They are called bandits when they kidnap in Zamfara while the media tags them, Fulani herdsmen if the victims are from Ekiti or Ebonyi. The same evil but called different names. For decades, farmers in the North have painfully endured the destruction of their farmlands, abduction of their people, kidnapping for ransom and other heinous atrocities in the hands of pastoralists, who I must concede are mostly from the Fulani ethnic stoke at least in recent time. It’s argued that climate change is pushing them to the middle and south to access better nutrition for their cows, which causes the same age long friction with the locals. It is a relatively new phenomenon for people in the south. Kidnapping isn’t particularly new because it has been there long before herdsmen mastered the act. It is perpetrated by all groups in the country. As bad as kidnapping is, stoking ethnic tension poses a greater danger of a wider crisis.
Let’s go memory lane. Just before the holocaust in 1940, Hitler’s right-hand man, Ernst Rohm advised him in the early years of the Nazis that for them to win public opinion in their sickening ethnic cleansing of other races, they needed to demonise and profile them. So, they denounced all Jews for all that is wrong in Germany. More than 80 million people demonstrably perished during World War II. In Rwanda, the Hutus blamed their problems on the entire ethnic Tutsis which resulted in the murder of 800,000 Tutsis. More recently in Myanmar, the entire Rohingya Muslims were blamed for the offence of a few members – about 24,000 Rohingyas were massacred by Buddhist extremists and the Burmese military. In the months leading to Nigeria’s civil war, the Igbo population suffered disproportionate killings on the account that their kinsmen killed Sir Ahmadu Bello and PM Tafawa Balewa, which metamorphosed into a bloody civil war. In the aftermath of 9/11 terrorist attack in the USA, a white supremacist called Mark Stroman went on a shooting spree, killing people he considered to be Arab. All these have one common denominator – ethnic profiling of crime. We must resist the temptation to paint an entire people with one brush. We must be cautious and stop the drum of war; it’s not a tea party!
When there’s a breakdown of law, innocent people could be killed because they have the misfortune of sharing the same ethnic group as the perceived criminals, then reprisal attacks ensue across the country and the federal government in their characteristic cavalier disposition may be unable to restore normalcy.
Tension is high which can accelerate conflict easily in Nigeria because the youth are desperate with no jobs. The few lucky ones that are engaged are out of work due to the covid-19 pandemic. Their hope of getting decent employment evaporates each time ASUU goes on strike. Social media has democratised access to information or disinformation, where the young, tech-savvy, Instagram generation lads take inspiration on how to agitate from the global citizens.
The Soro Soke generation recognise that social media can be used to mobilise a popular call to good governance. They see the impact of the Black Lives Matter activity in the USA and formed their own in #EndSARS movement.
The failure of the government to protect its citizens provides ground for hapless citizens to resort to self-help. Mr Sunday Igboho, a self-professed Yoruba activist is a manifestation of a security vacuum not only in the southwest but in all Nigeria. He would have been a national hero if he concentrated on purging these criminals without recourse to ethnic colouration. People of Zamfara, Katsina and Kaduna and many others would be happy to roll out a red carpet for him to rescue them because they suffer in the hands of these murderous bandits much more than any state. Remember a whopping 340 Katsina pupils were abducted in December by the same criminal elements. There are criminal elements in all ethnic groups and we must not condemn whoever is bold to defend themselves since the government appears inadequate.
Words have consequences. Sadly, following Mr Igboho’s rhetoric, the Sarkin Fulani’s residence was razed in Oyo, some Fulani settlements were burnt down in Ogun. In the southeast; cows and Fulani makeshift houses were destroyed. No evidence to show the victims are kidnappers. Only that they are Fulani. This has to stop.
A government in a normal environment is supposed to have a monopoly of the use of force. If not, the mob rules. Mr Sunday Igboho stepped in where the government failed to act. Unfortunately, like most ultra-nationalist personalities, he is well capable of plunging the country into an even deeper crisis if he can’t separate fighting crime from advancing an ethnic agenda.
Take a look at countries where the constituted authorities compete with different gangs in using guns to maintain power. Somalian government is competing with Al-Shabab terrorist groups. Mexico, Columbia and some other Latin American countries compete with murderous drug gangs. Syria is a shadow of its former self because ISIS is competing with the government there. All these are the hallmarks of a failed state. Nigeria is not a failed state yet but the trajectory is one that may render it an absolute African catastrophe.
Mr Bagwanje writes from the United Kingdom.