Nigeria did not designate marauding Fulani herdsmen as terrorists despite being responsible for hundreds of death and destruction of properties because their activities were criminal and not terror-related, the minister of information said on Wednesday.
Lai Mohammed told BBC’s Focus on Africa that the criticism of Nigeria’s designation of the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) as a terrorist organisation was flawed, noting that both the separatist group and the deadly herdsmen have different agendas.
Mohammed insisted that the herdsmen’s “acts of criminality should not be confused with terrorism acts” even though they were named the fourth deadliest group in the world, according to the 2014 Global Terrorism Index.
But President General of the Ohaneze Ndigbo, John Nwodo, who was earlier interviewed on the programme, said that the labelling of IPOB as a terrorist group was “extremely unfair and lopsided.”
Nwodo argued that Fulani herdsmen deserved the terrorist label, not IPOB.
“In Nigeria, we have Fulani herdsmen…and terrorism tracking organisations have ranked them as the third or fourth deadliest terrorist organisation, that kind of organisation which has ravaged farmlands in Nigeria, killed quite a number of people, has not been classified as a terrorist organisation,” he said.
SB Morgen Intelligence in its report on security in the country in 2016 said pastoral conflicts were the deadliest threats Nigeria faced in 2016 – cattle rustlers and Fulani herdsmen accounted for 470 and 1,425 fatalities respectively. Cattle rustlers were responsible for 7 per cent of the attacks and Fulani herdsmen 29 per cent. However, an average of 39 victims were recorded in each cattle rustling attack while Fulani herdsmen attacks have an average of 30.
The targets and victims of cattle rustlers and Fulani herdsmen were usually farmers and residents of attacked communities.
But unlike the herdsmen, IPOB is demanding an independence for the Igbo people in Nigeria’s southeast. Its push for an independent Biafra became heightened since 2015, especially after the arrest and release of its leader Nnamdi Kanu by the government.
Kanu said his group was non-violent and would only use peaceful means to achieve its goal.
“We have chosen the track of peaceful agitation, non-violence, persuasion, logic, reason, argument,” he told AFP in an interview in May.
“We are going to deploy all of that to make sure we get Biafra.”
Mohammed, however, said IPOB’s non-violent claims were just a facade to cover up its terrorist intentions.
“For instance, Nnamdi Kanu, the IPOB leader was caught on tape, saying that they want Biafra and not peacefully, but by force.
“He declared that if they do not get Biafra, Somalia will be a paradise with the kind of mayhem they will unleash on Nigeria.
“The group openly embraced arms and ammunition and the leader set up Biafra National Guard, Biafra Secret Service and openly attacked army formations”.
He said further: “When an organisation decides to not just attack the Army but set up its own parallel government; when an organisation openly solicits for arms all over the world; when an organisation starts issuing out its own passports and currency and does not recognise the democratically elected government, then it becomes a different thing.”