With an AK47 hung across his shoulders, weather-beaten raft hat perched on the head and a not-too-concealed dagger stuck into the waist of his trousers, the Fulani herdsman is a common sight across Nigerian highways and in interior bushes and farmlands as he traverses villages, towns and states. With hissing sounds with which he communicates with his herd, and with the use of the stick when necessary, the Fulani herdsman can be seen guiding his herd in search of greener pastures to graze on. The Fulani herdsman can herd alone or in a pair.
That remains the image of the Fulani herdsman. However, the impression of a harmless herdsman has since disappeared from the minds of most Nigerians following cases of clashes between these now mostly heavily-armed herdsmen and members of the communities they take their herds to graze, not to mention confirmed cases of Fulani herdsmen going outside their trade to engage in sinister activities like armed robbery, kidnap and rape.
Spread across the vast dry hinterlands of Northern Nigeria, a significant proportion of Fulanis (an estimated 13 million) are nomadic, making them the largest pastoral nomadic group in the world, according to wikipedia.
The meat of adult cattle is a staple food in Nigeria, and the Fulanis, who remain the major source, go round the country rearing these cattle till they are old enough to be sold for consumption.
However, they have apparently added more to their cattle trade: sorrow, tears and blood!
The blood these Fulani herdsmen have shed as well as the sorrow and tears they have brought to the rest of the country are no longer news. The news presently is the level and frequency. In Abia State, South-Eastern Nigeria, three local government areas mainly affected by their activities are Umunneochi, where incidentally the cattle market is located, Bende and Ohafia.
Indigenes of some communities in these council areas have been complaining of the activities of these Fulani herdsmen, ranging from destruction of crops on their farm to raping of their women.
There was a case in point in Uzuakoli where a man nearly lost his life when he went to rescue his wife being attacked by these men.
The herdsmen have become so emboldened that they were alleged to have hoisted a flag somewhere in Ohafia, declaring it a “Fulani Republic”. This attracted the attention of Abia State House of Assembly which ordered an investigation into it.
The incidence of Fulani herdsmen/natives clash is minimal in the predominantly riverine Bayelsa State where the bulk of the population especially in the rural enclave are involved in fishing and small-scale farming.
Unfortunately, the farmlands the women labour under the scorching sun to cultivate are frequently destroyed by cattle brought for grazing by Fulani herdsmen, thereby pitching the defenceless rural women against the heavily-armed herdsmen.
But for the swift intervention of the chiefs and the Community Development Committees (CDCs) of the communities, such crisis could have snowballed into violence as sometimes witnessed at Aruke and Ogboropre farmlands on the bank of the River Forcados.
It was gathered that the incessant face-off between the herdsmen and the rural women over the destruction of the latter’s farmlands, informed the decision of the leadership of the communities to bar the Fulani herdsmen access to their communities, especially the farmlands, a development responsible for the relative peace in the rural enclave.
In Cross River State, conflict between Fulani herdsmen and farmers leading to loss of lives and property in virtually all parts of the state is a familiar occurrence.Early this year, two communities in the Northern part of the state, Wanikade and Wanihem were involved in a communal conflict where over seventeen people received gunshot wounds and machete cuts following disagreement between the two whether to allow herdsmen settle and graze their cattle along their common border. While one was amenable to it, the other was averse to it and after verbal exchanges and squabbles, the disagreement led to communal conflict.
In July 2014 the of Ntan Obu in Odukpani Local Government Area in the Southern part of the state was attacked by Fulani herdsmen in collusion with villagers from Ikpanya in neighbouring Akwa Ibom which left over fifty people dead and almost all residential homes set ablaze.
What led to the crisis was the reported lease of the flood plains, a rich grassland belonging to the Ntan Obu people to one Alhaji Bature to graze his cattle by their Ikpanya neighbours which did not go down well with the Ntan Obu people who preferred to use the rich soil for planting of crops after the floods, which usually over flow the place, have receded.
Angered by the refusal of the Ntan Obu people to allow them the use of the land, the Fulani herdsmen in collaboration with the Ikpanya villagers who had leased the land to them, invaded Ntan Obu on the night of July 16 and killed over fifty people including the chief of the community.
The menace of the Fulani herdsmen across Ondo State got to a boiling point last week when the state government wielded the big stick by announcing the ban on night grazing, stoppage of the movement of cows in the night across the state and rearing of cattle within Akure and its communities.
Findings by Saturday Vanguard showed that the Northern senatorial areas of the state are worst hit by the activities of the herdsmen, being agrarian communities.
The four council areas in the Northern parts of the state, Akoko South East, South West, North East and North West, are the troubled spots where several clashes had occurred between the nomads and the farmers.
Also, Ogbese in Akure North, Ala River in Akure South where the hand of a farmer was chopped off by some of the herdsmen that invaded his farm, Owo in Owo council area and Ifon in Ose council areas are also flashpoints .
Also, the incessant invasion of the farmland of the former Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), Chief Olu Falae and his eventual kidnap in Ilado area of Akure North has been a source of concern, until recently when security was provided for the elder statesman.
The crisis between the Agatu in Benue and the Fulani herdsmen is an extension of attack on Agatu communities in Nasarawa State. The Agatu in Nasarawa State have suffered endless attacks by the Fulani marauders that have led to the death of thousands and destruction of properties since September last year. More than 300 people were reported to have been killed by Fulani herdsmen who invaded and occupied the area in Benue. The police and other military forces appear helpless.
There were reported cases of unswerving killings of Agatu farmers on their farms, raping of Agatu women and destruction of farm produce by suspected Fulani militias till last week.
Nasarawa over the past five years has never known peace as a result of Fulani invasion of several villages. Both the Eggons, Tivs and Alago communities have had their own share of Fulani attacks which have left hundreds dead and propert
The ugly clashes between Fulani herdsmen and local farmers is becoming alarming in Adamawa State that no single week passes by that there are no reported cases of cattle rearers/farmers feud resulting in the destruction of lives and property.
The fertile land along the bank of the River Benue provide available places for farmers, while their cattle rearers counterparts capitalize on the green vegetation for their animals. Therefore, communities, villages and local government areas that fall within the bank of the River Benue are most affected by the unending farmers/cattle rearers bloody clashes as the hostilities continue unabated, even as the herdsmen move from one place to another.
Most vulnerable local governments in Adamawa State are Fufore, Girei, Demsa, Numan, Lamurde and Yola South.
Other local government areas not speared by the ugly trend are Guyuk and Shelleng situated within the Kiri Dam Project that provide fertile land for farming and pastoring.
The boldest attempt yet at finding a lasting solution to this menace remains the 2014 bill entitled ‘A law to make provisions for the control of nomadic cattle rearing in Enugu State and other matters related thereto’, by the Enugu State House of Assembly that sought to regulate cattle rearing in the state. The bill stipulated that herdsmen who take their cattle to unauthorized areas would be guilty of a criminal offence, and that grazing areas would be marked and any grazing outside the approved areas would amount to breach of the law and punishable under the law. Sponsored by the Chairman, House Committee on Agriculture, and member representing the Nsukka East Constituency, Chinedu Nwamba, the bill made provisions for the establishment of grazing reserves for cattle rearers in all the 17 local government areas of the state.
The then Speaker of the Enugu State House of Assembly, Eugene Odo, had dispelled insinuations that the bill was just targeted at Fulani herdsmen. Odo rather said the proposed law was aimed at promoting peace, mutual cooperation and security in Enugu State.
However, sources said the political will to pass the bill was far from being near which culminated in its abandonment.
Not a few Nigerians had looked forward to President Muhammadu Buhari extending his change mantra to the menace of Fulani herdsmen.
However, not much has been seen in the form of change in Nigeria generally, let alone a perceptible change in how these herdsmen go about their trade.
Speaking in January, on conflicts between farmers and herdsmen, while receiving a delegation from the Centre for Humanitarian Dialogue, an organization active in the promotion of peace in Nigeria,President Buhari said that a plan to map out grazing areas would soon be presented to the Nigerian Governors’ Forum (NGF) as a temporary solution to the frequent conflicts until cattle owners are persuaded to adopt other means of rearing their cattle.
Many Nigerians are waiting its implementation and if it will bring about a final solution to this menace.