President Muhammadu Buhari spoke to Nigerian journalists while he was in London last week.
On the crisis with Fulani herdsmen, he said: The problem is virtually as old as Nigeria itself. Culturally, the herdsmen don’t stay in one place. They move with the season. Normally, harvest is completed much earlier in the north. Then they have to move southwards for green pasture. In the first republic, there was what they called cattle routes and grazing areas. They were marked. Infrastructure were put in terms of windmills, earth dams, even veterinary clinics. Now after first republic, people turned these places into farms. And if you have 500 cows, if they don’t eat for 24 hours, or need water, you can’t stop them [from moving around].
“What they used to do then is that if anybody went outside the cattle route, or outside the grazing area, he would be arrested, taken before an alkali’s court, fined. If he can pay, okay. The money is taken and given to the farmer. If he can’t pay, the cattle is sold and the farmer is paid. People were behaving themselves. So when people came and took away the land for the cattle route, for the grazing areas, you find out that from Kaduna to Bayelsa, Nigerians are fighting cattle rearers now. But when I was in the Petroleum Trust Fund, we made a comprehensive study of cattle routes and grazing areas throughout Nigeria. I am referring the governors’ forum and the minister of agriculture and rural development to the report. Let them see what they can do and save the situation”.
Two things are troubling about the president’s comments.
Firstly, he described the problem as “Nigerians are fighting cattle rearers now”. This means he has completely ignored the thousands of Nigerians killed by herdsmen and as far as he is concerned, it is about “Nigerians fighting cattle rearers”.
Secondly, he abandoned responsibility for dealing with what is a grave security crisis that has resulted in thousands of deaths by “referring” it to the governors and the agriculture minister “let them see what they can do and save the situation”.
Several Nigerians including Wole Soyinka, Ekiti State governor Ayo Fayose, and some legislators in states such as Plateau and Benue, where Fulani herdsmen have slaughtered the most in recent times, have condemned the president’s inaction, with several suggesting his reluctance to act is because he is Fulani.
Buhari also rears cattle in his farm in Daura and is the patron of the Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association. He was not always reticent about clashes between herdsmen and farmers. In October 2000 he led a delegation of cattle rearers to confront then governor of Oyo State, Lam Adesina, over the alleged killing of herdsmen. He said then: “Your Excellency, our visit here is to discuss with you and your government our displeasure about the incident of clashes between two peoples… the Fulani cattle rearers and merchants are today being harassed , attacked and killed like in Saki. In the month of May, 2000, 68 bodies of Fulani cattle rearers were recovered and buried under the supervision and protection from a team of Mobile Police from Oyo State Command.
“That some arrests were made by Oyo State Police Command in the massacre with their immediate release without court trial. This was said to have been ordered by Oyo State authorities and they were so released to their amazement. The release of the arrested suspects gave the clear impression that the authorities are backing and protecting them to continue the unjust and illegal killings of Fulani cattle rearers…”
It was clear then whose side he was on. It is becoming clear now, as president, that he is not on the side of those killed by herdsmen, when he only refers to the crisis as “Nigerians fighting cattle rearers”.
His behaviour should come as no surprise. According to Wikileaks, in 2003, then governor of Lagos State Bola Tinubu spoke about “General Muhammadu Buhari, whose ethnocentrism would jeopardize Nigeria’s national unity” and added “Buhari and his ilk are agents of destabilization.” In 2010, Nasir el-Rufai, now governor of Kaduna State said of Buhari: “His insensitivity to Nigeria’s diversity and his parochial focus are already well-known”.
On the grave threat to security posed by Fulani herdsmen, it is hard to argue that Buhari hasn’t shown insensitivity, parochialism, ethnocentrism and his behaviour surely is a threat to Nigeria’s unity.