(Published in the Nigerian Tribune on Monday, 31 January, 2022)
How do you address a people who create a situation and then turn round to play the victim? The National President of Miyetti Allah Kautal Hore, Alhaji Bello Abdullahi Bodejo, talked tough in a Sun newspaper interview at the weekend. He said any southerner hoping to replace President Muhammadu Buhari next year must seek out the Fulani and apologise to his race. “Fulani have suffered a lot in the South and in Benue State, where Ortom is the lord. So, any of them that wants our support for 2023 election should tender an apology to the Fulani because of the way they have been treating Fulani in their places.” He wants the south to cast themselves down in penitence and submission for daring to clear their forests of bandit cells.
The man is painting the victim as the bad guy. And he is doing so because he knows there are always desperate people who would prostrate in adoration to cows because their palate desires beef. But when will these characters be sober and let peace be? Do they listen to the very bitter tears from victims of Fulani banditry in the south – and even in the north? Should everything be reduced to boastful conquests and contests for power over others? They are asking for an apology from their victims. When are they going to seek forgiveness for their atrocious savagery against everyone outside their clan? There was an attack recently on the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway. A survivor of the attack told a Nigerian Tribune journalist that the attackers spoke Fulani. The survivor, a female corps member, said the bandits jumped on the road and started shooting: “The one on the road released a gunshot and the driver was confused. He wanted to make a U-turn but immediately he maneuvered the vehicle to do so, the man shot him in the head. He died immediately, the bus hit the road median…” There was a young boy of about seven years old in the vehicle. He was with his father. They killed the dad. And the boy? “I saw the young boy running and looking back, crying. He was looking at me as he was running. They went after him..” The bandits went after a seven-year old boy. The survivor did not know what eventually became of the boy. Even if the child survived the chase, will he ever be normal again?
Who should apologise to whom? Those killing farmers in the north and ravaging roads and fields in the south are people Miyetti Allah is defending. When is Abdullahi Bodejo going to go on his knees and beg God for forgiveness on their behalf? It would appear he has no patience for saying good and speaking peace. His interest at the moment is to punish those who refused to die as victims of bandits. Apart from an apology, he is asking for even more. Like the Babylonian warrior king, Hammurabi, who became forever famous as the lawgiver, the Miyetti Allah boss also set down the minimum conditions anyone must meet if they would be president of Nigeria. “For any aspirant who wants our support, he must have a firm commitment to bringing back all the grazing reserves which traverse the entire country, build houses, provide water and other amenities in the grazing reserves, and allow our people to do their businesses freely in the South. Such grazing reserves should be gazetted,” he said while telling southerners: “you are in your mansion, our own mansion is the bush.”
There are no beautiful snakes in the Nigerian forest. They are all poisonous; they kill if not stopped in time. You can’t claim to be the victim of fumigation if you were the termite who devoured everything of value in the house. But that is what Miyetti Allah is doing. It is protesting the protection of others from its ravages. The king’s bull is accusing the farmer of hatred after eating the poor man’s yam. ‘A Nation of Victims’ is a 1992 book by Charles Sykes, senior fellow at Wisconsin Policy Research Institute, United States. An interviewer asked him what he meant by the title of the book and he answered: “We’ve become a nation of people who say, ‘I’m not responsible. Don’t blame me. I’m a victim.'” The author described such pervasiveness of victimhood as signposting a decay of the national character. With us in Nigeria, it is worse, there is no character- and we see it in the herdsman’s claim of persecution even when he is the acknowledged rapacious villain. Motivational speaker and author, Steve Maraboli, has an elegant description of this situation: “selfish people tend to have victim mindsets… Their actions plant seeds of loneliness; then they cry upon the blooming.”
Around this time last year, The New Humanitarian news agency ran a report on the menace of the people Bodejo speaks for. The report which was centred on killings in Zamfara State sought pathways to peace; it described the word ‘bandit’ as the northern shorthand for Fulani. There is a part of that report which every one who is not of Miyetti Allah’s party must read: “In Tsafe, about an hour out of Gusau, is the run-down office of the local chapter of the Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association of Nigeria (MACABAN) – the main lobby group for Fulani pastoralists. The men gathered there try to thread a needle between disavowing the violence, but also argue that the militia are their only protection against what they see as ethnic cleansing by the local Hausa community and the security forces that turn a blind eye. ‘Some of the bandits have gone too far, but they are still part of us,’ said Bello Muhammed, the local finance secretary. ‘They are killing for a cause – any place there is killing means there is a bigger problem.'” That is it. They always insist on the justness of their sins.
We do not know the educational pedigree of the man who spoke in that report. But, it does not appear that having or lacking education makes any difference here. On January 5, 2022, the Daily Trust published an opinion article with the headline: ‘The roots of banditry: A Fulani perspective.’ It was authored by a certain Dr. Ahmadu Shehu who described himself as a herdsman. The man is either a medical doctor or a Ph.D. He described efforts at getting nomadic herdsmen settled in a place as “imposing an undesirable, if not abominable world view on their sacred ancestral way of life.” He said nomads and pastoralists were “not fascinated by the big houses, the electricity and the pipe-borne water” in the city. These, he said, might be beautiful things, “but they are certainly not of significance to their values.” He told us that “for a cultural pastoralist, the NNPC or CBN towers are not close in value to a well-fed flock of cattle. Maitama and Asokoro are not as precious as a valley of sufficient fodder and water.” If you are wondering why someone with the title of ‘doctor’ would be saying all these, the man has an answer: “This is not because we are not civilized, but (it is) because our civilization and what matters to our lives are significantly different from your own civilization…Thus, the idea that pastoralists could be abruptly packed in a space or can be forced to settle and embrace urban life is evidently uninformed.” If this doctor’s position represents that of the Fulani intelligentsia generally, then, my reaction would be that we have a long way to go – that is if we are going anywhere at all. Would he have prefixed his name with ‘Dr’ if he had remained in Plato’s cave of the Nigerian herdsman? Or could his position be an example of the elite sending the children of the poor on a journey into the night?
When they complain and valourize their queer way, could it be that these privileged people are unaware of what their violent men in the forests do? Documented data of their atrocities are galling. The Institute for Economics and Peace, in its Global Terrorism Indexes across the years, as curated by researchers, show that “between the years 2010 and 2016, Fulani extremists were responsible for 466 terrorist attacks and 3,068 deaths across several West-African countries. In 2018, Fulani extremists were responsible for 72% of terrorist-related deaths in Nigeria. The total death toll was 1,159 deaths. In 2019, just one year later, Fulani extremists were responsible for 26% of terrorist-related deaths in Nigeria, accounting for 325 deaths.” The trend continued in 2020 and flowed into 2021. The wicked teaches the weak how to grow muscles. The Spartans have an anecdote about a General who was making war constantly on the Thebans. One day, the underdog shook off the yoke and assailed the General with mortal wounds. Then he started a blame game and got mocked for teaching the Thebans “how to fight when they had neither the wish nor the capacity to do so.” Indeed, a king of Sparta, Lycurgus, as recorded by Plutarch, “forbade frequent campaigns against the same people so as to prevent them from learning how to fight.” When you attack a people repeatedly in words and deeds as Miyetti Allah and its agents do, you tell the attacked how to be strong and fight back. The fight-back is what Miyetti Allah is complaining about.
Still on Bodejo, the Miyetti Allah leader and his Sun newspaper interview. He did not forget to remind southerners that they are administrative cripples, a medley of races without any sense of leadership. Listen to him: “It will be very difficult for a southerner to manage Nigeria the way a northerner would. The northerners that are ruling or governing were trained by our leaders that ruled the country before…Northern people have managed the country better than southerners.” Tortoise and his friends shared their wives’ weaknesses. A friend said his wife was a thief. Tortoise said that was nothing compared to what his wife was. Another said his own wife was a cheat. Tortoise laughed and said cheating would weigh nothing if his wife’s problem was put on the scale. His friends wondered what character blemish could be more than stealing and sleeping around? Tortoise said his wife had no shame, and, true, shamelessness is the sovereign of all illnesses. Miyetti Allah has no shame just like its enablers. A measure of how well today’s leaders were trained by their forebears is the total breakdown of values in the country they govern and the utter cluelessness they throw at the problems.
These are very bad times, every hand is full. So, should the talk be about apology for elections or about how to stop the bleeding? On the farm, there is fire burning and there is no peace at home. When you combine this with arrogant banditry, the kind you see repeatedly exhibited by the town version of protected rapists in the forest, then know that the end is near for all yokes. But I believe a pull-back from the brink is still possible. That is if ethnic extremists like the Miyetti Allah and those it represents know that in the Nigerian project, no one will beg another to breathe.