That “registration” of pastoralists
The attempt to “register” all pastoralists in the South West is an illegal and immoral continuation of the hysteria whipped up by the so-called Yoruba Council of Elders [YCE] and other groups in the wake of last month’s abduction of former Secretary to the Federal Government Chief Olu Falae. It is said that Fulani community leaders in the region have “agreed” to the registration. Even if they do, it is illegal, immoral, unconstitutional and dangerous.
The Constitution of the Federal Republic guarantees to every Nigerian the right to live in any part of the country. Of course that does not absolve anyone of the responsibility to be lawabiding. Every now and then some individuals from all ethnic backgrounds step out of the law, but no one then says that their ethnic group’s members are criminals.
To single out some citizens from a particular ethnic group and say they must be registered before they can live in one part of the country is a dangerous enterprise that would chip way at the foundations of nationhood. This isn’t the first time in Nigeria that host communities tried to register “settlers.” A few years ago, some Eastern states tried to “register” people of Northern origin and tried to issue them with identity cards based on suspicions that Boko Haram elements could be lurking among Northerners living in the East. It caused uproar because elements in some Northern state assemblies also talked about registering Easterners living in their states. Lagos State Government carried this absurdity even further when it deported some people of Igbo origin and dumped them in Onitsha, an act that attracted condemnation from all over the country.
The “registration” attempt in the West is only the culmination of the recent phenomenon of increased references in the newspapers and online media to “suspected Fulani herdsmen” being responsible for all manner of crimes in many states. The fact is that conflicts between farmers and pastoralists have been going on for centuries and they extend well beyond the borders of Nigeria. It has intensified in recent years due to population pressure, intense competition for land and water and by farmers bringing under cultivation lands that were set aside grazing reserves and cattle routes.
One bad thing easily begat another. With the increased conflicts with farmers, some pastoralists stepped up their personal armaments from the ubiquitous stick slung around the shoulder to more deadly weapons, including firearms. From there it was a short step before some pastoralists graduated from the simple fellows that all Nigerians know them to be to criminals, highway robbers and in some cases kidnappers. Yet, the number of pastoral youths engaged in crimes is still but a fraction of the total number of pastoralists in Nigeria, who number in the millions and who in most cases are still simple, hospitable and law abiding.
The notion being promoted by some groups that pastoralists are dangerous marauders who must be restrained is a direct fall-out from the results of the 2015 general elections. Some of them even mischievously delved back into history in order to convince themselves that the recurring conflicts between farmers and pastoralists is a continuation of the 19th century Sokoto Jihad. Ethnic groups in all parts of Nigeria once engaged in one war or another in pre-colonial times and no one must revive the spectre of those wars just because he or she is aggrieved by the results of a democratic election in which they played prominent roles in the losing camp.
A report titled “Terror in the Food Basket” published by SMB Intelligence describes the Federal Government’s attitude towards the incessant clashes between farmers and pastoralists as “head firmly planted in the sand.” While killings by Boko Haram get all the media attention, probably more lives have been lost in these clashes. However, the government’s failure to respond to the challenge cannot be a license for anyone to install a system of discrimination against the pastoralists. If we want people to carry ID cards, there is an ongoing program for ALL Nigerians to carry ID cards. To say that only pastoralists should be “registered” is discriminatory. The perpetrators should be strongly warned to desist.