In Defence of Governor Bala Mohammed

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Fulani herdsmen deserve better treatment, argues 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.

Bala Mohammed that I know will never support criminality having served as Senator and Minister of the Federal Capital Territory. Besides, Bauchi people are synonymous with good conduct. In my six years as a federal minister representing the state and 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 the agony that this particular person (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 to 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.

Several people in this country who own unlicensed rifles have asked other helpless Nigerians to defend themselves against armed robbery, kidnapping, rape, etc. Since these other eminent Nigerians publicly made such calls in the past, no eye brows were raised.

I had expected that the appalling condition of the Fulani herder which the governor painted should draw national sympathy. A situation where their means of livelihood get wiped off overnight by killer-cattle rustlers, their wives raped, children killed and some abducted without trace should ordinarily worry many. 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 illegal carrying of AK-47 to kill for whatever reason because our laws clearly forbid it. As former governor of Bauchi State, I ensured that lives and property were adequately protected including cancelling the non-indigene policy.

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 Bauchi State today, we still open our arms to embrace all ethnic groups. This is why the state is progressing. The point must be made that carrying an assault rifle illegally is a criminal offence punishable under our laws.

The menace of unlicensed guns and weapons such as AK-47 is a reason why there are armed conflicts in parts of the country that have become a huge challenge to security agencies.

I find it worrisome when ignorant commentators imply that the Fulani kill with AK-47 while the 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.
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 targets are the aristocratic, urban and elite Fulani. Real or imagined, this is our fear.

It is high time peace-loving Nigerians engaged the authorities to enforce gun ownership laws and seek justice for the 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 should set the tone for the Nigerian State to treat them better by providing 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 Ortom to stop denying the Fulani their constitutional right to live, trade and prosper in his state 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 law 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’s affirmation that the Tiv, like the Fulani, are migrants is tenable. As the second largest population after the Fulani in the North, they 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. Ortom’s dangerous precedent can break the country. The Fulani herders he chased out of Benue can move to other northern states where other Northern Governors can give to the Fulani herders and Tiv farmers to ranch and farm and nurture cohesively.

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.

The population growth in the country is also worth-noting. The North, from 30 million in the 1960s to over 130 million today, has triggered the scramble for land and animal husbandry as past governments did not settle the herdsmen.
Part of the trillions of naira spent on oil subsidies, the almost four trillion in toxic assets in AMCON and the colossal losses in privatization of government assets, etc., could have settled the herdsmen in the dairy and beef industry to make their lives more worthwhile. But they have not benefitted from government’s largesse unlike the colonial times when they were better off.

Equally upsetting is that some governors in the south, in a show of heroic populism, have started chasing the innocent Fulani from their states with their people taking up arms. Irrespective of over-100 years of peaceful sojourn, the innocents are not differentiated from the killer herdsmen carrying AK-47.

There have been several instances of arrested herdsmen bearing AK-47 who turned out to be non-Nigerians while some who are Nigerians are non-Fulani. This can be verified. What about the kidnappers, robbers and rapists in the south? Are they also AK-47 carrying herdsmen?

It is painful that gazetted cattle routes and grazing reserves called RUGA have since been overtaken by human habitation and farm land. If the Fulani man imagines he has the right of way but someone has cultivated same and he is not informed, what is he required to do?

Government is to blame since the routes and reserves law have not been reversed. Where there is no directive to stop the transhumance by government, conflict is inevitable.

Neglecting the herdsmen to their fate in the face of incessant attacks has created the present crisis. And when one wonders how they travel across regions with confidence, you would realize that they are well educated on their routes with the aid of their natural coordinates.

Successive political leadership in the country watched the problems growing but looked the other way. The problems have now snowballed as some southern states have decided to take a cue from the Benue State governor thereby setting the stage for an endless fight which I fervently pray God will forbid.

Truth be told, the Fulani herdsmen deserve better treatment. This is the gravamen of Governor Bala Mohammed’s grouse. A stitch in time, they say, saves nine.

Malam Yuguda, former minister of aviation and governor of Bauchi State, wrote from Abuja.