The Guardian (Nigeria)
Bandits and herdsmen’s mystery
Tterms bandits and herdsmen - used casually, sometimes thoughtlessly but often interchangeably - have continued to pose a riddle of sorts. Like Russia of the Churchill era, these words, in all their awful and frightful connotation, have become “a riddle, wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma.”
No day passes when Nigerians, who read newspapers or listen to the radio and television, would miss an encounter with these inscrutable words. And the words or what we regard as their true meaning as far as our fears would permit, spell war or the beating of the war drums. But they are mere words, innocent words you may say. But in the current Nigerian lexicon of hate and fear, these words have been stripped of their innocence.
Nigerians have been unable to come to terms with these mystery men called bandits. In their ordinary meaning, stripped of mysteries and riddles, bandits may be said to be the scruffy mindless criminals and outlaws who, in history or literature books, operate as members of a gang that terrorises hardworking innocent citizens to deprive them of their means of livelihood. But bandits in Nigeria are not inanimate, fictional characters in literature books. They live and thrive in our midst and they terrorise people at will. On Monday night as at the time of writing, a news item on the television speaks of the horrible incident somewhere in Katsina State where these bandits had set the whole village ablaze killing not less than fifteen persons.
The question is: are these soulless objects killing for the fun of it? What exactly do they find in the village community that is worth the lives of the innocent people struggling to eke out a living? I have wondered before. And I am wondering again today. Who are these bandits? If they are in Zamfara, they rustle cattle; they are rustlers. They kill and maim too.
But when they move to Katsina, they don’t rustle but they ransack villages and kidnap. What is the motive? To show that even President Muhammadu Buhari’s backyard is not immune to their terrorists act? And yet some people, short of words, or the right nomenclature or their correct motive, call these dare-devils Fulani herdsmen or jihadists who are on a mission to Islamise or Fulanise the country. But how much can these bandits Fulanise the Fulani man and woman?
Or these bandits, who obviously are not real Muslims, how much can they Islamise the Islamic community of Kastina or that of Sokoto the citadel of Islamic faith and the original seat of the Caliphate?
Are they also Fulani cattle herdsmen, the ones raiding the North and vandalising and desecrating what is left of civilisation in that part of the country? It is not right and proper any more to regale the readers with the tale of the grisly exploits of these criminals and their unholy intention.
They are determined, in my view, to set one community against the other as the Boko Haram initially set out to do – knock the heads of the Christian against that of the Muslim fellow compatriot. When they seemed to have failed, they now set upon the Muslim community. Are they truly on a jihad mission by massacring both the believers and the so-called unbelievers alike?
Yet in all these, nobody, in my view, seems to know who the bandits are. Certainly they are not cattle herdsmen. Those who invade villages and kill and cart away the women are not looking for grass to graze their cattle. And they are not armed robbers. Not the typical robbers like Shola Oyenusi or Lawrence Anini. Sometimes the robbers, the glamorous ones, even show some decency. They give options: your money or your life. Not always the two.
But not so the bandits who shoot before they ask question, that is if any question is necessary. In Zamfara last weekend they killed a man on his farm. His only offence was that he was tending his crops. They didn’t rob him. They simply killed him for the fun of it. Are these really fellow Nigerians? Or the wranglers from Muammar Ghadaffi’s Lybia? Nigerians have never been known to be so brutal and so brutish.
But they seem to be getting the upper hand because they have discovered the underbelly of the nation’s security apparatus. At the time when Nigerians should close rank and do away with the devils in their midst, they are now utterly divided because it is good politics to be so divided along the well- known fault lines of religion and ethnicity. Because of politics we even mistake advice for attack and fail to profit from it.
We wait until the havoc of these devils reach the doorstep of the rich and the famous before we summon courage to cry foul. In a way, the war drums may be efficacious. At least they often help to awaken the consciousness of the slothful, the procrastinator.
I am reminded of the Nigerian civil war and the Biafran invasion of the Mid-west. When Ojukwu’s soldiers decided to take one extra step with the misguided attempt to cross from Ore into the heartland of the West, those of our fellow countrymen, often given to were suddenly woken from their revelry into action to protect the land of the Oduduwa.
It helped greatly to change the course of the war. The incursion of these bandits, be they herdsmen or armed robbers or whatever brand of lunatic they are, is beginning to change the course of security consciousness across the country. At least the traditional rulers whose voices cannot be ignored are beginning to raise hell. The Obas, the Alafins and other Kabiyesis have pledged, in a back handed way, to make some contribution to Buhari’s war effort.
For sure, this is one war President Buhari must win. His personal reputation as a war general is at stake. The reputation of his proud pedigree, the scion of the noble Fulani, gallant and humane, is at stake. The Fulani we know have respect for women and children. But the bandits and herdsmen who are giving them this terrible odium and unflattering ethnic profiling are not doing their image any good.
But the only man who can bring this madness to an end is none other than General Muhammadu Buhari, the one who, in the 80s, chased away the invading Chadian rebels, some of them of Fulani extraction. In that patriotic exploit, he drove these rebels all the way into Chad and refused to return until President Shehu Shagari sent some emissaries to him.
Nigeria has been driven to the precipice by the unholy alliance of these unidentified bandits. On their account, the whole country has been turned into one huge hot bed of ethnic chauvinism and untrammelled bigotry.
Though nobody in his right senses wants to go to war, but the war drums are earsplitting enough. Their jarring sounds can have only one effect; take us back many years and send more foreign investors packing out of the country.
We don’t need part two of the civil war. That being so, we should be sensible enough not to go through the experience of Rwanda, or Somalia or Afghanistan. And for that matter, even Sudan. President Buhari has, therefore, no choice but halt this dangerous drift into anarchy.
In the meantime, we must soft pedal on those policies that are deemed to be patently antithetical to our unity and progress. Where some people sound imperious and divisive, dialogue, consultation, jaw-jaw, humility, not impunity, will help to calm nerves and return us to the path of nobility and sweet reasonableness.