By Christie Doyin
Some weeks ago, I wrote about the drum beat of war, which I said might have started or might not have and I noted that it was pertinent that care must be taken so that the bubble will not burst and become the ill wind which do no one any good.
I stated then that it will certainly not be an issue between the Yoruba and the herdsmen alone, especially the herdsmen of Fulani extraction but a volatile and explosive war that may not be civil at all. Now see what is happening.
I’m reiterating that the imbroglio between farmers, other land owners in Nigeria and the herdsmen has reached its crescendo and is so strong that if care is not taken, it will snowball into a war that may exceed the already anticipated civil war and one that could become a regional war that involves Fulani from across Africa and not only with the Yoruba but one that could become the Fulani and other Nigerians intercontinental war. Don’t see it as funny please!
That actually is not just the problem, the sad and most serious is the fact that the Nigerian government says it’s doing its best but it seems the best claimed does not seem to be yielding any result. Or how do you explain the stance of the president that is supposed to be constitutionally responsible for the wellbeing and security of the citizenry, playing dumb and when reacting at all, the reaction is either feeble or such that indicates he has the parochial interest of his clan only at heart, giving room for insinuation, rumours and of course some sort of alienation from the government of the day.
The issue now in Nigeria has gone beyond farmers and herders, it has actually turned to a political cum ethnic saga and if there is no active proactive move from government at all levels and other socio-religious stakeholders, then the country may be heading for war. The saddest part is that it might exceed what those beating the war drums ever thought. Rwanda is an example of what the outcome could be.
While reacting to the quit order issued to Fulani herdsmen across the south, especially in the South West, Barrister Jiti Ogunye, noted that “The right to freedom of movement and the right of the citizens of Nigeria to reside in any part of the Country guaranteed by the Constitution do not vest in citizens, indigenous or non indigenous, the right to trespass on private, communal or publicly acquired and controlled lands or forest.
He wrote that “Every land in Ondo State (and in virtually all the other states in the “Federation” of Nigeria) is owned by individuals, communities, villages, towns, sub-ethnic groups or the government (Federal and State Governments). Indeed, the lands that were acquired and controlled by the government, under the old Public Lands Acquisition Act or the extant Land Use Act were acquired from aboriginal and indigenous communities. Compensation was usually but not always paid by government for such acquisitions.
This implies that government itself recognizes that there are no “free, unowned, unpossessed lands” within the boundaries of Ondo State.
There are no free forest zones anywhere. For the forest reserves that are owned by the State Government, people (including indigenes) may not lawfully hunt for games or carry on logging activities therein without permit. It is criminal to do so. There is a “Forest Guards Department” in the Agricultural Ministry that enforces restrictions and disallows unauthorised entry! The forests are owned by peoples and government of the State.
“This being the case, it is indubitably an act of trespass (criminal or civil) for any herder or non-herder for that matter, to invade the lands, possess same and carry economic activities thereon; either of a nomadic/itinerant kind or permanent type”.
Some of his submissions have helped me so much in bringing the facts home, especially when viewed from legal angle. Actually, it is a fact that the right to freedom of movement and settlement do not permit a herder to constitutionally migrate from his part of the Country, neither does it permit them to unlawfully settle on another’s person’s land temporarily or permanently.
If this is so and there are laws in place to guide both government and the governed, I wonder why the central government is lackadaisical in taking appropriate steps to checkmate those excesses as being displayed by foreign and recalcitrant local Fulani herders and Boko Haram insurgents who have become neck deep in criminality and armed banditry, kidnapping, ransom harvests and several murders of innocent citizens in the forests, sometimes even after collecting ransom.
The one that has become worrisome is the constant visit of Sheikh Ahmad Gumi to the terrorists and insurgents enclaves. Actually, the visit is not the problem but his utterances at the enclaves and after the visits are such that are not only incisive but could be decisive and divisive.
I cannot imagine a self proclaimed mediator saying things that will not only be tantamount to beating drum of war but also could cause disintegration, unquenchable and unquestionable enmity. He is quoted as saying “In the military, there are Christians and Muslims; the Christians in the military are the ones killing you (bandits) to cause problems.” Gumi was heard saying this in a video of his address to bandits in one of the camps he visited.
He was also on a live TV programme, saying bandits were not interested in killing people and that the “few” they killed were “accidental.”
“And you call them killer herdsmen; how many people do they kill?
“When they kill, it is mostly accidental. But tell me who they have killed? How many? Few,” Gumi said during the interview.
It is not uncertain that the intercessor Gumi does not have a hidden agenda because it still baffles one what he intended to happen when he said Christian soldiers are the ones killing the insurgents. Is sanity not amiss somewhere? And to crown it all the Mallam Gumi is tagging those killed as “few” and “accidental”. Now let me give some concessions, agreed that those killed were just “few”, do they have to resort to violence or kill at all? Or in his dictionary of life a few deaths amount to nothing?
The Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF), Southern Kaduna Peoples Union (SOKAPU) and the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), have joined those who have condemned the Islamic cleric, Sheikh Ahmad Gumi over inciting comments on the fight against banditry, depicting Christian soldiers as the ones killing bandits. They have in their separate reactions, ACF, SOKAPU and CAN describe Gumi’s utterances as divisive and inciting.
Spokesman of the ACF, Mr. Emmanuel Yawe, called on the cleric to watch his utterances else he may gain the confidence of the bandits and lose the confidence of the people. “Where did he take the count to know that bandits kill only a few people? Gumi started a wonderful and laudable programme of dialogue with the bandits.
“For Gumi to succeed in his self-appointed task, he needs the confidence of the two – bandits and society.”
Also commenting on the utterances of the Islamic cleric in the video, the ACF spokesman said the easiest way to destroy a country was to take a fight from civilians into the military.
The sad thing is that the Presidency has said nothing in reaction to Gumi’s statement. Let us not forget that it took Garba Shehu less than 24 hours to shout loudly when Rotimi Akeredolu gave killer herdsmen quit notice.
*Doyin writes from Ilorin via e-mail:firstname.lastname@example.org
By Christie Doyin