In Nigeria, at convocation of every national discourse, at every agitation of causes for national growth and development, ethnicised politics is always a default virus. It corrupts the reasoning of the citizenry; it diverts attention from core issues of national interest to mundanities and banalities; it changes the supposed narrative of pan-Nigeria conversation to one where practitioners of ethnicised politics are more interested in the “Fulani” of the herdsmen than the killings, and as an antithesis, one where accused ethnic affiliates sweat profusely in defence of their ethnicity more than condemning the criminality. The triumph of ethnicity over security in the last conversation that trailed the murderous activities of herdsmen, in Nigeria, is unfortunate.
In this, our Press is the first culprit. Agenda-setting theory in political communication explains the strength of the Press in tele-guiding the populace on what to talk and think about. One can imagine what the conversation would have been if “Nigerian herdsmen kill four, injure two” is the screaming headline with no highlight of the needless ethnic affiliation of the criminals. The sore losers of the last election, irrespective of their ethnic affiliations, were also catalysts that aided the agenda of the fifth columnists. It was an intentional narrativist colouration to paint President Buhari, being a Fulani, as an accomplice and abettor in the crime perpetrated by the herdsmen –using the brush of ethnicised politics. In between, there were sincere outbursts from Nigerians who were scandalized by habitual sluggishness to national emergencies that this administration is known for.
Let us be clear: “Fulani” herdsmen do not kill host communities, mostly farmers, or destroy their crops and plantations, because they are Fulani. They do so, quite unfortunately, because they are herdsmen. It is, traditionally, a struggle for economic survival between two asymbiotic “professions”. From the Massai and Pokot people of Kenya, Turkana in Uganda, and the Fulani in North and West Africa, the pastoralists’ struggle for survival have always been with havoc unleashed on farmers, and crops mangled.
With proliferation of fire arms through our loose borders, self-defence against cattle rustlers, herdsmen are now armed, and as a consequence, the fights that were earlier fought with bow and arrow are now fought with AK47. In all, the Fulani affiliation of the Nigerian herdsmen is a non-entity in solving the crisis; it is a non-variable in understanding the historical tension; it is not an alibi against stemming their criminal activities, prosecuting and punishing the perpetrators. It is just for a purpose: Ethnicised politics to further highlight our fault lines. This, predictably, shifted a discussion of national interest, supposedly to centre on proactive countermeasures against continuous experience of such killings, to ethnic characterisation of the victims and the culprits, and culpability of the Nigeria state.
We are yet to hear the last of herdsmen-farmer friction. Hashtags and “Boycott Beef” campaign will not solve it either. With the ravaging consequences of climate change, desertification of the Northern Nigeria, movement of herdsmen to Southern Nigeria is inevitable. Without discounting the fact that the Nigeria police must keep eyes on the criminals among the herdsmen, a state-backed grazing architecture will significantly stem the herdsmen-farmer dagger-to-heart, and present our country as one that has exited the 17th century.
This, therefore, rationally necessitates deeper engagement with the proposed National grazing reserve bill. There are possibly contentious provisions in the bill; there could be nerve-straining clauses, especially for a country of mutual suspicion among its components regions. Nevertheless, it is a step better than no step. If we de-ethnicise national debate around this bill, we will surely actualize one that promotes national interest by solving the herdsmen-farmer crisis that is gradually replacing the depleting Boko Haram menace.