Inter-communal crises accentuated by herders versus farmers’ clashes and killings ravaging the country are fast threatening the country’s unity. Unfortunately, government and its security operatives appear to be overwhelmed by the situation. As the issue continues to dominate national discourse, stakeholders are also trying to find lasting solution. But, all fingers point to the direction of the federal government for its indecisive approach to the matter. In this interview with BRIDGET CHIEDU ONOCHIE, Professor Zacharys Anger Gundu of the Department of Archeology, Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, provides the historical perspective of Fulani intrusions and brutality, even as he admonishes the 36 states of the federation to resist attempts to intimidate them into accepting unfriendly policies.
The menace of farmers/herders crises has become intractable. At what point do you think the crises set in and how did it degenerate to this precarious level?
Well, the farmers/herders problem in my own understanding has some historical routes. What you saw when you were growing up was a situation where our population as a country was very sparse. There was a lot of land that was not encumbered. There was no built-up development and the environment was generally good.
So, we could observe herdsmen, who could come and go. If you noticed, herdsmen then could not stay in one place for a long time; they would troop in to the southern latitudes when the northern latitudes are dried and when rains begin to fall, they would go back. Then, clashes were very minimal and Fulani herdsmen were not using force to graze. They simply went about with their sticks and if there were any challenges like their cows eating up people’s crops, they would resolve these challenges peacefully. They would make some token payments and the farmer and the herder would go. There would be no trouble.
But, over time, there have been some climatic challenges in the northern latitudes; there is a lot of environmental degradation, part of which was also as a result of this type of herding – open grazing. The Sahara was expanding, the greater Lake Chad is shrinking and the Sahel is growing. If you graze openly, it is difficult for the environment to regenerate, but of course, if there is no much rainfall as we witnessed over the years, the Sahara is coming towards the southern latitudes. And because of this, there is more pressure in the northern latitudes now and it is forcing herdsmen to come down into the southern latitudes.
And, as population has grown, the type of space herdsmen were using in the past is no longer there.
People have occupied some of these spaces for farming and for development. Cities are growing more and more and we know that in the past, there were grazing reserves, but people have also encroached on those grazing reserves as a result of population growth. Much of the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja, was a grazing reserve. It has been taken over in the interest of everybody and you can no longer go there to graze. But, other things have also happened; there is a lot of insecurity in the northern latitudes, especially in the countries that border with northern Nigeria – Chad, Niger, Burkina Faso, even as far as Sudan.
People have also moved down because of insecurity in those areas and are moving into countries with unhindered access. If you look into the country, we have about 84 formal land borders, where if you are going out, they issue you papers and when coming in, you show your papers. But, what we have seen is that there are more of these informal land borders through which people can come in as they want. There are about 1,400 illegal land borders in Nigeria.
So, if you want to come into this country, you can simply avoid these 84 legal land borders and use the 1400 illegal ones. But, there is also something we know and which explain these crises in the country in the past few years. You know that the Central African Republic also has a sizeable Fulani population compared to the local people. It was actually a minority population, but when the Fulani took over the Central African Republic around 2014 and 2015, there were lots of challenges there because they became very hostile to the other groups.
They introduced nepotism, they planted Fulani people, who were in the minority in some of the key positions in the army, in the security and in government, and people didn’t like the idea of the minority suddenly coming in to impose themselves on the majority. Then, the majority kicked against this and over time, they threw the Fulani away from CAR and made it impossible for some of them to stay. So, they had to leave. When they left, they found Nigeria a country where they come and begin to resettle. The Nigerian landmass is that which the Fulani in the whole world considered to be their secondary home precisely, because of the successful outing of Usman Dan Fodio during the Fulani Jihad in 1804, when he overthrew the Hausa State and established the Caliphate. Since then, the idea has been that “we will use Nigeria as our secondary home.”x
So, the Fulani of this country actually welcomes the Fulani of the entire world to come into Nigeria, because after Usman Dan Fodio, Shehu Shagari’s government consolidated the Fulani hold on this country. After Shagari, you know there was Yar’Adua and after him, there is the present person, Muhammadu Buhari. But, even when the Fulanis were not ruling, particularly during the military days, Buhari was also the military ruler of this country.
Also, the other military rulers were actually using the Caliphate to support and legitimize the Nigerian military, especially those who came from the North. So, the Caliphate had a lot of influence and they have been using this influence to get the Fulani of the entire world to look at Nigeria as a place they can come and have as home. So, what you have now is for the Fulanis who are within the country to welcome those who are outside to come in and when they come in, they just direct them to places where they can go and graze.
Now, they are using force because with force, they try to get people to accept them. If they come peacefully, people will say, “look, we have a challenge, we can’t accept you.” But, if they beat people up on the Plateau, beat people up in the Southern Kaduna, beat people up in Kogi and in Benue states, some people are going to be tired. And the Fulani will say, “Well, if it is like this, we will do it. And they are doing it very violently, extremely violently; grazing violently.
That is what they are doing when they are in the forest of Ekiti, Ondo, South East and the South-South. These are some of the challenges in my own opinion.
With this narrative, who is to blame for the level of incursion and destructions going on across the country?
Well, we blame the Federal Government. Many people know that during the Abacha era when Buhari was in charge of Petroleum Trust Fund, the idea was to use the money realized from the Excess Crude Account to go into the development of the country in specific sectors. Not many people knew that one of the sectors, which Buhari had planned to go into, was to resuscitate grazing reserves across the country. Those grazing reserves existed before, and are moribund. Buhari had mapped them out and planned to plough money into the grazing reserves and grazing routes so that they can be used by the Fulanis of this country and their kit and kin from other parts of the West and Central Africa.
When General Abacha died, that was no longer possible and no person thought of the issue of resuscitating grazing reserves until General Buhari (rtd) became President. When he became president, he made Audu Ogbeh Minister of Agriculture with a mandate to resuscitate the grazing reserves.
That was when people started complaining. And the Fulani of the whole world took this up as an assault and started talking about stock routes. When that didn’t work, they started talking about cattle colonies and when it didn’t work, they came up with the issue of RUGA. When that failed, they went to the issue of National Livestock Transformation Plan, but the whole idea is to have where the Fulanis can graze, where they can settle; where they can go out and come in at will. If they like, they stay, if not, they just take their cows up and down.
This is the crux of the matter. Can we afford at this century to be carrying cattle up and down to the extent the Fulani of this country are doing? Most people don’t even realize that Fulani people are not the only nomadic pastoralists we have in this country. If you go to the Lake Chad area, there are lots of Kanuri people, Shua Arab and other smaller groups that are nomadic pastoralists. What they do is to graze around the greater Lake Chad area.
Even though the greater Lake Chad is shrinking, you will never see some of these people going into Gombe, coming into Yobe, Adamawa and Kaduna or into other states to graze. So, what the Fulani are doing is something most of us think is a strategy to go around the country and grab as much land as possible for their use at the expense of indigenous people who are staying on their ancestral land.x
What could be the implications of these invasions, especially on the country’s future?
Well, the implication is the instability we see today, because some of these people whose lands are being taken are on their land and if they allow them take the land, where would they go? There are lots of people who are in this country just because of their ancestral land. They don’t have any other thing. Good enough, the Fulani have their cattle. So, it is just how to feed the cattle, sit down in one place, possibly on ranches that is the only challenge, which they refused to face.
Since cattle rearing is private business, who should fund the ranching? And is it constitutional for government at any level to deploy state funds for individual businesses unconditionally?
There are two ways to look at this. Cattle rearing is actually a multi-billion dollar business. If you look at the rate of turnover in cattle rearing, it is in billions, whether you are talking of billions of naira or billions of dollars, it is still billions. We also know that there are some Fulani groups, especially in Kaduna, Pastoral Reserves, a group led by Alhaji Ahmed Joda, about five or six years ago, put down about N5billion to establish cattle grazing reserves across some select states of the North.
This is to say that there are some Fulani cattle herders, who are ready with that kind of money. It is only that they are thinking about grazing reserves and stock routes across the entire country and because they are thinking about them going across the entire country, it is going to create a lot of problems.
But, to answer your questions, cattle rearing are a business and must be run along the lines of modern business. I don’t expect that it is the government that should provide money for the development of grazing reserves or for the development of ranches. The people who own these cattle are not really the ones who tend the cattle in the bush and on the roads that you see.
Those are just hirelings. The people who have these cattle are people in the townships; they are the emirs, the military chiefs, and the politicians and top civil servants. These people have the money to establish ranches and keep these cattle on ranches. I don’t think any of them will need government funds to develop ranches, but of course, if it is becoming too much for Fulani themselves to build these ranches, the various governments of the federation, if they want, can support them. So, these ranches can be built and developed within their own states.x
I don’t think it is proper that government should work towards a national livestock transformation plan, which would be fully funded by the Federal Government. That is not the business of the Federal Government. If the government wants, it can just provide the regulatory framework and leave it at that. People can go to the banks, borrow money and establish ranches.
And there are several models of ranches, which people can get into, because sometimes, when you talk, some of the Fulani people will tell you that people with small herds of cattle will not be able to establish ranches. But, they can be models of ranches that can help even a small herder to put his cattle in one place.
Ranch can be established just like a hotel. So, somebody who may not have cattle can establish a ranch, and you go and keep your herds in that ranch. They will fatten them for you and you pay them and carry your herds when you want. Also, somebody who is thinking big can establish his own ranch where he can keep his thousands of herds and feed them, because what is needed in the ranch is sufficient pasture of grass and water.
Is any state obliged to allow herders establish ranch within its borders?
Not at all! We are a federation and agriculture is in the concurrent list. So, you cannot sit in Abuja and say that every state must have a ranch or cattle reserve. If Benue State for example, decides that it doesn’t want ranches, so be it. If Enugu decides that it doesn’t want ranches, so be it. Each state goes towards its own priorities.
What about government and land ownership, how does it affect these individual choices?
Land belongs to the states and state governments hold the lands in trust for their people. So, a state governor can say that he doesn’t want indiscriminate grazing. “If you have to produce livestock in our own state, within our borders, do that on ranches.” This is what I expect states to do. And if this is done, those who feel they should be moving about with cattle should invite them to their states just as Kano State has done. My only problem with Kano governor is that he thinks it is the Federal Government that should decide what states should do. We shouldn’t wait for federal government. If we do that, it means we don’t know our federal status.
So, you are saying that federal government cannot compel states to provide land for ranching?
No! Federal Government has no right. But why on earth would they compel a state to provide land for ranching or for grazing?
If cattle belong to the elites as you said, why then do they allow the incessant attacks on farmers and destructions of lives and property? Would it be difficult for them to call their cattle tenders or herders to order?
I think the cattle owners are accomplices. The owners are in the background and they are the ones encouraging all these problems. They don’t even want us to know them. Again, government doesn’t want to force them to come out. When government is talking, they are talking to the wrong people.
For instance, when the governor of Ondo State, Rotimi Akeredolu, gave his vacation order to the herdsmen who were in Ondo forests, he decided that he would talk to the Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association of Nigeria (MACBAN). In my heart, I was asking why he should talk to them. They are not the real cattle owners. Although some of them may own cattle, but the real cattle owners are in the townships and nobody is talking to them.
But more important, Miyetti Allah is just one of the Fulani umbrella groups that are very active in the bush. There is Gan Allah Fulani Development Association of Nigeria (GAFDAN) and others. So, if you just pick one of these groups and talk to them, you are talking to the wrong people. If you talk to all of them and you left the people who actually own these cattle, you are still talking to the wrong people, because it is the cattle owners that can order reprisal attacks.
Any time these ones in the bush have a problem, they don’t stay there to start fighting immediately; they actually retreat and report to the owners. It is the owners that give them the logistics, plan the reprisal attacks and then, invite their standing army, because the Fulani have a standing mercenary army that cuts across the entire West and Central African countries. It is this standing army that they go back and invite to come and attack, and it is those who own the cattle that can order those reprisal attacks.x
If the cattle owners are the security chiefs and they are same people responsible for fishing out the violent herders, do you not see confusion there?
It is actually confusion. That is probably why these people don’t want anybody to know them and it has been argued that there are several things we can do to proffer solution. First, we have to know how many herders are coming into this country and what the carrying capacity of the country is. We should also be able to know who is actually in the bush with these cattle. Who are the tenders? Yes!
We have to know them, because if we don’t know that Mallam A is rearing here and Mallam B is tending there, if something happens, you won’t know who to ask or hold responsible. Then, we have to know at the third level, that Mallam ‘A’ who is in this location is not the owner of these cows, but that Mallam Z, who lives in Abuja or in another location, is the owner of the cattle grazing in this particular area.
By the time you have information about who owns what, if anything happens in a certain area, one would be able to know if it is the Fulani in Cameroon or Fulani from Central African Republic or Niger or Burkina Faso or some other Western African countries that are responsible. If something happens in Benue, we should know immediately who to hold responsible.
So, state governors can take up the responsibility of registering cattle operating within their forest?
Of course, if you are a state governor and you allow open grazing, you can require that people grazing in your forest give you the number of stock they have. You can validate that, they will also give you names of those tending the cattle, you can also validate that and they can also give you the names of those who own these cattle and you validate it.
But, since they choose to remain in the background and considering that they are the influential men in the society, what options do the state governors have?
If you are the governor and you are in your state, how can the people go underground? Can you not go to the forest? If you hear they are in a certain bush, can you not go to that bush? The governors have immense powers, they also have immense resources and I don’t know why they should not use them.
Generally, how would you appraise the attitude of governors in all these?
Some state governors are trying but some of them think it is a federal government challenge. The challenge has to start with the state governors themselves and that is why I am in love with what the governor of Benue State has done. He has signed a law saying that “Well, in Benue, you are welcome but if you have to keep your livestock in the state, you have to keep them in ranches. There is nothing like open and indiscriminate grazing. If you do that, we will arrest you.” This is what he is doing and that is what the Fulani are fighting him for because they think people should just allow them to take their cows and graze anyhow. No person will allow that except we want this type of insecurity and instability in every part of the country to continue.
How well would you say the Federal Government has managed the situation?
The Federal Government has been able to handle it very badly. Extremely bad, because first, when this thing was happening in parts of Southern Kaduna, parts of Plateau and Nasarawa states, the Federal Government was giving impression that those states’ governments were being unreasonable.
I remember the President himself asking the people of Benue to learn how to live in peace with their neighbours. Will he go to Zamfara now to tell the people to learn how to live in peace with these bandits? Will he come to Kaduna now to ask the people of Kaduna to learn how to live with these bandits?
It is very painful, because it is now that the bandits have spread their activities to outside Southern Kaduna that the governor of the state is crying foul. This is the person that at a point took money and went to other parts of West Africa to look for Fulani people who had issues with the people of Southern Kaduna and gave them that type of money.
Now that the thing is affecting even his own people, he is trying to say “we have a problem in our hands.” The Federal Government has not done very well. At a point, we needed to know the terror index and the index identified the Fulani herdsmen as one of the most notorious terror groups in the world, but the Federal Government has never seen them as terrorists. The President has never seen them as terrorists and up till now, the police have never picked up one of these Fulani herdsmen who are terrorizing everybody.x
You remember there was some reports recently in Akwa Ibom State, that these same people were caught in military uniform and with military weapons. They were arrested, but orders came from above that they should be released. If you are not arresting these people, if you are not trying them, there is no way one will say that the Federal Government is trying. It is not trying.
Do you think decentralizing the police force will help in mitigating the level of Fulani incursions and destructions across states of the federation?
There are two levels of handling the police issue. The Nigerian police as it is presently constituted, is not helping matters. Our population as a country is more than 200 million and the population of Nigerian police as we know at the moment, is not up to 400,000 people. We are talking of about 371,800 policemen and women in Nigeria. This number cannot adequately police the country, where you have problems of insecurity.
But, more important, out of this number that is less than 400,000 about 150,000 are used in guiding big men and politicians. So, what you really have is certainly less than 250,000 policemen and women to police all us. If you divide that by 36 states and FCT, you will discover that on the average, we have less than 5,000 to 6000 people, who are doing real police duties in the different states of the country.
And if you divide that number by 774 local government areas, you will discover that on the average, no Local Government Area has up to 300 policemen. So, the numbers are far in between. Take poor training; take poor attitudes, then you will have a police force that cannot really do the work.
Even those who are talking about state police, yes, they will provide another layer to complement what we have, but is the attitude of our politicians good? I am asking this because not many Nigerians remember that prior to our independence, we had state and regional police, but soon after independence, we discovered that the police were used as instrument by the political class and by the governments of various regions.x
If they don’t like you, they will just go after you using the local police. That is why we went for the federal police. Of course, this central police are also being manipulated by the Federal Government, but give and take, if we have the local state police, certainly, there will be more number policing us and people will know the terrain and if the attitude and training and logistics are put in place, some states would be able to secure land, property and lives of the citizens certainly more than what we have at the moment.
What should be done to have a lasting solution to the menace?
The lasting solution would be to encourage everybody with interest in livestock production to do it one place and in ranches. The Federal Government and state governments should make those laws. You know that a lot of states are waiting to get a cue from the Federal Government.
So, the Federal Government should not shy away from it. It should provide the cue and that means saying, “States, see, this thing is too much. For those of you, who want herders to do open grazing within your borders, tell them so that they can go there and do the open grazing.
But, for those who don’t want, put in place the enabling laws so that people can come and establish ranching. If you don’t want ranching in your state, just say so, so that we also know and then, on my part as Federal Government, because I control immigration, because immigration is on the Exclusive List, I will not allow people to come into this country with livestock. I will suspend it.”
I also want to mention here that this talk about ECOWAS protocol and free movement is rubbish. The Protocol clearly states that you cannot encourage free movement at the expense of your own people and at the expense of peace and stability within your borders, because if you allow free movement, everybody comes into your territory and it is causing the kind of havoc, it means that we really don’t know what we are doing. The Federal Government should assure us that nobody would come into this country to graze. We don’t own the Fulani of the entire world any grazing rights in this country. We don’t.