By Malam Isa YUGUDA
Now that the cacophonous responses to Bauchi State Governor Bala Mohammed’s comments on the Fulani herdsmen and AK-47 controversy have subsided, we must revisit and interrogate his statement especially as many now know that he has been grossly misunderstood and misrepresented. I shudder to think that Bala Mohammed that I know will ever endorse criminality having served as Senator and Minister of the Federal Capital Territory. To cap it all, Bauchi and its good people are not synonymous with criminal conduct. In my six years as a federal minister representing the state before adding another eight years as governor, I make bold to say that criminality is strange, very strange, to our culture and tradition.
In any case, Governor Bala has since clarified and defended himself, explaining that he used AK-47 as a figure of speech for protection. Hear him: ‘’It is a figure of speech to show the despondency, the desperation and frustration and agony that the Fulani pastoralist is exposed to by his own people, by his own tribe and by other tribes who have all seen him as a criminal and therefore, he has the inalienable right protect himself’’. “The Fulani man is so exposed, dehumanized, demonized in fact, because he is being seen as a bandit and so, anywhere he goes, he is being pursued. Not only in the southwest or the southeast, even in the north because he is in the cattle route, his commonwealth which I call his cows, are being taken and rustled and of course, sometimes, they are fined beyond your imagination’’.
It is clear from the above that his critics, spear-headed by Governor Sam Ortom of Benue conveniently edited out his reasons and instead pushed their toxic narrative to the public opinion space to create the false impression that Bala Mohammed supported Fulani herdsmen carrying AK-47 assault rifles to defend themselves and their cattle. This media characterization of my governor-brother is odd and totally unacceptable.
Many other highly-placed people in this country actually own rifles several of them unlicensed and they have even asked other helpless Nigerians to defend themselves against armed robbery, kidnapping, rape, etc in the face of national insecurity. Since these other eminent Nigerians publicly made such calls in the past, heavens have not fallen. I had expected that the pitiable condition which the governor painted of the Fulani herdsmen should draw sympathy. A situation where they watch means of livelihood sometimes completely wiped off overnight by killer-cattle rustlers, their wives raped, children killed and some abducted without trace should ordinarily draw instant sympathy but none. It should be a wake-up call to all Nigerians because injustice to one is injustice to all.
To be sure, I will never defend any person or persons illegally carrying AK-47 to kill for whatever reason because our laws clearly forbid it. As former governor of Bauchi, my home State, we protected lives and property of all residents (cancelling the non-indigene policy) even when Boko Haram’s criminality was fiercest. Every Nigerian whose parents had settled in Bauchi state had automatic free access to land, jobs, schools, hospitals and other available services for unity, equity, justice and nationhood. I’m happy that Governor Bala has retained the policy. In Benue, the Fulani tribe is outlawed. So who is more nationalistic between Ortom and Bala? The difference is clear. Posterity will surely judge.
In today’s Bauchi State, we open our arms to embrace all ethnic groups. This is why the state is progressing. The point must therefore be made loud and clear that carrying an assault rifle illegally is a criminal offence punishable under our laws. As you may well know, there are lawless gun-wielding groups and countless persons in the country today who illegally possess weapons such as AK-47 that daily task our security forces posing grave dangers to the rest of us. Criminal gun-wielding herdsmen have morphed into daylight kidnappers. The menace of unlicensed gun everywhere is the reason why there are armed conflicts in parts of the country featuring free use of lethal weapons including AK-47 rifles whose source has become a huge challenge to security agencies.
We must all fight this menace collectively. I find it worrisome when ignorant commentators often imply that while the Fulani own and kill with AK-47, non-Fulani gun owners are innocent forgetting that a million Fulani across the country have co-habited peacefully with other ethnic groups for hundreds of years yet had never carried AK-47 but are today slaughtered and profiled along with the criminal elements. This is grave injustice.
The bitter truth is that most lawless Nigerians in unauthorized custody of assault weapons are walking freely. It does appear, as is being allegedly whispered, that after successfully chasing and killing the Fulani and their cattle in the rural settlements, the next target for summary stigmatization are the aristocratic, urban and elite Fulani, who would be forced to suffer the same fate. This is our fear.I urge all peace-loving Nigerians to engage the authorities to enforce the laws on gun ownership and seek justice for the helpless law-abiding herdsmen whose only enterprise as pastoralists is to offer over a million cattle daily for slaughter for teeming Nigerians in need of protein.
This push for justice for law-abiding herdsmen should set the tone for a more decent treatment by the Nigerian State through the provision of appropriate subsidies such as are being extended to farmers, bankers and the Niger Delta region, to mention a few. Mere stigmatization, castigation and denunciation of Bala Mohammed serves no useful purpose other than escalate national tension. It is however not too late for eminent leaders to intervene and urge Governor Sam Ortom of Benue State to stop denying the Fulani their constitutional right to live in his state to ply their legitimate trade as other Nigerians.
It will be recalled that after Northern Nigeria’s conquest in 1907, the Jangali tax, a levy imposed on the Fulani by the Lord Lugard-led colonial government, became the economic mainstay which provided funds to build legacy projects including those in today’s Benue State where the Fulani are now being chased away and killed along with their cattle, courtesy of Governor Ortom’s dubious anti-grazing law.This obnoxious has led to the Fulani being allegedly raided, arrested and their cattle killed as several are feared murdered. What impunity!
Ortom has brazenly destroyed the over 100-year old bond of brotherhood between the Fulani and the Tiv which may never be the same again.Governor Bala is right to affirm that the Tiv, like the Fulani, are migrants because as the second largest population after the Fulani in the North, the Tiv are spread across four out of the six North East states including Nasarawa and Kogi states.
They are predominantly farmers, not pastoralists and their numbers in some of the states had compromised peace especially in Taraba State arising from their bloody conflicts with the native Jukun over farmland. Nasarawa is not spared. Every tribe has its own criminal elements. Government must protect and encourage citizens to live anywhere.
The Fulani herders he chased out of Benue can move to other northern states where more-patriotic Northern Governors can provide land to the Fulani herders and Tiv farmers to ranch and farm and nurture co-existence. The scenario is a wake-up call to the oil producing states to strike better deal for their people otherwise they will suffer the same fate as the Fulani whose resources were used to develop Northern Nigeria but are now being kicked around.
Past Governments never thought of settling the herdsmen. Imagine the trillions of naira that had been spent on oil subsidies, the almost four trillion in toxic assets in AMCON and the colossal losses in privatization of government assets, to mention a few, part of which could have settled the herdsmen in the dairy and beef industry to make their lives more worthwhile.
– Yuguda, former minister of aviation and governor of Bauchi State, sent this piece from Abuja.