Last week’s call by the Northern Elders’ Forum [NEF] for herders who are grazing their cattle in the Southern states to return to the North was the moral equivalent of the “notice” the Coalition of Northern Youth Groups once issued to Igbos to leave the North in the wake of IPOB’s secessionist agitation. This time around, NEF predicated its call on the atmosphere in the South which it said could open the herders to hostility and possible attacks. Rather than protect the herders, this ill-considered call endangers not only them but the whole country because it could unleash a series of events that could spin out of control.
The specific words of NEF Chairman Prof. Ango Abdullahi, who addressed a joint press conference with the Coalition of Northern Youth groups in Abuja, were not as belligerent as newspaper reports made them to sound. He said, “What we have heard in the last few hours that some violence has already started to manifest in some sections of the country against the herdsmen, who have been in peaceful co-existence in the communities where they have lived for many years. We are worried about their safety, like we are worried about the safety of every Nigerian who decided to live wherever they want to. But then, if there is no certainty that their safety is guaranteed by the authorities that are immediately around them or by the authorities that have the responsibility for the overall security of all Nigerians wherever they reside…we would rather have them back into areas where their safety is guaranteed, and this is coming back as much as possible to the North.”
However, given the volatile national situation in the wake of the Ruga rumpus and the killing of Afenifere leader Pa Reuben Fasoranti’s daughter, NEF’s incautious antecedents as well as its open alliance with the belligerent Coalition of Northern Youth Groups, Prof Ango’s remarks were given the most belligerent interpretation possible. NEF made no effort to correct that impression.
It is true that some political rabble rousers in the South West seized upon the death of Mrs. Olakunrin and, without waiting for the police to commence, much less conclude, their probe, rushed to blame “herdsmen” for the killing. The evil intention was to whip up sentiment, incite hatred and possible pogrom against all ethnic Fulani, particularly the cattle pastoralists residing in the Southwest, whether or not they were aware of the crime. Such unwarranted attacks, if they occur, will not go unanswered in other parts of the country and will push us all to the precipice.
We have already condemned the statements of Femi Fani-Kayode, Yinka Odumakin and other rabble rousers as cruel, callous, insincere, vile, dangerous and treasonable in that they could plunge the country into chaos. In the same vein, NEF’s response to those vile reactions was equally cruel, insensitive and self-defeating because it could, in a backhand manner, help the rabble rousers to achieve their nefarious aim.
President Muhammadu Buhari, through his spokesman, enjoined all Nigerians to ignore NEF’s call for herders to leave the South. He said all citizens of Nigeria are free to move and live in any part of the country, and that government will protect citizens wherever they find themselves. Unfortunately, it was precisely because government has shown itself incapable or unwilling to enforce citizen’s rights to live wherever they wish that we are having such calls and threats all around.
The response of the South West Governors Forum to the situation was eminently reasonable. The forum’s statement, signed by its chairman Governor Rotimi Akeredolu of Ondo State, described NEF’s call as “unfortunate, divisive and retrogressive.” It said, “With no intention to engage anyone, it is incumbent on us, as elected representatives of our people in the South West Region, to denounce this divisive and retrogressive statement in the strongest terms possible. The Southwest Governors viewed the report with palpable trepidation and outrage, the sustained attempts to fan the ember of discord, seizing every opportunity offered by the current security challenge to undermine the unity and peaceful co-existence among Nigerians.”
The governors added, “It is appalling, to assert the least, that the tragic incident which claimed the life of Mrs. Funke Olakunrin, the daughter of Pa Fasoranti, the leader of Afenifere, would be used by certain persons to advance the cause of parochial and prebendal politics. We intend to get to the root of the sad occurrence as we await the findings of security agencies on the unfortunate incident.” They also said, “The governors and the people of the South West are working assiduously, at the current security challenges with a view to finding lasting solutions to curtail the nefarious activities of undesirable elements bent on wrecking our collective peace. We are not unaware of the antics of certain elements, who hope to garner political mileage from the contrived crises in virtually all parts of the country.”
In so far as these strong statements of the South Western governors are well understood to cover NEF as well as South Western rabble rousers who were the first to “seize the opportunity” of Olakunrin’s death to undermine national unity, then the South West governors have spoken.