At a security summit organized by Southeast governors to evaluate the state of insecurity in the region in particular and Nigeria in general, the Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association of Nigeria (MACBAN) who were graceously invited to share ideas on the subject jolted the array of stakeholders at the forum. They proposedt to set up a vigilance group exclusively comprising of Fulanis in Igboland. According to the president of MACBAN, represented by Alhaji Baba Ngelzarma, secretary of the group, the Fulani youth outfit, when established, would work closely with security agencies, neighbourhood watch or local vigilance group to ensure the security of lives and property in all the communities.
The response from the governors of the zone was swift. David Umahi, chairman of Southeast Governors’ Forum, rejected the proposal. Speaking on behalf of his colleaguees, Umahi unequically declared that there is no room for a sweeping appropriation of ancestral lands to be handed over to cattle herders for their private ventures. “I find it extremely strange for anybody to think that non-locals in any part of the country, including the South East could be allowed to form vigilante outfit,” the Ebonyi governor rightly stated. It was imperative for the governors to make the unambiguous declaration as the Miyetti Allah proposal elicited indignation and condemnation across the region.
From Ohaneze Nd’Igbo came a wholesome rejection of the idea. Classifying the MACBAN demand as preposterous, Chief Nnia Nwodo, president general of Ohaneze stated: “Ohanaeze opposes vehemently any attempt by Miyetti Allah to establish any form of vigilante in Igboland. These are people who have ravaged our farms, raped our women and slaughtered their husbands.” Noting that cattle herders now “technically enjoy immunity from arrest and prosecution as they freely display AK47 rifles not permitted to be used by civilians”, Chief Nwodo said that “extending this measure to them will turn them into an army of occupation and invite unavoidable confrontations with our youths. We will resist such a policy with every might available to us.” Similar sentiments have been expressed by Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), Movement for the Actualisation of the Sovereign State of Biafra (MASSOB) and, indeed, every group that believes in the peaceful co-existence of the people that make up Nigeria.
The single mindedness with which the Buhari administration has been pursuing the deployment of Fulani herders to every part of the country in the name of creating cattle colonies is reckless, divisive and seeks to harness the fault lines in our inter-ethnic relations. Some groups have labeled it a hidden agenda for land grabbing, some as Fulanisation of Nigeria while yet some see a religious undercurrent in the series of programmes to move Fulani people into other areas. Assuming none of perceptions is true, the federal government by the way and manner it has gone about the project given room for such interpretations.
The proposition is the latest in the series of advocacy programmes to advance the interests of the Fulani ethnic group and their businesses in the country. While Nigerians have been waiting for President Muhammadu Buhari to get governance going since he was sworn in for a second term on May 29, his administration has rather been rolling out series of measures to prop up the fortunes of his kinsmen. After the bid to establish cattle grazing routes came unstuck, the president pushed for cattle colonies to be established in all states of the federation. When the project could not be sold, the government came up with what it called the National Livestock Transformation Plan under the office of Vice President Yemi Osinbajo. Even while Nigerians are yet to understand what the plan was all about, up came another initiative which is apparently being driven without consultation given that the president is yet to constitute his council of ministers. The Ruga project as the new initiative is known is virtually the cattle colony in another name. The Ruga is a colony for Fulani cattle herders whereby the federal government would acquire large swathes of land in every state and develop them into business and residential sanctuaries complete with all amenities at public expense.
Of all the challenges confronting the country, it is worrisome that Buhari sees the deployment of Fulanis across the country as theissue deserving of prime attention. Coming against the backdrop of alarming militancy and impunity of armed Fulani groups that engage inkidnapping, unprovoked killing of farmers, raping of women as well as willful destruction of farmlands using their cows, President Buhari is showing gross insensitivity to our complex ethnic diversity and opens his administration to accusations of Fulani agenda he struggle to deny.
The country is facing a myriad and problems, including a regressing economy, high unemployment, escalating insecurity and deepening mistrust along ethnic lines. It does not need the unnecessary and avoidable burden now being foisted on her by the president’s narrow minded approach to nation building. The president should halt this descent into instability he is heading and take up the urgent task of creating the environment that will build the confidence of not just Nigerians but the international community to see the country as a serious partner in making the world a better place.