In all these years, I was told, there was never a Christmas that Lawal did not visit my parents. He always enquired how I was doing and was in awe of all the places he was told I had been at. We got to meet in 1995 when I was first home on holidays after almost a decade. I observed that my friend had changed a lot. His parents had passed away, and Ori too. All the cattle were gone. After decades of wandering across the vast millennial savannah, by now married with grown up children, Lawal had moved into the neighbouring town and had virtually become a ‘Fulanin gida’ (home Fulani). But I could see that something was amiss – the magic and spark were gone. Lawal, I was told, had taken to too much alcohol. Mother Dearest — ever observant, with a great power of intuition — sadly noted that what Lawal was up to was ‘more than just alcohol’. I brought him gifts from abroad – shirts, a watch and things like that. Lawal quietly reminded me that our friendship – our ‘zumunci’ — went beyond any material things. He held the gifts disinterestedly with a sad, distant smile. Lawal passed away the following year after a brief illness. He is a friend and brother that I will cherish for all eternity. Today, a new breed of Fulani are on the rampage throughout our country. They have killed and maimed and wiped away entire villages in what amounts to a genocidal war. From the Jos Plateau, to Southern Kaduna, Nasarawa, Benue, Taraba, Adamawa, Kogi and as far down as Delta and Ondo, they have left nothing but dead bodies and ashes on their trail. Gurara Forum is a gathering of young men and women — most of them students – from Southern Kaduna. With their own limited resources, they have tried to document all the Fulani atrocities in Southern Kaduna. Their website provides a grim picture gallery of some of the recent killings committed by the herdsmen. Viewer discretion is counseled in visiting the site (http://www.guraraforum.org/gallery/). These mercenaries have been armed with the most sophisticated weaponry imaginable while their victims are not allowed to carry even bows and arrows in self-defence. Nobody has been arrested or convicted for these crimes. When, recently, they went on another killing spree in the village of Agatu in Benue State, all we heard are plaintive promises that grazing land will be carved out for them, with grass to be imported from Brazil. From the statistics that we have, possibly a 40,000 souls have perished under these herdsmen of our doomsday apocalypse. Rural livelihoods have been destroyed, with a looming food crisis rearing its ugly head for the first time in the Middle Belt, which remains incontrovertibly the bread basket of our country. Many reasons have been adduced from this unfortunate turn of events. There are those who blame the devastating impact of climate change – desertification — and the lot. There is also the Malthusian demographic nightmare of population increasingly geometrically against dwindling water and other natural resources, including land space. I would also point to the factor of politics. In our political era, politicians have been known to import mercenaries and millions of illegal immigrants to boost their potential voting blocs and also to use them to settle differences by the barrel of the gun. Some crypto-communist pseudo-intellectuals have whitewashed these atrocities as anodyne problems of ‘cattle rustling’ and ‘rural banditry’. And anybody who expresses anger and outrage is committing ‘hate speech’. To my mind, those who implicitly deny the sanctity of human life while covering up diabolical atrocities in meaningless intellectual abstractions are the real purveyors of hate, not we, the victims. Nobody has been held to account for any of these killings. Probably more souls have perished from these genocidal killings than from Boko Haram. The recent attempt to conflate Boko Haram with the marauding herdsmen is nothing short of sophistry at its worst. Boko Haram and the marauding herdsmen are different species of the same rampaging Jihadist tiger. But they are not interchangeable, even if they belong to the same ruling spirit of violence and death. They may well be part of the overall strategy of conquest and subjugation by force of arms. The Middle Belt are what they are because they were never defeated by Jihad. What their forebears could not achieve, their misguided progenies of today believe they can by chicanery and sheer wickedness. Those who live by the sword will surely perish by the sword. I humbly submit that most of these so-called ‘herdsmen’ are mercenaries from outside Nigeria. They cannot be relations of my late friend and brother Lawal or my uncle Mallam Baanni. They are foreign mercenaries imported into our country to kill, overwhelm and colonize. Whose ancestral land is going to be handed over to foreign marauding mercenaries who have committed murder on such a scale? For me, the only prudent way of tackling this menace is to for the Nigerian military to restore the dispossessed people back to their villages and to enforce the rural piece across all the troubled areas. We need a proper census of all the Fulani herdsmen and their cattle. Those of them who are not bona fide citizens should be repatriated to Mali, Niger, Chad, Cameroon or wherever they are supposed to have come from. The Government of Ghana, ever more efficient and more vigilant than ours, recently repatriated over 50,000 Fulani herdsmen and their cattle, with a terse warning that they would never be permitted to get away with the kind of violations they have perpetrated in Nigeria. I am not opposed to the idea of grazing reserves. The idea, which goes as far back as the days of Ahmadu Bello, the first Premier of the Northern Region, has never proven successful. In the far-North, it was tried without much success. Indigenous Hausa-Habe farmers were much opposed to it. The Fulani themselves could not be forced to reinvent themselves as sedentary people. In Kachia, in my own homeland of Southern Kaduna, a huge grazing reserve was carved out for Fulani communities some thirty years ago. Until today, none of the indigenous communities have been compensated for the forcible dispossession of their land and the turning-over of ancestral to an alien people. Not only have these Fulanis been involved in violent killings of local people, they are now claiming autochthonous usufructuary rights to the land and are asserting their entitlement to a separate chiefdom. As far as I know, this amounts to an act of colonisation by theft and gerrymandering subterfuge. This is not to say that grazing reserves should not be revisited. I would encourage such reserves to be created in the States of the core North where the Fulanis naturally belong. Land for such purpose should be negotiated with local communities and properly gazetted on 99-year leaseholds, with adequate compensation by the States and the Federal Government. Such reserves can also go with the grass importation proposition that Agriculture Minister Audu Ogbeh is coming up with. For more than a century, the Enclosure Movement in England was provoked by the same problem of relentless clashes between farmers and herdsmen. The rural communities were so fervent in their campaign that the British Parliament had to pass the Enclosure Act 1773. By this act, herdsmen were required to keep their cattle within bounds. Until today, any animal that trespasses into the farmland of an Englishman ipso facto becomes his property. It has brought peace and prosperity to the glorious English countryside. We in Nigeria need to borrow such a piece of jurisprudence. Peripatetic cattle rearing is not only primitive; it is irksome to the common peace. Cattle that travel up and down lose half of their economic value compared to those that are kept in one place. I believe our government owes responsibility to promote the development of the Fulani as a community. When I was an undergraduate of Ahmadu Bello University, our then Vice-Chancellor, Ahmadu Abubakar told us a deeply moving story about his upbringing. He lived in rural Adamawa as a Fulani shepherd boy. While tending the cattle he would eavesdrop a classroom to hear what was being taught. He was captivated with arithmetic. The teacher, noticing his curiosity, enquired about his parentage. His father was approached to allow the boy to join the school. After much persuasion, and with the greatest reluctance, young Iya Abubakar was allowed to join the class. He turned to be a mathematical prodigy. After a brilliant performance in elementary school he gained admission into the prestigious Government College, Zaria (now Barewa College). He distinguished himself in Zaria and was admitted into University College, Ibadan, where he graduated with First Class Honours in Mathematics. From there it was on to Cambridge University in England where he bagged a brilliant doctorate in Applied Mathematics. Iya Abubakar became a professor of mathematics at ABU Zaria at the uncommon age of 27. A consultant to NASA, he is one of the world’s greatest living mathematicians. I believe there are more Iya Abubakars among the Fulani youths tending cattle all over our country. Instead of them being armed with AK-47s and fomenting trouble everywhere, we should nurture them to bring out their talents and genius. A more sedentary lifestyle might have to be enforced as the Brits did with their Enclosure laws at the end of the eighteenth century. This madness must stop.

In all these years, I was told, there was never a Christmas that Lawal did not visit my parents. He always enquired how I was doing and was in awe of all the places he […]