By Fada Timothy Etsenamhe
Edo State in recent time could be described as heaven for marauding Fulani herders, who kidnap, torture, maim and murder their victims. The insecurity in Edo State at the moment is likened to the insecurity hullabaloo in Kaduna, where human life has become endangered and meaningless as its existence is threatened because of the terror unleashed on the citizens and inhabitants of the state.
Kidnaping has become incessant in the environs of all the eighteen local government areas in Edo state. To state that the security of life and property is in it lowest ebb in Edo state is to state the obvious. The people of Edo are living in fear, in fact, terror has gripped the totality of the citizenry of the ‘Heart Beat’ of the Nation.
Today, more than ever before, Edo State has become a state of special concern in the index of terrorism. I was not surprised that someone who is abreast with the happenings in the state recently called for prayers for those living in Edo state.
Edo State Forests are heavily inhabited by killer herders who transact their businesses unchecked and undisturbed by security agencies and community leaders. There is no community in Edo State that you would not find an established Fulani caliphate, as I would say. Perhaps, many people were not surprised about a year ago when there was a clandestine plan to crown a certain man as Sultan of Shuwa Arab in Benin City. In fact, in some communities in Edo-North, these sets of people have enjoyed popularity as kings with their own rights and privileges. Some traditional rulers and in particular, chiefs of some un-autonomous communities cannot control the excesses of these herders. The police cannot deal with them, because as they say, they are very connected to the ‘powers that be’ in Aso Rock, so, they operate with sheer audacity, claiming ownership of the entity called Nigeria.
This courage is not only supported by their connections in Abuja but also by some traditional rulers in the state. The reasons many traditional rulers hobnob with Fulani herders are not far-fetched: these Fulanis are Muslims, ninety-five percent (95%) of the traditional rulers in Edo state are Muslims, if my statistics is correct.
These chiefs easily align with their sheikhs; an alignment often geared towards achieving religious and economic gains. Muslims traditional rulers now depend largely on the influx of all manners of people coming from the Northern part of the country, without security profiling, to fill up their mosques. Using Edo North as a case study, these ‘foreigners’ account for over 50 percent of those who jam-pack the Mosques today in this area of the State. On Fridays, you would notice how belligerently they block major roads within towns causing traffic that has become a pain in the ass of commuters during Jummat prayers. It is alleged that some Muslim traditional rulers, who at the same time play pivotal roles in the faith they profess, relish the growth of the Muslim Umar in their communities occasioned by the new settlers, consequently they pay little or no attention to their recalcitrancy.
On the other spectrum, some community heads or leaders accept these Fulanis because of the economic gains they portend to benefit. As popularly alleged, some of these leaders are paid tributes and elegance to, either in monetary form or by remittance of cows. It is also alleged that because of this, some of the traditional rulers in the state are into cattle rearing business, using the pastoralists as their foremen. This could explain the impunity with which herders allow their cattle to graze on peoples crops on their farm lands. Most farmers, when complained to their community leaders, received rebuke; when they confront the herders, they are either macheted or accused of taking laws into their hands.
No doubt there are a lot of Fulanis who are not terrorists, who are simply pastoralists, carrying cattle from one point of the state to another. They are peaceful, respectful and friendly. I met one of such some two years ago. He was in need of counselling about a particular issue in his marriage and a Tiv friend of his who is a Catholic brought him to my office. We rendered our help to him the way we could and he was grateful. However, there are some unlike this who are simply wolves in sheep clothing. A practical example is the story of Kebiru, a resident of Ikabigbo, a community in Etsako West Local government of Edo State, who masterminded the kidnap and gruesome killing of late Reverend Father Christopher Odia-Ogedegbe, a Priest of the Catholic Diocese of Auchi, Edo State, Nigeria.
Against the narrative of the mainstream and social media, Kebiru was never a gardener to the late priest. He only lived among the indigenes, who was allowed to rear cows and do other jobs within and outside the community. While he was living in the community, he was keeping tab on ‘’who is who’’ in the community in order to kidnap and extort money from them. When he concludes on who could fetch him huge ransom, he would invite Fulani mercenaries to execute his plan. Ikabigbo in recent time is home to kidnapping for ransom and stealing of motorbikes, thus, it is presently a crime prune environment, Kebiru and his Fulani mercenaries obviously have been responsible.
Their operations are syndicated, involving a chain of people who may include some Fulanis rearing cows and other livestock living in the bush, those who sell suya along streets corners in villages, towns and cities centres, those who pick up condemn metals and rubbish around neighborhoods, those who do meagre jobs like gatemen, shoe shiners, nail cutters, maishais and down to okada riders. These consortium of people are involved in trailing their victims for a very long time before launching an attack. There are usually insiders who gather information and pass such to the ‘’butchers.’’ I tell you about an experience I had about three years ago. I was walking out one evening, then I saw a young handsome Fulani man, beaming with smile wanting to exchange pleasantries. Hurriedly, I responded to his greeting and increased the pace of my steps. But then he asked me a question that surprised me –‘’ where your motor’’? Intuitively I made to bluff him, ‘’babu kudi, I don sell am take buy food,’’ even though I was not sure if I was speaking Hausa or Fulfulde or he understood either, but he should understand the pidgin. Briskly, I stealthily walked way. From that experience I became convinced that these herders are intelligent and they do gather information about some personalities in their host communities. We have become all vulnerable to these marauders!
Today in Edo state, one wakes up to expect the news of people being kidnapped. We cannot give accurate statistics of the persons that have been kidnapped in recent times. No one is spared, the rich and the poor have become prey to these heartless daredevils. We cannot continue to groan and tell the story of the onslaught of the Fulani herders on the citizens and inhabitants of Edo state. Edo people must take action and protect her territory from invaders whose only intent is to plunder and put our people in fear. Edo State Government must take the lead in making sure Edo forests are rid of Fulani herdsmen who are terrorists.
It must be asserted that the state government for a long time treated this issue with kid gloves. However we applaud the recent heightened interest by the state in tackling the menace of these terrorists. It should not be a spur –of- the- moment decision, more efforts should be asserted in creating a security outfit to fight terrorism, cultism and other criminalities in the state on the long-term.
Traditional rulers ordinarily should be men of integrity whose sole purpose is to preserve the custom and traditions of the people in given communities. They should not be seen assisting or tacitly aiding foreigners, because of some selfish gains, to erode the sacred heritage of their peoples. No matter how big a community is in Edo state, the community leader should be able to profile those who are foreigners in the community, to know their business in the community. Traditional rulers should be proactive and should be the eyes and ears of the police. Hence they must work hand in hand with community vigilante group. It would be absurd for any community today in the state not to own a vigilante group.
These groups should be incentivized and should be made to comb the forests often as possible while keeping watch around the community at night.
Religious leaders are not left in this quest to drive off marauding herders who are terrorists from our land. Hardly would you hear religious leaders coming together to brain storm on finding solutions to the insecurity in state. Perhaps, they are too busy with their programmes or too focused on their denominational and religion differences to talk about the safety of life and property of their adherents. Religious leaders do have a role to play in having safe and peaceful state that would support peaceful coexistence of all peoples in any given state. They are the moral voice of the society echoing to those in power who wield the instrument of force and control, and down to the perpetrators of crimes and atrocities in the society.
And for every edolite, the security of the state is in your hands. We must be vigilant and be suspicious of strange people in our communities. Those who are planning to commit any nefarious act of kidnapping should be made to know that they cannot get away with such acts easily in the state. This would deter them and drastically reduce the attempts to invade our communities for the purpose of kidnapping for ransoms. As we enjoin all to be vigilant, we must also pray for the intervention of God in these precarious times in our dear state, where human beings have become endangered species, and their lives no longer considered sacred as it is often hunted by enemies of human dignity and commodified for material gains. May Our Lady, help of Christians intercede for us.