The death of a Senator and a member of the Plateau State House of Assembly has once more drawn the attention of the country to the unending crisis on the Plateau, not because there was cessation in the conflict before their deaths but because the crisis has started to take a new dimension altogether. The list of victims has, for the first time in the history of ethno-religious conflicts in Nigeria, started to include the elite, and the politicians especially.
While the sad development seems to worry everyone and there are renewed calls for peace from many quarters, reports indicate that the Joint Task Force (JTF), whose actions was responsible for the escalation of the crisis recently, is busy destroying Fulani settlements in Barikin Ladi amd Riyom Local Government Areas, adding fuel to fire. Luggere, a Fulani stronghold, was destroyed yesterday and its inhabitants forcefully dispersed.
“This morning”, the Secretary of Miyetti Allah in Barikin Ladi Local Government, Malam Mohammed Adam told the Daily Trust yesterday, “soldiers came and started burning Fulani settlements. As I speak to you now, they are busy burning all Fulani settlements in Shong II, Wuro Bello, Gure Danegu, Dyola, Rakweng, Sharu, Kuzeng, Luggel, Rachi, Matse and Afan. They are backed up with helicopters and tanks.”
Once more, in the quest for peace, the Nigerian authorities are repeating the mistake they committed with Boko Haram in 2009. They have not quenched that fire since. Yet, they are starting a bigger one.
A proper understanding of the conflict must be located within the framework of the genocidal agenda of the Berom. They have vowed to cleanse the areas they dominate of the Hausa and the Fulani. Today, except in their strongholds like Sabongidan Danyaya, Barikin Ladi town, and few other tin settlements like Dorawar Babuje, all the Hausa villages in Berom-dominated areas have been wiped out. The countryside has been cleansed of nearly forty such settlements.
The flight of the Hausa and sedentary Fulani was not prompted by cowardice, I believe, but by the luxury of the alternative they have. They could migrate into the comfort of other Hausa communities in other towns in the state or neighbouring ones to continue with their farming and petty trading. Of course, their flight comes with a lot of loss of capital and property. Nevertheless, they should be grateful to nature for endowing them with that option, which it has denied the cattle Fulani. This fact is at the core of the ongoing conflict.
It was not that the Berom spared the Fula naturalis in cognizance of the longstanding association between the two groups. Not at all. Many attacks have been moffered by Berom militia but, this time, unlike in the case with the Hausa, the Fulani in all their major settlements in Beromland have so far been repelling such attacks successfully with equal, if not superior, force. It is this balance of terror that has enabled the Fulani to stay put there, while the fuel of genocide continues to burn in the heart of the Berom emperor, His Excellency, Governor David Jonah Jang. The Fulani has to do this because nature has not offered him a better choice as it did to others.
Nature has consigned the Fulani to his cattle and in Africa the cattle has consigned him to the bush. He has no option except to live in the countryside where his master – the cattle – would flourish. In the gospel of his survival, he must cherish the grass and fight to the last drop of his blood for his natural master to graze uncultivated forests and grassland. Since his appearance in West Africa a millennium ago, he has obediently followed his cattle to wherever they led him. There is hardly any country in West, Central and, now, East Africa where he has not set his foot on and he continues to press southward, following the African Drainage Basin, until one day his herd drinks from the Orange River in South Africa.
The conflict with the Berom has endured precisely because it is among the very few cases where attempts were made in history to expel the Fulani completely from a place. Nowhere has this strategy ever succeeded in the history of West Africa since it started in the period of Sonni Ali, one of the kings of the ancient Songhai Empire. Conflict with the Fulani could be prolonged and they may even sustain heavy casualties and disappear for a while; but soon their cattle would guide them back, one way or the other, to settle on the once hostile land. Only the tsetse fly has succeeded in barring the them from some territories, before. Today, even that threat is gone, with deforestation and the availability of effective drugs against bovine blood parasites. Their cows are today successfully grazing in the Niger Delta, on the Atlantic coast.
This understanding is important in the scheme of any dream, conflict or peace that involves the Fulani. His natural burden to cater for the cow must be recognized. This has led him to the innate belief that his cattle have a universal right to natural grass wherever it may be, just as the Americans believe in mankind’s universal rights to natural resources. Beromland cannot be an exception. All the Fulani asks for is grass, water and respect for his life and property. Nothing more. He is not interested in competing with the Berom in politics, education or trade. Almost all African tribes he visited so far have granted him those rights and that of passage through their territory to wherever his masters would take him.
If only the Berom, as many other tribes did, would appreciate the burden that his Fulani brother carris and allow him to graze the uncultivated fields without harassment or attempt to evict him, peace with the Fulani would be as easy as breathing air.
Is this a special demand that the Fulani are obliged to beg for? No. The Fulani are Nigerians as much as any other group. Every tribe in Nigeria traces its origin somewhere outside the country and from where, according to its elders, it immigrated. The Berom, for example, trace their origins to Niger Republic! Admittedly, the Fulani are the most recent arrivals, starting just some 500 years ago, but that does not make them less bonafide citizens of Nigeria. He is a native of Nigeria. By official connotation, a native is any non-European living in the country at the time of British conquest. The Fulani is entitled to constitutional rights like any other Nigerian. He may be living alone in the bush, with his nuclear family and herd of cows. He may be illiterate with no knowledge of the constitution or common law. He may be weak, without a political body supporting him or protecting his rights. But Nigerian he remains, undeniably.
Over the past 400 years, the Fulani herdsmen have lived on the Plateau peacefully with all other native groups without any major conflict. They have contributed to its rural economy, including jobs for families whose members they employ to attend to their cows. They have raised many children of other tribes and benefitted them in various ways. A story that Governor Jang is never tired of telling people is how he was raised by a Fulani family and sponsored his early education. Now he is paying them back with deaths and destruction! His majesty, the Gbong Gwom of Jos, Mr. Gyang Buba, ascribes his Fulani surname to a Fulani neighbour his family once lived with. And so on. The two examples speak volumoft about the peaceful coexistence that has developed over the centuries between the Fulani and other tribes on the Bauchi Plateau – as it is properly called in geography.
The Fulani believe that the recent escalation in the crisis is caused by a new Berom strategy. Knowing very well from previous major encounters that his people are no match to the Fulani even with the resources of government at his disposal (he once offered to buy their men braziers when thousands of them fled their towns after their defeat in one of those encounters last year) and neither can he convince the federal government to withdraw the soldiers from the streets, Jang has now resorted to using the JTF under its new Commander to fight his proxy war against the Fulani. If one commander could decline the offer, he can be replaced by another whoEqui would take it.
And of taking it many people are accusing the new JTF commander, Major-General Henry Ayoola. Thus, under him, the death of a promiscuous, heavy drinking mobile policeman under the JTF and the loss of his rifle at Karaku were instantly, without any investigation, hanged on the neck of all the Fulani and troops went on mass destruction of their homes and cows in Bangwai and dozens of their villages in Barikin Ladi local governments. Yet, when the Fulani complained of the destruction, the JTF publicly denied knowledge of such attacks. And it continues to claim ignorance on what is now common knowledge.
Are we witnessing a repeat of Maiduguri here? Every rational Nigerian will agree that the strategy of using crass force to settle civilian issues does not work. This was the mistake that the Nigerian authorities made in the case of Boko Haram and for which the country is paying dearly today. When compared to the international brotherhood of the Fulani, Boko Haram could just be a drop in the ocean.
Government is punishing the victims of the Berom genocide agenda. Why is the conflict in Plateau State now reduced to Berom territory only? Are they the only tribe among whom the Fulani live in the state? Why would, in the quest for peace, must the homes of innocent citizens be destroyed? Why is the JTF denying them the return to their ruined homes? How can the death of a policeman and the loss of his rifle justify these human rights abuses? Let us not forget that the conflict with Boko Haram started by the shooting of their members at a funeral procession who did not wear a motorcycle helmet. Is riding a motorcycle without a helmet enough a justification to kill many Nigerian citizens?
If the JTF had taken it’s time investigate the killer of the promiscuous policman, the crisis would not have escalated in the first place. The lives of the Senator and many others would have been saved. But many people believe that it is an agenda.
There is a general understanding amongst the residents of the State that only the state governor has the key to its peace. That key doe not have a duplicate. Unfortunately, as General Jeremiah Husaini (rtd), one of the elders in the state, said this morning over the BBC, the governor is not disposed to the peaceful resolution of the crisis. He impervious to advice, said the retired general.
One may dismiss Husaini as a persistent Tarok opponent of governor Jang. He is not, at least on this case. Though the crisis started before his tenure, by 2007 when Jang was sworn in as the governor, most of the ethno-religious conflicts in the state have ceased. Dariye’s dream of cleansing the Plateau of Hausa-Fulani had clearly proved unattainable and abandoned especially after he was rustled by Obasanjo and the EFCC. People of various ethnic groups were moving about freely in the state without any hindrance. Business returned. Some who fled had even started returning. However, Jang renewed the genocidal dream by committing himself to three Berom-centred goals: developing his Berom homeland, cleansing it of the much bigoted Hausa-Fulani, and vesting all political power in Jos and its environs in his tribesmen. This is why the entire state is quiet, except Beromland.
Jang has largely succeeded on all the three objectives. At the expense of human lives, he has made other groups inconsequential in the scheme of things in Jos and its environs. That was his strategy behind conducting the local government election of 2008 against all security advice. He has also built a good road network in his entire Beromland, to the envy of other ethnic groups in the state. The roads leading even to remotest Berom villages are either completed and asphalt rendered or about to be completed. He has, as we noted earlier, also succeeded in expelling most Hausas and many sedentary Fulani from most of the tin mining settlements in Beromland. The only people he is yet to beat are the cattle Fulani.
Expelling the Fulani from Beromland is a record that Jang would like to achieve but from what is going on, the Fulani have vowed never to allow him win that gold medal. So long as grass will continue to grow there, so long as the land and property the Fulani legitimately acquired remain there, so long as their lives and property are vandalized without the protection from government, these African gypsies, from all indications, will continue to fight for their dear lives and those of their masters. Their basic constitutional rights are the minimum that I know they, like any other group of Nigerians, will never compromise on.
The Road to Peace
The road to peace therefore is one: the constitution as I have always argued. Let the dream of cleansing Beromland of Fulani end in the heart of Jang and he will find the Fulani instantly willing to embrace peace. This has happened in other parts of the state. As the governor, Jang has vowed to protect the lives and property of all Nigerians under his domain. He must keep that promise. Only then will Berom and Fulani live in peace. Otherwise, this crisis will last for generations to come.
As a side note, the JTF under its new commander must not be partial on this matter. If it cannot protect the Fulani, it must not join forces with Jang to eliminate them and their property. Attempting to do so will definitely lead to loss of more lives of Berom and their supporters. The Fulani cannot be eliminated. They have never been.
Let me assure all concerned that in spite of the ongoing brutality the Fulani will survive this crisis. So far they have survived the hostilities of ancient Mali, Songhai, Gobir, and Borno empires. Some of those empires they crippled, some they stamped out completely in spite of their small number, and with the rest they were able to live peacefully until the present time. In all those instances, they were equipped with nothing but three things that nobody can deny them: the valour of the nomad, two, the strength that they derive from their unmatched group feeling – or ‘asabiyyaas Ibn Khaldun would call it and, three, the strong thirst for justice. That group feeling has been responsible for the defeat of most sedentary dynasties in the past. It is also the key to the survival of the nomads today. As for their thirst for justice, they are never satisfied until it is served in full measure their aggressors, either by the authorities or by them.
The power of Jang cannot match that of Ahmad Sekou Toure, the longest serving Mallinke President of Guinea who revived the hate of his ancestor, Sonni Ali. Toure assassinated and murdered in cold blood over thirty thousands Fulani intellectuals, leaders and tribesmen during his 26-year tenure. But they survived him, using their estrangement to work harder until they gained control of over 80% of the Guinean economy today. Jang, in spite of the support he is able to buy, is not more than a child trying to break a coconut with his teeth. Ridding Beromland of Fulani can only be temporary and certainly makes it more vulnerable to attacks by their brothers from other parts of West Africa. Take this to the bank.
As a minority in the area and on the disadvantaged side in the conflict, the Fulani were not successful in initiating peace with the Berom in the past. All their attempts were rebuffed. It is the move of the more preponderant and government-backed Berom that would be successful, given their monopoly over land and state resources. But the Berom, even if they want peace, are under the spell of their emperor, Jang. He controls their paramount chief and their youths. He has a choice between peace and violence.
The choice of violence, on the one hand, is not a wise one because violence is a two-way commodity: Pain on this side, and pain on the other. With the egalitarian Fulani, you get just as much pain as you give him. The road to peace, on the other, is quiet and its results are three-dimensional: In this case, peace to the Berom, peace to the Fulani and peace to other Nigerians living on the Plateau.
With the support he enjoys from the press, his ethnic group, law enforcement agents, Plateau courts and the state treasury, Jang may foolishly choose to remain recalcitrant and prefer violence to peace. We pray that he one day sees the light, become wiser and listen to elders of the State such that the lives of to meddle into Plateau affairs.
Lastly, may peace be upon the leader who brings peace to his people. And already blessed are the people who seek justice, no matter the odds, without surrendering.
12 July 2012
Dr. Aliyu Tilde blogs at Friday Discourse