Dan-Ali prepares to tackle Fulani herdsmen

Written by on October 19, 2018

Nigeria’s Defence Minister, Mansur Dan-Ali, is not a stranger to controversies. Some have accused him of defending Fulani herdsmen in their clash against farmers because he is Fulani. I won’t even level an accusation of being Fulani against Dan-Ali. I’ve learnt to not fall into the same error made by many southerners who assume that everyone wearing babanriga in the North is Fulani. I should know better after more than two decades of close contact with the North.

Even if Dan-Ali looks like a Fulani, you may be shocked that if you call him a Fulani to his face, he may snap back that he’s not. It’s the same way you may call a dark Fulani man Hausa and he snaps back at you that he isn’t. That’s mild. Calling a Christian who wears babanriga with a Bornu cap (and who is from one of the minority ethnic groups in the North) “Alhaji” will earn you a stronger reaction. Judgment based on face value is fraught with errors. In any case, like home that they say is where one’s heart is, so is ethnic or racial affiliation. I know people who have fathers from other tribes but claim to be Fulani because their mothers are Fulani. There are people whom I take for granted are Yoruba but they say, “I am Fulani-Yoruba” from Kwara State. All of that isn’t where I am going though.

Earlier this month, the defence minister was shown on TV inaugurating a body that he called Ad hoc Defence and Security Committee. The committee is to advise him. It’s worth noting. The nation’s security challenge is one reason. The herdsmen-farmers clashes are part of it. The first thought I had was that Dan-Ali wanted the committee to make recommendations on the way forward regarding herdsmen-farmers clashes.

Why? Dan-Ali has an image issue that he needs to clean up regarding herdsmen-farmers clashes. He’s a suspect (that is, his impartiality) among every Nigerian except possibly the Fulani. I don’t think he needs to wear this tag personally because this is a national problem.

For instance, in January this year, the defence minister reportedly said a few things that invited the ire of ever vocal Nigerians. In the midst of herdsmen murderous attacks across the nation, Dan-Ali reportedly blamed everything else but the killers involved, on January 26, 2018, reported that the minister described the blockage of grazing routes across the country as the remote cause of killings.

He identified the implementation of anti-grazing law as the immediate cause of the killings in Benue and Taraba states. According to Dan-Ali, there are routes that cattle herders take all over the nation.

“If those routes are blocked, what do you expect will happen?” As he further explains, “These people are Nigerians and we must learn to live together with one another. Communities and other people must learn how to accept foreigners within their enclave. Finish!”

Critics have read this to mean that Dan-Ali was supporting killers. For instance, the Vanguard newspaper columnist, Ochereome Nnanna, on February 1, 2018, stated that the government had failed to fulfil “election promises that they would end all forms of threats to national security, leveraging their candidate’s (Muhammadu Buhari) military background and perceived ‘no-nonsense’ disposition.” Nnanna says, however, any time there are reports of cattle rustling in any part of the far North, the government dispatches massive contingents of military forces to flush out the criminals. He added that “Nigerians have realised that the safety of cows is more important”.

Some critics have even called on the defence minister to resign. But the role of government in bringing an end to all forms of threat to national security is my focus here. What the Ministry of Defence should be doing in this regard is of importance. The ministry becomes the last hope because there are things regarding overall national security that I expect to have been done in the last three years in the Office of the National Security Adviser and the Office of the Joint Chief of Staff. Had they been done, lasting solutions to the herdsmen-farmers clashes would have been an aspect. So, when Dan-Ali set up the ad hoc committee, I saw it as another opportunity to sort out the thorny issue of herdsmen- farmers’ clashes.

According to the Ministry of Defence, it was established on October 1, 1958, with the statutory responsibility of overseeing the defence profile of the country from the perspective of the Armed Forces. It supervises the Defence Headquarters, the Services namely, Army, Navy and Air Force as well as Tri-Services Institutions/Parastatals. Note that the Army and Air Force have sometimes been deployed to keep the peace where herdsmen-farmers clashes have happened; for instance, in Southern Kaduna where the Kaduna State Governor, Mallam Nasir el-Rufai, has had to personally persuade the President to order the military to set up two military barracks in the area in less than one year. The defence ministry further says, “In recognition of the challenges of the millennium”, its vision is to have a “military sector with modernised equipment…etc. Herdsmen-farmers clash is an internal issue. Normally, the military shouldn’t be involved. But it’s involved.

If this is the case, shouldn’t this tell us that there’s a need to take a second look at our security architecture? Must we continue to engage the military the way we do in internal issues that the police should handle? The risks, we know, are many. That the military loses its professionalism by continually getting involved in civilian affairs is one. If this continues, our democracy is exposed to threats.

So also are civil rights that are trampled as was the case when soldiers picked up dozens of unarmed civilians going about their legitimate business in Plateau State early this month. Many of such arbitrary arrests go unreported across the country. The police command is saying its officers should stop arresting people only to thereafter start looking for evidence. Now, the military is doing exactly that in crisis-ridden areas where they are deployed.

I’ve been waiting to see the NSA recommend to the President something drastic in curbing military involvement in civilian or internal issues. I’m still waiting. In the face of seeming lack of action on the part of relevant parties to fundamentally address our internal security challenges, every other small measure taken takes on a larger significance. Security is a multifaceted, multi-ministry, multi-agency matter. But here, we have the defence minister setting up his own defence and security committee. His committee is to advise only him of course. But how far can his input have impact on the nation when the

NSA, Joint Chief of Staff and the Minister of the Interior should also have a say? There is also the Federal Executive Council as a whole that should approve whatever Dan Ali takes from his committee? Also,we are some seven months to the end of the tenure of the current administration. How useful will the committee be, considering that what is recommended will have to be implemented? Shouldn’t one fear this is one of those merry-go round endeavours that get us nowhere better regarding security issues?

No doubt, the minister will get the committee to focus more on the mandates of his ministry which largely are about the preparedness of the military to tackle external security challenges. But the ministry’s Mandate 2 requires it to “maintain a proper balance in arms and men to meet needs of internal and external security”. A huge proportion of our soldiers are active internally, many in areas where there have been clashes between herdsmen farmers. I would therefore the defence minister to let his committee proffer solutions that go beyond his previously reported anti-grazing law,

blocked cattle route narrative. The two parties should be taken care of such that they don’t have reasons to clash. The ministry says its defence vision for the country is based on its “recognition of the challenges of the millennium”. Herdsmen chasing cattle across cities and other densely populated urban areas isn’t compatible with the challenges of the new millennium, is it?

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