslaught against the Fulbe, as his excuse for failure! The truth is that, in the long run, no problem is solved!
The emotional and ethnic hatreds deployed against the Fulbe, won’t stop banditry, or the kidnaps. Systematic and targeted killings of the Fulbe, won’t solve the problem either. The reason is simple; the political economy underpinning the issue has never been examined, for a genuine resolution. And that’s the loss of livelihood; lifestyle and a store of value, which pastoral economies represent, to pastoralist communities.
These issues have been a source of tremendous worry for me over the years; and they have inspired my choice of topic for study in school. My PhD thesis is titled: “FARMER-HERDER CONFLICTS AND NATIONAL SECURITY IN NIGERIA: AN ANALYSIS OF REPORTAGE BY THE NIGERIAN PRESS, 2010-2019”. I examined 18,250 copies of Daily Trust, Leadership, The Nation, The Punch and Vanguard newspapers, over ten years. We then selected 6,020 copies to analyse the reportage, covering Kaduna, Nasarawa and Plateau States. I have a fair amount of understanding of the issues involved. And I conducted Focus Group Discussions in six LGAs in the three states; I spoke with leaders of herders and farmers too.
The systematic erosion of competence of the Nigerian State, especially from mid-1980s, with the implementation of imperialism’s neoliberal policies, has dramatically driven or provided an ambience, for the farmer-herder conflicts, that morphed into the vicious banditry and rural conflicts, in most of Northern Nigeria today, but especially in the NorthWest. That’s along with several other related factors.
There’s also the fact that pastoral production is little understood by people, whose roots are located in sedentary farming practices. The migration of herds which is central to pastoral production, has become particularly controversial, with the explosion of population. At independence in 1960, our population was about 30million people, so the common resource pool, was available for the pastoralists and farmers alike. Today we have over 215 million people. The struggle for resources between the two communities, has consequently, become fierce.
Take what became the FCT; it used to be a huge grazing meeting point for pastoralists, from near and far. When we chose to build a new Federal Capital here, it was done, without provisioning for the pastoralists, who used to gather here annually, to graze their herds. Today, people are shocked when they see cattle being moved around Asokoro; Maitama and other areas of bourgeois residency. But the pastoralists are oblivious to the prejudices of the bourgeoisie! They know this place had historically been cattle grazing grounds!
There’s an absence of basic historical knowledge, within governmental and policy circles, about these realities. That absence of historical knowledge, is also tied to a most horrible quantum of prejudice against pastoralists, as an occupational group, and the Fulbe, as a people.
Yet, from about the end of the Second World War, even the colonial authorities were becoming very much aware, that unless we adequately plan, and manage the relationship between pastoral production and sedentary farming practices, there was the likelihood of problems into the future. I have seen several colonial documents in the National Archives, on these matters.
There have been some half-hearted efforts in recent years, to find some resolution, by a succession of Nigerian administrations; but these have often met very systematically orchestrated campaigns in the media, especially in the Southern press, and within etho-regional groups, who often frame such efforts to find ways to mitigate farmer-herder conflicts, as efforts at the appeasement of the Fulbe.
Faced with such orchestrated campaigns, the Nigerian State has been hamstrung, in efforts to implement several initiatives to find resolution. So we are locked in a vicious circle: pastoral production is in serious crisis, hobbled by the hostility of farming communities; the struggle over resources of land, watering holes and stock routes, dispose the pastoralists to terrifyingly violent conflicts with farmers, as a result of destruction of farmlands, by grazing herds of cattle.
Meanwhile, elite groups ride these conflicts, to mobilise ethno-religious and regional constituencies, as platforms of access to negotiate power. There is a consequent deepening of prejudice and hatred, especially against pastoralists, and by extension, against the Fulbe. Top politicians, like the late Chief Bola Ige, notoriously profiled the Fulbe, as the “Tutsis of Nigeria”, during the late 1990s, against the backdrop of the Rwandan Genocide. Such frames of mind are still very much alive, within media circles, and in social discourse.
There is an alarming level of desensitisation of the public to the profiling of the Fulbe; and there’s a current of the “Fulanisation” of violence. And because of deep-seated prejudice and ignorance, appointments of people of Muslim/Northern origin, who might be Kanuri or other ethnic communities, are regularly described as “Fulani”.
In my view, there are very serious problems confronting us, related to the lack of resolution of the controversies around pastoral production; the management of the resources, that pastoralists must continue to share with sedentary agricultural production; along with the reality that neoliberal capitalism is obviously not working; and the period since the mid-1980s, that we’ve been locked so deeply into the entrails of the Washing Consensus, has wrought so much damage, to every aspect of our national life.
We have massively deindustrialised; public education has been in utter crisis, for over three decades; there’s no social safety net for the mass of the Nigerian people; the state has lost the capacity to effectively manage conflicts, because the nature of the Nigerian state transformed; from a developmental state, in the first two decades of independence, to one existing just to service private accumulation.
And with an overwhelming majority of the population, 75% being under the age of 35, the neo-colonial, neoliberal capitalist economy, is not creating jobs. On the contrary, it is manufacturing frustrated youth, who are either drug addicts or dreaming of quiting the country. Neoliberal capitalism is also turning young pastoralists into hardened criminals and bandits; and destroying the entire fabric of nationhood in Nigeria. Nigeria cannot resolves its banditry problem, or the associated issues around pastoral production, with the same failed policies, dictated by imperialism.