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Ethnic profiling as red herring

Published by The Nation on Wed, 24 Feb 2021


By Festus EriyeEthnic profiling is as unfair as its potentially deadly. In the hands of political manipulators it is a powerful trigger for conflicts that can tear communities apart. It deserves to be condemned unreservedly by all peace-loving people.In the past few weeks, weve been hearing the expression thrown around regularly by some Northern politicians and leaders to describe happening in states like Oyo and Ondo.At the weekend the usually mild-mannered Senate President, Ahmad Lawan, bluntly blamed Southwest governors for the recent ethnic violence which erupted in the region and targeted people of Fulani extraction.Speaking in an interview on the British Broadcasting Corporations (BBC) Hausa Service, he said: The utterances of some governors in the Southwest region encouraged the indigenes who felt their leaders gave them license.Profiling is about generalisation and Lawans angry statement did exactly the same thing. Of the six governors from the zone, only Ondos Rotimi Akeredolu and Oyos Seyi Makinde made comments of note related to ethnic conflicts.The former directed herders illegally occupying forest reserves to vacate them because of reports of criminal activities.From the very moment Sunday Igboho issued his controversial quit notice asking herdsmen to leave Ibarapa area in Oyo State, Makinde confronted him, arguing he had no authority to give such an order. He went a step further by asking the police to arrest anyone who took the laws into their own hands.So aggressive was he in countering Igbohos actions that he became the butt of criticism on social media, with many deriding him as a Fulani apologist.Amidst the tension, I dont recall any statement by the likes of Babajide Sanwo-Olu (Lagos), Kayode Fayemi (Ekiti), Dapo Abiodun (Osun) or Gboyega Oyetola (Osun), egging people to violence.It is equally noteworthy that at the height of the Shasha market crisis in Ibadan, four northern governors on a fact-finding visit declared the clashes were not about religion or ethnicity, but revolved round a leadership tussle in the facility.There have also been reports of how Yorubas shielded Hausas and vice versa during the conflict.So Lawan and the like frothing at the gills over so-called profiling looks more like blackmail and an attempt to divert attention from the real issues. We must not allow that.Is there anger against killer herdsmen across the south' Yes. Does that mean all Fulani are criminal' Absolutely no.If herders have been behaving like angels across the country, they would be profiled as angels. But a consistent pattern of violent conduct by a strain in their community has produced a stink which unfortunately is trailing the larger whole. That has to be addressed rather than the hollow blackmail about profiling.Perhaps we are seeing this deliberate attempt by the elite to muddy the waters because they own the cattle; herders are just errand boys who tend the expensive merchandise. So when communities begin to rise up in ways that prevent them from carrying on business as usual resistance should be expected.Through the ages land has been at the heart of terrible disputes. Today, with desert encroachment and exploding populations, that commodity isnt enough to go round, and also accommodate a sentimental attachment to an outmoded way of carrying on pastoralism.Trying to get the point across to some Northern leaders that people are only bothered about criminality and not the ethnicity of herders, is akin to a dialogue with the deaf.Rather than appreciating the concerns of others, some have turned this into a political firefight operating from the wrong premises. Bauchi State Governor, Bala Mohammed, has become the vocal advocate of the right of herders to roam all territories from Timbuktu to Cape Town freely.Somewhere in his mind, but certainly not based on the constitution, he has imagined that Nigerian forests are no-mans territory; irrespective of our laws vesting control over lands in the states.This week he got back up from one of his predecessors as governor, Isa Yuguda, who not only doubled down of Mohammed advocacy for herders to carry AK47s, he argued the country had been unfair to them because they provide beef daily for Nigerians. He reminds us that in colonial times pastoralists were a major source of government revenue.This position creates a sense of Fulani exceptionalism that isnt supported by facts or reality. We can also ask whether Nigeria has been fair to millions of Niger Deltans from whose soil billions of dollars worth of oil has been pumped. In return all they get are polluted farmlands and fishing ponds.Under the military, agitators were brutally crushed fighting for a better deal from the state in places like Ogoniland.When the likes of Yuguda speak of Nigeria being unfair to herders who does he blame' For the vast majority of our 61 years as an independent nation northerners have been at the helm of affairs. What stopped those leaders from taking steps to correct the unfair treatment'To be fair, the position of Yuguda and Mohammed are not representative of the Northern political class. There are many others who have come out to say open grazing is not sustainable in the 21st century. Some who are governors are taking steps to provide alternatives.The buck passers have also tried to pin the violent acts on supposedly foreign Fulani. The irony that they are also engaged in some form of profiling is probably lost on them. Can it really be true that all herders from outside our borders are criminals and their Nigerian counterparts angels'Remember that the closest the ordinary man in rural areas comes to seeing a Fulani is through herdsman. He has no way of telling who is from Mali or Kano.This issue goes beyond whether herders are local or foreign, whether they carry AK47s or rocket launchers. For as long as the only model for doing cattle business is roaming thousands of miles in search of grazing, there would be conflict.For as long as people have a mind-set that promotes their rights over those of other citizens, there would be clashes and plenty of raw material for lazy ethnic profiling. We really dont want that, do we
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