National President of the Gan Allah Fulani Development Association, Alhaji Sale Bayari, talks about the farmers/herders crisis, how it snowballed into cattle rustling, banditry and kidnapping and ways to address the problem, in this interview with ALEXANDER OKERE
Your group urged the Oyo State House of Assembly to give its proposed anti-open grazing bill a human face. Would you say that states with existing grazing laws had a disregard for the interest of herdsmen?
That is exactly what I mean when I say that there is the need for the Oyo State House of Assembly to look at the issues involved. Fulani herdsmen in Oyo State are not into the business of buying and selling of cattle. They just use the business to take care of their families as peasants. As a result of that, some of them have been there (in Oyo) from time immemorial; we have third and fourth generations of herdsmen and some of them speak Yoruba. So whatever law the House is making, they (herdsmen) should be allowed to have their own say. I believe that if they are giving an opportunity to speak during the public hearing, they would say certain things that the government and the House of Assembly may not be aware of. That was what I meant by saying that the law should have a human face.
If the government looks at the issue critically, it would find out that there may be some areas that are not occupied by farmers, maybe due to the terrain or the type of soil there; the area could be rocky and not suitable for crops. The government could give them (herders) a small a portion in that type of area so that they can rear their animals there so that they would not stray into people’s farms.
In Ekiti State, the law is not draconian and I cannot see any malice. That is why it has not created any problems, especially because it addresses the issue of night grazing, a situation where some people would allow their animals to graze on people’s farms and return before dawn so that when the farmer goes to his farm in the morning, all the crops would have been destroyed. When it happens and the farmer raises the alarm and the villagers come out, any herdsman they see would bear the brunt.
The most draconian (one) is that of Benue State. There, the herdsmen and their representatives were co-opted into attending the public hearing without being allowed to make any input. They were tricked to go there and sign the attendance (list) and, being illiterate and semi-illiterate, some of the leaders of the herdsmen were induced – I am confident about that – and at the end of the day, the law was enacted. The grazing law in Benue State is a total ban (on grazing) without making any provision (for them); there was nowhere mercy was shown in that law. You are told to embrace ranching but how you would do that is nobody’s business.
What is your view on the reports of kidnapping, killings and other forms of crime in the country as well as the arrest of suspects alleged to be Fulani herdsmen?
There are criminals in every society, ethnic or religious group in every section of Nigeria. We have warned before that making crime an ethnic or religious issue is helping to shield the criminals from arrests, prosecution and conviction. This is because instead of looking at the criminals and making them answerable to the offences they might have committed, you are looking at a tribe or religious group in this country. Instead of the criminals to be thinking that they would be found and brought to justice, they are feeling that it is their religious group or tribe that is targeted. So, they become unidentifiable and so easily escape justice. So, we have been trying to ensure that does not happen.
There was a time that the earliest armed robber we knew was one (Lawrence) Anini in Benin (Edo State) and one Shina Rambo. At the end of the day, nobody saw them as coming from one particular religion or one particular tribe. They were purely treated as criminals. Criminals have their own identities and don’t have alliances with any tribe or religion. In Plateau State where I come from, you would find the Birom and Fulani tribes having problems as herders/farmers’ crisis but most of the time when there are armed robbery and cattle rustling incidents, you would find out that people from the two tribes are actually responsible for committing the offences.
What would you say led to the acquisition of arms by these groups in the state?
The persistent herders/farmers’ crisis which was not addressed since 1999 led a number of the herders and farmers to go all out to acquire arms. Some of them acquired arms for self-defence while some acquired arms for aggression or reprisals. As a result of that, about 35 per cent of the cattle and crops were depleted. Those affected had nothing to live on as peasant farmers and cattle herders, so some of their children became criminals, took the arms to the highways and started robbing. When people stopped moving with cash, with the advent of Automated Teller Machines, they (criminals) made sure that victims paid whether they had money or not and that was how kidnapping crept into the minds of these people. Instead of the criminals to ask their victims for money, the victims became the ones begging their relations to pay ransom .
The farmer/herders’ crisis snowballed into cattle rustling, banditry and kidnapping. I know that kidnapping came to the North through Kogi State. Kogi is very unique as a state in the North-Central region; it has a boundary with two states in the South-West, two states in the South-East and two states in the South-South. So, when southern governors started demolishing the properties of the people who were found to be kidnappers, the criminals started taking their captives into the forest and saw the herdsmen living there. The kidnappers induced the herdsmen to keep quiet. At some point, because the herdsmen knew the environment well, they were the ones telling the victims’ relatives where to drop the ransom. When the kidnappers went to pick money, they would pick N20m or N15m but gave the herdsmen N50,000, and the herdsmen were not satisfied because they were in their domain. They wondered why they should not use the arms given to them to prevent victims from fleeing to do their own business and that was how it started.
Frankly, there are criminals among the Fulani herdsmen and it is something we are addressing and that was why we called a series of meetings to brainstorm and make sure that we flush out the criminals among us. Some of them are from other places, so we have given ourselves the assignment to screen, investigate and make sure that we disclose the identities and actions of the perpetrators to security agencies.
One of the commanders of the bandits in Zamfara State, Hassan Dantawaye, who recently renounced violence, had said that his group decided to kill dozens for every herdsman killed. Does that not portray Fulani herdsmen as violent?
Human beings have different psychologies or beliefs and it is something that has got to do with the mind of a person. If you have 5,000 people living with 150,000 people and there is a war between the two, the psychology of most people would be that the if five persons were killed from the former group, the aggregate of that five from the latter would probably be 50, otherwise, there was a likelihood that the 150,000 could wipe out the 5,000. When people are in a war situation like the way it was in Zamfara, you and I who are normal human beings would not be able to rationalise it and our reasoning may be meaningless to them because the circumstances are not the same. I cannot sit down and say that the logic of that guy was wrong; maybe that is the way they have survived to tell this story. But that is why we should not look for war but peace because in war, children, women and the old are the victims.
Is granting amnesty to bandits, who have killed, not a way of shielding them from prosecution?
We have set a precedent for amnesty. A lot of killers in this country have been given amnesty. I remember one example in the Niger Delta – the Niger Delta militants. The Boko Haram was granted amnesty but it refused to take it. In Nigeria, we have even come to the level that if people accept amnesty, we should be grateful to them because there are those who would reject the amnesty because they have become permanent bloodsuckers – they love bloodletting and seeing people die. As bad as leaving somebody who has committed an offence to go scot-free appears, we could also say that would stop it at that point, we could as well forget about it and look forward. But sometimes, when you do not do that (grant amnesty), more people will die and the government would be helpless.
Do you subscribe to the disarming of all herders as a way to reduce the violence associated with their activities?
I support that 100 per cent; no Nigerian should be armed but achieving that now is very difficult because it appears today that some people have to acquire what I call a balance of terror to be able to survive. If herders are armed with a stick or a dagger and the rustlers, who want to take their cows, are armed with AK47s and AK49s, they (herders) are surely going to become history; it has happened several times. So, if the government provides security, nobody will use arms because there would be no need for them. It cannot be used for anything other than to commit a crime and when you are caught, you would pay dearly for it.
Does your group support ranching?
We do. Ranching is about commercial livestock farming but it requires money to acquire a ranch. I don’t see our peasant herdsmen being able to afford to acquire land for ranching in the next 20 or 25 years.
How do you think the farmers/herders’ crisis can be addressed?
It can be addressed by ensuring that we have adequate security for Nigerians and people who commit crime are brought to justice. It can also be addressed by the government looking at the problems of herdsmen and farmers. There are three sets of herdsmen in this country: We have those that have settled, those that are semi-settled and those that are nomadic. The settled ones can acquire ranches for their animals, the semi-settled ones can move into the available grazing reserves and those that have been migratory from time immemorial and believe that it is part of their culture and life could be allowed to continue for some time and the lack of grazing corridors will make them settle down. By the time all of them settle down, they will look for quality instead of quantity.
What is your opinion on the call for the return of Fulani herdsmen to the North?
That (the call) was just a political statement and it was done to see the reactions of Nigerians. From the reactions, we know that nobody is interested in splitting this country. All the noise calling for the breakdown of the country was just by some young, irresponsible Nigerians who did not see the crisis of 1966. We are all living together in this country as Nigerians. So, any call like that will only wake people up to the reality that we need each other and it is better that such calls are completely avoided.