Ultimatums have in Nigeria’s recent history been severally issued criminal herdsmen to desist or vacate locations where their presence was deemed to have provided them a base for nefarious conducts injurious to the respective host community. Perhaps none has been as shocking and blunt as that by the Emir of Muri, Alhaji Abbas Njidda Tafida, in Taraba State. The emir is by ancestry and royal office of core Fulani stock. It was thus unforeseeable when, penultimate week, he served a 30-day ultimatum on Fulani herders terrorising Taraba residents to vacate forests within the state or be forced to do so. Emir Tafida did not only issue the fratricidal order of sorts, in a manner of speaking, he chose a most significant location and time to do so: at the Eid ground after Sallah prayers.
Speaking penultimate Tuesday on the heels of customary festive prayers to mark the Eid-el-Kabir, the Muri emir decried persisting incidence of kidnappings, killings and attacks on communities, and raping of women and girls by criminal herders in the state. He ordered Fulani herdsmen to vacate Taraba forests within 30 days or be forced out, and urged leaders of the herders to fish out the bad eggs among them. Visibly burdened and distressed, the royal, speaking in Hausa, said: “Our Fulani herdsmen in the forests, you came into this state and we accepted you. Why, then, will you be coming into towns and villages to kidnap residents, even up to the extent of raping our women? Because of this unending menace, every Fulani herdsman in this state has been given a 30-day ultimatum to vacate the forests. We are tired of having sleepless nights and the hunger alone in the land is enormous, and we will not allow it to continue.”
Emir Tafida’s burden and ultimatum reflected those previously shared by other stakeholders. Way back in January, Ondo State Governor Rotimi Akeredolu issued a seven-day notice for unregistered herdsmen illegally occupying forest reserves in his state to regularise their status or vacate those forests, as part of efforts to tackle challenges of insecurity linked with criminal herdsmen. Similar protestations by his Benue State counterpart, Governor Samuel Ortom, are notorious and have been pigeonholed as ethnic hatred. When Akeredolu served his notice, the Presidency swiftly snarled back, ruling his directive unlawful and a violation of the constitutional provision granting all Nigerians leave to reside and do business without inhibition wherever they chose across the country. Only that the Ondo State government doubled down, saying the order was not for all Fulani to leave its domain but one directed at herdsmen irregularly occupying its forest reserves and endangering state residents.
Subsequently, Southwest state governors, in agreement with the leadership of Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association of Nigeria (MACBAN), adopted a common stance outlawing “free-range grazing” by herders and opting instead for ranching. And shortly after, in February, the Northern Nigeria Governors Forum (NNGF) aligned with the view that the system operated by many herders in the country was no longer sustainable and should be stopped. They resolved to “aggressively sensitise herdsmen” on the need to adopt ranching and other acceptable modern methods.
The ultimatum issued penultimate week by Emir Tafida freshly highlighted the menace that criminal Fulani herdsmen constitute across vast terrains of this country. Though predominantly of the Fulani, Jukun, Hausa and Mumuye ethnic stocks, Muri natives are mainly engaged in farming – sorghum and millet are the staples – and in raising cattle, sheep, and goats. But the activities of criminal herders, as the emir red-flagged, was giving the people sleepless nights and fuelling hunger in the land – trends he said would not be allowed to continue. Criminal herders are widely perceived as perpetrating their deeds in pursuit of land grab and domination of host communities, using the animal trade as front.
But despite near-consensus on the menace they constitute, the current administration of President Muhammadu Buhari is seen as reluctant to contain them – at least, not with the same vigour that has been shown in tackling down separatists who were partly fired up by this same menace in the first place. The criminal herders carry on as if their impunity is licensed, and perceivably so because of seeming reluctance of government to deal a heavy hand on them. With Emir Tafida being himself a Fulani, no one could accuse him of ethnic agenda over his ultimatum. It should rather be seen as the strongest wake-up call ever for government to take redressing the criminal herders menace more seriously.
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