By Wilfred Eya, Desmond Mgbo, Chinelo Obogo and Chukwudi Nweje
The Nobel Laureate, Wole Soyinka, has warned that the raging crisis from the criminal activities of herdsmen, especially in the South West and South East, may snowball into another civil war in the country, if something is not done urgently to stop the menace of the herdsmen.
Soyinka, who was reacting to the current situation in the country, gave the warning during an interview with BBC, on Saturday, which was monitored by Premium Times.
He alleged that President Muhammadu Buhari’s silence on the ‘illegal’ activities of herders shows that he is complicit, adding that he would support whatever decision taken to secure people’s rights to live in dignity.
He said:“What do they expect of us now that the war is on our doorstep? Of course there will be mobilisation and if we keep waiting for this to be centrally handled, we are all going to become, if not already, slaves in our land. That, to me, is personally intolerable. It is not an acceptable condition.
“And whatever it takes, I stand ready to contribute in any way, and I have made my governor understand this, that we are here not just to live in, but to live in dignity. Right now, our dignity is being rubbished. My forest is being taken over, it’s been shrinking, my normal hunting ground is shrinking. My family tells me that if I go in depth again, they will have me institutionalised.”
Soyinka urged Buhari to address the nation on the level of insecurity and the way forward. He said the president admit openly “that yes, I know I am the patron of the cattle rearers association etc., and I am a cattle rancher myself and it is a business. And I do not run my business by killing people. I do not run my business by raping, by displacing, by torturing. I do not run my business by occupying land that does not belong to me and I am warning a business people in the food commodity, all cattle reared, whatever comes to you for illegal occupation for trespassing on other people’s property is your business and I am ordering the army, I am ordering all the security forces to back citizens’ efforts in flushing you out.
“It is very late already, but it is not too late. This is a language that we expect from president Buhari, and as much as that language does not come, I must consider him as quite complicit in what is going on because the buck stops at his desk.
“We may enter a phase of serious skirmishes which get more and more violent and may develop into civil war and a very untidy mercy one. That’s my biggest fear. Unless action is taken… I am very glad that the governors are coming together and are discussing in all seriousness. I’m happy they are pulling in groups like Miyetti Allah, obviously knocking some sense into the head of their leaders and they are talking about accepting the decision of governors and agreeing to obey.”
Soyinka denied calling Yoruba activist, Sunday Igboho, a hero as reported in the media, but noted that “he responded to the situation in the way he knew how.
“…Somebody one day reaches an explosion point and he says I cannot take this any longer and he takes unilateral action. It may be excessive, it may be wrong, but what matters is that somebody has responded to an unacceptable situation. Any error which he makes is for the rest of us to correct by calling him and I know that a number of people are doing that.”
I’m disappointed in Nobel Laureate -Yakassai
Meanwhile, some notable Nigerians agreed with the position of the Nobel Laureate, while others attacked for saying that president Buhari was complicit in the incessant and protracted farmers/herders conflicts.
Elder statesmen, Tanko Yakasai expressed disappointment in Soyinka, saying he should not reduce himself to a common person like Sunday Igboho who recently ordered the Fulani out of Yoruba land.
He said: “I am disappointed in Wole Soyinka. When Olusegun Obasanjo was the president of Nigeria, did the other Nigerians hate the Yoruba because of Obasanjo? I am disappointed that a Nobel laureate should condescend so low and speak like Sunday Igboho who is telling the Fulani to leave Yoruba land.
“Why did Nigerians not hate Buhari before now? Why are people so narrow minded. We should be talking of one Nigeria and not saying things that would divide us.
The Fulani have been herding cattle in Nigeria over 300 years ago before we were born. So, why should Soyinka speak in the same manner like Sunday Igboho? Are Fulani not Nigerians? I am not Fulani, but I do not like people making all kinds of negative statements.”
Nigerians unfair to Fulani -Hanga, Junaid Mohammed
Second Republic legislator, Dr Junaidu Mohammed also faulted Soyinka over his understanding and interpretation of the current face-off between Fulani herdsmen in the South West and members of the host community.
While not in any way supportive of the excesses of the Fulani herdsman in any part of the country, he regretted that Nigerians were gradually beginning to reduce and unconsciously unleash their frustrations over the alleged incompetence of the Buhari Presidency on the Fulani nationality.
He said it was wrong to attribute all the criminalities and lawlessness in the forest to the herders, adding that the farmers and some members of the host communities equally contribute to the growing culture of banditry in the forests.
“What has to be said is that there is an element of lawlessness by both the Fulani herdsmen and the farmers. The banditry of today is also caused by the farmers, not just the Fulani herdsmen alone” he stated.
The former national chairman of the defunct Congress for Progressive Change (CPC), Rufai Hanga, said despite the fact that he is not a Fulani man, it was unfair to lump all Fulani herdsmen into one category and label them as killers.
Hanga, who was a member of the House of Representatives and Senate, said he accepted that there are bad people within their ranks, but noted that there are also many honest herdsmen who do not take part in the crises between herdsmen and farmers.
On the allegations that Buhari is complicit in the crises, Hanga said the president doesn’t have the capacity and is usually unaware of what is happening in the country. He said those waiting for the president to act decidedly on the herders crises should perish the thought because, according to him, it would never happen.
But the Peoples Redemption Party (PRP) and the Middle Belt Forum backed Soyinka’s position that president Buhari’s indifference to the activities of herdsmen showed he is complicit in the atrocities they commit.
They noted that many Nigerians had expressed similar views before and nobody listened to their cries.
National Chairman of the PRP, Alhaji Falalu Bello, said, “It is not only Prof Soyinka that has spoken, but a number of Nigerians have also spoken along the same line. It is a national calamity and it is a national problem.”
Publicity Secretary of the Middle Belt Forum, Dogo Isuwa noted that the complacency has been on for a long time
He said: “I agree with Prof Soyinka because the president is in a position to act, but has refused to do so; that means he is in agreement with what they are doing and it is an act of criminality. If Miyetti Allah will come out, own up and say that they are protecting their people and the government knows them because they are on television, yet, no security agency has picked up any of them, it shows that they are complicit.”