The debate over Fulani herdsmen reached new heights this week following the murder of Funke Olakunrin, daughter of Afenifere leader, Reuben Fasoranti, along the Benin-Ore road on Friday, July 12, 2019.

Mrs. Olakunrin was killed by bandits, gunmen or herdsmen, depending on who is doing the telling.

Mrs Funke Olakunrin was killed by gunmen along Benin-Ore road [PM News]

Earlier reports blaming herdsmen of Fulani extraction for the murder, heightened ethnic tension in Nigeria, a country of over 250 ethnic groups and one often prone to ethnic suspicion and tribal rivalries. 

Northern elders directive

Fulani herdsmen have become the fall guys for most killings across Nigeria as the herders-farmers crisis in Nigeria deepens. They have also been demonized and criminalized in the south and blamed for a raft of killings.

During a media briefing on Tuesday, July 16, the Northern Elders Forum (NEF) asked all nomadic herders plying their trade in the south of Nigeria to return home because their safety could no longer be guaranteed. 

“We are worried about their well-being. If it is true that their safety can no longer be guaranteed, we rather have them back in areas where their safety is guaranteed.

Ango Abdullahi stirs divisive rhetoric for a living (Punch)

“The bottom line is that their safety is far more important than staying there. This is a country we all have to keep together but not at the expense of other sections,” NEF leader, Professor Ango Abdullahi, declared. 

Other groups react

NEF’s directive was immediately met with condemnation from socio political groups in the south, notably from Afenifere, Ohanaeze Ndigbo, the Pan-Niger Delta Forum, PANDEF, and the Southern and Middle Belt Leaders Forum.

Yinka Odumakin, National Publicity Secretary of Afenifere, said NEF’s directive was insensitive and dangerous.

“It smacks of insensitivity and arrogance for people not to betray any emotion over innocent blood being spilled by Fulani militia trooping into our communities under (the guise) of cattle grazing.

“If you ask that herders leave the south, are you giving the same directive to the sleeper cells of terror?

“We see it as a continuation of the irresponsible 30-day ultimatum earlier given by Coalition of Northern Groups, CNG, to southerners to accept Ruga or face the consequences. 

Yinka Odumakin calls out NEF for incendiary remarks (Guardian)

“We wait to see what the presidency will do on this, as it said two days ago that leaders should mind their utterances. 

“If nothing happens, it would be clear the warning was for sections of the country and not the entire country”, Odumakin said. 

Ohanaeze Ndigbo said: “The call for herdsmen to leave the south by Northern Elders Forum is divisive and an undue emotional outburst. 

“These people cannot claim to speak for the north. Nobody is against peaceful herdsmen but those that kill and maim. When will this sensational outbursts stop? It’s quite embarrassing that each time, we waste time talking about cattle, herdsmen, colony, etc. We should be talking about modern ways of living. 

“These extremists who claim to be spokesmen of the north should stop embarrassing the north and Nigeria.”

In its reaction, the Southern and Middle Belt Leaders Forum (SMBFL) said: “We ordinarily would have expected an elder of the status of Prof. Ango Abdullahi, to show concern for human life by sending condolences to the bereaved at a time like this before getting into grievances that his group may have. Not seeing such attitude is worrisome”. 

Buhari's take

In a statement issued on Wednesday, July 17, 2019, the president’s spokesperson, Garba Shehu, said President Buhari will protect Nigerians wherever they are.

“In line with our country’s constitution, the government of Nigeria and the administration of President Muhammadu Buhari will protect citizens of Nigeria wherever they find themselves.

President Buhari and President Idris Deby Itno of Chad hold bilateral meeting in Makkah, Saudi Arabia on the margins of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) Summit (Twitter NGRPresiden)

“No one has the right to ask anyone or group to depart from any part of the country, whether North, South, East or West”, the statement read. 

The statement also queried the intentions of the NEF and other such groups.

Shehu said: “They have no one’s authority to make such pronouncements.

“The polarising role of the Northern Elders Forum and all those other groups dabbling into issues of security to score cheap political points has for long been a sore point in Nigeria’s body polity.

“They should not be allowed to mislead anyone, least of all the Fulani herders.

“The Buhari administration is fully devoted to finding a lasting solution to the herder-farmer clashes in different parts of Nigeria- one that would be acceptable to all the parties involved.’’

Shehu also quoted the president as calling on all Nigerians to help keep the peace in the country.

According to the Global Terrorism Index, nearly 1,700 violent deaths across Nigeria were perpetrated by Fulani herdsmen in 2018.