Professor Umar Labdo is the National Secretary of Fulani Development Association of Nigeria, FULDAN and also Professor of Islamic Political Thoughts at the Yusuf Maitama Sule University, Kano. In this interview, he traces the origin of the herdsmen/farmers crisis in the country and proffers solutions on how to have peace in the land. Excerpts:
Recently, Ondo state governor gave the Fulani herdsmen ultimatum to vacate the state forest reserves, how will you react to it?
I have said it several times and I will say it again that the quit notice is wrong, it is illegal and it is not good if there is going to be peaceful co-existence of members of one federation. There are many southerners, including Yoruba living in the north, in my own state, in my town, doing their own business in peace, making their own livelihood and no one is asking them to vacate. Moreover, there are criminals in all the tribes. Yahoo boys are mainly Yoruba, drug pushers are mainly Igbo, now if for the sake of argument, banditry or kidnapping is found mainly among the Fulani, that doesn’t mean that all the Fulani are criminals. Generalizing and stereotyping all Fulani is very wrong, it is dangerous because the leaders in the south are indirectly telling their people or followers to attack Fulani. And naturally, when they attack the Fulani, they will have to defend themselves which will lead to chaos.
If there are criminals among the Fulani, they should be dealt with according to the law. We have law enforcement agents, it is their job to fish out criminals, prosecute them and punish them so that the society will be healthy. But just because crimes are committed at your backyard, you then lose all sense of reasoning and start casting aspersions on people like that.. That is not helpful at all.
You rightly pointed out that there are bad eggs among every tribe including the Fulani, as an association, have you ever taken any step to fish out the bad ones and what was done to them?
We tried to counsel our people or advise them. We interact, enlighten them and make them understand that times have changed and they should come out of the bush and engage in ranching. They can not continue moving around as it was 50 or 100 years ago. We let them know that they are Nigerians who have helped in the development of Nigeria’s economy.
We told them you people are being cheated because your children don’t go to school, you don’t drink potable water, no electricity, and you don’t enjoy amenities provided by government. And so, it is to your own detriment if you continue living in the bush. Come out, let the government help you settle down. And we believe the RUGA Programme of the Federal government should be implemented. That was what we told them.
But fishing out criminals among them is not our job. If we see criminals, we will run away. How can we fish out criminals? But we cautioned them not to mingle with criminals or harbour them, if they do that, they are inviting trouble to themselves. If they see criminals, they should report them.
These people you see in the bush are normal, rational human beings, they are not poor, they are going with their own wealth. Those cows you see are worth millions, so even Fulani you see in the bush don’t welcome criminality. If it is somebody sitting idle, unemployed or very poor, maybe that one will be tempted to commit crime but not somebody who is pursuing a very noble profession, herding livestock inherited from his forefathers for centuries.
Fulani are very proud about herding cattle, and to those who are living in the bush, they are living normal lives. But to us who are educated and living in the cities, we know certainly, that way of life is outdated and they should be reintegrated into the society so that they will benefit from the social amenities provided by government and the society too will benefit from them.
Do you think Fulani herdsmen were profiled as criminals because they still believe in this old way of life by living in the forest?
50 years ago, they were living in the bush but no one called them criminals. In the 60’s, and even before then, the colonial government recognized the Fulani as great contributors to the economic development of Nigeria. That was why you saw their images in the Nigeria’s pound inherited by the naira. Look at the naira, you will see pictures of cows in the naira.
Go to the old postage stamps issued by the colonial authorities you had pictures of the Fulani and cows. So everybody knows that Fulani are not criminals. 50 years ago, no one called Fulani criminals. All those who lived with the Fulani in Central, Western and Eastern Nigeria were praising them. It is only now, due to combinations of factors that we found ourselves in this situation.
What are those factors and why?
First, there are a lot of politics in it. For example, Governor, Rotimi Akeredolu who is a senior lawyer (SAN), was issuing a statement that he knew was contrary to our Constitution. He wanted to be a hero of his people, playing to the gallery. He knew that his people were angry with the Fulani because certain criminal elements among them were causing damage to their farms so he wanted to gain cheap popularity. How can you say Nigerians should leave your state or leave your region? What about your people living in other people’s regions?
Our region is bigger than the whole of Southern region, South-South, South-East, South-West) put together. They are not up to half of Northern Nigeria. So somebody now tells us to go back home, you also go back home. Your people are here, living peacefully despite all the propaganda against us, the northerners. Yes, we have banditry, kidnapping, but some southerners prefer to live in the north. There is one dangerous thing which I don’t think the southerners have realized. Southern Nigeria is actually depopulated.
Thousands of southerners especially young men and women migrate to the north because they find opportunities and settle there. I have carried out a private research as a university professor and I found out that about 30 to 40 per cent of all NYSC members who are posted to the north never go back to their southern states of origin. They settle here and no one is harassing them. Sabon Gari in Kano was established purposely for southerners, not for northerners. Why did we establish that? It was even our traditional authority during the native authorities who established Sabon Gari.
They said this is for our guests who have relatively different culture and customs, therefore, let them live together, govern themselves, do their worship and ceremonies without hindrance. If we establish a whole township for southerners to live in peace and they are living in peace, why are we being ejected from the south?
But it was said that the Fulani were only asked to vacate the forest reserves area and not the south?
When you ask them to move out of the forest where do they carry out the rearing of their livestock , where do you want them to go? The cities or where? You are indirectly telling them to leave the south. Now, what are the other factors why the Fulani found ourselves in this situation? The second factor is economic reason. For example, our population has grown higher. In the 60’s, our population was less than 50 million, now we are over 200 million, so there is competition for land.
Originally, Fulani have their own cattle routes which were designed and gazetted by colonial governments. The grazing routes were for Fulani and those who have interest in herding animals. At that time, there was enough land and no one encroached on those routes and Fulani could pass without destroying farmlands. Now, individuals, companies and even the government have conspired to take over those routes. Buildings are now being erected on those routes making it difficult for the Fulani to find enough routes to pass and so the animals go astray and encroach on farmers’ lands. Even before, the crisis used to occur, but not on the large scale as we are witnessing today.
So, I think what government at all levels should do is to look into the situation as a matter of urgency. We, the Fulani are not happy that our people are going about. This is not life, it used to be but no more. We want them to settle down, we want our children to go to school, we want them to enjoy life and social amenities. And by doing that, even their cows will be healthier and will produce more milk and meat when they are settled.
So, we want government to help Fulani settle. They are citizens, they are not empty handed, they are people with enormous wealth, their wealth are on four legs (cows). No one can claim that they don’t eat cows and even cow legs. If these people settle down and can provide feeds, adequate water for their animals and their children are enrolled in schools, with health facilities, decent housing and electricity, it is for the betterment of Nigeria and there will be peace.
I don’t have to tell you the contributions of Fulani to Nigeria’s political development and other sectors. They are in politics and doing well. So why should some people look down on the Fulani as if they are not human beings? And why is it that other crimes that are identified with other tribes are not stereotyped? We read on a daily basis and watch the television about Yahoo boys and drug abuse.
We had cases of some Igbo who stole our children especially in Kano and selling them like goats. Hundreds of stolen children have been traced to south eastern states and all the people associated with the atrocities have been apprehended. But we never called Igbo criminals because we know it is not all Igbo who were involved as we see other Igbo in the market doing well in business. We don’t need to cast aspersions on others in order to gain political advantages. This is very bad.
When you said you are not happy that your people are moving about, does it mean you back the call by Governor Ganduje to ban movement of herdsmen from north to south?
No, I don’t support Ganduje’s call that herders or cattle rearers should be banned from going to the south. If Governor Ganduje or other Nigerians suggest that the Fulani should be settled wherever they want, that will be acceptable. But if you say you want to ban them from going to the southern Nigeria, then we have to ban others from coming to the north also.
This is justice and fairness. I replied Governor Ganduje that what he said was wrong and unconstitutional. You don’t talk of banning people in their own country of birth. If Nigeria is divided, then we can obtain passport before going to the south and they will also obtain passport and before coming here in the north.
Do you support RUGA settlement for Fulani herdsmen?
Yes, I support RUGA wholeheartedly. I support all other programmes that will enable Fulani to settle in one place, with their way of life being taken care of. And they should be treated like human beings and like Nigerians.
They have the right to be assisted with funds, ideas and security like other Nigerians. If you give help to people who engage in fishing, poultry and mining, why not people who engage in cattle rearing and livestock management. If Fulani are settled it is an investment and in the long run, people will see the result. But trying to send them away is not a wise decision and it is a dangerous way to address the matter.
With the situation at hand, what is the way forward before it escalate?
It is for the Federal government to step in. The responsibility of security of the citizens rests with the President. So the President should act and act decisively. And he should not be intimidated by those saying he is pampering the Fulani. They are citizens, if they need pampering, they should be pampered.
He should talk to the governors and he should hold the governors responsible for whatever happens to the Fulani because a governor cannot make this irresponsible call for people or Nigerians to leave his state. I know that the presidency has called them to order but that is not enough. The presidency should take this very seriously before it lead to a state of chaos in Nigeria. What do you think will happen if it leads to reprisal attacks in other parts of the country? It can hardly be controlled and who will be blamed?
The Nobel Laureate, Professor Wole Soyinka was also quoted to have said that if the situation is not handled properly, it can lead to another civil war in the country. Do you ascribe to that?
That is true, all rational thinking people know that this is a serious situation which should not be treated with levity. And the responsibility rests on the Federal government to have the political will to put a stop to this madness otherwise it will lead us to hell.