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16 May 2016

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Herdsmen Menace: SPN Condemns Mass Killings of Nigerians

  • We condemn government's half-hearted and haphazard Approach
  • We call for united movement of peace-loving communities and herdsmen to resist and disarm criminal herders
  • For socialist programmes for modern agricultural system for food security and to end the horrors of climate crisis

The Socialist Party of Nigeria (SPN) joins millions of Nigerians to condemn the heinous and continuous killings of Nigerians in the continuing, and increasing number of, conflicts breaking out in different parts of the country.

Amongst these clashes are the attacks by some armed herdsmen, who under the guise of feeding cattle, are committing mass murder. The incoherent response of the federal government and the security forces to the mass murder of citizens by these elements illustrates the rottenness at the heart of the ruling elite. It took the federal government days to issue a statement on the mass killing of 46 people by suspected herdsmen in UkpabiNimbo in Uzor-Uwani Local government of Enugu State. The response of the government, directing heavy crackdown on marauding herdsmen, without coming out with fundamental and long term solutions, is clearly half-hearted and haphazard and is likely to make the situation worse. The police authority was also, according to media reports, informed of the impending massacre and promised to avert it, only for the police to give excuses why it shirked its responsibility to protect lives. However the same police will be on ground and well-armed to attack peaceful protesters, workers and youth whenever they try to defend their rights.

Repeated mass killings

The recent killing of scores of people in Enugu follows a pattern of mass murder of people by suspected herdsmen in the last few years. In 2014 alone, "Fulani militants, named as the fourth deadliest in the world, were responsible for 1, 229 lives" (Punch, March 13, 2016). Moreover, in the first eleven months of 2015, 847 people were killed by herdsmen according to Global Terrorism Index (GTI) instituted by Institute for Economic and Peace (Punch, May 6, 2016). This is aside several other mass killings and ethno-religious conflicts, including the ones in Jos in 2009, associated with the Fulani herdsmen terror. In the first five months of this year, four major mass killings in Enugu, Benue, Adamawa and Taraba States, led to loss of estimated 500 lives. This is aside various isolated killings across the country by the herdsmen and what seem to be reprisal attacks as evident in the recent killing of 20 Fulani and 83 cows in Nassarawa. Added to these killings is mass destruction of farmland, houses and properties, in what is reminiscent of the conquest wars of the dark ages.

The SPN firmly rejects the idea that the Fulani people as a whole are themselves responsible for these attacks. The various herdsmen-farmers conflicts that have developed and degenerated across the country have further shown the backwardness of Nigeria's capitalist economy, its inability to develop the country in a rounded out way and the unresolved nature of national question under the current rotten capitalist system. It is only in Nigeria, and by extension West Africa, that nomadic method of rearing animal has remained a popular culture. Rather than provide modern means of rearing animals like providing ranches and/or creating range land, sections of the ruling class have, for their own interests, accepted the retrogressive and backward culture of nomadic rearing of animals. This is even instituted into the education curriculum and policies. The failure to have an organized planning of agriculture over the years has created this obscene situation.

Growing ethno-religious colouration

Reflecting the interconnection between socio-economic backwardness and ethno-religious conflict, the herdsmen terror has taken ethno-religious colouration, especially in the north-central region of the country, evoking strong religious and ethnic passions and hatred. However, the clashes of farmers and Fulani herdsmen in Zamfara and Kastina in 2012 that led to many deaths show that crisis is primarily about two social groups fighting for economic space. However, given that these two groups have different ethnicities and religions, this conflict has the potential to impact across wide parts of Nigeria if it escalates. In all this, it is the poor and working people in communities that have had to bear the burden of suffering, death and miseries.

However, the growing cases of armed marauders in the south and north-central show that the country is maybe on the course of replacing, or adding, Boko Haram terrorism with that of armed herdsmen across the country. According to Punch newspaper of May 6, 2016, the deaths caused by Boko Haram and Fulani herdsmen in 2015 made Nigeria the third most terrorized country, after Afghanistan and Iraq, in the ranking of 162 countries. It should be noted that Fulani herdsmen are found in virtually every state in the south; which poses the spectre of a contagious crisis. From Oyo to Ekiti, Ondo, Osun, Ogun, and Enugu, there have been different cases of herdsmen clashing with locals. The sight of herdsmen bearing arms and herds of cattle taking over roads and streets is enough to provoke anger and dislike, thereby deepening divides.

With the poor manner successive governments have been handling the issue of herdsmen invasion; it has the tendency to threaten the basis of Nigeria's existence. While many politicians in the south are already whipping up ethnic and religious sentiments and calling for ejection of herdsmen without providing any fundamental solution many politicians in the north including state governors and national legislators are posing as defenders of Fulani ethnic group, thus unnecessarily raising ethno-religious sentiments and passion. These same politicians cutting across northern and southern parts of the country have not done anything significantly to improve the living conditions of the people of their respective regions, neither have they tried to provide functional farming and animal husbandry facilities including establishing large ranches and rangeland for cattle breeders. Most peasant farmers and poor cattle rearers have been left to struggle for every input for their businesses. Therefore, the position of the northern and southern politicians including governors is opportunistic and only aimed at currying political favour from the people of their respective region.

Even in the north, especially north-west, several lives are being lost to cattle rustling, which is another name for mass stealing of cattle by marauding terrorists within and outside the country. Therefore, many peaceful and nonviolent Fulani herdsmen are partly forced down south to avoid cattle rustling and are also forced to arm themselves to protect their cattle. This however does not in any form justify killing of fellow citizens in the name of defending their herds.

Socialists advocate unity among all sections of the oppressed and working people. We call on herdsmen, farmers and community people to collectively demand from government the creation of modern animal rearing methods such as provision of ranches, rangeland and grass cultivation and production services. They should also demand provision of extension services for both animal rearing and farming including veterinary services, provision of farm inputs, storage facilities and infrastructures like roads, schools, hospitals, power supply, irrigation facilities, water and sanitation services, etc. in farming communities. However, we do not support the imposition of animal grazing on farming lands, let alone the killing of fellow humans, under the guise of feeding or protecting herds of animals.

Joint community defence against killers

We call for community defence organization by peasant farmers in conjunction with peace-loving, nonviolent Fulani herdsmen, both against marauding killer squads masquerading as herdsmen and other oppressors of working people. We also call on poor Fulani herdsmen, in conjunction with peasant farmers, to organize collective movement to compel government to provide necessary services, facilities and infrastructures for agricultural sector. It is so pathetic that various Nigerian capitalist governments since 1999 have been talking about diversifying Nigerian economy, yet the agricultural sector is one of the most poorly funded and generally abused (through looting of its meagre funds) over time. Therefore, developing Nigeria's agriculture, and by extension, the economy to modern era, is sine qua non to ending farmers-herdsmen crises.

A genuine working peoples' government will mobilize the mass of peasant farmers, animal farmers and herdsmen to play active role in modernizing agriculture by forming cooperative farming and establishing large farming settlements with strong working class base. These along with provision of basic and vital amenities and infrastructures will permanently end conflicts related to struggle over scarce resources. However, to achieve this will require a serious government committed to liberating huge wealth of the society already held by a tiny clique and using it for the interests of the majority of the population.

Climate change and capitalism

It should also be stressed that the growing clashes between herdsmen and farmers, across the country also reflect the impact of the climate change and desert encroachment on the country, especially the northern Nigeria. Northern Nigeria has seen further desertification that has made more land in the north recording dry up of subsoil water and consequently fall in feed stock for animals.

For instance, Lake Chad, which provided water for many agricultural activities, not only in Nigeria, but also in the Lake Chad Basin region, has shrunk by more than 60 percent in about two decades. The far northern Nigeria and West African region bordering northern Nigeria, which used to serve as haven for herdsmen as a result of favourable environment for herds, has been seriously affected by climate change. This has meant more herdsmen, not only from far northern Nigeria, but also West African countries, moving southward, which is partly responsible for the clashes we are seeing. Therefore, only serious and concerted effort of government to reverse this trend by seriously investing in activities to reverse desertification can reduce drastically not just the herdsmen-farmers' clashes, but also the agricultural crises facing the country. Sadly, billions budgeted for reclamation and other efforts at stopping desertification over the years usually find their ways into private pockets.

Moreover, the crisis of climate change shows the bleak future facing poor and underdeveloped world, who will be the greatest victim of effects of climate change. Unfortunately, global capitalism, with its prioritization of profit-making for the super-rich, is not fundamentally prepared to reverse the impending climate crisis that is already showing the sign of great calamity for humanity. This is in spite of enormous resources available for humanity to avoid the climate calamity. Global capitalist policy makers and big business are at best strategizing on how to make profit from calamity posed by climate change, when they are not in denial of it. Only a socialist programme aimed towards long term planning for humanity through conservation, investment in safe energy, long-term development, etc. can permanently end the chaos posed by climate change.

Segun Sango
National Chairperson