The Catholic Bishop of Sokoto Diocese, Mathew Hassan Kukah, says the labeling of all gunmen or bandits as ‘Fulani Herdsmen’ is a dangerous pathway to tread for all Nigerians.

In recent times, ‘Fulani herdsmen’ have been blamed for a raft of kidnappings and murders from the Savannah regions of the north to the green vegetation of the south; as the farmers-herders crisis in Nigeria takes on frightening dimensions daily.

The fear of the nomadic herdsmen has deepened tribal tensions in ethnically diverse Nigeria and Kukah considers the labeling an unfair, skewed one.

“If it is Fulani today, yesterday it was the Igbo,” TheCable quotes Kukah as saying on Tuesday, July 16 at a colloquium on fake news and hate speech organised by the Olusegun Obasanjo Centre for African studies.

The passport as an ethnic weapon

Nigerians have also been apprehensive over images of herdsmen on a page of the nation’s passport, even though other cultures and traditions are also displayed on the same document. 

Kukah considers the ado over the passport illustration a mis-characterization. 

President Muhammadu Buhari meets with Reverend Matthew Kukah on August 27, 2015. Kukah also criticizes the president with regularity (Presidency)

“When I look at my passport, it has the coat of arm and map of Nigeria. Then right in front of the data page where all my information is, I have the Bini. I am not a Bini man, but I am eminently proud of this. I didn’t even know it was here, because I had to go through the passport page by page,” he said. 

“When I opened the passport the first thing I saw was Zuma Rock, then I see Tiv dancers. Who gave them permission to put Tiv dancers? Then I got to next page, before I came to this poor Fulani man who is standing with his cows.

“Suddenly, this is the only thing we have chosen. Why is it exciting? It is exciting because this is the time for us to ‘hate’, literally tag every Fulani as a herdsman. We are on a very dangerous precipice.” 

The priest also asked those in leadership positions to stand up and clearly state where the country is headed.

He also cautioned the media to be careful in their reportage in order not to fan embers of division along religious or ethnic lines.

Nigeria is almost evenly split between a predominantly Muslim north and a predominantly Christian South.

From L-R Bishop Mathew Kukah, Olusegun Obasanjo, Atiku Abubakar and Sheikh Gumi during a peace meeting lately (Obasanjo media organisation)

Ethnic divisions and tensions have been rife in recent times as nomadic herdsmen venture more and more into the southern fringes for pasture for their cattle, away from the Lake Chad in the north that is drying up because of the adverse effects of climate change.

A presidential initiative to establish rural grazing areas across states as a way of restricting the peripatetic cattle herders to designated settlements, was met with suspicion and outrage from Nigerians. 

The federal government had to jettison the plan as a result.