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The Genesis Of Obasanjo’s Remarks

Shuaib Shuaib writes that former president Olusegun Obasanjo only took advantage of prevailing circumstances to paint an exaggerated, dark and harrowing picture that doesn’t represent the true state of things.

Former president Olusegun Obasanjo, famous for writing open letters to Nigerian presidents wrote another one to President Muhammadu Buhari last week / Photo credit: Naijanews.com
Former president Olusegun Obasanjo, famous for writing open letters to Nigerian presidents wrote another one to President Muhammadu Buhari last week / Photo credit: Naijanews.com

Professor Jibril Aminu as minister of education in the government of President Ibrahim Babangida, did everything he could to improve the lives of Fulani herdsmen with his programme on nomadic education.

It was an education policy that was build around preserving the way of life of nomadic herdsmen who were in so many ways resistant to change.

While Prof. Aminu might have succeeded in educating a good number of herdsmen, the nomadic education scheme itself didn’t survive for very long.

It could have been the absence of continuity in government or the herdsmen themselves who were too stuck in their ways, but the project failed in the end.

And today, it is not a lack of education that is threatening the way of life of the nomadic Fulani but rather, a changing society and the inability of the nomads to adapt to these changes and live in peace with their neighbors.

A number of people believe the violence perpetrated by herdsmen is been driven by a sense of entitlement by the Fulani.

Ironically, other observers believe the increasing involvement of Fulani herdsmen in criminal activities including kidnappings and banditry is first of all, because successive governments failed in its responsibility towards them.

Added to that is the threat posed by cattle rustling leaving many herders without a means of livelihood. What they have unleashed on the Nigerian populace in many parts of the country has been unimaginable mayhem.

“It is very sad to see people in this kind of activities. It is not in the nature of many of us and we are not in support of it.” Those were the words of Senator Walid Jibrin, the BoT chairman of the People’s Democratic Party.

Naturally, the root cause of the conflict is the competition for land and water between farmers and herders, which over the years, has continued to shrink for the contending parties

A few days ago, he was on a party mission to the governor of Abia, Okezie Ikpeazu, and yet he could not help but lament the acts of violence committed by some herdsmen to the detriment of the wider nomadic community.

Jibrin is probably one of the largest cattle owners in the country, if the not the largest.

While the true figures are known only to him and those closest to him, Jibrin is estimated to own at least 30, 000 herd of cattle.

And as has been customary with anyone that number of livestock, they graze openly in fields all around the country.

But change is being forced on him because of the escalating conflicts between farmers and herdsmen, particularly in the north central region of the country.

Naturally, the root cause of the conflict is the competition for land and water between farmers and herders, which over the years, has continued to shrink for the contending parties.

To say Jibrin is agitated is an understatement. In the last year or two, the BoT chairman of the PDP is said to have been recalling his cattle from different parts of the country to what many see as the feature of cattle breeding; ranches.

Only he would need a ranch the size of a city to accommodate all of his several thousand herds of cattle. Until then, he is forced to constantly embark on peace missions between his nomadic brothers and their host communities, even far away as Abia.

There are Fulani cattle breeders all over West Africa and based on their way of life, they are no respecters of borders or national boundaries.

This makes it easy to commit a crime in one country and flee to another. Yet, a large number of herdsmen are under detention in different police stations across the country.

In these stations, it is where stories and the true scale of the destruction the farmers and herdsmen crisis has caused can be measured.

In the last few years, Benue was a hotspot for the conflict. It was Benue that made the farmers and herdsmen crisis a political issue, one about religion and tribal identity

Most attacks by herdsmen go unreported, the same way virtually none of the crimes committed against them make it to pages of newspapers.

The New York Times, in September 2018 wrote about the slant in local media reporting on the farmers and herdsmen crisis.

In the last few years, Benue was a hotspot for the conflict. It was Benue that made the farmers and herdsmen crisis a political issue, one about religion and tribal identity.

More than anything else, it was the crisis in Benue that helped raise passions against the government of Muhammadu Buhari based on these sentiments and also made the general elections a very contentious one. At least in Nigeria, he has come to be identified by it.

In the wake of the Brexit vote in the United Kingdom and the rise of the right in countries like Hungary and Italy, even the election of Donald Trump in the United States of America has seen hate crimes against immigrants and minorities spike in both Europe and the U.S.

The choice of words from political leaders in many of these countries in so many ways contribute in demonizing ‘the other.’

What the rhetoric of Viktor Orban, Marine Le Pen, Matteo Salvini and Donald Trump have in common is their willingness to criminalise an entire race, religion or immigrant group; and punish them for the actions of a few, all in the hopes of raising passions and galvanizing political support.

Only recently, former President Olusegun Obasanjo said “Boko Haram is no longer an issue of lack of education and lack of employment for our youths in Nigeria which it began as.

It is now West African Fulanization, African Islamization and global organized crimes of human trafficking, money laundering, drug trafficking, gun trafficking, illegal mining and regime change”.

There are terrorists and jihadists who are turning West Africa into a theatre of war. Governments in the region with help from world powers are fighting to contain the threat.

And true, Boko Haram has been killing and maiming in the name of Islam. They occasionally put up a show of converting people to the religion. So, you can even accuse the group of regime change.

Considering the many violent conflicts that involve Fulanis across West Africa, what Obasanjo could be inferring is actually frightening

But you can’t change or convert people’s tribe or ethnicity. So what does the former president mean by ‘Fulanization’.

It is simply disingenuous of Obasanjo to conflate communal clashes with a terrorist agenda. In an editorial just last week by Daily Trust, the paper described Obasanjo’s comment as a hate speech.

By lumping a terrorist organization like Boko Haram together with a specific ethnic group and suggesting they had the same agenda, the former president was as good as criminalising the Fulani tribe in the eyes of his audience.

It instantly makes every Fulani man a target of hate and usually, that hate provoked by leaders starts with prejudice in the heart.

Considering the many violent conflicts that involve Fulanis across West Africa, what Obasanjo could be inferring is actually frightening.

It suggest there is more than meets the eye in the many communal crises and that the violence could be more orchestrated and organized than it appears.

And if that is truly the case, then the whole of West Africa could soon be plunged into a conflict that will most likely consume it.

The region has close to half of Africa’s population. What a crisis that will engulf the entire region looks like is best left unimagined.

But not in anybody’s wildest imagination would the thought have occurred that he still harbors ill feelings over Buhari’s victory and is willing to go to the extent of stoking divisions just to tarnish the president’s image

And if it happens that the former president only took advantage of prevailing circumstances to paint an exaggerated, dark and harrowing picture than the true state of things, then it is obvious his comments were aimed at inflicting as much political damage as possible on just one man on the international stage.

Till date, Obasanjo has refused to acknowledge the outcome of the recently concluded presidential election.

But not in anybody’s wildest imagination would the thought have occurred that he still harbors ill feelings over Buhari’s victory and is willing to go to the extent of stoking divisions just to tarnish the president’s image.

And that is what Sule Lamido thinks. The remarks touched a nerve with the former Jigawa governor. Lamido, one of the few Fulani politicians to have ruled a state in recent years, was first to speak out against Obasanjo.

That in itself is unprecedented. As governor, Lamido did as much as anybody else in the country to bring an end to the crisis between farmers and herdsmen, particularly in his state.

And when it comes to relationships, Lamido and Obasanjo go way back. On more than one occasion, Lamido has publicly given thanks to Obasanjo for first making him a minister and then making it possible for him to be elected governor.

The former president doesn’t have a better admirer and protege than Lamido.

Yet, to him, the Fulanisation and Islamisation statement was borne out of Obasanjo’s frustration and disappointment with a sitting president, which has made him appear bigoted.

And as Obasanjo himself must have expected, the truly intolerant, the gullible and the simply mischievous will pick up where he left off.

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