Selecting a single word that reduces the three factors that make up the topic to a single expression, that word would be “surreptitious”. Slowly, stealthily and showing all but a lack of resolution in these series of unfortunate events that have been so intricately concealed under the veil of everyday living, edged on by both a powerful yet unconscious tendency to adapt on the part of humanity (who it seems would be worst affected by this befalling disaster) and nature’s unerring tendency for retribution. Borrowing an expression from the end of Christopher Nolan’s masterpiece and third instalment in The Dark Knight Trilogy, the scene where Miranda Tate, finally reveals herself as the real antagonist of the movie by stabbing in his side, a Batman who was unsuspecting, worn but fiercely motivated by his experience in the hellish pit of a prison from which he had recently escaped; “it is the slow knife; the knife that takes its time; the knife that takes years without forgetting then slips quietly between the bones, that’s the knife that cuts deepest”. In a similar way, we saw years of change slowly take its place around us without bothering to find out what brought them on. When the rains became uncharacteristically infrequent in some areas, we hoped for a return to regular climatic patterns in following years; when the same rains became disastrously heavy in other areas, we prayed it stopped and it never returned in the same way. When rivers stopped flowing and seas began to seem too salty, for whatever traditional purpose they served especially in agriculture, we sourced alternatives from elsewhere. When the deserts began to stretch past their natural borders, with severe negative impacts to people and cultures that originally lived around them, we politicked, cried out for help, did everything but develop a strong enough resolution to seek the roots of the problems with an ultimate aim of decisively solving them and thus, a little dog was left to grow into the three headed Cerberus in the form of desert encroachment; our self-created Hound of Hell, that has now come to haunt us.
In the post “The Vanishing Lake Chad and Why You Should Be Concerned About Global Warming” which accurately passes for a prequel to this post, the effects of the drying Lake Chad vis a vis its environmental and economic consequences and the role they played in freeing up the human capital from the Chad Basin that consequently birthed the Boko Haram menace which is being contended with by Nigeria, Niger, Chad and Cameroon today, was discussed. The post sought to iterate that before religious and political concerns could be employed as primers for terrorism, there first had to be a primary factor that exacerbated the economic vulnerability of the people in these regions and exposed them as easy prey to peddlers of radical political and religious ideologies. In this case, the primary factor was the drying up of the Lake Chad. In a similar light, the menace of herdsmen comes with different means even though the motivations and the results are pretty much the same.
On one end of the spectrum, one might ask about the nobility of defending their ways of life and sources of livelihood much like anyone might argue the herdsmen are doing. As the northern region of the country loses more of its arable and vegetative land area to the encroaching Sahara Desert and as the rains become less frequent, the pastures that make up the bulk of the source of food and water for the livestock which has historically been popular as a source of livelihood for many that live in this region as nomadic pastoralists, retreats. As itinerant, generally people who move around frequently with their merchandises, the southwardly encroaching desert triggers a natural southward migratory response as could be expected from anyone in that situation who might be affected. The history of the Fulani in Nigeria, tracing all the way back to Usman Dan Fodio himself, the one of the most prominent fathers of the Nigerian Fulani tribe, is quite peculiar and not entirely in a pleasant way. The seeming implications behind the history of the Fulani is one so strong that it has been popularly suggested that an attempt at a cover-up, prompted the exclusion of history as a subject in Nigerian primary and secondary schools.
To give a quick run through of Fulani history, although disputed, the tribe has been thought to have originated somewhere around Senegambia with their ancestors being supposed to have been from the Arab and North African Peninsula. The earliest albeit contested records of the first migrations of the Fulani has been placed at around the 5th Century where members of the tribe would begin an exodus from the Senegambian region, eastwards and southwards through Mauritania (then constituted the Ghana Empire – not today’s Ghana) with only a small fraction of the migrating population choosing to remain behind and settle in places where pasture crops and water was sufficient for their sustenance as well as that of their cattle herd. The Fula people would reorganise with a goal of expansion sometime in the 13th century and the first migration with this new motive would begin in 1450. The Fulani would continue moving southwards and eastwards, converting many to Islam wherever they went. The first recorded presence of the Fulani in Nigeria comes in around 1460 and their population would grow for over two hundred years until they became political threats to the existing Bornu, Kanuri and Kanembu Empires; the Hausaland of today. Through a jihad led by Usman Dan Fodio, in 1804, the Sokoto Caliphate would be established and only five years later, the rest of Hausaland with the exception of Bornu, would fall as the Fulani established political dominance over the original inhabitants of the region. The expansion would go as far as the conversion of the originally Yoruba region of Ilorin into another Fulani outpost and might have continued even further into the south but for the richer, technologically advanced and better equipped for war, British colonialists who inhabited more areas in the south together with the rest of the indigenous people.
From history, one may understand that the Fulani have characteristically been both migratory in nature and belligerent in places where their presences have been opposed – a peculiar set of behaviours that are still being exhibited today. The Fulani, although having a strong population (about 7 million people) scattered across Northern Nigeria are by no means a majority anywhere. Having fought for and won positions of power did fester an understandable although anachronistic (in this case) sense of entitlement within these people and it is arguably this particular way of thinking, the knowledge passed on from father to child over successive generations that the Fulani as conquerors, had a right to whatever they wanted, wherever they wanted it, that might serve as a point of origin for a great deal of violent encounters in which they have been involved over the years. The umbrella group for these herdsmen, “Miyetti Allah” in a recent statement justifying the actions of their murderous affiliates, pointed at the climatic conditions in Nigeria as the primary factor that necessitates the perpetuation of the herdsmen’s migration and the violence that comes with them, paying no respects to the livelihood of others or even acknowledging state boundaries at the very least. In essence and unapologetically, whichever way anyone looks at it, it is their right to move and to let their cattle graze as they see fit. If one was dealing with a better educated majority of people who better understood the modern day running of society and how things work, perhaps a way to fix this mess would lie within the reaches of diplomacy: one cannot simply walk into another’s land and begin letting their cattle feast on another’s farms. But in an instance such as this where illiterate AK-47 wielding marauders become invaders who have placed the lives and wellbeing of cattle above those of humans, then yes, the situation is a tad more complicated. As a society, legislation is employed as a means to either promote or prevent the perpetuation of certain acts or behaviours. In the case of the herdsmen, anti-grazing legislation has recently commonly been adopted to results that range from relatively effective in states like Fayose’s Ekiti to others like Benue where the continuation of herdsmen attacks come as some form of an argument against the effectiveness of anti-grazing laws. These pieces of legislation themselves have a fundamental flaw engrained in their purpose in that, it is quite difficult to express their necessity without making it into a personal affront against a specific group of Nigerian citizens; the herdsmen in this case, as they make up nearly the entirety of the affected population. However, in light of security concerns, legislation is half of one way to go and the reasons why this piece of legislation remain non-uniformly effective lies in another problem of law enforcement by the police. The security situation in the affected states from Nassarawa to Taraba, Benue, Plateau, Kaduna, etc. are the most unsettling developments as the body count form these rampaging herdsmen only continues to rise daily. The murders are being carried out with something like impunity with some even going as far as fingering the government and their security agencies in complicity. The ineffectiveness of the police in enforcing these laws has led to state issued calls to arms by civilians as seen in Ekiti and might very well be reproduced in other vulnerable states with Benue for example already stating its intentions to raise an army in self-defence if the condition continues. The UN has called the presidency to act decisively as this might descend into anarchy and probably another civil war that might split the country along its north and south axes; a situation which is not at all unlikely.
The problem is at least three pronged. First, there is an ideological problem that is first expressed as a conflict between modern day society and the Fulani history and tradition; there is a political problem regarding the respect for state borders and finally, there is the climatic problem involving global warming and its role in the acceleration of desert encroachment and unfortunately, these do not sum up to a situation that ranching/”cattle colonies” as a single suggestion, can solve. As a matter of fact, it has been well studied and documented that state sponsored ranching, more often turns out being unproductive to all parties involved and in the peculiar case of Nigeria, there are many variables that may promote negative outcomes ranging from territorial disputes and ethnic clashes when the regional socio-political environment is concerned, to legitimate agricultural concerns like the expected volumes of rainfall in a year, prospects of irrigation, the carrying capacity of the ranches and the how entry into the ranch (colonies in this case but largely as semantics – a large expanse of land primarily used as a pasture is the definition of a ranch) would be modulated to avoid over-grazing which would ultimately defeat the purpose of ranching. For example, a hypothetical situation where substantial amounts of land are assigned for ranching, the herdsmen bring in thousands of cattle and in a matter of weeks, the grass is spent. What happens next? Another one? An ideal solution to the herdsmen problem would holistically consider all of these factors and probably look to break the antiquated nomadic tradition in favour of modern day practises where livestock in reared in a specific locations and things like food and water are brought to the animals and not the other way round. This provides added advantages like better quality of produce, reduced exposure to wild animals and disease vectors while promoting fecundity within the herd under controlled conditions and giving the rest of the country peace of mind.
Regarding the irresponsible blame trading going on in the political ranks especially the presidency that has been mandated as a prime obligation by the constitution, in choosing to point fingers at people who were voted out three years ago, rather than take decisive action on these unfortunate events, beyond any measure of doubt, it puts into a harsh reality, the fact that the present administration is perhaps more concerned with making others look bad by blame trading than actually making itself look good by living up to the expectations to which it has been charged. However, between now and when the attacks would be brought under control, boycotting beef might be an effective means of expressing the discontent of the public.