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In times like this

A recent BCOS report on kidnapping in Ibarapa division of Oyo state brings the issue nearer home. This is not Northeast. It is not Northcentral. It is rural Southwest. Unlike Abuja-Kaduna Highway where kidnap victims could be senators or government officials who may be forced to cough out millions in ransom, reported ransom payment in Ibarapa is as low as 1.5 million Naira.

The menace of kidnapping is on everyone’s mind because of the unpredictability of one being a victim. You don’t have to ride a big car. Your commercial bus could be stopped and searched, and a kidnapper’s fingers summon you to get down, the beginning of an agonizing encounter, which could, as in the tragic case of an Igbinedion University lecturer, result in death.

But what if kidnapping is just a ruse, a camouflage for something more sinister, something more traumatic? What if we are seeing the beginning of an external aggression on a scale that Syria didn’t foresee, but which was ultimately its lot? What if ISIS, having lost its dream Caliphate in Syria, sees an opening in a fragmented Nigeria?

Indeed, it is now hardly a matter of “what if?” A Counter Extremism Project report suggests that, among others, kidnapping is a major source of financing for Boko Haram, which declared allegiance to ISIS in 2009 and became ISWAP. The report claims that “US officials have estimated that Boko Haram receives approximately $1 million for the kidnapping and release of each wealthy Nigerian it abducts.”

So, while some kidnapping across the nation may be attributed to unemployment and poverty, if ISWAP effectively relies on ransom money in the North, strategically extending its tentacles to the South cannot be ruled out. After all, its goal is to establish an Islamic State in Nigeria, not just in the North.

If the foregoing makes sense and kidnapping for ransom is a weapon in the arsenal of ISWAP, and if Islamization of Nigeria is its goal, then there is a religious factor in kidnapping. But what does this mean? It certainly doesn’t mean that every Muslim subscribes to ISWAP’s goal of Islamizing Nigeria.

Indeed, using its own understanding of Islam, the terrorists have also targeted for elimination Muslims whom they see as apostates. It is important, therefore, that we do not play into their hands by making the issue a contest between Muslims and Christians. Particularly, the Southwest perilously stands to bear the full brunt of the catastrophe of a house divided against itself. Furthermore, however, it behooves everyone, Muslims, Christians, and traditional religion devotees, to stand together in condemnation of ISWAP’s Islamization agenda.

So, there is a religious factor. But is there also an ethnic factor? Is there a Fulanization goal lurking behind the Islamization goal of ISWAP? Or is there a separate Fulanization agenda by a segment of the population?

To suggest that there is a Fulanization agenda lurking behind the ISWAP Islamization agenda is to admit that if there is a Fulanization agenda, it is separate and distinct from the Islamization agenda. After all, again, not all Fulani buy into ISWAP agenda of Islamization. But there could be a connection via the means that ISWAP adopts.

ISWAP is an offshoot of Boko Haram, which debuted in the Northeast. As such, it draws membership from young Fulani adherents, luring them with funds and social services that government doesn’t provide. The terrorists also sided with Fulani herdsmen in the conflict with predominantly Christian farmers across the North. However, this collaboration is more toward their goal of Islamization than Fulanization.

Is there a separate agenda of Fulanizing Nigeria by a segment of the Fulani population? What would be the point of Fulanization? How would it work out? There are two possibilities.

First, like the goal of Islamization, the goal of Fulanization might be to make every Nigerian a Fulani. Of course, it is not a realistic goal and no sane person would entertain such an agenda.

Second, even if it is impossible to make every Nigerian a Fulani, Fulanization might be an expansionist agenda by which the Fulani extend their reach meter by meter until they take over the entire landmass. For all we know, no Fulani may nurse this expansionist agenda. But the perception among many non-Fulani across the nation is that this is more than an idea in the mind. It is the reality that stares them in the face. How?

Fulani herdsmen have always been in the Southwest. In Oke-Ogun, they settle in Gaa in the outskirts of town, where they tend their cattle and sell milk and cheese to local host population. Non-herdsmen live in Sabongari and sell dried fish in the market. Even in the toxic partisanship of First Republic politics, they lived peacefully with their host communities.

Suddenly, things changed. More herdsmen migrated south grazing their cattle, with no respect for farmlands and the crops on which farmers depend for their livelihood. Farmers’ complaints fell on deaf ears or were met with machete or AK-47 on their ancestral lands. How is this to be understood or explained?

Unless you assert ownership or co-ownership of the farmland, would you justifiably gun down a farmer who complained that your cattle were ruining his crops? But how can you claim ownership or co-ownership of a land that your grandparents did not own, and you do not have a title to? And if the same scenario happens all over and the same population is implicated, how do we describe it other than an attempt to take over the entire territory.

This is the context of the present rumble. Let us grant that there is no deliberate federal policy of Fulanization. But, rightly or wrongly, many southerners see as such any policy that seeks to appropriate ancestral land for Fulani herdsmen. If it looks like a duck, swims like a duck, and quacks like a duck, it is probably a duck, is the refrain.

Is this perception justified? Is the fear warranted? If yes, how might it be allayed? Of course, perception and fear are subjective. But that doesn’t make them unreal. An objectively baseless fear still needs relief with reassurance.

When young Fulani men hide AK-47s under the seat of their motorbikes or in bundles of leaves that they carry on their grazing routes, farmers’ fear is not misplaced. For in the mind of the latter, this gunrunning could well be a self-help prepping for the forceful takeover of their land.

Community forums on security are inundated with stories of Fulani cells all over the Southwest. If these are mere rumors, they must be countered. If they are true, they must be exposed and disbanded before South-westerners seek their own solution, which could be disastrous for everyone.

Unfortunately, some politicians are not helping matters. In the wake of the presidential elections, statements have been made which appear to thump the political nose of Southerners. When Northern APC leaders taunt and ridicule their Southern counterparts, and vow that the presidency will remain in the North for twenty years, this only fuels the growing unease that Southerners feel about the intentions of the North.

From 1993 to 1999, democrats fought military dictators to a standstill and emerged victorious in the end. The bulk of that fight was based in the Southwest. NADECO was infamously given the nickname Agbako by a military general from the region. Agbako in Yoruba means misfortune. However, what was misfortune for the junta at the time was, for the prodemocracy group, resistance against the misfortune of military rule.

A next phase of resistance is building. And It would be an unfortunate twist of fate if it broke out under an administration which has done so much for the morale of June 12 activists with the declaration of June 12 as Democracy day and the honor of recognizing Abiola as the winner of the June 12, 1993 elections.

It should not be left to Southwestern leaders to clean up the mess created by egomaniac Northern leaders bent on dividing the South to conquer its space. In times like this, prudence demands that we calm restive nerves before it is too late.

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