Frustrated by the mass killings in his state, which has resulted into thousands of death and the displacement of millions of people, Samuel Ortom, a Tiv and the governor of Benue; a state that is plagued by farmers/herders clashes, had this to say of President Muhammadu Buhari, a Fulani ‘’Mr President is pushing me to think that what they say about him, that he has a hidden agenda in this country is true because it is very clear that he wants to fulanise but he is not the first Fulani president. Shagari was a Fulani President, Yar’ Adua was a Fulani President and they were the best in the history. But President Buhari is the worst President when it comes to issues of security and keeping his promises’’.
The reaction from the presidency was fast and furious as if they were waiting for Ortom to throw the first punch before he is dealt a fatal blow. In a statement signed by presidential spokesman, Garba Shehu, Ortom was accused of ethnic and religious hatred for the Fulani as well as crass political opportunism amongst many other sins. According to Shehu, “Every time he feels the wind may be blowing in a certain direction, he follows it. Unfortunately, for the good citizens of Benue State, the most dangerous direction he blows in today is that of sectarianism and ethnicity.
‘’In an attempt to boost his sinking political fortunes, Ortom takes the cheapest and lowest route possible by playing on ethnic themes – and in doing so knowingly causes deaths of innocent Nigerians by inciting farmers against herders, and Christians against Muslims. Specifically, Ortom stirs up hatred by targeting one single ethnic group in Nigeria – using language reminiscent of the Rwandan genocide. As was the case in Rwanda where the then Hutu leaders of the country incited their countrymen against each other, claiming there was a “secret Tutsi agenda” over the Hutu, Ortom claims there is a “secret Fulanisation agenda” over other ethnic groups in his state and in Nigeria. This is a copy of the language of Hutu Power – which falsely, and intentionally, accused the Rwandan Tutsi of plans to dominate the country’’.
In Nigeria’s on going cow wars, truth appears to be main casualty. Unable to contain what it describes as farmers/herders clashes between sedentary farming communities and nomadic pastoralist over land and water resources, the current administration of President Muhammadu Buhari has resorted to disinformation dissemination as a means of public misinformation in an effort to obfuscate the identity and motive of killer herdsmen. In the last six years there has been a consistently deliberate effort on the part of official information managers of the Buhari administration to turn land owners to encroachers, aggressors to the aggressed and killers to victims in ways that portray terrorists as freedom fighters in Nigeria’s raging cow wars.
Whilst it is acceptable for the Buhari presidency to draw parallels between what happened in Rwanda in 1994 and the current happenings in Nigeria, it is unacceptable to deliberately switch the roles of various dramatis persona in what seems to be an unfolding re-enactment of the Rwandan tragedy in Buhari’s Nigeria in order suit its official narrative. Whereas, the Hutu are a predominantly farming group while the Tutsi are a pastoralist group, there is a tendency in Buhari’s Nigeria to liken Fulani herdsmen to Tutsis of Rwanda and the Tiv as well as other farming communities to their fellow Hutu country men.
However, the hood does not make a monk and contrary to the narrative of the Buhari presidency, the Rwandan style genocide is already happening in Nigeria. And in the on-going genocide, killer Fulani herdsmen that are carrying out mass killings, destruction of farm lands, rustling of cattle and kidnapping for ransom across the country are the aggressors, whose murderous activities approximates to Rwanda’s Interahamwe, the Hutu militia group that was responsible for the massacre of nearly one million Tutsi’s in 100 days. The Tutsi’s of Nigeria are the unarmed and defenceless citizens that are daily hacked down to their untimely death in Benue, Plateau, Taraba and other farming communities across Nigeria.
Another striking similarity between the Hutu Interahamwe and their killer Fulani herdsmen counterpart in Nigeria is that both killer groups kill moderate members of the own ethnic group who do not subscribe to their murderous agenda. Just as the Interahamwe killed fellow Hutus that were not part of their anti-Tutsi agenda so are killer Fulani herdsmen killing en mass their own Fulani kinsmen that are not members of their murderous gang of marauders in Zamfara, Sokoto, Niger, Katsina, Kebbi, Kaduna and other parts of Nigeria’s Fulani homeland after rustling their cattle.
Much like the Hutu dominated power in 1994 Rwanda from the beginning to the end of the genocide against Tutsis, the Fulani are in power in Buhari’s Nigeria as the genocide against sedentary communities are going on. If the Hutu government of Rwanda actively backed the Interahamwe in their mass killings of Tutsis in Rwanda, it appears that the Fulani dominated government of Nigeria is unwilling to contain the murderous excesses of their killer herdsmen kinsmen. In place of the grouse against the Tutsi by the Hutu of a ploy to dominate power in Rwanda and the propagation of bitter memories of the oppressive rule of the Mwami, the Tutsi king of Rwanda during the colonial era through hate mongering pro-Hutu media organisations, the grouse of Nigeria’s killer Fulani herdsmen is that pre-colonial grazing routes and reserves have been encroached upon by sedentary farming communities across Nigeria, hence justifying their killing expedition as a mission to recover what rightly belongs to them. Unfortunately, the chief propagator of this incendiary fallacy is not the media but the Buhari administration through official government communication. Time without number, President Buhari has made the claim that gazetted grazing routes and reserves have been encroached upon by farming communities and the only panacea to peace and security in Nigeria is the recovery of these routes and reserves for the nomadic Fulani herdsmen.
Unfortunately, in Nigeria’s on going cow wars, the Buhari administration seems to be more concerned about wordings of the lamentations of victims of killer herdsmen, who are identify their killers by their Fulani ethnicity, than their bereavement over the loss of thousands of human lives. Safe for intellectual dishonesty, the information managers of the Buhari administration are experienced enough to know that there is a clear difference between promoting violence and reporting violence. Similarly, there is a world of difference between criminal profiling of an ethnic group and the ethnic profile of an individual or group of criminals. In conflict zones all over the world, media reportage of wars and other forms of violence are patterned to reflect the racial, ethnic, religious and political persuasion of the warring groups in order to highlight the socio-cultural, historic and environmental factors responsible for the crisis.
In Hitler’s World War II Germany, the world was informed that six million Jews were exterminated at gas chambers by Nazi Germans of mostly Arian race in a racially motivated mass killing. The Middle East crisis is reported as an age long conflict between Jews and Arabs of Palestine. Apartheid South Africa was rightly described as a White minority dominated Black majority country where racial inequality, social and economic injustice reigned. Ousted leader of Sudan is wanted by the International criminal court in The Hague for backing Arab Janjaweed militia men to carry out genocide against the non-Arab communities of western Darfour region. The Muslim community in Nigeria often stand in solidarity with the Rohingya Muslims of Myanmar who have come under violent attacks by radical Buddhists, while blaming the Buddhists dominated government in Yangon of aiding and abetting the killing of their fellow Muslims. Recently, the President was said to have lost his appetite following what his government described as a ‘’pre-arranged’’ killing of 25 Muslim travellers along Jos Bauchi road and his police force described the perpetrators as ethnic ‘’Irigwe’’ youths.
What Governor Ortom and others like him whose people are victims of mass killings by killer herdsmen are doing is simply reporting the violence in their states and not promoting violence against Fulani people in general as claimed by the presidency, in the same way the Tutsis of Rwanda cried out to the world over the Hutu powered genocide of their people. Otherwise, how did Garba Shehu come about the information that the crisis in Rwanda was genocide by Hutu against their fellow Tutsi country men and not just a ‘’farmers/herders’’ clashes between Hutu farmers and Tutsi pastoralists?
More than Ortom and anyone else, the Buhari administration is most guilty of the charge of ethnicisation of criminality in Nigeria when it stubbornly categorises the raging violence in Nigeria as farmers/herders clashes. And it was in Ortom’s Benue that the tone was set for this unfortunate ethnicisation of herdsmen terrorism. In its reaction to the killing of over 70 people in Benue in 2017 by killer herdsmen, the Buhari administration, speaking through former minister of defence, Mansur Dan Alli, declared the mass killings as farmers/herders clashes and blamed the signing into effect of the anti-open grazing law by Governor Ortom. Minister Dan Alli also blamed the blocking of grazing routes and encroachment on reserves across the country as remotely responsible for the carnage. In his own belated reaction, President Buhari admonished the people of Bebue state to learn to accommodate fellow Nigerians and live in peace. And not a single individual was brought to justice for the killings. Therefore, who are the farmers and who are the herders? You can beat a child but you can’t ask the child not to cry.
Majeed Dahiru, a public affairs analyst, writes from Abuja and can be reached through email@example.com.