Northern Governors Seize the Initiative in Managing Herdsmen Violence
Leaders of the Northern Governors’ Forum appear to have stolen the thunder from the foot of avoidance and denial in managing the loud silence over the current spate of violence across the region. Some sophists have been trying to run away from confronting the historical sensibilities the violence touch on in northern Nigerian politics and the implications of such for collective well being. The leaders of the forum have, however, chosen the alternative path by commencing sensitisation visits to parts of the region where the silence is very loud. It is not that such silence and sense of pain are contextually correct to the last minute in all cases. Rather, it is the implication of such perception for collective well being that is at stake. Peace enforcement might work up to a point but peace keeping does not plant peace in the minds of men. It is understanding that does. In that sense, what appears an attempt to come to grips with both genuine and staged sense of pain anywhere in the north by creating understanding through discussions appears to have started. It speaks to a more sensitive approach to the crisis.
Starting with Benue State where the governor of Borno and Chairman of the forum led two other colleagues of his, the process has the potential of not just closing the inter-subjective space but also broadening the solution beyond the remits of conflict handling technique to issues of poverty. Although the theory connecting poverty to violence have almost been ruined by the profile of those arrested in connection with acts of violence across the world, there can be no denying the grim state of existence in northern Nigeria, compelling the late Rufai Ibrahim, for example, to call the north central part a ‘zone of depression’. In other words, it is a different situation from say Lagos, Ogun or Portharcourt in the sense that, there are some elements of ‘industrial’ activities going on. In those days, Kano, Kaduna and Jos, to some extent, had such elements going for them until the north lost its soul and replaced its peace with a culture of violence. The result has been further violence right to the anomie today.
It is thus instructive that Governor Shettima made reference to extreme poverty while addressing journalists at the end of the stakeholders meeting at the Government House, Makurdi. The stakeholders’ meeting was in addition to the visit of the three governors to George Akume, an APC Senator and leader from the state as well as Professor James Ayatse, the Philosopher who recently became the Tor Tiv. These are symbolically significant initiatives in the light of the fact that the current spate of herdsmen violence erupted in Agatu in Benue State before erupting again in Nimbo, Enugu State and then spreading further.
Of course, the danger is that this piece of information could suffer the misfortune of being interpreted as campaign for Sule Lamido whom many people assume to have a presidential ambition but such nonsense should not prevent citing the most empirical case of a 100% success in managing what has become a problem for even the Federal might. Herdsmen violence had been the problem in Jigawa State since 1996. But between 2007 and 2012, no one heard a single case of that. That success rate did not come by chance. The government of the day put in place a system to pre-empt it wherever it was contemplated at all. Jigawa might be a microcosm of Nigeria but it is a state with a border and thus has its own complexity as far as local and foreign herdsmen are concerned. At a point, Abuja wrote to Jigawa, requesting it to tell the story of how that success rate was achieved and sustained. This information is not an eulogy for any individual but has the logic of showing that it can be done and wherever it is not done, people are bound to ask why?
The spiral of herdsmen violence over and above the federal might has, indeed, left people breathless. Did it measure an error of judgement or disarray in governance? Not only presidential silence but also arguments such as posed by some government functionaries inclined to denial or avoidance have exacerbated the puzzling consistency of herdsmen violence. Instead of confronting such obvious spaces of failure, Abdulrahaman Dambazzau, the otherwise respectable Minister of Interior and an intellectual of standing is issuing a press statement warning reading religious meaning into it. According to one of the online platforms, the General argued that a criminal should be treated as such , whether he is involved in armed robbery, drug trafficking, homicides, cattle rustling and that people should avoid honouring criminals with religious or ethnic attachments. Said he, “criminals who perpetrate violence against innocent, law abiding citizens do not discriminate along religious and ethnic lines, citing examples of how communities in Zamfara, Katsina, Taraba, Enugu, Lagos and Niger were victimised by those violent criminals”. He then advised opinion and religious leaders to refrain from giving the crisis between herdsmen and sedentary farmers in Southern Kaduna a religious connotation. “Rather, attention should be focused on the real enemies of our society who illegally acquire weapons to terrorize Christians and Muslim communities alike”. This is classic rhetoric of avoidance, the ‘strategy’ of managing conflict by pretending that it is a hot romance.
It is a problematic ‘strategy’ because, today, it is Southern Kaduna, tomorrow, it would be somewhere else in the country but the story would be the same: everyone is caught unaware by an act of violence that could not have come to be over night; conflict parties would not agree on who has done what; nobody would know what is at stake; the reaction time would have been very hopeless; there will be fire brigade tactics; the press is singled out for blame; traditional rulers and governors pay organised visits to Government Houses and local notables and promises of investigation are then made. Then the furore dies down and we move on to another more horrendous violence. That is the ‘strategy’ of avoidance in conflict management – let time sort things out by doing any of the things taken for granted in other societies when they are confronted by the situation in question.
While it is true that, as a Minister, he must ensure that his statements and actions cool temper, his actions will be judged in relation to what other actors are also saying and doing. Abubakar Sa’ad 11, the Sultan of Sokoto and another General was at Enugu on December 19th, 2016 where he said, among other things, that those who commit crimes in the guise of cattle rearing should be described as criminals and not as Fulani herdsmen. That is the same position Dambazzau maintains but the Sultan went further to say that “The Fulani have been living in peace with the people in the communities where they rear their cattle, will they wake up one day and start attacking and killing these people? It is not possible. Something must be wrong somewhere”. The thesis of ‘something must be wrong somewhere’ is precisely where he parted company with Dambazzau. And that makes him the leader because at that point, he is interrogating the entire crisis, going beyond what might appear settled.
Interestingly, the Sultan was speaking after Governor Nasir el-Rufai of Kaduna State gave official stamp to the speculation that some interests and forces were bent on harming particular parts of the north. He told selected journalists that Fulani herdsmen from neighboring countries were behind the case of violence in Southern Kaduna. While the governor’s pronouncement had the unintended but positive consequence of exonerating ordinary Fulani herdsmen from complicity in the phenomenon of herdsmen violence in contemporary Nigeria, it nevertheless set tongues wagging on what he said the government then did: “For southern Kaduna, we didn’t understand what was going on and we decided to set up a committee under Gen. Martin Luther Agwai (rtd) to find out what was going on there. What was established was that the root of the problem has a history starting from the 2011 post election violence. Fulani herdsmen from across Africa bring their cattle down towards Middle Belt and Southern Nigeria. The moment the rains start around March, April, they start moving them up to go back to their various communities and countries. Unfortunately, it was when they were moving up with their cattle across Southern Kaduna that the elections of 2011 took place and the crisis trapped some of them.
Some of them were from Niger, Cameroon, Chad, Mali and Senegal. Fulanis are in 14 African countries and they traverse this country with the cattle. So many of these people were killed, cattles lost and they organised themselves and came back to revenge. So a lot of what was happening in Southern Kaduna was actually from outside Nigeria. We got a hint that the late Governor Patrick Yakowa got this information and he sent someone to go round some of these Fulani communities, but of course after he died, the whole thing stopped. That is what we inherited. But the Agwai committee established that. As recently as two weeks ago, the team went to Niger republic to attend one Fulani gathering that they hold every year with a message from me,”
This is where the Sultan’s earlier question is most apt: why weren’t people that both the Sultan and General Dambazzau called criminals arrested? The answers people have given are either the state has degenerated to a level where its machinery for managing law and order is totally decrepit or it is complicit. In other words, the conflict management approach of tracing perpetrators to their countries of origin and trying to pay them ‘compensation’ and beg them to stop cross border banditry in Nigeria was escapism, whether it was done by a Patrick Yakowa or Nasir el-Rufai or General Martin Luther Agwai. Compare and contrast that to what Obasanjo did in 2003 when bandits and smugglers overstepped themselves in dealing with Nigeria.
Of course, scholars of Border Studies such as Dr Willie Eselebor at the University of Ibadan would say that Nigeria has a border management crisis. In a previous interview with Intervention, he said “We do not have a comprehensive border policy as I speak. Nigeria doesn’t even know its number of borders. There are about 87 legal ones but about 1500 illegal ones and it keeps increasing. The entire northeast is porous. It is our largest expanse of land border. Our border with Benin Republic is the smallest and safest. To police the borders is difficult because we do not have the technology, the manpower or the infrastructure. And what is the budget for the development of good border management? There are no barracks. How do you expect them to perform? It’s just too vast and technically impossible to police. Technology and infrastructure are needed”.
Or what Professor Bawuro Barkindo, another expert on border studies had also said on the issue. In a previous interview with Intervention, Professor Barkindo harped on the collapse of the intelligence system that linked that of the traditional authority to that of the formal system such that the Ward Head informed the Village Head of any new person in his domain whom he didn’t know. The Village Head takes it up to the District Head and so on. So, within a day or two, they can tell you what is up. Now, Ward Heads are not paid salaries”. He sees a solution in a return to the whole idea is to bring back the old system.
Whichever one is taken, the spate of violence proves the unraveling of the northern elite in the sense in which Professor John Paden called it a cohort. He was referring to the elite the British knitted together through specifically designed finishing schools such as Barewa College, Zaria, Government College, Keffi, Government College, Katsina Ala and so on. It was the grooming in these schools that made them leaders, not their Fulani, Jukun, Berom or Tiv identities.
They were leaders in the sense that notwithstanding all the charges of the aggressive proselytisation campaign and ‘incorporation’ against the Sardauna that John Paden talked about in the book on the subject matter, there was a merit system in the old northern region. That is what can explan the rise of such actors as the Awoniyis, the Michael Audu Bubas, the Abutu Obekpas, Ishaya Audu and even Solomon Lar in the old north as well as the young people who became military officers and so on. Some people claim that, in the case of Professor Ishaya Audu, he became the first Vice-Chancellor of Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria because he was a Fulani. That has been disproved since Daniel Saror also became Vice-Chancellor of ABU, Zaria without being Fulani although Professor Andrew Nok’s inability to get that position recently brought back the sentiments, the kind of sentiments and ill-feelings that did not surface when the same Professor Nok could not get the Vice-Chancellorship of the University of Jos. That is why conflict managers privilege understanding as that which makes all the difference in the management of differences. That approach has become even more appropriate at the height of what Archbishop John Onaiyekan once called the crisis of “clear view of how we can get out of our predicament”. In his 2006 Annual Distinguished Lecture at NIPSS, Jos, the Archbishop noted how the material dimension of Nigeria’s crisis – lack of water, medical care, electricity, schools, etc do matter but not as much as loss of hope. His argument is that “people without hope cannot be made to take life seriously”. No time does this thesis seem to apply more than now.
In obviously getting the nod of the larger platform, the leadership of the Northern Governors’ Forum might have started a process with prospects for deeper peace not only in the north but also in the entire country given the population mix in the north and the way that nationalises what would otherwise have been a regional crisis. This is more so if they do not take a binary view of the crisis in question by concentrating on Christians and Muslims when the successful penetration of militias from anywhere outside Nigeria signposts a big and puzzling dent on the concept of the Nigerian State itself. Hopefully, this aspect would not be glossed over in the cacophony of claims and counterclaims.