The Upper Crust

Herdsmen and ethnic profiling

With Uche Nnadozie

Ekiti state governor, Ayo Fayose got me feeling bad again on Saturday. It is not his first time, but this time, I just wondered what a state actor like him will benefit by continuous stoking of ethnic bias in a multicultural country like Nigeria. Being a state governor, in spite of his aspiring maverick instincts, should come with some decorum. Alas, the man has shown that it is impossible to bend dry crayfish without breaking it. In whatever we do, there must be some level of responsibility. But not for this man. His tweet on Saturday summed up his mindset: “One Fulani herdsmen whose cows destroyed farmlands in Ekiti was jailed yesterday! That to me will serve as deterrent to others”. Forget the wrong tenses, Fayose should not be caught doing this kind of reporting,

This sort of bad behaviour has become a norm in our country. What is patently wrong is skewed to look normal. Mainstream media started this. Then the social media seized it and it has become standard practice. Again in a multi-ethnic country like ours, it is evidence of deep bigotry to find this kind of language in the public space. Don’t get me wrong, it is not as if we do not know that most Nigerian herdsmen are Fulanis. It is not as if it is a hidden fact that the traditional Fulani is nomadic in nature who goes from place to place with his animals looking for greens for them. In Nigeria, a country of over 250 ethnic groups, we understand the specialties of most of the groups. Herding cattle is a sort of pastime for the Fulani.

Therefore, if in the course of urbanisation, desert encroachment as a result of climate change and other factors, these herdsmen who are mostly from the northern part of the country-a part that suffers desert encroachment begins to experience movements in search of grass there certainly will be conflicts. And these conflicts predates this century. It is only escalated as a result of the factors listed above. Again, none of the causative factors are enough to engender the kind of violence we have witnessed in the past ten years at least. Many lives have been lost and are still been lost in different parts of the country. Properties have been destroyed. Businesses have been ruined and families dislocated. Sometimes, it appears matters about herdsmen are so emotive that we lose track of reasoning.

It is the emotions of the conflict that gave rise to the use of the wrong words to verbalise the atrocities of the herdsmen. Reporting “Fulani herdsmen arrested” by most media is unfair. One, what this sort of messaging conveys is that it is only the Fulani that can rear cattle. Secondly, it could also mean that it is only the herdsmen who are Fulani that ends up stirring conflicts all around. Third, it could mean that it is only herdsmen who are Fulani that looks for trouble or are always the protagonists in all of the conflicts involving them and farmers or indeed locals. Yet, we do not see such ethnic attachment to other crimes in the country. I do not see for example, folks in the social media or mainstream media or even Fayose say, “Yoruba Yahoo boys nabbed in mid-night raid by police”. We do not also see “Igbo pregnant girls picked up by police from baby factories”.

We can hazard a guess as to why these descriptions and appellations are discriminatory as we see. People are simply determined to pin misbehaviours to the Fulani for obvious hatred. We see Igbo people all the time arrested in far flung countries for drug trafficking. We also see Yoruba people or people who bear Yoruba names arrested both in Nigeria and beyond over identity theft and credit card scams, yet we never see news outlets or social media lords ethnicise the alleged crimes. They are always addressed as Nigerians. It is our burden and rightly so, the crimes are pinned to Nigeria- not Igbo, not Yoruba! The hatred folks have for the Fulani surely makes for a serious research. Is it just politics or there must be something else?

All the same, within the country, it is important that the media ensures that ethnic groups are not labeled in an attempt to discriminate. It is wrong and antiquated. The Nigerian media must seize to use such descriptions going forward. In the same vein, Nigerian politicians must make efforts to show grace and poise in engaging with the public. Perception is important. It is not as if any crime is committed putting “Fulani” while reporting on a crime allegedly committed by herdsmen; it is just that it is primitive and unsightly to appear to stoke discrimination even as a public officer. If public officials and politicians do not recognise the line between good and not so good, how will the populace find the way? Leadership is key in times of national tensions. In all we do, we cannot afford to be hypocritical. There is no one that will escape a situation which forces heavens to fall. It will fall on all of our heads!

In hindsight, herdsmen themselves should realise that the rest of the country cannot continue to call them out all the time for entirely negative purposes. Be they Fulani or not, there has to be restraint in the way and manner they carry out their business. And to Fayose, it is not only the Fulani that must make money from cattle rearing. Ekiti can. With what the Kebbi governor is doing with rice, who says instead of his frequent altercation with the herdsmen that go to Ekiti to graze, let the state in conjunction with the private sector set up a modern ranch. That is a better and progressive thing the governor can be known/remembered by, not this kindergarten discriminatory verbalisation that has come to characterise his persona.


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