He, who feels it, knows it; so says an African proverb. Yet, another African proverb says when you see mourners with a casket; it appears as though what they carry is mere firewood, except if the deceased relates to you. For a very long time we have all pretended that as long as it does not affect us directly, we have nothing to worry about. Now, it is coming home and no one is spared. Now, the killings have gone out of hand and everybody is worried. Emirs are kidnapped every other day, kidnapping hundreds of students is no longer news. Even the home state of the President Muhammadu Buhari, Katsina, is not spared. Finally, the chickens have come home to roost.
Sometime in July 2019, Funke Olakunrin, the second daughter of Afenifere leader, Reuben Fasoranti was shot and killed, between Kajola and Ore along Ondo-Ore road and the entire nation almost erupted with accusations and counter-accusations. While the initial report, based on eyewitnesses’ account, was that Mrs Olakunrin was killed by Fulani herdsmen who emerged from the bush, shot and killed her, the federal government was quick to dismiss it as another case of ethnic-profiling.
Never before have we lived in denial as we do now and we seem quite comfortable with this. The Ondo Police spokesman, Femi Joseph, was also caught in the web, as he tried to school us on why people must not rush to accuse the Fulani herders of the crime. The spokesman said he would not confirm if the attackers were Fulani herdsmen, noting that until an arrest was made, it would be difficult to identify the persons and where they came from. Fair enough, but hear the next line of his admonition.
“No, you can’t shave the head of a man in his absence. You have to wait for us to arrest them. Somebody you have not arrested, it is difficult for you to establish his ethnicity. Crime does not have colour, ethnicity or religion, crime is a crime and a criminal is a criminal.”
Sound logic you had said, but if we had fought crime dispassionately as he suggests, we will not be in this mess. However, if a person witnessed a crime and is called upon to describe what happened, will it help the police in their investigation or not, if the person describes the suspect as wearing a particular dress, having a particular tribal marks, looked like a person from a particular tribe or ethnicity or religion and perhaps spoke a particular language? Today, that amounts to ethnic profiling. That is how far gone we are as a nation and how deep we will need to go to retrieve what was once a boisterous nation back on its feet again.
If a crime is committed by an individual and the suspect is described as a Yoruba, Hausa or Igbo, is it taken that all those from the tribe in question are all criminals? Or that the suspect had the consent of his ethnic group to steal on their behalf. Only a people in denial would resort to this rather than deal with the crime or criminality decisively. That is how we have allowed crime to fester and we are reaping the benefit of the poisonous fruits we planted. The FG is the worst culprit; always pandering to sentiments where simple application of the law is needed.
In January this year, the Governor of Ondo State, Rotimi Akeredolu, asked all Fulani herdsmen in Ondo State to vacate forest reserves within the state. He also issued a seven-day ultimatum to the herdsmen.
Akeredolu had said, the measure was aimed at addressing the root cause of kidnapping, in particular, and other nefarious activities detailed and documented in security reports, the press and debriefings from victims of kidnap cases in Ondo State.
According to him, “These unfortunate incidents are traceable to the activities of some bad elements masquerading as herdsmen. These felons have turned our forest reserves into hideouts for keeping victims of kidnapping, negotiating for ransom and carrying out other criminal activities.”
“As the Chief Law and Security Officer of the state, it is my constitutional obligation to do everything lawful to protect the lives and property of all residents of the state.”
You would have thought that being the governor of the state who must have had enough evidence to arrive at that decision he would enjoy the support of all well-meaning people of the country. But no, the unfortunate death of Mrs Olakunrin and many before and after it were not the concerns of the federal government, instead in their usual knee-jerk reactions to national issues, especially where the Fulani is involved, they resorted to denial and played up the ethnic card and reduced it to ethnic-profiling.
Recently, the Emir of Muri in Taraba State, Alhaji Abbas Tafida, threatened bandits identified by him as foreign Fulani Bororo with death if they didn’t leave his forests in 30 days. He said the bandits, their children, their brothers and their sisters, all, would be killed if they didn’t leave in 30 days.
Alhaji Tafida had said in a fit of rage that, “Our brothers, the nomadic herdsmen (Bororo) from neighbouring countries, you came to us to allow you to stay in our forest. We allowed you because you are our brothers. When you came we welcomed you. We regarded you as fellow Muslims. But the question you must answer is, are you Muslims? This is a question we are waiting for you to answer. We deserve to know if you are Muslims. If you are one of us (Muslims) and you decide to stay in the forest, only to kidnap us one by one for ransom, you should stop it because your attitude is not acceptable to Allah.
“But if you are not Muslims, I want to tell you, like we fought the infidels before; we are ready to fight you with all our strength. So I have given you (Bororo) 30 days to leave my emirate. If we see any one of you after the expiration of my ultimatum, we will kill him.
“I am calling on my subjects to know that and be ready to fight or else I will draw the line. We kill him without asking him what he came to do or ask his name or where he comes from. If we are going to be all killed let it be. If we will all die, let it be. We will not allow bastards come and kidnap our wives, take them to the forest and rape them or commit adultery with them.
“In one of the villages, we have the report of a District Head who is conniving with these criminals. He was arrested and granted bail by the police and the people are watching him. I think such a leader is not supposed to be living among us. Are you crazy to allow such a person to continue to live among you? Listen to me, henceforth any person who is found to be conniving with these criminals, we will go and kill his mother, and other siblings. For the police, we respect you for doing your duty. If you arrest any kidnapper and set him free we are not going to accept that.
“Our armed youths will be directed to go after the kidnappers. There is no way we cannot be free in our homes; and worse, we cannot sleep with our two eyes closed. I am calling on Ardos (leaders of Fulani) to stop these barbaric acts in my emirate because you all know who are carrying out these criminal activities. I want to reiterate that any kidnapper that is set free by the security will not be spared. All those responsible for maintaining peace in my domain should come together to end the menace or we know what to do. Peace be upon you.”
The Emir has every right to be angry and can be excused for using the same words or even more grievous words than Gov Akeredolu, Sunday Igboho or Nnamdi Kanu did, but can you really blame him? Those who sit at the comforts of their homes in Abuja and berate these people have not lost any of their family members or friends to these felons so they can afford to play politics.
The Emir must have learnt the hard way that allowing these “brothers” of theirs could not have been in the interest of the nation. He also, probably, may not have cried out if these “brothers” had only concentrated on killing, kidnapping and raping the “infidels.”
Like the Emir, the federal government has thrown the nation’s borders open to these foreigners, at least they have admitted as much, in the hope that like the monarch, these “brothers” would not touch one of theirs but concentrate on the “infidels”. How else can one explain the attitude of the federal government to insist that these foreigners are provided ranches or grazing routes through Nigeria and given absolute rights to roam our forests?
It’s not surprising that the federal government has not mentioned a word, let alone rebuke the Emir. Sincerely, I do not think they should do that because nobody would watch standoffish while his life or that of his people is threatened, but we know what would have happened if a Christian monarch or cleric had issued that ultimatum.
We also know that while Sunday Adeyemo, aka Sunday Igboho and Nnamdi Kanu are being prosecuted for similar offences, nothing has happened to Miyetti Allah pastoralists who have also issued similar sack notices in the north. The federal government must realize, as the Emir must have known by now, that when you ride a tiger there can only be one destination for such misadventure ultimately; its belly.