The Emir of Kano, Lamido Sanusi, likes to front as the modernising face of the Fulani aristocracy. A former governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria and economist, the emir has used many of his speeches to act like an advocate for the transformation of predominantly Muslim and conservative northern societies.
But the mask slipped yesterday as he spoke to a Lagos-based TV station on the Fulani herdsmen crisis that has already accounted for dozens of deaths in north central Nigeria this year.
Sanusi is less than a neutral observer. He is Fulani and there are rumours that northern elites like him own most of the cows that are in the care of Fulani herdsmen. Speaking out of both sides of his mouth, after a meeting with Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association – the pressure group representing the herdsmen and cattle owners, the emir (who admitted to being one of the patrons of the association) first claimed that they had asked the herdsmen to put down arms and cease any reprisal attacks.
Watch the interview:
This is all very well. But Sanusi had to go on and shift the blame to the governments of Benue and Taraba States that have been trying to deal with deaths and destruction brought to communities in their states by the Fulani herdsmen. Sanusi claimed that militias set up in those states were part of the problem and those states should be pressured to halt the implementation of their “anti grazing” laws which he called “obnoxious and unconstitutional”.
He was just echoing the views of Miyetti Allah, whose national president Abdullahi Bodejo claimed in November that: “The grazing law agenda is destroying herders’ means of livelihood and we are appealing for immediate intervention to save Fulani pastoralists from the total destruction of their means of livelihood by current trends from some state governors enacting segregational anti-grazing law.” Bodejo also argued that herdsmen have grazed their cattle in the Benue valley for centuries. So does this give them licence to continue such ancient practices in the light of the friction it causes with farmers?
This line of argument is very disingenuous and bogus. Sanusi, slyly, didn’t bother to explain which sections of the Nigerian constitution the ban on “open grazing” violated. As Naijiant.com highlighted here, the constitution is quite clear that any movement that threatens public safety can be banned.
No one in their right mind would argue that herding cattle openly as in current practice is not a danger to the public after thousands of deaths in recent years. But Sanusi and others continue to appear to place a higher premium on the needs of cattle over human life.
It is also wrong to blame the anti-grazing law for the violence as Sanusi tried to do. The Agatu Massacres in Benue State from late February to early March 2016 reportedly ended with about 500 people killed by Fulani herdsmen. The anti-grazing law was in response to that slaughter and only became law over a year later in May 2017. In several parts of Plateau State, especially Barkin Ladi Local Government Area, for months in 2015, locals were claiming that Fulani herdsmen were killing about 20 people every night. Kaduna State has no anti-grazing law, yet the Christian Association of Nigeria said that over 1,000 people in Southern Kaduna had been killed, 53 communities had their churches destroyed, and 17 villages “conquered and occupied” by Fulani herdmen between May last year and January this year.
So blaming the anti-grazing laws in Benue and Taraba States or the alleged militia set up by the state governors is another typical attempt to muddy the waters on the crisis. A Miyetti Allah spokesman in the clip above unwittingly highlighted what the crisis was all about. Speaking on the suggestion that grazing reserves, ranches or “cattle colonies” would be a solution to the problem, he said that the herdsmen should be provided with feed and water in those facilities. The man didn’t explain why herdsmen should be entitled to free land, cattle feed and water from public sources in what is a private business.
This is the crux of the matter. There are reportedly a little below 20m cows in Nigeria. One cow is worth about 200,000 naira ($554). That’s a business worth billions of dollars in assets that do not belong to the peasant herdsmen that roam all over the place with the cows. The rich and powerful owners of the cattle, which may include Sanusi, try to paint the practice of herding cattle from place to place in search of grazing land as a quaint tradition that has been around for centuries and should continue in order to protect the livelihoods of pastoralists. This is a false narrative designed to cover up the identities of the owners of the cows and their role in the crisis.
It has been alleged that those owners provide armed guards to protect their investment and those armed men are behind the killings of villagers that dare protest too loudly about cattle destroying their crops. The owners know that they need land, feed and water for their cows. They also know that providing these in ranches – as is done all over the world – would require billions of naira. It is a lot of cheaper for them to use the whole of the country as free grazing land.
Anyone that gets in the way of the cattle business, is asking to be killed. And any government that wants to stop the killing should provide very wealthy and powerful Nigerians, possibly including Sanusi, with free land, free feed and free water for their cattle.