Anger and disenchantment have spread in southern and central Nigeria, following Kaduna State governor Nasir el-Rufai’s revelation that his government has been bribing killer herdsmen, some from neighbouring countries, in order to stop further murders in southern Kaduna.
Armed herdsmen have killed hundreds of people and driven thousands of families from their homes in parts of the southeast, southwest and central Nigeria in the past two years.
In a response to a question during a meeting with reporters meant to showcase the achievements of his administration, Governor el-Rufai shocked his listeners: “We didn’t understand what was going on and we decided to set up a committee under Gen. Martin Luther Agwai (rtd). What was established was that the problem has a history starting from the 2011 post-election violence.
“Fulani herdsmen from across Africa bring their cattle down towards middle belt and southern Nigeria. The moment the rains start around March, April, they start moving them up to go back to their various communities and countries. Unfortunately, it was when they were moving up with their cattle across southern Kaduna that the elections of 2011 took place and the crisis trapped some of them. Some of them were from Niger, Cameroon, Chad, Mali and Senegal. Fulanis are in 14 African countries and they traverse this country with the cattle.
“So many of these people were killed, cattle lost. And they organised themselves and came back to revenge.
“So a lot of what was happening in Southern Kaduna was actually from outside Nigeria. We got a hint that the late Governor Patrick Yakowa got this information and he sent someone to go round some of these Fulani communities, but of course after he died the whole thing stopped. That is what we inherited. But the Agwai committee established that.
“We took certain steps. We got a group of people that were going round trying to trace some of these people in Cameroon, Niger Republic and so on to tell them that there is a new governor who is Fulani like them and has no problem paying compensations for lives lost and he is begging them to stop killing. In most of the communities, once that appeal was made to them, they said they had forgiven. There are one or two that asked for monetary compensation. They said they had forgiven the death of human beings, but wanted compensation for cattle. We said no problem, and we paid some. As recently as two weeks ago, the team went to Niger Republic to attend one Fulani gathering that they hold every year with a message from me.”
Several commentators have tackled el-Rufai for his thoughtlessness and illegal steps. Among other questions, el-Rufai has been asked: You mean you bribed murderers who value their cattle more than human beings? Who was held responsible for the invasion of parts of Nigeria by foreigners? Which money was used to pay compensation to foreign criminals? When did the penalty for murder and arson become begging the perpetrators? What compensation has el-Rufai paid to the families of Nigerians murdered by the bandits?