The Christian and the Fulani Herdsmen Challenge

I was thirteen when news filtered into the campus of my rural high school boarding facility that war had broken out in town between the local hunters and Fulani herdsmen. The story had it that cows had been herded into the farm of a local who had set a trap for bush meat only for one of the cows to have stepped on the trap. Of course the cow was badly injured and had become a monumental loss to the owner.

The herdsman waited patiently till the return of the farmer to his farm the following day and attacked him with weapons. Then broke out clashes that lasted for over one week and claimed several lives before security forces were able to stop the killings and before the government was able to douse tensions.

Our school campus was filled with the reports especially as day students who did not live on campus brought daily updates to us that fed our fears and sowed seeds of hatred in some of us  against the Fulani herdsmen. I remember how several of us froze while others screamed in the darkness of our hostel that lacked electricity when a fellow student came in the guise of a herdsman to intimidate us. It took the courage of a bold young man to rescue us. Trust my curiosity as I tried that on others in another hostel and while it worked on some, the attack of the courageous among them on me made it my first and last prank of that nature.

The hatred could, however, not easily find a way into my tender heart because it was only five years before that our family relocated from Mokwa in the Middle Belt where my dad had been the Head of the Building Section of the Maintenance department in the research station of the famed Ahmadu Bello University. The research station had a cattle ranch that inspired my love for ranching and the sight of Fulani herdsmen leading the cows around as they grazed in the village of Ndayako where we lived was a common sight.

The world as I knew it as a child was a place where everyone grew up to eke out a living and learnt to live with others peacefully as we all need one another. With the village filled with the local Nupes, Hausas from the core North, Tivs and Edomas from Benue, Yourubas and Ebirras from Kwara as then constituted and other ethnicities from around the country and even expatriates from Europe and Asia, ethnic prejudices were at the barest minimum as we all spoke Hausa and pidgin English. To hear of clashes resulting in fatalities was therefore very strange to me.

The last few weeks have been quite troubling for me especially reading of the carnage in Benue State resulting in the mass burial of 73 precious and innocent souls slaughtered by rampaging and violent herdsmen. Certainly those are not the same types I knew while growing up in Mokwa, nor even the type that is just enraged by the death of his cow alone. It sounds to me like there is a militia out there hell bent on taking vengeance for age long animosities born out of constant clashes with farmers resulting in fatalities on both sides. It does not look to me like the same people I interacted with as a child, bought fura and nunu (local delicacies) from their wives and made friends with. The question is, “How did we get here as a nation?”

The ethnic and religious coloration it has taken heightens my concerns at this time. WhatsApp texts, Facebook posts and tweets revealing an Islamic Agenda, calling for political and armed resistance, have all gone viral in recent times, fanning the embers of religious and ethnic conflict in a nation where the two dominant religions (Christianity and Islam) each have almost half of the populace as adherents and where a civil war has been fought before. The need for our leaders to quickly move into action and unite this nation has never been more urgent. The criminals must be fished out and dealt with. No one must be above the law nor escape justice. Lack of justice will only promote anarchy. If the seeming taciturn approach of government is for political expediency especially because of the 2019 elections, the ruling government should be reminded that as they protect a part of the country, they need the others to win the national elections.

The Executive arm of the government of the day has not helped matters by putting only people from the Northern part of the country alone in charge of all the security services. Such posture simply endorses the claim by some that there is a religious and an ethnic agenda being perpetrated by the current administration. Truth be told, Nigeria is too diverse and the population of Muslims and Christians too enormous for any leader to attempt to foist their religion on the other. It can only result in violence, war and possibly a balkanization of the country. No one has a monopoly of violence and so such can only be the figment of the imagination and a satanic ploy to destroy the nation including the planners of such a mirage.

Due to climate change, the drying up of lake chad and drought,  the need for the herdsmen to survive has propelled more migration southwards more than ever before and it has also led to a desperate scramble for vegetation. I now wonder whether it is beyond federal and state governments in the North to grow grasses for the cows to eat in massive quantities especially around the major rivers. With a resistance to the idea of cattle colonies, particularly born out of the fear that the Fulani want to colonize the rest of the country, Northern state governments should develop the colonies first to convince their southern counterparts about the idea. It’s also high time herdsmen are educated and enlightened to modernize their business and embrace ranching, rather than hold on to nomadic existence.

In the midst of this, believers should learn to remain as light in darkness and salt in a tasteless and decaying world. A Christian should firstly pray. From observation, some people are hell bent on creating problems and might truly intend to selfishly dominate the country through intimidation and violence. Pray against them like the Apostles prayed when the early church fought a battle of containment spiritually. In Acts 4, they prayed David’s prayer in Psalm 2; “Why do the nations rage, and the people plot a vain thing?” Pray for divine intervention and God will intervene. Surely, the Church is marching on and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.

Secondly, reach out in love and don’t join the crowd of haters. The truth is that while they may be in the minority, there are Christian Fulanis and we cannot afford to hate them. Moreover, Jesus died for all Fulanis too according to John 3.16. We tend to generalize after few bad experiences. The percentage of violent herdsmen are infinitesimal in comparison to the peaceful  mass. Please read every text and every post dispassionately. While I salute some of our Christian leaders for speaking out against this violence, some others have either misconstrued their position or just outrightly, out of their own prejudices, formulated hate speeches and are circulating them. Let us eschew violence and promote solutions that will unite and not divide our country.

Defend your territory. Those who live in the hotbeds of violence should protect themselves and their properties. It is your right to do so. There is no wisdom in allowing yourself or your property to be destroyed unnecessarily. Whatever available security resource you can afford should be employed to guard yourself.

May God bless the Federal Republic of Nigeria. Jesus is Lord.