The Oasis Reporters
March 18, 2018
I often mourn myself. The things I see and the intelligence I lack to keep my mouth shut about them. The fact that every day in Nigeria somebody dies, nay, somebody is killed, killed by somebody. Today in Benue, tomorrow, Taraba. The next day Kogi.
The fact that we have become accustomed to tragedy, so accustomed that the massacre of souls in scores comes generally as mere dailies, to be commented upon by analysts. Critics will say it is bad, and blame government. Government may commiserate with the relatives of victims; and that’s all. The fact that life has become so cheap that any dagger can afford it. The fact that there is no justice for those who are unjustly killed; the fact that there is no protection from being unjustly killed.
Permit me to begin by indicating my fears and hope. The job I have undertaken to do in this essay may qualify for hate speech. Not even in the manner in which people may expect. For critics of the anti-hate speech bill are concerned about the activities and crimes of politicians. They argue that the hate speech bill is targeted at people who would criticize the politicians for their anti-people activities. But here is not a critique of politicians or of government.
I have undertaken to ask a question that is very dangerous and offensive.
I have the fear that I may be attacked for raising essentially racist sentiments. And because it can rouse the anger of a segment of the Nigerian society, I am afraid I will cause a stirrup in the enduring peace and tranquility of this country and by so doing be chargeable for producing hate material [and we have heard that the proposed penalty for hate speech is death by hanging].
I have only expressed what my fears are: I do not certainly know that here exactly is a hate speech. But even if eventually it is one, that certain knowledge shall only be established after the legislature has passed its bill, that is, enacted the law of hate speech. And here lies my hope; that whatever I am going to say here does not breach any existing Nigerian law. And I will not be punished for an act that violates no Nigerian law. More importantly, it is my fervent hope that this paragraph will not be read to a magistrate as a confessional statement.
Is my fear assuaged?
Not certainly. For we know that law is not a factor in our country. And that death is surer than breakfast. Those who die, die for fun. And those who undertake to toe the path of truth are lovers of mortal risk, for truth itself is a death sentence. Yet I am not bullied from this path, for the thing we are forbidden to say, so as to prevent furor in the short term, are the things that destroy us perpetually. The reality we are not allowed to talk about do not cease to be reality because we seal our mouths, rather, they kill us, and we look them in the eye, and look at one another, and die silently, speechlessly. And the downside of the hate speech law is that it will mute us from our reality, perpetuate the hegemony of death for death’s sake, and indulge some few people who benefit from the structure which feeds on massive death.
But I have no malice in doing this. My intention is that if we can answer the questions about the germane issues, we may have the solution to our very critical problems. I heard you say I’ve been beating about the bush. So I go straight to my crime.
What is it that makes the Fulani herdsman convenient with killing? It seems the Fulani herdsman is very convenient in killing another human. The way they go about killing with or without provocation suggests this. Incidents of barbaric killing of farmers on their farms have been numerously reported. The killing in Benue that sent 73 people to the graves in the early days of January were unprovoked, at least if we understand provocation in a way that makes the victim a principal participant in the provocative act.
In the recent killing spree that left 24 people dead in Benue on the 5th of March is instructive. It was rumored that the herdsmen attacked the village because their cows were stolen or missing. Realizing that their cows had been stolen, the next course of action this people deemed fit was to enter the village and kill human beings. This is despite the that they were still going to kill about 20 while they buried their dead.
The idea of killing people is hard to take down the throat. Killing, even in military combat, is dastardly. And the human mind generally perceives killing of human as the remotest debased trait of man. War is seen as barbaric among thinkers of all ages, and violence against one’s own specie is dastard, to such extent that some thinkers have linked the human trait of violence genetically to animals’ barbaric acts of violence against their own species.
In the present time, however, humanity seems to have grown somehow above the general savagery of the uncivilized human community. Humanity has tried some internal self-regulation. The last century was a century of landmark barbarity. Millions of souls perished in armed clashes between nations. The First World War and the Second World War. Civil wars in America, Nigeria and around Africa. Humanity itself was alarmed at and appalled by the global carnage of those times. And humanity does not hope to experience such again. The establishment of the United Nations at the end of World War II and peace keeping projects at the international arena are evidence of this.
If this is the case, why is it convenient for the Fulani herdsman not to cringe at the idea of killing people? These are killings that do not take place in mutual armed combats. This is just the habit of invading places and destroying their people. This habit, enjoyed by these people, seems to be more characteristic of them than any other people in this country. If this is true, then the question remains urgent: what makes dastard killing convenient for the Fulani herdsman?
One, the Fulani herdsman has the killing instinct in his genetic trait. This claim, though in need of laboratory test and confirmation, does not hang solely on the brushwood of metaphor. The dastard conviction and commitment with which the killings are carried out suggests that such desires are native to the natural composition of a Fulani herdsman.
Second, if the first is unconvincing, then we should attend to nurture and culture, to the spiritual embroidery of the Fulani herdsman. Here we shall find his ideology; then it would mean that the Fulani herdsman has an ideology whose primary doctrine is the extermination of people. In-between this alternative is the untenable claim that the herdsman’s dastardly habit is a consequence of some mental disorder. But we know that a whole band of herdsmen cannot be mentally infected at the same time.
There, however, is the possibility of the argument that the cause of the deadly attacks is simply the desire to protect property, namely cattle, and the business of it. This is the argument for grazing route, the one that the Minister of Defence once advanced. This argument is very attractive if considered blindly from the point of view of right to work anywhere in the country. But it is clear that not only is such a right invalid where cattle are made to graze upon another man’s hard-worked farmland, destroying the property; it is also easy to see that launching mass killing on people because of subsistence is base and uncivilized. If in this age, some people can still build a direct and necessary link between subsistence and genocide, then either such peoples are not meant for this age, or they deserve a different country.
Here then seems the way forward. Victims should not share a space with their killers. In this regard we are all victims, all of us who reside in this territory and do not belong to the herdsman lineage. It is suicide sharing space with them. But this will not work. We already share space and it seems there’s nothing that we can do about it. More so, the tribe to which these herdsmen belong has been in this territory since the early 1800s, and had dominated the North of the territory even before the colonials came. Thus, they are rightful members of the space we are in, as much as the victims are.
Moreover, the members of that tribe, and these groups that are devoted to killings in the tribe, have infiltrated the larger part of Nigeria, become almost as natives, and become major forces in many communities north and south—at least as agents of fear. Importantly, we have shared administration with them; and the Fulani tribe to which these herdsmen belong are the major force in the administration of Nigeria. They dominate the North, and in as much as it is safe to say that the North dominates the south, then the Fulani dominate Nigeria. Therefore, the idea of not sharing space with the herdsman is lost.
Fate, then, is what victims are left with. To accept it as their fate to live with the herdsmen and die in their hand. This reality of fate has been reinforced by the nonchalant attitude of the Fulani-led Federal Government to the killings of innocent people around the country. Since killings have continued without a single killer arrested by the law enforcement agencies, it is clear that either the hand of the Federal Government is too short to save, or the hand of the Federal Government is present in the damnation of the citizens.
None of the two alternatives is good news.
And fate too is not attractive. Should victims accept this horrible fate, then they will soon be wiped out of the face of the earth. If this is true, which of course it is, then one may consider that resistance to the herdsman is the way to go.
Resistance to the herdsman is certainly justified by the right of people to defend themselves even at the death of their assailant. Local resistance to the herdsman, however, requires locally armed groups or fighters, what in common parlance is called militias. And we know that the government has never demonstrated hesitation in imprisoning local militias.
What then is our salvation?
This is where my crime is. If the government continues in it’s failing to redeem its name from the widespread allegation that it is committed to a herdsmen project of exterminating people, shouldn’t Nigerians stop electing people of the tribe of the herdsman to the executive government of this country?
It seems that when there is no executive backup for the bloodthirsty herdsman, he will not kill people just as much as he pleases. But as long as the bloodthirsty herdsman senses the presence of executive backup, whether through direct mandate and handshake, or by mere condoning and overlooking, he will always say to his victim: I will kill you and nothing will happen to me. [I know the tough political implications of this approach, but I cannot address all issues at once].
The points raised above are about the Fulani herdsmen and not about the Fulani ethnic group. No one sure wants to make the untenable claim that Fulani people are killers. The Fulani herdsmen are one thing, the Fulani ethnics another. Nevertheless, claims made about the notoriously bloodthirsty herdsman are applicable to non-herdsmen Fulani individuals who either have a soft spot for the activities of the herders or sympathize with them.
Written by Deji Adesoye.
Deji Adesoye is a writer and commentator on public affairs, often viewing issues from the prism of philosophical existentialism