In this short interview, Hakeem Baba Ahmed, spokesperson of the Northern Elders Forum, spoke to Chuks Okocha on the alleged demonisation of the Fulani in other parts of the country. Excerpt…
Have you any regrets on a recent statement issued by NEF and do you believe that what the group did was the right approach under the circumstances?
First of all, you need to be more specific. The press statement said Fulani man or woman like every Nigerian deserves to be protected. They deserve the protection of the state. They deserve the protection of the community. People who are living peacefully people, who are living within the law, people, who have not broken the law should not be harassed, should not be attacked and should not be intimidated. It’s not just about the Fulani, but any Nigerian.
We must be free to live anywhere in the country. If the state is unable to protect the Fulani and the community that they’re living with who have known them for decades cannot protect them when they are in danger, then, they should come back home, where maybe they will be safer.
But we are not asking anybody to leave where he is to come home; we are saying Nigerians should be protected whether they are Fulani or Effik or itsehiri or Igbo or Yoruba – everybody needs to be protected.
But are you not worried about the criminal elements among the Fulani that are causing havoc in the country?
They should be arrested. We know that there are criminal Fulani among the Fulani as in the case among other ethnic tribes. We know that in the North in the past as now, like in any part of the country, we knew that there are also the bad eggs and our position is that they should be arrested, tried under the law of the country.
The Nigerian state must not allow anybody to get away with criminal activities whether they are Fulani or Yoruba or Igbo. Nobody should be seen to be above the law and this is important. Arrest any Fulani man if he breaks the law; arrest him but don’t tell innocent people that you have not identified with the crime to leave where they are, if they have not broken any law and they have not violated any guideline. You don’t have the right to tell people to leave a place if they are living there lawfully and legally. This is wrong.
Under the circumstances of growing insecurity in the country, will you call for a national conference, where most of these issues about the insecurity in the country should be discussed?
The immediate thing is that we want all Nigerians with responsibility to speak up; to come now. We need to assure people that Nigeria is safe for everybody. We need to stop all this terrible rhetoric that is tearing everybody and community apart. We need assurances that they are safe – whether you are at home or in somebody’s home. Nigeria must be protected.
Second is to look at why we have this kind of quarrel now when we have been living in the past peacefully. This is a country that accommodates all of us and provides for all our needs. Why are we fighting over pieces of land; fighting each other as if we are just strangers? We have lived with each other for hundreds of years.
This is wrong! So, something is wrong with country. Something is not working well. We need to sit down and look at what is wrong in the year 2021. People are saying they don’t want a particular tribe of Nigerians living in their country. We have the police; we have the constitution; we have laws. Something is wrong
Yes the Fulani, the Igbo, the Yoruba and the Hausa have been living together for ages, what in your reckoning is wrong now?
What is the problem? We need to know. Is it that the Nigerian state is failing us or we failed to resolve those problems that come out every once in a while? Whether it is between the same ethnic groups or different ethnic groups that have been living in the past, the Nigerian States has the capacity to do provide resolution; to enforce the law to deal with violations of the law.
Unfortunately, in the last few years, something is wrong or has gone wrong or is it that Nigerians have failed to deal with people that are taking the laws in their own hands? What you are seeing happening now is the reflection of the failure of the Nigerian State.
We are assuming powers that are not ours. It is the government that should deal with criminals – whether they are Fulani or not. Why are communities now exercising that rights of the state by exercising that powers to eject people?
Will it be appropriate for the government to call for a sovereign meeting to discuss the issues that are now causing the insecurities in the country?
I don’t know about sovereign conference. What we recommended so many times and we are still recommending is that Nigerians should sit and discuss with or without government approval to discuss what is wrong with Nigeria. We don’t need the approval of the federal government to sit down and discuss and right now, I am telling you we are actually reaching out to each other from the North from the East from the South.
We have a forum, where we talk and we are reaching out to elders and leaders, who are responsible to try and bring down the temperature. We are in a very dangerous state and we do not need the approval or the consent of the government to discuss what is wrong with Nigeria. But if we can do that with government, it is even better, because the government has law behind it; the agencies behind it to assist Nigeria to be a little bit more secure where we live.