1. It’s interesting how almost everyone on my timeline is griping about how no one is talking of the Zamfara massacre where at least 41 people were murdered by bloodthirsty savages. Paradoxically, I got to know about the massacre precisely because almost everyone on my timeline is talking about how no one is talking about it! Makes you wonder what must happen for people to be satisfied that people are talking about something.
2. After reading about how no one is talking about the Zamfara massacre, I decided to read Nigerian newspaper reports on it. Almost every newspaper reported on it but with a different frame from how they report similar mass murders. This time, “Fulani herdsmen” or, better yet, “suspected Fulani herdsmen,” aren’t the villains in headlines. ThisDay, Vanguard, Punch, Daily Trust, and so on called the murderers “gunmen.” Just gunmen. Their ethnic and occupational identities are no longer important. Of course, it’s because the victims are Muslims who are a mix of Fulani and Hausa people. The media love binaries, divisive binaries, which this story doesn’t provide.
3. A related issue is the explosion of the narrative, which has taken roots in the south and in the Christian north, that the killings by herders are motivated by Islamic jihadist expansionist impulses. (Never mind that cattle herders are usually neither Muslims nor Christians). Had this happened anywhere other than the Muslim northwest, it would have been held up as yet another confirmation of the notion that the killings by transhumant pastoralists are a continuation of the “Fulani jihad.” Those of us who pay attention to this issue know that the central and southern states are only now witnessing the horrors people in the extreme north have contended with for ages without media attention.
As I wrote in my February 4, 2017 column titled “The Dangerous Criminalization of Fulani Identity,” “Sometime in 2003 in Gombe, itinerant Fulani herders called the Udawa killed scores of farmers most of whom were ethnic and linguistic Fulani. Former Governor Abubakar Hashidu had to request federal military assistance to contain the menace of the Udawa. Similarly, hundreds of Hausa and Fulani farmers in Nigeria’s northwest get killed by transhumant Fulani herders every year. But such stories don’t make it to the national news because it isn’t ‘newsy’ to read about Fulani herders killing Fulani farmers.”
4. Of course, the converse is also true. Had this mass murder taken place in the Christian north or in the south, Miyetti Allah would have justified it as a retaliation for cattle theft—or some other inane, morally indefensible reason. Emirs such as the Kano emir would’ve echoed and given a stamp of approval to their justification. The presidency would have blamed “grazing laws” for the murders and Buhari, if he speaks at all, would have asked the victims to learn to accept everyone in their midst.