The Fulani Herdsmen crisis remains a major issue in Nigeria. So far, thousands have been killed and many more have been expelled from their homes, and the Nigerian government does not appear willing to initiate any forceful action against them. Rather, they are requesting for pieces of land from states in order to provide the rampaging herdsmen with permanent feeding ground.

Who are the Fulani Herdsmen?

They are largely nomads who go through towns with their cattle. In Nigeria, the Fulani and the Hausa people dominate the northern states, with a population of well over 30 million. Notably, people of the Fulani tribe rarely ever use artificial birth control methods and, as a result of this, the tribe is very fertile, hence their vast population and their presence in almost every state across the country.

Why are they violent?

Due to the peculiarity of the activities of the herdsmen, they move from one place to another in search of pasture. In this process, the herdsmen have reportedly encountered cattle rustlers and made complaints to the relevant authorities who fail to investigate the issue, hence their purported reason for carrying arms about. During their journey, they frequently trespass farmlands owned by locals in their host communities, destroying crops and valuables. Attempts by farmers to prevent them from causing havoc are met with stiff and violent resistance. Most times, the farmers are overpowered, injured and killed, while others are evicted from their homes. Sometimes, the herdsmen are accused of taking these opportunities to steal, rape, raze houses and kill innocent members of the communities they pass through.

Recent attacks by the Fulani Herdsmen

Before now, the herdsmen have been known to wreak havoc in certain communities in Nigeria, but now, the rate at which they commit these crimes has increased exponentially. According to statistics provided by the Institute for Economics and Peace, 1,229 people were killed in 2014, up from 63 in 2013 and Benue State seems to be the hardest hit in recent times. Barely five days to the end of Governor Gabriel Suswam’s administration in May 2015, over 100 farmers and their family members were reportedly massacred in villages and refugee camps located in the Ukura, Per, Gafa and Tse-Gusa local government areas of the state. According to reports, in July 2015, suspected herdsmen attacked Adeke, a community on the outskirts of the state capital, Makurdi. Last December, six persons were killed at Idele village in the Oju local government area. A reprisal attack by youths in the community saw three Fulani herdsmen killed and beheaded.

In February this year, as a result of a clash between herdsmen and farmers in Benue State, 40 more people were killed, about 2,000 displaced and not less than 100 were seriously injured. Most recently, more than 92 Nigerians were massacred by suspected Fulani Herdsmen in Benue and Niger states. Also, before this time, there have been reported attacks by the Fulani Herdsmen in southern states of the country, including Enugu, Ekiti and Ondo states.

Are Boko Haram members mistaken for the Fulani herdsmen?

Concerns have been raised as to the true identity of those behind the attacks. Many with dissenting views believe they may be members of the Boko Haram sect, masquerading as Fulani Herdsmen. A few others, including the Nigerian military, have said they are herdsmen from other parts in West Africa and not Fulani. While the latter may be admissible due to porous Nigerian borders and poor immigration surveillance, especially in northern parts of the country, it is very difficult to correlate the activities of Boko Haram terrorists to those of the Fulani Herdsmen. Boko Haram has utilised explosives carried by suicide bombers or hidden in a target, but accounts by victims of the herdsmen crisis have shown that the Fulani Herdsmen are mainly concerned with gaining greater access to grazing lands for livestock. In fact, following the February attacks in Benue, the leadership of the Fulani group openly admitted that the attacks were carried out by its members.

Responses from various stakeholders

Many Nigerians believe the president has deliberately shied away from commenting on the crisis, as it is widely known that he comes from the Fulani ethnic group.

Following attacks by herdsmen in Ekiti State, the governor of the state, Ayodele Fayose, encouraged his people to take up arms in self defence. He also gave the go-ahead to vigilante groups in the affected area of the state, charging them to kill any Fulani Herdsmen attempting to rape their wives or kill their children.

Revealing why the Fulani Herdsmen attacked the Agatus (an ethnic group in Benue) in February, the Interim National Secretary of the Gan Allah Fulani Association, rose in defence of his kinsmen, saying it was a reprisal attack by his people, meant to revenge the killing of a prominent Fulani man. The Gan Allah Fulani Association is an umbrella body of Fulani associations in Nigeria.

In the heat of the herdsmen crisis, the Sultan of Sokoto, Muhammad Sa’ad Abubakar III, advised Nigerians to stop attributing ethnicity and religion to the Fulani Herdsmen crisis, citing that such actions are not peculiar to the Fulanis.

The grazing routes’ plan by the Nigerian government

A Nigerian lawmaker, Zainab Kure, has sponsored a bill in the country’s Senate. The bill popularly regarded as the ‘Land Grazing Bill,’ is aimed at securing areas for Fulani Herdsmen across the federation and for the mapping out of grazing routes. Beyond that, the bill seeks to establish a National Grazing Reserves Establishment and Development Commission.

The successful signing of this bill into law means there will be a limited ares reserved for the Fulani Herdsmen and their cattle. On the land required for the grazing routes, Nigeria’s Minister of Agriculture, Audu Ogbeh, has said that many northern states have donated several pieces of land for the project. However, states in the southern part of the country have kicked against the idea, noting that they cannot be forced to give out their land for this purpose. Despite the controversy that comes with the proposal, the bill has scaled the first reading in the Senate.

What to expect

The Fulani Herdsmen have unabatedly continued to wreck havoc, mostly in the middle belt area of the country. The inability of the Nigerian Police to contain them may spell greater doom for lives in susceptible areas. Some days ago, Ventures Africa reflected on what the silence of President Muhammadu Buhari on the herdsmen crisis could mean. Nigeria needs to take the bull by its horn, else, the Fulani Herdsmen – who are deemed only less deadly than Boko Haram, the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS or ISIL), and al-Shabaab in the entire world – may be Nigeria’s worst nightmare.

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