By George Onmonya Daniel
First of all who are the bandits? Are they the same with the Fulani herdsmen? These are questions a lot of people have attempted to answer over the years. Even though they are Fulani herdsmen who are not bandits, the bandits were and some of them are still Fulani herdsmen. They are of different groups and they are scattered. Some are in large number and some are few. The fact is that a large part of the Fulani pastoralist culture is now being replaced by organized crime culture which is now the new normal.
The Fulani herdsmen travel from place to place across borders to rear their animals. These pastoralists spend their livihood with these animals in the bush and the bush has become their home, camping where it’s favorable and leaving when the weather changes. They live to rear their animals, that is their ways of life, even though some do not own the animals they rear the animals and the cattle is their economy. They live by the milk they get from the animal which their wives sell and what comes out of the milk (oil).
For a very long time the Fulani herdsmen live peacefully with farming communities they camped to graze their animals but as time went by they begin to arm themselves against these communities. It is a culture Nigerian Fulani learned from their counterparts in other parts of the countries around West Africa where there have been civil war. These pastoralists have to protect their animals from rabels and government troops as well as all sorts of criminals, even from among their own people. In warring nations getting guns are easy, so they got themselves armed to protect themselves and their families, but the problem with guns is that when you have them it turn you to a monster. With time these Fulani tribesmen started using the arms to kill just for fun. Global Terrorism Index listed Nigerian Fulani militants as fourth deadliest terror group in world in 2015. The report stated that, Operating mainly in the middle belt of Nigeria, opposed to the north which is dominated by Boko Haram, the group recorded 847 deaths last year (2014) across five states, and has also been known to stage attacks in the Central African Republic (CAR), according to the latest report from the Global Terrorism Index.
The Buhari administration came to power when this report released in 2015, by then the Fulani problem was deep rooted in Zamfara with massive killings going on week in week out, yet there was complete silence from the Zamfara State government, from northern groups, northern leaders, both religious, intelligentsias and opinion leaders.
To be fair to President Buhari the first thing he did when he took over in 2015 from his predeccessor Mr. Goodluck Jonathan, was to look into the mass massacres ongoing in Zamfara. He ordered the army and other security operatives to comb the bushes and get ride of the bandits. When the army flooded Zamfara bushes, the bandits escaped and entered Kaduna State and part of Niger. From 2015 to 2019 they would turn Kaduna State under Governor Nasir El-Rufai who was one of their main supporter during the time of Goodluck Jonathan into kidnap, armed robbery and killing haven, which has continued till today.
Prior to their influx into Kaduna, Kaduna has its own bandits problems but the state government under Governor Nasir El-Rufai thought it was just mere revenge mission on Southern Kaduna over what he described as the killings of the Fulanis in Southern Kaduna during the 2011 political violence triggered by President Buhari’s supporters when Buhari lost election in 2011 to Jonathan. Governor Nasir El-Rufai claimed many Fulanis were killed in Southern Kaduna and he quickly concluded that the killings in the areas was due to revenge. Mr. El-Rufai was part of the people promoting the new slogan that “Fulanis never forget” on Twitter during the time of Goodluck Jonathan. Shortly after he was sworn in as governor of Kaduna State, Nasir El-Rufai paid some Fulani groups an undisclosed amount of money over their loses assuming the crisis would go away.
Inspite the killings in Zamfara that doesn’t get much attention, the Muslims in the core North saw the bandits as some form of revenge seeking warrior who were wronged and were taking revenge, thanks to the likes of Governor Nasir El-Rufai. When they continue their mass killings, the government or someone in government in the north was almost always there on television and radio defending them.
During the time of Goodluck Jonathan the defense was that the people in the Middle Belt were cattle rustlers and the Fulanis had to fight back because their cattle were being stolen. When Buhari came in and his government launched an attack into the bushes to deal with cattle rustling it was discovered that 90% to 95% of the cattle rustling were being done by the Fulanis themselves. Today we have come to know that the bandits are the major cattle rustlers in Nigeria and these bandits are normadic Fulanis.
Since the president is Fulani and has a soft spot for his people, the people around the president looked the other way and refused to tell the man the truth. The definition of the situation from the perspective of the president and the presidency was that it was communal clashes in which Buhari and his government were bent on doing everything to protect the Fulani people who they felt needed land to settle. They brought out an idea of settling the Fulani normads around some state thinking settling them down would solve the problem. Mr. Audu Ogbe, Buhari’s minister of agriculture proposed Cattle Colony, there was RUGA and today we have Dr. Andrew Kwasari’s National Livestock Transformation Plan (NLTP), with Dr. Kwasari’s proposition and the accepted national plan being the one now being handled by the federal government.
Understanding the politics is in their favor, the Fulani herdsmen turned bandits took advantages of all the situations to consolidate on their criminality and reign of terror. Knowing that the Muslim North is in sympathetic to their course, whatever that is, they went on rampage, venturing into Southern part of Nigeria with their madness. The South and South West couldn’t take it and thereby the narrative began to change. People in the South who were quiet over the killings in the Middle Belt began to understand what the people in that area had endured.
Soon the Fulani bandits would resort into mass kidnapping for ransomes and wanton killing in the north. Even when the north and northerners are the victims of this cruel and deadly terror, they still try to defend the bandits.
It took a long time, more than four years, before Governor Nasir El-Rufai of Kaduna State suddenly realized that this whole bandit situation is not a joke and started telling the truth that they are criminal gang who should be killed as they kill people. Even when Nasir El-Rufai was saying this, the governor of Zamfara and Katsina were saying the bandits are not criminals.
Sheikh Gumi and Professor Yusuf, former NHIS boss, are still taking fighting hard and defending the bandits, trying to compare them with Niger Delta militants and IPOB. It is all these support that has continued to push the bandits into making Nigeria their biggest crime empire.