By: Tunde Fowowe.
Although the Federal Government has suspended the implementation the RUGA settlements to settle Fulani herdsmen across the country, the matter is generating a lot of controversy because of two things; the context and the timing. The context and timing are suspicious because it is happening at a time of escalating insecurity, mostly blamed on Fulani herdsmen and because people are beginning to suspect that there is a deliberate agenda by the Fulani to invade Southern Nigeria.
We have always had security issues in this country but never has it been this widespread and the nation this divided; not even during the Civil War, which was mainly concentrated in the South-East and South-South. Boko Haram and its brother Islamic State in West Africa (ISWAP) continue to terrorize the North-East. The lingering battle between Hausa-Fulani nomads/settlers and indigenous peoples in the North Central rages on unabated with an ongoing attrition of lands belonging to Christian indigenous population. In the last two years, a new threat has emerged in the North-West; bandits ravaging and pillaging communities, sacking whole villages and murdering entire populations.
So far, Southern Nigeria, except for parts of the Niger Delta, appears to have been spared the wanton violence going on in the rest of the country, but for how long? Will the same malicious, malevolent perpetrators of reckless violence up north bring the war down south?
I dare say yes, and now we need to wake up to the reality that Southern Nigeria may just be invaded by these pernicious warmongers. Several tell-tale signals of an impending invasion of the south are all there to see but the people in authority chose to ignore.
Few weeks ago, residents of some border towns in Oyo and Ogun State cried out that their lands have been invaded by herdsmen from Mali and Burkina Faso.
According to the now besieged residents, the forest reserves near their communities have been occupied by these mysterious, armed people. They said that the development had been a major source of concern them, alleging that the herdsmen allowed their animals to destroy people’s farms while grazing in the areas. There are also reports that many people had deserted their community following the killing of some indigenes during an attack.
Also, the incidences of herdsmen attacks in the South-West have increased in recent times. In May, herdsmen attacked the palace of a monarch in Ondo State, threatening to kill him for wading into a dispute between them and his subjects. The monarch said the suspected herdsmen stormed his palace, harassed and threatened him because he had reported the continued destruction of his subjects’ farm produce and farmlands to the police.
An alleged herdsmen attack on an Ekiti village in April was dismissed by the police as a robbery attack. There have also been reports of kidnappings by herdsmen across the South West.
In the South-east, the situation seems precarious, and with social media accounts, it is difficult to know exactly what is going on. Nevertheless, the area has been hit by a spate of attacks. In April, Armed men suspected to be herdsmen, invaded Anambra West Local Government Area of Anambra State, leaving six people dead, some of them beheaded, on their trail.
Also, the military has had to deny multiple reports of herdsmen attacks on communities in the South-East. On May 20, the Enugu State Police command denied reports that armed Fulani herdsmen had attacked a community in the state and killed 20 people. Many people have also reported seeing a military aircraft delivering some unknown items to the forests of Enugu State, which the Nigerian Military has also denied.
Moreover, the Oba of Benin recently raised the alarm that bandits are building camps in the forests around Benin.
Also worrisome is Miyetti Allah’s demand for Fulani vigilante groups in the South East. This is against the backdrop of the clamour for state police to enable decentralization of security. The demand by Miyeti Allah is clearly ridiculous, akin to demanding for a Yoruba or Igbo militia in the North and I am worried that governors in the South East are even discussing this request.
We should not simply sweep these emanating signs under the carpet and dismiss warning voices as alarmists.
One of the people sounding the alarm is prominent government critic, Femi Fani-Kayode, known as FFK. Although, FFK may sound irrational sometimes, we must not ignore some of his warnings. FFK believes there is a conspiracy to perpetrate a genocide, similar to what happened in Rwanda in 1994. While he may be exaggerating, some of the reasons for his paranoia are not farfetched.
FFK’s fears are shared by many on the social media who believe there is an impending invasion of the south by the same people that have wreaked havoc in North-Central Nigeria. Many are also worried that the Federal Government is issuing an order for gun control at the same time issuing a licence for a Fulani radio.
Already, the South-West governors have held a security meeting in Ibadan but the resolution from the meeting is vague and the governors seems reluctant to make definite statements because most of them are from the ruling APC.
Therefore, it is imperative that all the 17 states in the south join hands together to deal with this emerging danger. While it may be too early to start pointing accusing fingers, it will do the southern governors a lot of good to ask some serious questions from the Federal Government and Security agencies. I suggest elders and leaders from the South-West, South-South and South-East should hold a summit and come out with a guideline of how the Fulani should conduct themselves if they truly want to live in peace alongside other ethnic groups. Representatives of the Fulani community should be made to sign the guideline and commit to fishing out and submitting to the authorities, members of their group who violate the guideline. Also, this is the time to ramp up the demand for state police.
Like Senator Shehu Sani said, it is only after achieving peace, can we even begin to think of RUGA settlements. Anything short of that is a disaster.
Tunde Fowowe is a student and public critic
Editor’s note: The views in this article are entirely that of the writer and not Today’s Echo’s. We remain neutral in our analysis of issues. Feel free to respond by sending an email to: email@example.com