From Stanley Uzoaru (Owerri), Laide Raheem (Abeokuta), Obinna Odogwu (Awka), Paul Osuyi (Asaba), Priscilla Ediare (Ado Ekiti), Emmanuel Adeyemi (Lokoja)
Fresh facts have emerged on the swirling controversy over the instruction given by Northern Elders Forum, NEF, to Fulani herdsmen in parts of Southern Nigeria, to return to the North, on account of the quit notice allegedly given to them. The Ondo State government had first ordered the herdsmen to leave its forest reserves and this was followed by Yoruba activist, Sunday Igboho, who allegedly sacked the Sarkin Fulani in Oyo State. Since the quit notices and NEF directives were issued, high level consultations at governorship level have been ongoing to resolve the crisis occasioned by these socio-political developments. The NEF had even urged governors of the northern states to prepare to receive law abiding herders who want to return to the North.
However, the body of Sarkin Fulani (heads of Fulani communities in parts of the Southern Nigeria), who are at the centre of the controversy, have stridently said they were aware of the “Return-to-the-North” directive issued by the NEF, arguing that it was never communicated to them. In interviews with Sunday Sun correspondents, the various Sarkins Fulani expressed their views on the NEF directive.
Northerners in Imo State have declared that they did not get any return-to-North notice, stressing that even if such directive was given, they have no plans to leave the state. Senior Special Assistant to Imo State governor, Suleiman Ibrahim, who spoke with Sunday Sun added that Imo has never been detrimental to them, maintaining that his people had sworn never to leave the state.
Ibrahim said: “We never received any notice from anybody to quit from the state. Why should we leave, we are in Nigeria, where are we going to? We shall continue to live in peace with our hosts. We don’t have any issues with the people here, they love us and we love them; I thank Almighty Allah for bringing us to Imo, there is no home like Imo.”
In Ogun State, the Sarkin-Fulani, Muhammad Kabir Labar, said that his office never received any directive from the Northern Elders Forum, to leave Ogun and move their cattle up North. He expressed serious concerns over the clashes between farmers and herders in the state, which had claimed lives on both sides, while cattle and farms had been destroyed.
Labar explained that of all the Southwest states, Ogun State remains the best location to carry out cattle rearing business. He blamed foreign herders for the killings, maiming, arson and wanton destruction that have occurred recently. The Sarkin Fulani commended the Ogun State governor, Dapo Abiodun, for his timely intervention, noting that move by the governor prevented the recent crisis in Yewa North Local Government Area of the state from escalating and snowballing into a conflagration.
The governor’s prompt intervention in the crisis, he said, doused the tension that had been rising on both sides and saved lives.
“Killings, no matter the circumstance, are detestable and can never be the solution to the issues at hand; we do not have to further aggravate the already tense situation by pandering to ethnic sentiments,” he added.
Labar said that various ethnic nationalities had been living as one in Ogun State for centuries with mutual respect for one another, noting that things would continue in that manner, as agreed at the stakeholders’ parley organised by the Ogun State government, to find lasting solution to the incessant herders/farmers clashes.
While harping on the need to be wary of mischief makers trying to reap from the mindless cycle of bloodletting by fabricating casualty figures and losses on both sides, Labar said that efforts would be doubled to strengthen unity between herdsmen and the host communities in Ogun State.
“I call on the people and the media to exercise restraint in what is said and reported on the crisis as the state government and the security services have demonstrated unwavering commitment to the safety of our lives and property.
“Already, we have seen the deployment of patrol vehicles, armed personnel and the political will of the governor to bring the situation under control. We thank him for his sincerity and commitment to restore peace,” Labar said.
He further noted that a conflict resolution mechanism would be put in place by his office, to ensure timely settlement of issues before they degenerate into situations capable of leading to a skirmish.
In Anambra State, Chairman, South East Zone of the Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association of Nigeria (MACBAN), Alhaji Gidado Siddiki, told Sunday Sun that his people, the Fulani herdsmen, have been living peacefully with the people of Southeast.
He said that there has not been any formal communication from the Northern Elders Forum (NEF) or any other relevant authority from the North asking herdsmen to return to the North.
His words: “The challenges our people are having in Southern Nigeria prompted the call or suggestion by the Northern Elders Forum. However, nobody has informed me officially. Nobody is planning to go back to the North unless we are forced to go. The only thing that will make them to go is if they feel unprotected. If there is protection, why should they go? But if there is no protection they will have no other option than to go.”
Asked if he was making any effort to ensure that there is peaceful coexistence between the herders and their host communities in the Southeast, he said: “There is cordiality between my members and our hosts. Some of these things that are happening, I don’t know their origin. But I don’t think it is from the good people of the Southeast. I don’t know what prompted these challenges we are facing in Southern Nigeria because what I know is that we have cordiality with the people of the Southeast.
“We always partner with some groups in the Southeast to broker peace. So, I don’t know why this thing is happening. But what I know is that it is just a trial and it will come to an end.”
On how he intends to settle disputes between herdsmen and farmers in the future, he said: “Whenever farmlands are destroyed by Fulani herdsmen, we go there and assess the level of damage and then pay the owner of the farm. It is the same thing when a cow gets killed. The leaders of the community facilitate the payment for the cow.”
On their part, members of the Hausa/Fulani community in Delta State have insisted that they have no intention of leaving the state owing to what they described as a very robust harmonious relationship with their respective host communities across the state.
Spokesman of the Hausa/Fulani community in the state, Alhaji Muktar Usman, told Sunday Sun in Asaba that they were not making plans to return to their states of origin in the foreseeable future.
Usman who is an influential figure in the community said that such appeal by NEF to northern governors was not meant for Hausa/Fulani residents in Delta State. He said the peculiar problem which led to such appeal, in the first instance, was not being experienced in the oil rich Delta State.
According to him, there is no official correspondence from the North, calling on them to return home.
“As you can see, we don’t have that problem in Delta State. So that appeal is not for us here in Delta because we have a very cordial relationship with our host communities,” Usman said.
He explained that there was an existing mechanism to douse tension and deal with any possible security challenge.
“We have zonal LGA and senatorial security meetings were issues are promptly addressed to the satisfaction of all. We liaise with the security agencies to promptly address matters that may come up, reported and referred to the appropriate quarters for actions to be taken,” Usman added.
Besides, he said that members of the Hausa/Fulani community in the state were in constant dialogue with traditional rulers and opinion leaders of their host communities on how to sustain harmony and ensure peaceful co-existence.
When he spoke to Sunday Sun on the issue of the NEF directive, the Chairman, Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association, Ekiti State chapter, Alhaji Mohammed Nasamu, said: “There was no formal communication to them to return to the North. No Fulani herder in Ekiti is ready to return to the North because Fulani people are Nigerians, the people from the Southwest are also Nigerians, we are not from another country.”
On how they (Fulani) intend to maintain harmony with their host communities, the chairman said: “Insha Allah, we will ensure that peace reigns. Fulani herders in Ekiti State are peaceful people, and the governor, Dr Kayode Fayemi, has an open heart to all and has always taken all residents as one, irrespective of tribe, whether Yoruba, Igbo, Fulani, Ebira, Ijaw, Edo, Efik and others, the governor has always taken everyone as one. I have always spoken to my people on peaceful coexistence and I will continue to do so. We will ensure oneness with all the people in Ekiti State.
“We will hold a meeting with herders in Ekiti State and we will remind them not to engage in anything bad. We will tell every Fulani herder in all the local governments in the state to register. They are going to register with their traditional rulers and any town without an Oba will definitely have a Baale (Chief) or Regent. They will register there.”
On how to settle herders disputes in future, the chairman said: “I pray God will never allow fight in Ekiti State. We will ensure no Fulani herder foments trouble.”
On the sensitive issue of Fulani herders carrying guns while grazing, Nasamu said: “I have personally not seen any Fulani herder carry guns while grazing.”
The Kogi State chapter, Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association of Nigeria (MACBAN), has said herders in the state are not affected by the relocation advice given to some of its members living in Southern parts of the country.
Worried by the rising conflicts between herders and farmers, the Northern Elders Forum had asked northern state governors to prepare to receive law abiding herders who want to return back to the North.
The Assistant Secretary of MACBAN in the state, Abubakar Adamu, who spoke with our correspondent, said that the herders in Kogi State are living peacefully with their host communities and are therefore not affected by the order.
He said the herders affected are those living in the South-south, Southeast and the Southwest where there are recurring clashes between herders and farmers.
While commending the Northern Elders Forum for taking the initiative, he said that his members in the state will always embrace peace and live in harmony with their host communities.
Adamu also praised the state governor, Yahaya Bello, for his efforts in ensuring security of lives and property in the state.