Alhaji Mohammed Nuru Abdullahi, the Chairman of the Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association in Plateau State, in this interview with JUDE OWUAMANAM, says Fulani herdsmen are angry with President Muhammadu Buhari because rustling of cattle and killing of their members have increased under his watch contrary to public accusations that the President has been protecting them and encouraging attacks on farmers
Why is it that Fulani herdsmen are usually connected to killings and attacks in any part of the country when herders and farmers are involved?
This issue of killing is something serious in this country but before I answer your question, I will use this medium to warn politicians that they should stop politics of hatred, bias and propaganda. This is because I was made to understand that these politicians are using these as weapon to achieve their political careers. So that is why I’m using this medium to warn them. Now back to your question. Why are Fulani herdsmen always accused of carrying out killings in the country? That is what they have been saying but if you look at it from the Fulani perspective, the question to ask is: why are they carrying out attacks against other communities? Or what is the real cause of this problem? What are the immediate and remote causes of these killings? You know in this country, Fulani do not have any security back up because they are in the rural areas where the security operatives may not go to. Now cattle rustling and killing of Fulani have become a lucrative business. Therefore, Fulani herdsmen will do everything possible to protect their lives and property themselves since government has failed to do so. I believe that is why we are having problems here and there with Fulani. What is baffling me is when Fulani are killed and their animals are rustled, you won’t hear about that one; nobody will say it in the media, including government officials and security agencies. But when Fulani fight the cattle rustlers and kill maybe one, two or three of the rustlers, you will hear that herdsmen are killing people. I read a caption today in a newspaper about herdsmen killings and it baffles us very much, so we deem it necessary to come out and say what we want to say in public. Government should do the job it is supposed to do.
Why are you blaming politicians for these killings?
We blame politicians because by their actions and utterances, they inflame these clashes between Fulani herdsmen and farmers. Take the Agatu scenario in Benue State as an example, where we lost many lives and property were destroyed. People have made a lot of comments and blamed Fulani herdsmen. For example, some politicians from the state and the South South governors have said that they are giving Fulani quit notice and spreading propaganda that the Fulani are moving with AK 47 rifles. In Plateau State, when there were crises, who were the accused and who were the defendants? Government officials bought guns for their relatives to defend themselves. How do you think a Fulani man will be happy about that? The government and the security are not protecting them and politicians are busy conniving with others to achieve their aims. Especially if they realise that they will not win an election, they will resort to the use of religious and ethnic sentiments. These are the causes of these problems and that is why we are blaming the politicians.
People say that Fulani hardly forgive whoever offends them even after many years. Can we say that they are killing people in their host communities now to avenge the killing of their cattle and so on?
It is not true. It is just an allegation and an attempt to blackmail the Fulani people. But let me tell you, the common trait in the Fulani man is that he will not forget an offence but he will quickly forgive. For instance, if I kill your father and mother, you will not forget but you will forgive, that is a Fulani man. All these notions are not true; they are just being created to convince people to blackmail Fulani and tell the whole world that Fulani people are terrorists.
If Fulani herdsmen are not terrorists and are not hostile, why do they go about with AK47 rifles. Or is it one of the paraphernalia of breeding cows?
Is it only Fulani people that are carrying AK47 rifles in Nigeria? The rustlers of their cows, what are they using in rustling the cattle? Is it by using bare hands? The Fulani use the AK47s for defence since the government has failed to protect them.
But is it not illegal for them to have such heavy weapons when they are just taking care of cows?
It is illegal but when the government fails, everybody takes the law into his hands. When the government is ready to do the right thing, everybody will support it, but when it is bias and lopsided and injustice reigns supreme, then that government is in danger. Here on the Plateau, over one million guns can be collected in only three local governments and people are accusing only Fulani. We are appealing to the government to take proper action and organise a security team to protect the Fulani.
What measures are you putting in place to ensure that rustlers do not mingle with genuine herdsmen and cause havoc that you have said that herdsmen are being blamed for?
Rustling is an act of criminality and we don’t condone it in any way. Let me give you an example using Plateau State, where I know very well. I will use the example of Fan and Foron Districts in Barkin Ladi Local Government Area. More than 10,000 heads of cattle have been rustled in those areas and they are areas Fulani are restricted. We took our time to beg the security agencies to help us reclaim our cattle, but they refused. For me, I know who rustled my cattle because I have been with them for a very long time. If I narrowly escape such attacks and go in search of my cows, then problem will ensue. The rustlers will deny us access to those areas to reclaim our cows and nobody will come to our assistance. I know the whereabouts of my cattle but if we decide to go and bring them, then that is where problems ensue. Then we will resort to self help because you cannot just allow somebody to reap the fruit of your sweat. Government and security agencies should do well to stamp out cattle rustling. They should put up measures to ensure those who rustle cows are apprehended and given adequate punishment to serve as deterrent.
There is the feeling that these killings and attacks are becoming more frequent now that we have a Fulani President, who also owns cattle. Is it true that you feel protected by the government in power?
Well, people are entitled to their opinions. But what you must understand is that those crises started even before Buhari became the President. He inherited it from the previous administration. If you say that since he became president, the attacks have increased, what do you say of Plateau? Why have the attacks decreased instead of increasing in Plateau? Since he became the President, the attacks in Plateau have reduced to zero level and Mr. President is doing his best to end the crisis. If you listen to the order he gave to the security personnel to fish out and arrest the perpetrators of the Enugu killings, then you will realise that he is not taking sides.
But the victims and Christian leaders insist that Buhari is backing you and even one of you has said that you now get the backing of the President. Is this true?
How, where and when? Did President Buhari meet with Fulani and assign them to go and kill? Instead of backing us, we the Fulani are now accusing Buhari of allowing other ethnic groups to continue to rustle our cattle and kill our people, but the media have not been reporting the stories. He does not care about us and if things don’t change, we will fight him back because he is not helping matters to stop the killing of Fulani people and their cattle.
Some militant groups from the South have issued warnings to Fulani herdsmen to keep off the zone in their own interests. Do you feel safe grazing in the southern part of the country with these threats?
The threats are dangerous trends and they should never contemplate it, let alone talk of issuing such threats. And if as you said, they have issued threats, I will suggest that they should never continue with such threats and also withdraw the ones they have issued because a Fulani man is a Nigerian and has the right to go on with his business lawfully without any disturbance. What we are saying is that any criminal among them should be fished out and dealt with according to the laws of the land. Anyone of them that is a criminal, even if he is my son, should be arrested and dealt with. Let him face the wrath of the law. If you ask Fulani not to graze in the South, then you are telling the Igbo and other ethnic groups to also leave northern Nigeria? If we do that, then we have violated the constitution of Nigeria. We should be careful not to jeopardise the unity of Nigeria by our actions and utterances because it could be dangerous.
Some people are saying that some of these miscreants who commit the crimes come from neighbouring countries, but with the active support and encouragement from the local Fulani population. Is this true?
Is the controlling of our borders the function of the Fulani? Fulani people are not in charge of the control of our borders. Let me give you example of the situation in the Northern Plateau. They killed the inhabitant Fulani people and drove some of them away. When a foreigner comes, how will you identify him? The Fulani that were with you could help you identify them but since you chased them away, how would you do that? So the criminals will come, hide under the guise of Fulani, commit the crimes and go away, then they will leave the innocent people with the problem. So what advice am I giving? Let’s bring these Fulani people closer to us; let’s embrace them. Let’s give them constitutional rights. In Plateau today, I have collected over 150 forms from Fulani boys that want to join the Nigeria Police Force but the major problem is they don’t have certificates to prove they are indigenes. Like in my case, I have but they refused to issue indigeneship certificates to my children.
Don’t you think the solution to the problem is for the government to establish ranches so that the killings and clashes with farmers will stop?
Who is not buying that idea? The establishment of ranches is a welcome development. Let me tell you, Fulani are divided into two categories. There are Town Fulani and Nomadic Fulani. The Town Fulani are already settled. Let me give an example, using Plateau State again which I know well. There were Fulani people who settled here since time immemorial. Their forefathers were buried in Plateau State. Some inherited lands, some purchased it but they were all driven away. We want the government to start issuing Certificates of Occupancy to people, develop the land and assist the Fulani to modernise their business of cattle rearing and the industry will do better than the oil industry in the Nigerian economy. In 1965, there were a lot of grazing reserves allocated to the Fulani in the northern part of the country. For example, in Plateau State, we had eight reserves allocated to grazing. But today, it is only one that is functional. If you go to Wase Grazing Reserve, it has been encroached by farmers. Just recently, a Fulani boy was attacked by a local because he wanted to use the dam and feed his cows. But the farmer told the boy not to use the water. He insisted and the farmer harmed him with a machete and the boy is still receiving treatment in a hospital in Wase.
After all is said and done, what do you think we can do to stop these killings because they are going out of hand and becoming a national crisis?
For more than half a year now, there has been no attack in Plateau, so that is the result of the work we are doing and I want to sell the idea to other stakeholders. When I came into power as the Chairman of Miyetti Allah, I tried to put five people together and work for peace. First, I went to the government and begged that it should help in ensuring that there was peaceful co-existence.
Second, let the security agencies come on board and pursue peace. Third, the community leaders should be involved. Four, the religious leaders should be involved. Lastly, the opinion leaders must be involved. When I say opinion leaders, you the press men are involved. Let all of us come on board and discuss peace. When I assumed office, there was crisis, chaos and killings here and there. Now, I have set up committees to investigate the remote and immediate causes of the problem. We discovered that most of these crises are as a result of criminal activities and these criminals cut across the ethnic groups. There are Fulani, Berom, Nga, Igbo, Hausa, etc.
We have to first look at ourselves and organise sensitisation programmes. I was in Ganawuri in Riyom Local Government Area for a sensitisation programme. We gathered all the Fulani around that area and discussed with them. What impressed me was that the Aten people, who are Christians, used the Mosque and we preached in Hausa language, not Fulfulde so that they would understand. We did it successfully and also paid a courtesy call to the paramount ruler of the Atah Aten. He had invited the stakeholders, including a former minister, Damishi Sango. We brainstormed. After that, the next stage is to organise symposiums, retreats, workshops and so on. We collaborate with religious organisations like Jama’atu Nasril Islam and Jama’atu Izatil Bid’ah Wa Iqamatus Sunnah. The security agencies themselves should do the same. We have had series of such workshops organised by the Special Task Force and the outcome of the deliberation have been very successful and rewarding. Peace is always government-driven because government has the resources and the personnel; government should not stay aloof. They should come out and ensure that people live in peace. Again, we must ensure that there is justice and equity. These are panacea to peace and peaceful co-existence.
Is it true that Fulani herdsmen value cattle more than human lives as some people say?
It is very absurd to say that we value the lives of animals more than human beings. These are food that God gave us to eat. So how can we value what we eat more than our own lives? As I have said, this just shows how the Fulani man has been stereotyped to paint him in bad light.
Is it true then what some people say that there is a conspiracy by northern elite to use Fulani herdsmen to kill southerners, take control of their land and islamise them?
There is no conspiracy anywhere. As I have said, killing of another human being is a criminal act and anybody who kills in whatever form or guise must face the full weight of the law. To say that it is a grand conspiracy is also to say that President Muhammadu Buhari is in support of the killings because he is a Fulani as people have also been insinuating. In this war, who is Islamising who, where and how? People should not be deceived by all this propaganda. Nigeria is a nation created by certain principles and law and we have agreed to live together by consensus. Nobody forced us to live together, so nobody can force any religion on you except you willingly decide to practise any religion of your choice. Please nobody is Islamising anybody. It is all propaganda.
But with the way Fulani herdsmen have been going about killing people, some Nigerians say that everything points in that direction with the impunity with which the Fulani herdsmen behave. What do you think?
Impunity from which side? From the Fulani herdsmen or from the farmers? Both sides are involved in the killing and both of them could be said to be committing impunity. Fulani kill the farmers and the farmers kill the Fulani. The fact is that we should do everything possible to stop the killings from whichever side.
For instance, where do Fulani herdsmen get the guns they go about with these days?
You can equally ask the farmers where they are getting their own guns from. This is purely the fault of the government. When government cannot defend the citizens, they are forced to seek help elsewhere. Guns are traded in the open market and with the country’s porous borders; anybody can buy an AK 47 across the border. So it is futile to ask where they are getting the guns from.
In all honesty, is it fair to go to someone’s land, destroy his farms that he has laboured on and spent time and money to cultivate and then kill him and his people when he complains?
There is a standing rule. If a Fulani man allows his cattle to enter a farm and destroys it, he is made to pay for the crops destroyed. We find the Fulani man and assess the extent of damage and he pays. But if the farmer takes law into his hands and decides to kill the Fulani and there is reprisal, who is to blame? The farmer whose farm is destroyed should channel his grievances to the appropriate quarters. It will be investigated and justice will take the natural cause.
So far, people have been disappointed that your organisation has been defending the activities of the Fulani herdsmen instead of condemning them. Why is that?
It is not true that we have been defending the Fulani for the killings. We have always held that killing is a criminal activity and that anybody who kills must face the full wrath of the law. But we must defend the Fulani when they are killed or attacked.
Then why are you always quick to condemn the activities of cattle rustlers who steal cattle but slow to react when herdsmen kill people in cold blood like the case in Enugu and Agatu, Benue State?
We condemn cattle rustling and we condemn killings because both are criminal acts. I will condemn the Fulani when they go wrong and defend them when they are wronged.