Fulani Cattle Breeders: A National Pride Turned Prey, By Majeed Dahiru

The lush green vegetative ecological wonder that is the Mambilla plateau, in north east Taraba state, turned red as it became the latest scene of killing orgies. Over one hundred Fulani villages, hundreds of men, women and children were slaughtered in a four day long deadly attack that qualifies as ethnic cleansing of the Fulani on the Mambilla plateau by a well-organized Mambilla ethnic militia. In addition, herds of cattle, which is the symbol of the Fulani ethnicity as well their economic backbone, were slaughtered in thousands. In the public space, there appears to be a down playing of this latest incident because of the general perception that Fulani herdsmen only got a small dose of their own medicine as they have similarly wreaked havoc on farming communities all over central and southern Nigeria. However, this is a dangerous trend in inter-ethnic relationships between Nigerians of diverse ethnic background. The resort to self-help by various ethno-religious groups to safe guard their lives, properties and defend their ancestral territorial boundaries against incursions by perceived aliens is a clear indication of the failure of leadership at all levels of government to uphold law and order and ensure justice and fairness in matters of common interests of all Nigerians irrespective of ethnic background without fear or favour.

The recent genocide on the Mambilla plateau has been greatly obscured by the activities of marauding killer herdsmen, which is currently one of the most deadly terror groups in the world, leaving the plight of the ordinary innocent Fulani cattle breeder without sympathy.Due to the rampant killing and destructive activities of their armed brethren, the hardworking Fulani herdsman struggling to earn a living has become an object of collective hate by communities so affected. From eye witness accounts and images of the victims of the carnage on the plateau, which included aged men, pregnant women and toddlers, it becomes clear that the Fulani communities that were attacked were unarmed and defenceless. Therefore, the purpose of this attack is ethnic cleansing of the cattle breeding Fulani ethnic group of the Mambilla plateau by the farming Mambilla ethnic militia and not self defence against killer herdsmen. This latest act of unprovoked aggression against the Fulani communities on the Mambilla plateau, effectively groups the Mambilla militia men and killer Fulani herdsmen in the same condemnable category as terrorists. Unfortunately, this ugly incidence will go unpunished because the Mambilla militia appears to enjoy political legitimacy of the Taraba state political establishment just as killer herdsmen are believed to enjoy the backing of highly placed ethnic Fulani politicians in the federal government.

Nigeria, the giant of Africa, has vast agricultural potentials, which has been hampered among several other factors by improper utilization of land resources. At the root of the violent clashes over land by farmers and herdsmen is the economics of land ownership. Every citizen of Nigeria, including Fulani cattle breeders have economic rights and privileges in every part of Nigeria, which should never be hampered by such discriminatory cultural practices as indigene/settler dichotomy, which sometimes degenerates into physical attacks on cattle breeders by the so-called host communities. The failure of the state to protect Fulani cattle breeders against such violent tendencies, invariably forced some of them to self-help by carrying out reprisal attacks on communities in avenging previous attacks. Attacks and reprisals are condemnable and must be prevented by the state by firmly upholding law and order.  Away from the current characterization of Fulani herdsmen as killers of men and destroyers of crops, the unarmed innocent hardworking Fulani cattle breeder, should be appreciated for his immense contribution to Nigeria’s agricultural economy. While it is not economically sustainable to adopt the grazing reserve option as being canvassed by some, the anti-open grazing laws being enacted by some severely affected states by communal clashes are reactionary and smacks of veiled discrimination against the Fulani cattle breeders. The ambiguities of the open grazing laws have fuelled open resentment against Fulani cattle breeders by contending farming communities and may have encouraged resort to self-help as is the case on the Mambilla plateau.

The recent massacre on the Mambilla plateau has once again bought to the fore, the urgency to bring about a workable socio-economic frame work for peaceful co-existence between farming and herder communities. In resolving the herdsmen/farmer clashes, the economic importance of not just land but cattle must be considered as major factors in order to reach a mutually beneficial compromise to both groups. The principles of law and order should be upheld without fear of favour at all times to ensure justice and fairness to all parties. This will further reduce and eventually eradicate the dependency of both the Fulani herdsmen and farmers on armed militia men for retributive justice. The Fulani are legitimate citizens of Nigeria whose legitimate business interests must be protected wherever they chose to settle and ply their trade. I am always filled with a certain sense of pride, whenever I come across a herd of cattle being guided across the road in the city centre, by young Fulani cattle breeders. I feel a sense of appreciation towards these young men and women whose ingenuity and tireless efforts, have resulted in the breeding of over twenty million cattle that has guaranteed Nigeria’s self-sufficiency in beef and fresh milk. Thanks to the Fulani cattle breeders, Nigeria saves substantial amount of foreign exchange because of its non-total reliance on importation of beef and dairy products to meet our essential protein nutritional needs.

These are not just Fulani cattle breeders, they are Nigerian cattle breeders. The movement of cattle around Nigeria peacefully without encroaching on cultivated land should be a source of national pride and not a national prey to be slaughtered by rival ethnic militia. It is the responsibility of the state to help improve on the methods of cattle breeding by evolving policies and implementing programmes aimed at harnessing the enormous potential of the God given gift of ingenious animal husbandry of the Fulani man in order to minimise and eventually eradicate the ugly incidences if violent clashes over land with crop cultivators. My appreciation for the Fulani cattle breeder, who is shepherding his herd of cattle from one place to the other, is not different from my appreciation for the Igbo man who is moving his merchandise from one point to the other as well as a Yoruba man whose harvests of agricultural produce are being moved from the tilling fields to urban centres. Collectively, the Fulani, Igbo and Yoruba in this instance represent the strength, capabilities and ingenuity of the diverse peoples of Nigeria. They are Nigerians. They are Nigeria’s pride.

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