That “reg­is­tra­tion” of pas­toral­ists

Daily Trust - - OPINION -

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.

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