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We want 131 grazing reserves FG promised us —Alhassan, Miyetti Allah scribe

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We want 131 grazing reserves FG promised us —Alhassan, Miyetti Allah scribe

Today, the Fulani have been tagged terrorists, bandits and given all sorts of negative labels. As a leader of a Fulani group, are you not disturbed?

Those calling us these names, are they competent authorities? By the way, who is a terrorist? Did we threaten the existence of any state? Have we threatened constituted authority? Have we waged war against the state? Are we terrorising anybody? Those who are calling us terrorists, I think they are the real terrorists. We know that the promoters of this propaganda are no other people than the Middle Belt Forum.

If you recall a one-time chairman of the forum had a very close relationship with Muhammad Yusuf, founder of Boko Haram. So, the question I would like you to ask is: what business did he have with Muhammad Yusuf, a fundamentalist, the Boko Haram founder? What was their relationship about? We all know that Boko Haram is a terrorist group and some of key elements in the forum have ties with the group. They are in a better position to tell us who these terrorists are. Look at Benue, for instance, the real culprits carrying out the attacks were members of the same ethnic group. So, for anybody to label us terrorists, it is just a figment of their imagination. They have a motive. So, we reject it in totality. We are not terrorists; we are not violent people. We are peace-loving people striving to make a living through rearing of cows.

What do you think is the problem, really?

We have a breakdown of law and order today. Insecurity is not only in Nigeria, there are bandits all over the West African sub-region. And if someone is a bandit killing people, you can’t call him a herder, because a herder is someone who takes care of cattle and has nothing to do with terrorism. You cannot be a herdsman if you are not rearing cows. A herder moves from one place to another with his cows. Rearing of cows is a very old tradition that could be traced to some of our prophets so, how can you call herders killers and people who have no cows, herders? This is just part of the blackmail.

You also always claim that your people have lost many cows to rustling…

(Cuts in) We have lost estimated two million cows since this crisis started in Plateau and Taraba states, in Southern Kaduna and in parts of Kogi and Niger states. We have equally been victims in Zamfara and a few other states in the North. For instance, 800 of our people were killed by a militia group in Mambilla Plateau. We also suffered the killing of 97 of our people by Bachama militias in Numan, Adamawa State. In Southern Kaduna, to be specific, in Kajuru, we lost 103 members. So far, 5,000 of our people have lost their lives in the last 10 years, since this crisis erupted. The most painful thing is that nobody has been put on trial. Nobody has been charged. In Southern Kaduna, for instance, in 2011, 400 of our people were murdered and nothing was done to the people who perpetrated this dastardly act. Today, the killers are walking on the streets as free citizens. Nobody was arrested or prosecuted.

You didn’t mention Benue State, what is the situation now?

Today in Benue, our people have been subjected to all forms of discrimination. Many have been arrested and jailed even when we all know the killers of the priests as well as perpetrators of other crimes that were committed in the state. Even when the culprits, who are currently on trial, were arrested, nobody was saying anything. The question is: have we not been vindicated? We are calling on the Benue State governor, His Excellency, Samuel Ortom, to offer an unreserved apology to us because he had tried to blackmail us and paint the Fulani in a bad light over the happenings in his state. Unfortunately, the killers are employers of the state government. Their leader is a so-called repentant Boko Haram member. So, you can see that they are the ones who still have relationships with Boko Haram members. We don’t have any relationship with them nor do we know any terrorists.

The Federal Government is trying to establish ranches in 10 states of the federation. How do you see the move, will it address the current crisis?

Well, it is a step forward. We support any policy that will bring succour to our people. The ranches are a step forward but we are more interested in the revival of our grazing reserves, the 131 grazing reserves the Federal Government promised to do something about. We are still very interested in seeing their revival.

But for the time being, we will key into the ranching programme. Although the Federal Government is proposing a 10-year period for our people to migrate from the present system of grazing to ranching, we are saying that a 25-year period is most ideal for our people to migrate. This is because they must understand that ranching is a purely commercial venture, while pastoralism is the culture of a particular people. So, for them to transit from one phase to another, you need to educate them and sensitise them. It is not a day’s job; it involves time and perseverance. You need to give them hope and let them understand what you are doing and not just ask them to do what you want. You see, it is just like meeting a young farmer and asking him not to cultivate his land until he buys a tractor.

A group in the South East has given herders until August to leave the region. What is your take on this ultimatum?

Who are they? How credible are they to give such an ultimatum? We are aware that all these things are being sponsored by politicians. Politicians just want to heat up the polity. We will not give any ultimatum to Igbos. Are Igbo people not in the North doing their businesses unhindered? I am calling on the security to arrest these charlatans. They do not mean well for the country. By the way, they don’t have the right to give such an ultimatum. What they did was a clear violation of the constitution as well as the rights of the Fulani to free movement. Those that gave such ultimatum are criminals and they should be arrested.

What do you think about the recent killings in Plateau State?

We condemn the crisis but we know the masterminds. They are the ones creating this crisis. These are the people killing our people. Yesterday (Tuesday), a lawmaker from Wase, Maji Mohammed, said a 300-man killer squad had been trained in Israel. He said it on the floor of the House. I think it is the duty of journalists to investigate this and tell us the truth. These vigilantes were the ones killing our people on highways. Let the security also carry out their duty and tell us the identity of those trained by the Mosad in Israel. How do you find peace in this kind of situation? They should also investigate the federal lawmaker who launched a campaign, #Bringbackourland# immediately the killing took place. We feel he knows something about the killing and wants to use the platform to launch his 2019 campaign. So, the crisis in Plateau State is purely political.

What is the situation in Taraba, has peace returned to the state?

Can peace return when we have someone like General T. Y. Danjuma instigating people to carry arms? Can peace return when those who were indicted in the killing of 800 of our people walk freely in Taraba? Can peace return when the chairman of a local government area, who was also involved in the killing of our members, is also walking freely? Can there be peace without justice? Many of our people are displaced. As I am talking to you, they are refugees in Cameroun. Will there be peace in this kind of situation? Will there be peace when you have a state governor fighting with the security forces that were deployed to maintain peace? We must face these things squarely. We commend the efforts of the security agencies in trying to understand the antics of these politicians.

What do you think is the way forward?

The government should get serious and arrest perpetrators of these crises, especially the politicians sponsoring them. It is time they faced trial, no matter their statuses in the society. These corrupt politicians want to heat up the polity. The government should quickly finish their cases and jail them before they set this country ablaze. I also want to appeal to the media to present our own side of the issue in the fairest way, without bias. This narrative of blaming the Fulani always is not good for the country. Let the truth be told. We feel only the media can do that. The media must be at the forefront of salvaging this country. You did it before and you have the moral obligation to do it again.

Governor Samuel Ortom and others have called for your arrest and the arrest of other Miyetti chieftains. What is your reaction to this?

Arresting the leaders of Miyetti Allah does not arise because they have not done anything other than fight for the rights of their people, particularly our group that has taken the governor to a federal high court to challenge the anti-open grazing law. Today, if you look at the arrests being made in Benue and Taraba states, you will see they have nothing to do with herdsmen. If we are to be objective, the evidence is there for the public to see. If he is looking for anybody to arrest, he should arrest his political allies who are involved in the killing of innocent people.

We should be objective and avoid sentiment. We believe that Governor Ortom is only a victim of political schemers around him who are profiting from the crisis and extorting money from him. The livestock guards have been arrested and found guilty of involvement in the killing of two pastors and 17 worshippers. They are already on trial and Governor Ortom is not saying anything about it. We have to praise the security agencies for that breakthrough. We are calling on the public to ask the governor to free the more than 250 pastoralists that were arrested. Most of them were on their ways to markets when they were arrested. Others were arrested while riding on their motorcycles. They claimed they violated the state’s anti-open grazing law.


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