Killer-Fulani herders and the AK-47 Governor

Mohammed and Fulani herders bearing guns
Mohammed and Fulani herders bearing AK-47

By Jethro Ibileke

AK-47 is no ordinary gun, it is a dangerous assault rifle invented by world’s deadliest weapon inventor, Russian Mikhail Kalashnikov. It is a specialized assault rifle designed for special military operations, meant for military operatives trained for it.

In some developed countries, police operatives are not permitted to carry AK-47 on the streets, except when it becomes absolutely necessary, after procuring clearance from appropriate authorities.

If you recall the 2003 North Hollywood shoot-out movie of failed bank robbery, titled: “44 Minutes,” where two heavily armed men held the Los Angeles Police Department at bay for 44 minutes. Authorities had to review the situation before granting permission before AK-47 was released to operatives of police special force, for the rescue operation.

That goes to show how dangerous AK-47 is, the respect it commands and the seriousness attached to its handling.

Of course, that is in foreign countries where people, including security operatives, have respect for laid-down rules/laws. That is not the case in Nigeria, where the weapon has become part of the uniform of not only military operatives, but of all security operatives in Nigeria, namely, the police, NSCDC, Customs, Immigration and  perhaps, FRSC operatives might soon join the list.

In Nigeria, AK-47 and other light weapons are seen everywhere. Most robbery suspects are armed with it. Many of them have even confessed to buying them from disgruntled security operatives.

Most worrisome, however, is the fact that, as dangerous AK-47, is so common and readily available and accessible to many Nigerians. Even Fulani herdsmen, both young and old, who in the past, were known to lead their animals with sticks, now carry AK-47 weapons, allegedly for self-defence.

This development has generated much tension and concern, as these nomads-turned bandits have allegedly engaged in armed robbery and kidnapping in almost all states of the country. Many Nigerians, both the rich and the poor, the lowly and the highly-placed alike have lost their lives to their nefarious activities, while others have had to pay several millions of naira to secure their release from their captivity.

Besides kidnapping, these herders who are of Fulani extraction, have on many occasions reportedly attacked and killed harmless farmers in their farms, raped women and destroyed farm produce. The conflict has led to ethnic tension across the country.

Expectedly, many have condemned and berated the federal government for its silence and nonchalant posture to the vexatious herdsmen issue. At times, the attitude of the federal government and its security agencies have given the wrong impression of tacitly shielding and protecting these bandits, who have killed and maimed hundreds of persons.

Little wonders why Bauchi state governor, Alhaji Bala Mohammed, came under heavy attack and sever criticism, when he said the AK-47-bearing herdsmen are forced to do so because the government has failed to secure their lives and livelihood.

Speaking on Thursday, 11 February, Mohammed said herdsmen needed the AK-47 rifles to defend themselves from cattle rustlers and other challenges they encounter on the roads. He
condemned the treatment of Fulani herdsmen especially in the southern region, noting that the whole tribe should not be criminalised for the actions of some of them responsible for deadly attacks, adding that since the host communities and government of host states failed to protect the herders, it is imminent that the Fulani herders carry guns as self-defence.

The governor, especially picked on his Benue state counterpart, Samuel Ortom, for starting alleged wave of anti-Fulani sentiment, whereas, his own state (Bauchi), has been accommodating to all tribes from across the country, unlike the treatment Fulani people are facing in other parts.

Not done, Bala Mohammed further condemned those asking cattle herders to leave forest reserves in their various states, apparently in response to ultimatum and threat of arrest issued to herdsmen by Ondo state governor, Olurotimi Akeredolu. He berated Akeredolu for issuing an eviction notice to the criminal herders residing in the Ondo forest reserves, noting that neither his brother-governor nor anyone else, has the right to ask the herders-turned bandits to leave, as anyone is free to live and work wherever he desires in the country.

Of course, ever since he made the vexatious statement, the governor has been in the eye of the storm. His stance has however triggered a wave of condemnation from his counterparts and Nigerians alike, increasing calls for the prohibition of open grazing.

Governors Samuel Ortom and Akeredolu of Benue and Ondo states respectively, slammed their Bauchi state counterpart for justifying illegal handling of firearms. Speaking last Monday, Ortom accused Mohammed of being a terrorist. He also referred to his assertion that herders should carry AK-47 to defend themselves as being unconstitutional.

“I am beginning to think that my brother, the governor of Bauchi State, is part of the terrorist Fulani organisation that is terrorising this country. Why do I say this? This is the same governor who took the oath of office to protect the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. This constitution does not leave room for allowing foreign herdsmen to come in without valid papers.

“His recent outburst that Fulani herdsmen are justified for carrying AK-47 to protect themselves. I don’t know where the constitution of this country allows that,” Ortom said.

He, therefore, called Mohammed to tender an unreserved apology to Nigerians and learn from the provisions of the constitution that, land both territorial, forest, and aquatic, are vested on the governor of a state who holds them in trust.

On his part, Akeredolu said: “Bala Mohammed has even poured more petrol into the fire because his speech is unexpected of him. It will become very serious and nobody will be spared.”

Following this backlash and avalanche of condemnation that trailed his statement, Mohammed while speaking last Sunday on Channel Television’s programme, Sunrise Daily, defended his comment about armed herders, explaining that he used AK-47 for protection as a figure of speech. He said: “It is a figure of speech to show you the despondence, the desperation and frustration and the agony that this particular person is exposed to by his own people, by his own tribe and by other tribes who have all seen him as a criminal and therefore, he has the inalienable right to protect himself.”

Also speaking on Sunday in a statement by his Senior Special Assistant on media, Mukhtar Gidado, the embattled Mohammed explained that the primary objective of his comment was to avert the dangerous prospect of a nation-wide backlash and generalization of the Fulani clan as criminals. He noted that it would be inappropriate to label an entire tribe as criminals, based on the crimes of a few members of the ethnic group.

Gidado added that the governor’s statement was intended to caution all stakeholders to guard against escalating the tension, just as many patriotic stakeholders, particularly from the North, have been working round the clock to avert reprisal actions that could throw the entire country into a cauldron of unimaginable proportions.

The statement read: “The attention of the Bauchi State government has been drawn to reactions from various members of the public to gov. Mohammed’s speech, at the closing ceremony of the Press Week of the Correspondent’s Chapel of the NUJ in Bauchi State, last Thursday.

“The Governor used the occasion to weigh in on the contentious issue of clashes between herdsmen and farmers, particularly against the backdrop of the eviction and other forms of restriction orders, issued by some state governments and non-governmental entities.

“The primary objective of the Governor was to avert the dangerous prospect of a nation-wide backlash as tempers flared and given that the phenomenon of inter-ethnic migration, is a national pastime involving all ethnic groups in Nigeria.

“By extension, the Governor made it abundantly clear that it will be inappropriate to label any one tribe based on the crimes of a few members of the ethnic group.”

Gidado further stressed that the governor’s reference to AK47 was simply to put in perspective, the predicament and desperation of those law-abiding Fulani herdsmen who, while carrying out their legitimate cow-rearing business, have become serial victims of cattle rustling, banditry, kidnapping and assassination.

He said these were the people who, in the absence of any protection from the security agencies, are forced to resort to self-help, to defend both their means of livelihood and their lives.

According to him, Mohammed being a constitutionalist, has proved over time, all through his political career, he would be the last person to advocate a subversion of the constitution of the federal republic of Nigeria.

Rather than vilify his Principal, whom he described as a bridge-builder, humanist and nationalist, but instead, Gidado urged all those concerned to admonish those governors whose lack of restraint is responsible for the escalation of this crisis.

Whatever the case may be, what Nigerians want is an end to banditry, kidnapping, murder and armed robbery, even as they want those perpetrating them to be brought to justice. They expect all security agencies to sit up and live up to their billings. They also expect government at all levels to do everything possible to protect the citizens from all forms of injustice and violent crimes.

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