Professor Zacharys Anger Gundu, a professor of Archeology lecturing in History Department at the Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria and the pro-chancellor and chairman of Council at Benue State University, Makurdi, in this interview with BENJAMIN AGESAN, spoke on the issue of insecurity across the country and the multiple voices from the North. Excerpts: How would you react to the worsening security situation in the country, particularly in the north? Northern Nigeria is wide awake today because the backwardness of the region is gradually catching up with the political class that had ignored the abject poverty in the region. The millions of Almajirai and the large tribe of beggars on Nigerian streets are mainly from the North. The North contributes to the high burden Nigeria carries in respect of the ‘girl child’. The region is also waking up because it’s not just Benue, Plateau and Southern Kaduna crying to high heavens on the matter of Fulani herdsmen banditry, Boko Haram and his cousin, the Fulani bandits, are now everywhere in the North. The bandits have overrun even Southern Nigeria and all hell is let loose. For many years, Governor Samuel Ortom of Benue State has been crying over the security situation in the country, especially in his state and other parts of the Middle Belt. No one took him seriously. At some point, his counterparts in Northern Nigeria were more interested in discussing cattle rustling than hearing any cries about Fulani terror rings, which were pushing forcefully to get grazing rights across parts of the North. They attempted to isolate him and portray him as a pariah. The President at a point exploded and admonished Governor Ortom and citizens of the state to learn how to live with their bandit neighbours. It was immaterial to the President then that these bandits were not even neighbours to communities in the state. They were foreign elements coming through their kith and kin into the country and getting cover from ‘government canopies’. In Nasarawa State, the main ‘canopy’ for these bandits would refer to them as international hunters. Now that the bandits are everywhere and responsible for rural instability in all parts of the country, we have started hearing instructive multiple voices from the North. Ahmad Gumi the Kaduna-based Islamic cleric has been frantically going through the forests of North Western Nigeria talking with the bandits. Though he argues that what we have on our hands here is not just banditry but insurgency, he thinks the insurgents have been wronged and are entitled to forgiveness and some form of restitution and amnesty. He continues to beg the insurgents to lay down their arms and subject themselves to the rule of law. In this beggarly business, he uses religion- the Islamic faith- as the moral high ground to appeal to the insurgents whose singsong is about the wrongs committed against them by cattle rustlers and extortionists. The insurgents have also told Gumi that the military grade weapons they carry is for self-defense against the military that has continued to hunt them down. What is the implication of that line of thought for Nigeria? Whatever one can make of the singsong of the bandits, two things are very clear. If everyone with a legitimate grouse in the nation state takes to self-help with impunity, the nation state will be ruined beyond redemption. The bandits’ buzzword that they carry military grade weapons for self-defense is also completely false. We know that the bandits carry these weapons to kill, maim and draw blood. This may be one reason Nasir El-Rufai is opposed to the Gumi initiative.
It is heart-warming that the Northern Governors’ Forum has seen the futility and disruptiveness of a livestock production process predicated on open and indiscriminate grazing in the 21st century. In the past, some of these governors had argued that nomadic pastoralism was a way of life for the Fulani and the transition from a nomadic life to one on ranches needed more sensitisation and time. This is one reason they equivocated between grazing reserves and stock routes on the one hand and cattle colonies and RUGA on the other hand. Since then, Federal Government has elbowed them to the National Livestock Transformation Plan, which is still fixated on grazing reserves, the RUGA and cattle colonies. It is amazing that those who argue for greater sensitisation and time to enable the Fulani move to the ranching model with his livestock forget how fast the same Fulani have moved from nomadic pastoralism to banditry and insurgency as way of life which Nasir El Rufai thinks can only be stamped out if those steeped into it are exterminated. What do you make of the recent comments by the Governor of Bauchi State on Fulani herdsmen? Yes, a shrill voice came from the Governor of Bauchi State, Senator Bala Mohammed on the Fulani challenge. He argues that the Fulani herdsman has no option but to carry the AK47 to protect himself and his cow since the government has failed to protect him and his ‘tradition of transhumance and pastoralism’. He argues that the Nigerian forest is owned by Nigeria and there are Tiv farmers in Bogoro, Alkaleri and Tafawa Balewa just as there are Yoruba in his state some of whom have risen to be Permanent Secretaries. Governor Mohammed’s shrill voice also condemns his ‘brother and colleague’ Samuel Ortom of Benue State and valorizes Simon Lalong of Plateau State. On the whole, Governor Mohammed has missed the point at several levels. For example, how many of the Tiv people he is accommodating as farmers in Bauchi State are implicated in banditry and insurgency in his state? How many Yoruba people in Bauchi State are bandits? Is Governor Bala Mohammed aware of the fact that as far back as the First Republic in 1961, Ibrahim Imam represented a Tiv Constituency in the Northern House of Assembly? How many of his Tiv farmers in Bauchi are on Bauchi State scholarship in tertiary institutions? Forests can also not belong to all and every Nigerian. These are special ecological niches with potentials for states and localities where they exist. Does Bauchi State not regulate access to Yankari Game Reserve? If everyone who feels sufficiently aggrieved in the country starts walking with an AK47, will Governor Mohammed have a state to govern? What is your advice on how the herders-farmers clashes can be permanently solved? The Northern Governors must go further and ensure that livestock production within the borders of their states is regulated as a business. Of course, because agriculture is on the concurrent list, those who want indiscriminate open grazing within their borders can invite the Fulani who are not yet ready to abandon this obsolete way of life to graze within their borders. Those who are clear about the fact that nomadic pastoralism is obsolete and livestock production is a business must appreciate that in the livestock production business, labour, land, water, pasture and veterinary services are necessary factors of production and inputs whose deployment in the production process must be properly regulated in the public interest. Just as you cannot go and conscript labour at will for shepherding livestock, it should also be impossible to graze cattle on any land just because you think it’s available; use any and all water holes for your livestock just because they happen to be in your path or graze on any grasses and even people’s farms just because they also happen to be in your path.
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