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Nigeria’s Farmers Are Threatened By Herdsmen, Not The Other Way Round – Rejoinder To A New York Times Article

The Oasis Reporters

July 2, 2020

By Barrister Emmanuel Ogebe, Washington DC

The recent article “Nigerian herders face threat by farmers competing for land” in the New York Times was a classic “trifecta” on journalistic sophistry, western ignorance and victim-blaming.

Just to ferret out a few facts from a farrago of falsehoods, no one is taking land that has been “used by herders for centuries”. The Fulani Herdsmen by their own admission and historical fact invaded northern Nigeria in a jihad in 1804. The lands in question have always belonged to indigenous farming tribes many of whom successfully resisted the Islamic jihadi invaders and remained pagan until they ultimately became Christian when the British colonialists came in.

To claim that the herders always grazed here and ignore the preexistence of the indigenous communities raises a question – if there were only herders in these lands, what were the people eating or were there no people there? Farmers logically existed before herders. This is no “chicken or egg first” conundrum here.

True it’s a veritable “Wild West” in Nigeria’s middle belt but it’s not “vying for land” but home invasions and slashing and burning of communities. It’s not “bloody battles” but horrific massacres!

Can the weak and elderly caught up in the maelstrom of violence between herdsmen and farmers ever have the strength to rebuild their lives and homes ?

Relatives of mine were part of the 1,300 people killed in these massacres in the first half of 2018. The youngest of the six of them were a boy and girl aged four and six. Slaughtered in their beds along with over 200 other Christian villagers in June, these certainly were neither battles nor “clashes”.

A robust debate by the British House of Lords after the massacres in Plateau State, pointed out that out of over 106 violent incidents in the first quarter of 2018, farmers were only initiators in 7 resulting in 61 Herdsmen deaths while the Herdsmen were the aggressors in 99 attacks resulting in over 1000 deaths!

A reductionist claim to climate change belies the overarching jihadists component to the attacks. In May, I attended the mass burial of two priests and 17 of their congregants slain in an unprovoked attack on their church during morning mass – an atrocity that has nothing to do with so-called “competition between humans and cattle for water”. Ironically, one of the priests had posted months earlier on Facebook how scared and vulnerable his community was.

True, there is a natural propensity for friction between farmers and herders across the continent as well. However the horrendous mass murders in Nigeria is beyond the pall and exceeds any fatalities in 50 African countries combined!

The Masai in Kenya do not have a jihadist ideology and have modernized and adapted to complement their farming compatriots in symbiotic and sustainable ecosystems. In Nigeria however, the Fulani have herded cattle into stadia, the congress, schools, churches, railway tracks and airport tarmacs disrupting trains and flights. They claim that the president’s office is on grazing routes and the necessary development of the country is a nuisance to their cattle. Nigeria’s development is at the mercy of cows!

The government of Nigeria has openly taken sides with the Herdsmen. Nigeria’s President said in UK they were “Libyan-trained” foreign fighters but at home ordered Nigerian citizens to “accommodate” them. The police claim an ECOWAS Transhumance protocol of 1998 allows them free egress into Nigeria but Libya is in North Africa and not part of ECOWAS. There’s simply no rhyme or reason to the government’s excuses!

The truth is that the Fulani Herdsmen are not relying on a regional protocol. They are acting on the basis of the jihadi forays of the past to dispossess infidels of their farms. Alliances to Boko Haram terrorism are suspected even.

This raises the question how much of their past way of life is acceptable or tolerable in these times. Should the Herdsmen still continue to ravage and pillage communities in the name of herding and jihad?

Gen. Buhari has enabled and emboldened the massacres. His spokesman infamously said citizens should give up their land or be killed in an ignoble twist of the clarion call “give me liberty or give me death” that spurred America to freedom from British colonization.

He has failed to protect his citizens or restrain his clansmen. Buhari is a herdsman himself and an officer of a Herdsmen Association that has justified the massacres on numerous occasions.
But here’s how Gen Buhari has really failed his clansmen. He ranches his cattle and educates his children in expensive British schools far beyond his military pension. He regularly visits his doctors in London and vacations there too.

Yet although he himself has modernized and enjoyed the best of Nigeria – a career in the military that ended as military dictator in the 80s and a second career in politics that propelled him to the presidency again, he hasn’t seen fit to help his tribesmen modernize.

Nigeria’s media are right in referring to the Herdsmen attacks as “terrorist.” They are reporting objective fact and not from the jaundiced lens of a western tourist reporter. They are not alone. The Global Terrorism Index of the University of Maryland commissioned by the State Department ranked them the fourth deadliest terror group in the world (Boko Haram was first) a couple of years ago.In 2018, they have outpaced Boko Haram.

There’s more. In terms of sheer brutality and destruction, the Fulani Killer Herdsmen are worse than Boko Haram. I stated as such in my testimony before the US Congress in 2016 before I lost relatives so this is not personal – it is factual. Fulani Herdsmen disembowel pregnant women and butcher the fetuses. The crime scene photographs I have reviewed of their atrocities are the most gruesome I have seen in decades of human rights work!

The article narrates a quaint tale of a local “court” run by an emir for dispute resolution. This illustrates precisely the problem with cow herders running roughshod over a country and then refusing to submit to the rule of law. A relative’s husband went through this alternate judicial system in a state neighboring Gombe. Cows had ravaged his farm and the Herdsman was directed to pay him compensation. That night, he did – with a hail of bullets – and went scot free to this day. The widow and sons left feeling no longer safe on their ancestral lands.

Incidentally the emirs across northern Nigeria are Fulanis ruling over, in most cases, other larger tribes than they in a racially discriminatory and unjust hegemonic vestige of their jihadi conquest. How can fairness be assured under such a system?

Truth be told, the Killer Herdsmen are an existential threat not just to farmers but to Nigeria. Logically any human society that prioritizes animals over people for access to subsistence is headed for extinction. Man must have dominance over animals otherwise we reverse natural order and Darwin’s survival of the fittest. Man is top of the food chain not cows and that isn’t up for debate.

Worse still, the ability of one tribal group to ravage a country without respect to law and order, with total impunity and with complacent and complicit clansmen in the government is not humanly sustainable. Something will give.

Gen Buhari is not helping his Fulani Herdsmen clan by tolerating their genocidal acts. Ultimately, a suppressed people may be forced to protect themselves in the brazen face of state failure be it complacency or complicity and he will be squarely to blame for his inaction.

In conclusion, centuries ago, Americans (Christian migrants) were once “cowboys” involved in internecine conflicts too with Native Americans. Today America is both a world power and an agricultural powerhouse. The Native Americans may not be in the best of shape in their reserves but the bloodshed has long since ended and America developed other means of cow raising and farming. Culture-cum-agriculture are not mutually exclusive to development.

Stone men were hunters and gatherers. Tell me again – Why exactly does the New York Times want Fulani Herdsmen to be left behind in fields following cattle foraging for grass decades after man landed on the moon and is heading for Mars?

The New York Times article in addition to being a monument to mendacity is also a great illustration of how “sound bite” journalism and ‘simplisism’ is grossly misinforming the west on what is truly happening – a stealth genocide in our time!

Emmanuel Ogebe, ESQ

Greg Abolo

Blogger at The Oasis Reporters.

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