Next week, Mrs Funke Olakunrin, the beloved daughter of Chief Reuben Famuyide Fasoranti, would be buried in Akure, the Ondo State capital. Last week, Funke was alive and well. This week, she is in the mortuary. Next week, she is in the grave. She was a victim. We are all victims.
Last Friday, Funke was returning from Akure, where her father, the 93-year-old leader of Afenifere, the mainstream Yoruba political and cultural movement, lives. She had a choice of passing through Ilesha and Ibadan on her way to Lagos, but the road between Ilesha and Ibadan is rough and traffics oftentimes snarl-up in Ibadan. She took the longer route through Ondo and Ore. It was a fatal choice. Shortly after Ore, a hail of bullet came from the bush, forcing her SUV to stop, bursting the tyres. Funke was fatally wounded. Other occupants of the vehicle escaped with minor injuries. The criminals came from the bush. They had forcibly stopped three vehicles, including a passenger bus coming from the East. In the melee, they escaped into the bush with some of the passengers as their captives. One of them is still with these hoodlums.
It is not surprising that the police may have made some arrest. What need to be proven is whether they have made the correct arrest. Often, the police bugle its investigations to the extent that some known criminals would be set free by the courts. So we are waiting for the corralling of all the suspected hoodlums who participated in killing Funke.
Some of those who witnessed the action alleged that the hoodlums look like and operated in the manner of the dreaded decommissioned Fulani herdsmen. These so-called herdsmen may have been tending cattle and sheep in earlier life, but have since abandoned their trade and are now into the deadlier vocation of kidnapping and robbery. Their hideouts are the thick forests in the South-west from where they spring occasionally to cause mayhem and death. Then they would melt into the bush. They are a modern mirage. They are the ghost wolves. They are the agents of death and sorrow inhabiting the air we breathe. They are the hoodlums of Mr President, the leader of Nigeria.
During his inauguration in 2015, President Muhammadu Buhari said: “I belong to nobody; I belong to everybody.”These hoodlums are making a mockery of the presidential declaration. They are challenging the legitimacy of the Nigerian state and its sacred duty to protect life and property. They are telling our President, a retired general and Civil War veteran, that you can’t do anything to us. It is time he proves them wrong.
In recent years, the Boko Haram terrorists and their kindred called the hoodlums, herdsmen, kidnappers and killers have made many bull hits. They were the one who killed General Mohammed Shuwa, the first General Officer Commanding the First Division during the Nigerian Civil War. Last year, they succeeded in killing in Abuja Air Marshall Alex Badeh, the former Chief of Defence Staff. Also last year, General Idris Alkali, who just retired as a GOC, was killed in Plateau State. Now Funke, the daughter of Baba Fasoranti.
Some people have simplified the rise of the hoodlum to means simply that the Fulani herders are fighting the farmers for grazing land. Methinks that the Boko Haram terrorist group and the Islamic State are not ethnic groups; they are ideological groups comprising deluded and bloodthirsty men and women who want to force their lunatic vision on mankind. Therefore, they would contain all kinds of people, some of whom may even be from the South. We cannot afford to allow this variant of mass madness to take hold in the South, whatever may be the explanation. In recent months, the apparent incapacity of the government to punish the criminals seem to have emboldened them.
Therefore, we have no problem with the herdsman who stays within the precinct of the law; we have a serious problem with the herdsman who wants to be a killer and a destroyer. Their criminal enterprise is not acceptable today and it would never be acceptable.
During the 1979 presidential campaign, Chief Obafemi Awolowo, the leader and presidential candidate of the Unity Party of Nigeria, UPN, promised that if he was elected President of Nigeria, he would keep Nigerian cattle in the North. He said freight express trains should carry beef from the North every day to destinations in the South. By so doing, the beef would be fresh, inexpensive and healthy. He said the long trek from the North to the South was too much stress for both the herds and the herdsmen. Awolowo lost the elections.
Awo in making his election promise about cattle knew what he was talking about. As Premier of the defunct Western Region, he created cattle ranches in many parts of the West including, Ibadan, Shaki, Ikun, Agege and Ikare. He imported a new breed of cattle to the West from Argentina which produced bigger meat, more milk and was resistant to the dreaded tsetse fly. After the military seized power in 1966, the ranches were taken over by the Federal Government. They were only returned to the states after General Olusegun Obasanjo came to power in 1986. Today, the Obudu Cattle Ranch, the largest of those ranches of the pre-independence years, is now a tourist resort. There are not a single cattle in Obudu Cattle Ranch.
In recent years, too many events have conspired to manufacture greater poverty in the northern part of Nigeria. The Lake Chad, which had been a source of life for centuries, is drying up and now reduced to about 30 percent of what it was in 1900. The Sahara Desert is advancing South with increasing menace and many of the large bodies of water are drying up including the mighty Niger. To underscore the crisis, where the herdsman passes this season, by next season, he may find a farm there or an airport or a palace built by a politician. Therefore, open grazing has no future and the earlier our country learn to embrace the ranch method for its animals, the better for all of us, including the herdsman.
At the height of the Boko Haram insurgency, the Federal Government encouraged and financed the setting up of local vigilantes to help track down the terrorists. These hoodlums who are operating in the thick forests in the South are worse than the Boko Haram terrorists. Unlike the Boko Haram terrorists, they are not guided by any known religion or ideology, whatever they may profess. Therefore, the government should encourage the setting up of local vigilantes to smoke out these criminals from their forest lairs and bring them to justice.
Some Nigerians have read a more sinister motive to the criminal activities of the hoodlums especially considering the devastation they accomplished in many states including Plateau, Benue, Tarawa, Kaduna, Zamfara and Katsina. Only last week, these criminals killed more than 10 people in Katsina State. Some people interpret these activities as an attempt to seize land by force from the owners. I don’t have any evidence that these fears are not justified.
I would only advise that those who want land should go about it in a more civilised way. A large slice of central London is now owned by Indians and Arabs. They came to town armed with suitcases loaded with cash. A portfolio of dollars is far more portent to secure land than 1000 AK 47 rifles anywhere in the world.
The activities of these criminals may have a tremendous effect on the economy which currently is not in the best of health. No foreign investor would bring his money where he can be kidnapped or killed. Even the big Nigerian businessmen and women are moving about with armed escorts. This is bad news for everyone, including those who eat beef.
Therefore we need to help Buhari to get rid of his hoodlums, including the herdsmen among them. It is Funke today, it could be anyone else another time. These set of vicious criminals pose a clear and present danger to the republic. The earlier we remove them, the better for the health of our nation. When the President said he belonged to everybody, I am not sure he was thinking of the murderous hoodlums. Now his action must show us that he is ready to make a definite exception.
-Babarinsa is a respected columnist