Fulbe nomads: From negative profiling to ethnic cleansing

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THE killing of innocent Fulbe nomads near Keana, Nasarawa state last week, by Nigerian soldiers, was an almost predictable tragedy. The Nigerian state has been priming to kill Fulbe nomads, to satisfy the yearnings of groups of the Nigerian elite, from different parts of the country. This was the ambition of even the ruling circles in states like Benue and Plateau, at the heart of conflicts between nomadic groups and farming communities in recent years. In a place like Plateau state, urban-based political conflicts were deliberately taken to Fulbe nomads in the rural areas; and in many instances, Fulbe nomads’ cattle were rustled. Nomads fight back with a ferocity that surprises their adversaries. Farming groups have children in elite circles and they control a tendentious Nigerian media that has systematically, negatively profiled nomads over the years.

The Nigerian media has not covered itself in glory in reportage of conflicts between farmers and nomadic Fulbe communities. When I worked in DAILY TRUST, the profiling of Fulbe people was an issue we regularly debated and to its credit, DAILY TRUST improved its reportage. But that is not the position with most of the Southern Nigerian media. THE NATION newspaper, for example, always seemed to have a deliberate agenda to negatively profile the Fulbe in its reportage. It seems unable or unwilling to see the danger of its consistent profiling.

Two Mondays ago, I spoke with Sam Omatseye, the Chairman of THE NATION’s Editorial Board about the reportage of the Fulbe. It just doesn’t change with THE NATION. So a few days after the massacre of innocent Fulbe nomads in Nasarawa which shocked people around the country, and ought to have made reportage more nuanced; on April 6, THE NATION ON SUNDAY reported on its page 5: “FULANI HERDSMEN KILL SIX, WOUND 14 IN TARABA”. That sounded definitive, until you read the first paragraph of the story: “Six people  lay dead yesterday in three Tiv and Jukun villages in Wukari Local Government Area of Taraba State following an attack THAT BORE SEMBLANCE WITH PREVIOUS ONES BY FULANI HERDSMEN” (capital mine!). There was no definitive report of an attack by Fulbe nomads, but just that what happened “BORE SEMBLANCE WITH PREVIOUS ONES BY FULBE NOMADS”, so THE NATION CONCLUDED Fulbe Nomads were responsible for the new atrocity! But that is irresponsible journalism! Journalism’s responsibility is to report the FACTS; journalism should NOT extrapolate a trend into reportage. But THE NATION did! Almost like it was pursuing an agenda against Fulbe nomads.

Genocide in Rwanda

This issue is very important, because the genocide in Rwanda, which happened 20 years ago this month, was preceded by a systematic profiling of the Tutsi; and the media, this time the radio, helped prepared the condition which facilitated the massacre of one million people! In the tragic killings in Benue, it is strange that up till this moment, not a single person has been arrested and brought for prosecution. This much was admitted by Gabriel Suswam, the Benue state governor, in the interview he gave to SUNDAY TRUST recently. It is equally instructive that Chief Paul Unongo also stated that people apprehended attacking some Tiv communities were discovered not to be Fulbe! But constantly, we read reports in newspapers of attacks by “Fulani nomads”. In the heightened hysteria against Fulbe nomads, even a governor suggested that the Federal Government should cleanse them from states in North Central Nigeria.

In that respect, the Niger State Government forcibly removed Fulbe nomads and deported them to Kaduna state a few weeks ago. The killings in Nasarawa portend serious danger for Fulbe nomads and the fact that Fulbe people were separated from other ethnic groups before being killed in cold blood by the Nigerian Army, is a new departure in the criminal behaviour by agents of the Nigerian state! I do not condone criminal acts carried out by Fulbe nomads or other groups and individuals, but it is unacceptable to profile an entire people as Nigerian elite groups, especially those in power and in the media, are doing to Fulbe nomads!.

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