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The National Grazing Reserve Bill And Islamization of Nigeria: Matters Arising

Arthur Agwuncha Nwankwo

 Recently, the media (print and electronic including the social media) have been awash with outcries on the proposed `National Grazing Reserve Establishment and Development Commission Bill (SB. 60)’, which the 8th Senate has come out strongly to deny. But we need to make certain clarifications here. The Senate denied the presence of such bill in this 8th Senate; it did not deny the existence of such bill. The Chairman, Senate Committee on Rules and Business, Senator Babajide Omoworare admitted that the bill was presented to the 7th Senate by Senator Zaynab Kure (representing Niger Central) but was not passed.

This clarification by the Senate, commendable as it is, has done very little to calm down nerves especially of people down southern Nigeria; neither has it explained why a bill supposedly dead at the 7th Senate should suddenly become a front-burner issue even when it has not been allegedly re-presented to the 8th Senate. Truth is that someone is not telling us the truth. As our people say, smoke precedes the real fire; the toad does not run in the afternoon for nothing. It is either a snake is pursuing it or something dreadful is after it.

Nigeria, since independence has been dogged by several problems. By October 1st 2016 (just a few months away) Nigeria would have turned 56 years as an independent country. A man that has attained the age of fifty-six years has come of age. He would have been married, maintained a stable family and have a well-launched career. This age bracket, for any rationale and intelligent man, represents the age of stock-taking. It is the age when a man looks back at his youth and the attendant strivings for relevance. It is the age at which a man calculates his failures and successes. It is also the age at which a man sets in motion the last part of his plans for survival, having, with the aid of hindsight, identified areas of his failures and successes.

The same could be said of a country that has attained fifty-six years of age as Nigeria has. Such country could be said to have survived the vagaries of infancy, the exuberance and crisis of adolescent and has established a functional and effective socio-political system or culture that will ensure stability. However, it is a different ball game when a country that is stupendously endowed, as Nigeria is, fails, as Nigeria has failed miserably, to utilize the experiences of her infancy and youth as building blocks for a better future.

From birth, systemic crises and conflict seem to have dogged her path. Her youth was tainted with bloodshed (a genocidal pogrom against Ndigbo), corruption, and treachery and leadership inertia. At fifty-six years, Nigeria seems to have had the highest rate of leadership turnover in Africa. In fifty-six years, Nigeria has had 14 different governments. In 56 years, Nigeria has had eight  coup d’états, eight military governments, six civilian administrations, one Interim National Government (ING), three Republics and one aborted Republic. In fifty-six years, centripetal and centrifugal socio-political forces seem to have become dangerously sharpened in Nigeria, with each contending socio-political grouping becoming increasingly suspicious and subversive of the other. In 56 years, Nigeria seems to have enthroned corruption and charlatanism as articles of faith in her political leadership.

In 56 years, Nigeria has consolidated a dubious political culture that emphasizes the primacy of sectional interest over and above the national interest. In 56 years, Nigeria’s political leaders have become so immersed in flaunting their ill-gotten wealth; in upbraiding the primordial public at the expense of the civic public. In 56 years, Nigeria’s record reads like a parchment on the scroll of mindless iniquities. In my former treatises, I have maintained that Nigeria is a lumbering behemoth in search of a safe berth; a country with awesome potentials for global dominance but frittered away by sustained and un-mitigating ethnic pariahs, leadership inertia and mindless looting of the commonwealth.

Today, the present government of Muhammadu Buhari is determined to throw Nigeria further into the miry clay of death with a nebulous bill on grazing reserves. The Senate has said the bill is not before it but we know better. What beats me is why grown-ups; people who went to school, supposedly educated and learned would want to take Nigerians for a ride. There is no gainsaying the fact that Buhari had wanted to reintroduce the bill via the back door for no other reason than the primordial interest of his Fulani clan. The nomenclature of the bill is not in doubt and the sponsors are known. For the avoidance of doubt the bill is titled “An Act to provide for the establishment of The National Grazing Reserve (Establishment and Development) Commission for the preservation and control of National Grazing Reserves and Stock Routes and other Matters Connected Therewith”. This bill is before the Nigerian National Assembly and according to reports has successfully scaled through second reading in both the Senate and the House of Representatives. Don’t Nigerians deserve to know the truth? At least for once!

The bill seeks to establish a National Grazing Reserve Commission that will acquire, hold, lease or dispose of any property, moveable or immoveable for the purpose of carrying out its function. The Commission will also have a governing Council headed by a Chairman appointed by the President and confirmed by the Senate with members representing the Federal Ministry of Agriculture, Rural Development and Water Resources, Ministry of Health, Ministry of Environment, Housing and Urban Development, the National Commission for Nomadic Education and shall also have a Director General. The following lands may be subject to the provisions of the Act to be constituted as National Grazing Reserves and Stock Routes: lands at the disposal of the Federal Government of Nigeria and secondly any lands in respect of which it appears to the Commission that grazing in such land should be practiced. Contravention of any of the provisions in the Act shall be punishable by a fine of N50, 000 or 5 years imprisonment or both and no court of law in Nigeria shall carry out execution of its judgment or attachment of court process issued against the Commission in any action or suit without obtaining the prior consent of the Attorney General of the Federation.

Stripped to its bare-bones, this bill seeks to use the apparatus of government to dispossess our people of their ancestral land inheritance and hand same over to the Fulani herdsmen. When this is done, the original owners of the land would become refugees in their own space and subject to the whims and caprices of Fulani cattle rearers. This bill, no doubt, is a script from the pit of hell and must be resisted vehemently by Nigerians particularly people of southern Nigeria.

You may recall that one of the ambitions of Othman Dan Fodio in embarking on the jihad of 1804AD was to Islamize the entire Nigeria. As a matter of fact his intention was to dip the Quran into the Atlantic Ocean. This desire is not hidden among the Fulani stock. In an interview granted the defunct West African Pilot on December 30th 1964, Mallam Bala Garba remarked that the “the conquest to the sea is now in sight. When our god-sent Ahmadu Bello said some years ago that our conquest will reach the sea shores of Nigeria, some idiots in the South were doubting its possibilities. Today have we not reached the sea? Lagos is reached. It remains Port-Harcourt. It must be conquered and taken”.

In strict terms, therefore, this bill is a deliberate attempt to take our lands and hand same over to the Fulani cattlemen since it is only the Fulanis that rear cattle in Nigeria. That law, when passed, shall fulfill the directive of Othman Dan Fodio and other northern leaders to take over other parts of Nigeria and forcefully propagate their religion.

Buhari’s desire to implement Sharia law throughout Nigeria is not hidden. In an article published in Washington Times of March 23rd 2015, Buhari was quoted as saying: “I will continue to show openly and inside me the total commitment to the Sharia movement that is sweeping all over Nigeria; (Allah) willing, we will not stop the agitation for the total implementation of the Sharia in the country.”

The usage of the word “agitation” is indicative here. You may wish to recall that the “agitation” of Boko Haram is the total Islamization of the country. Having declared its total support to ISIS, Boko Haram wants, as a condition for peace, the implementation of Sharia law throughout Nigeria. Buhari’s campaign promise of dealing with the insurgent group is only lip-deep basically because he has often spoken sympathetically about members of the terrorist group.

As a matter of fact, under the Goodluck Jonathan administration, Boko Haram specifically selected Muhammadu Buhari to lead its negotiations with the Government of Nigeria then. Even before the election of Muhammadu Buhari as Nigeria’s President, many analysts (within and outside) had predicted that a Buhari presidency would be a total disaster, not just for Nigeria but also for Africa.

History is generous with the fact that the Fulanis are nomads that can be found in several countries in West Africa. History is also generous with the fact that the Fulani people have roamed the entire West African landscape since the 12th Century- with a mission to spread their religion by force and rear their cattle. They are known to be highly temperamental and unforgiving and they even boast that they have never lost a battle in history.

From available records, the Fulani nomads have rejected western civilization for several centuries. “Boko Haram”, as a name for the Fulani-dominated insurgent group, simply means “western education is evil”- and should be destroyed. They are merely itinerant cattle rearers and depend on the weather and vegetation for their movement. In other words, one cannot actually say that the Fulanis own land or landed property anywhere in Nigeria, except their herds of cattle. Hence using the machinery of government to appropriate people’s land solely for the minority Fulani ethnic group would spell doom for Nigeria.

Having x-rayed the various comments on this issue, and buoyed by my understanding of the socio-political dynamics at play in Nigeria, I have come to the conclusion that the project of Islamizing Nigeria is alive and well on course. The method for this Islamization is terrorism. Boko Haram is the radical wing of Sunni Islam in Nigeria, with deep support from the Sunnis of Saudi Arabia. And remember, Buhari recently signed an anti-terrorist deal with Saudi Arabia.

Certain cronies of the present government, in trying to justify Buhari’s lame-duck approach to eliminating Boko Haram have opined that terrorism is “heathen”. To the Christian faith, this is true but awfully untrue in Islam. The whole essence of Islam is Jihad or simply put terrorism. Jihad is a command to all Muslims and enforced by the Quran. The focus of jihad as one writer remarked is to overcome people who do not accept Islam. This explains why in Muhammad’s time, jihad was practiced against Christians and Jews on a regular basis; as well as idol worshippers- just anyone who failed to convert to Islam.

The foregoing is not a figment of my imagination. They are fundamental doctrines in Islam contained in the Quran. For instance, Surah 4:89 says: “Those who reject Islam must be killed. If they turn back from Islam, take hold of them and kill them wherever you find them”. In the same vein, Surah 47:4 states: “So when you meet in jihad in Allah’s cause those who disbelieve, smite their necks till when you have killed and wounded many of them, then bind a bond firmly on them and take them captives”.

In the Quran, Christians and Jews are regarded as people of the “Book”- referring to the Christian Bible and the Jewish Torah. With Muhammad’s hajira to Medina, he received a revelation that the people of the Book must be totally eliminated wherever they are found. Surah 8:39 enjoins all true Moslems to “fight (the people of the Book) until there is no more fitnah (disbelief and polytheism, i.e., worshiping others besides Allah) and the religion (worship) will all be for Allah alone (in the whole world)…” This verse is simply commanding Moslems to fight those who reject Islam and kill them without mercy. The Quran even says Moslems should not be friends to Christians or Jews. For example, Surah 5:51 says: “Take not the Jews and Christians as Auliya (friends,protectors, helpers), they are but Auliya of each other. And if any amongst you takes them as Auliya, then surely he is one of them”. These and more are the true tenets of Islam and which Boko Haram is fighting for.

Having conquered the north, the ground is now being prepared for the forerunners of Boko Haram to have camps and bases in various communities in southern Nigeria. The establishment of national grazing parks by the Buhari government would certainly serve this purpose. Presently, the Fulani herdsmen move about freely with sophisticated weapons; killing and maiming their victims and dispersing entire communities just as the Quran enjoins them in Surah 8:57.

From the south-west to the south-east and south-south of Nigeria, there is no end to the tale of woes wrought on communities and individuals by this band of terrorists posing as herdsmen. Lacking in any moral conscience and civility, these Fulani herdsmen deliberately graze their cattle on people’s farm lands where crops are just germinating; or fully matured and ready for harvesting or even harvested crops still on the farmlands. Experience has shown that the natives would confront them to know why they are grazing their cattle on such areas and typical of the Fulanis, they would never show any sign of remorse. Instead, like what happened in Awgu town of Enugu State recently, the Fulanis would organize chilling attacks against the entire community at night using high assault rifles, machetes and military or police camouflage. This was actually the strategy used by Othman Dan Fodio in conquering the entire core northern Nigeria i.e. the use of terror and by the power of the sword in the name of jihad. In this way, tens of thousands of people were butchered. The same is happening in Nigeria today and we cannot stand idly by and watch this savagery continue.

This brings me to the critical question of what fate awaits Nigeria in the event of the passage of such satanic and obnoxious bill into law. While the Fulanis or any other ethnic group in Nigeria reserves the right to determine their future in Nigeria, such self-determination must not, in any way imperil other ethnic groups. That Nigeria is an amorphous amalgam of strange bed-fellows is no longer news. What is actually worrisome is why various governments in Nigeria have refused to appreciate the danger facing the country.

There is no doubt that Nigeria is country in dire straits. As the literary avatar, Chinua Achebe, once observed, Nigeria will die if we keep pretending that she is only slightly indisposed. From the north to the south; and from the east to the west of Nigeria, there is no end to the human atrocities bedeviling this country. If it is not the Boko Haram menace in the north, with its Samouri Ibn Lafiya Toure type of earth-scotch policy of annihilation motivated by jihadist zeal; it will be the violent youth militancy in the Niger-Delta or the peaceful but intense resurgence of the Biafran agitation in the south-east or the subtle but virulent ethnic irredentism in the south-west under the aegis of Afenifere and the O’odua People’s Congress (OPC). Yet in the midst of all these things, those in positions of authority in Nigeria carry on as if all is well.

Nigeria has become a pork-barrel and a ferocious cabal of predators has come to town to gorge themselves full without recourse to the consequences of their actions on the health of the nation. We have become so used to blaming the Nigerian situation on such factors as corruption, inept leadership, ethnicity, religious fundamentalism, and prebendal politics and so on and so forth. While these factors are indeed so obvious in Nigeria and have at various times defined the process of governance and power succession, I am constrained, by the facts of history, to remark that what has actually given life to the foregoing factors; and made them more virulent is the structural deformity in our polity, which our leaders have chosen to sustain across time and space.

I am always amazed at arguments by even those one could describe as educated and enlightened suggesting that Nigeria’s problems can be solely located within the confines of good leadership. Admittedly, good leadership is sine-qua-non for the stability and progress of any society; but it does not fall from the sky. Good leadership is a function of inclusive economic and political institutions and history is coterminous with the fact that structural dysfunction in any society does not support the establishment of inclusive institutions.

Nigeria’s institutions are fundamentally extractive and this is not surprising given the mode of creating the Nigerian state through colonial fiat. The seeds of catastrophe were sown into the foundation of Nigeria. Nigeria’s foundation is faulty and the Psalmist was emphatic on the centrality of foundation to the well-being of society when he declared in Psalm 11:3: “If the foundation be destroyed; what can the righteous do?” These words in the mouth of David’s friends were meant to be a warning. The idea is, “The very foundation of Saul’s government is destroyed. What can a righteous one like you do, except admonish in the hope that those in authority would heed your admonition?”

In the past three decades, I have admonished our people that the future is bleak; that doomsday awaits us if we fail to take urgent steps to save our country and ourselves. I have at various times argued that Nigeria’s problems cannot be solved in isolation of the fundamental ingredients of restructuring. Genuine and good leadership cannot exist in the absence of inclusive economic and political institutions; institutions that are anchored on a properly restructured polity.

Britain did not create Nigeria in the hope that it will survive. Deliberate studs were put in the way of Nigeria’s survival as a country. The unilateral lumping together of disparate ethnic nationalities into one country is analogous to the emergence of nations in Europe. Nigeria is the size of about ten countries in Europe today. Why didn’t the colonial powers of Europe lump those nations into one country?

The ones they did in former Yugoslavia and Czechoslovakia crashed in their face even in our time. By now it has become so clear to even kindergartens that the primary motive for creating Nigeria was economic. The colonial masters never pretended about this.

The amalgamation story of 1914 is a classical case in point. The south of Nigeria was not amalgamated with the north but to the north. It was an “arrangee marriage” (borrowing the expression of Fela Anikulakpo-Kuit) destined for doom. Lord Harcourt, then British exchequer, told the British House of Lords that “the north has been released from the leading strings of the British treasury”; and the southern lady of means would be amalgamated to the north and her resources would be used to sustain the arid north”.

In 1996, Sir Peter Smithers, an under-secretary in the British colonial office then, released his memoire. In that memoire, he noted that the reason for lumping together so many ethnic nations in Nigeria was to create a large political structure that would play a dominant role in Africa and global politics. However, he went further to lament that “with the benefit of hindsight, I have come to understand that this was a fundamental error; if we had the benefit of hindsight on the collapse of former Yugoslavia and Czechoslovakia, perhaps we would have created smaller ethnic nations. The bringing together of many different ethnic nationalities into the Nigerian project has resulted into structural deficits and has caused many tragedies and would continue to do so until the structural problem is resolved”.

This is the testimony of one of the actors in the creation of the Nigerian conundrum. What else can be so glaring to us than that our major problem is structural. History is generous with the fact that if a society fails to get its politics right; it would never get its economy right. Nigeria has failed to get her politics right and it is not surprising that our economy has been in the woods despite enormous human and natural endowments.

Thus, Nigeria has remained in the mud not necessarily because of our geography or cultures or because its leaders do not know which policies that would be enunciated and implemented for the good of the country; but essentially because the leaders have deliberately chosen to ignore the time-honoured truth that a country is poor or rich is determined by the incentives created by institutions, and that the way we play and structure our politics would inevitably determine what type of institutions we have.

The point is that our leaders, since political independence, failed to understand that colonialism and its termination in Nigeria in 1960 presented a critical juncture in Nigeria’s evolution as a country, which the country failed to tap into. There is no gainsaying the fact that the ethnic nationalities that make up Nigeria had their economic and political institutions, some were mainly inclusive while others were extractive and feudalist at the behest of colonial rule. The Igbo society, for instance, had well-established inclusive economic and political institutions. However, at independence, the emergent Nigerian leaders failed to weave these institutions into a truly Nigerian “home-grown” institution but rather chose to experiment with alien political structures.

The adoption of a federal system of government by the nationalists at that time was the only safe way to ensure that Nigeria continued to exist as a country. The republican constitution of 1963 defined the nature of this federalism. The regions were autonomous, developed at their pace and Nigerians lived peacefully. The emergence of the military destroyed all this. The military rulers suspended that constitution; destroyed our federal structure and inaugurated a unitary system of government and further entrenched the extractive economic and political institutions inherited from colonialism.

Structural imbalance, therefore, is at the heart of the Nigerian problem. The fact that colonialism is evil in content and logic is a settled question, at least by my own estimation. There is no standard of morality by which the conquest and subjugation of one country by the other without any provocation whatsoever can be rationalized. That Britain came into the geographical entity known as Nigeria today of her own accord and without invitation is all too well-known.

Britain’s primary aim was to conquer the various ethnic nations in Nigeria and impose her own rules on the people purely for selfish reasons. It is on record that many of the ethnic groups resisted this foreign imposition but they were eventually over-powered by sheer force of arms. The ethnic groups had only two choices, which end leads to subjugation. They were faced with the decision to fight the intruders and be defeated in war and bear all the consequences of defeat or simply to surrender to the superior fire power of the British colonial masters. Either way, the local people were conquered and forcefully subjected to British colonial authority.

Having conquered the native people, British colonialism went ahead to establish its machinery of governance. The colonial masters wanted to know the numerical strength of the various peoples they conquered. Thus, in 1931 the colonial authorities conducted the first census in Nigeria, and identified ten major ethnic groups including Hausa, lgbo, Yoruba, Fulani, Kanuri, Ibibio, Munshi or Tiv, Edo, Nupe, and ljaw. However, the 11th edition of the Nigeria Handbook, observed that there are also a great number of other small tribes too numerous to enumerate separately but it would be a mistake not to designate them ‘tribes’.

The Handbook noted that each of these small tribes is a nation in its own right with many tribes and clans, essentially because there is as much difference between them as there is between Germans, English, Russians and Turks for instance. The fact that they had a common overlord in British colonialism did not and still does not destroy this fundamental difference. This is a confirmation that the various nationalities in Nigeria are strange bed-fellows.

The way out is not to introduce any nebulous bill like the national grazing reserves commission bill but to gather round a table to renegotiate the existence of this country. Buhari cannot run away from this reality. Former Presidents Obasanjo and Jonathan have provided the platforms for such renegotiation. These platforms are contained in the recommendations of the 2005 National Political Reform Conference and the one Jonathan convoked in 2011. I hope someone in the presidency or national archives would avail Buhari the documents. Nigeria’s recipe for survival lies in those documents. Buhari’s surreptitious implementation of a Fulani agenda has one destination- destruction.

  • Dr Arthur Agwuncha Nwankwo is Chancellor of Eastern Mandate Union (EMU)   


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