From Paul Orude Bauchi
Governor Bala Mohammed of Bauchi State has reacted to condemnation that trailed his remarks that Fulani herdsmen can carry AK47- to defend themselves as they are being threatened by rustlers who killed, attack and steal their cows while the government is not protecting them.
In a statement signed by his media aide, Muktar Gidado, Mohammed expressed regret that his remark made during the closing ceremony of the Correspondents’ Chapel Week of the Nigerian Union of Journalists, Bauchi State Council on Thursday, was misinterpreted by a cross section of Nigerians.
The statement said the governor did not seem to suggest that every herdsmen is a criminal and thus can carry AK47- but was only admonishing but made the comments against the background that the Fulani herdsmen because of their predicament and desperation might be forced to carry arms to protect themselves.
The full statement in part: “The primary objective of the Governor was to avert the dangerous prospect of nation-wide backlash as tempers were flaring up and given that the phenomenon of inter-ethnic migration, is a national pastime involving all ethnic groups in Nigeria.
“However, many of the reactions have conveyed the dismay of their authors, to what they erroneously considered, as the Governor’s presumed support for crimes, committed by some Fulani herdsmen.
“For the avoidance of doubt, we would like to make the following clarifications”
“First, at no time did the Governor set out to justify criminality by anyone, no matter the person’s ethnic nationality. Rather, he admonished us, in the interest of national unity, to avoid wholesale branding of any ethnic group as it is inconceivable that any one group can be made up of only criminals. By extension, the Governor made it abundantly clear that it will be inappropriate to label any one tribe based on the crimes of a few members of the ethnic group.”
Second, to the extent that not every herdsman is a criminal, the Governor’s reference to AK47 was simply to put in perspective, the predicament and desperation of those law-abiding Fulani herdsmen who, while carrying out their legitimate cow-rearing business, have become serial victims of cattle rustling, banditry, kidnapping and assassination. These are the people who, in the absence of any protection from the security agencies, are forced to resort to self-help, to defend both their means of livelihood and their lives. As a constitutionalist which he has proved over time, all through his political career, Governor Bala Mohammed will be the last person to advocate a subversion of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. He did not do so in the past; he will not do so today.
Third, Governor Bala Mohammed’s description of forests, as “no man’s land”, (please read as gift of nature), is a carry-over from his own geo-political environment where a pastoralist could set up camp, in any forest, for a few weeks without causing any uproar or opposition. To interpret such a temporary stay as a form of ‘land grab’ by the Fulani herdsmen is completely incorrect. In actual fact, neither does such temporary habitation of the forest inconvenience anyone nor does the itinerant Fulani sojourner, bother anyone about his plight in the forest characterised by life without assess to electricity, pipe borne water, good roads or hospitals On the contrary, Bala Mohammed is very familiar with the Land Use Act, including the criteria for land acquisition and cannot therefore seek to undermine the statute which, as Governor, he has sworn to uphold.
Fourth, the Governor would want it placed on record that his statement was intended to caution all stakeholders to guard against escalating the tension, just as many patriotic stakeholders, particularly from the North, have ben working round the clock to avert reprisal actions that could throw the entire country into a cauldron of unimaginable proportions.
5. Rather than vilify Governor Bala Mohammed, it is incumbent on all those criticising him to admonish those Governors whose lack of restraint is responsible for the escalation of this crisis. Governor Bala Mohammed’s antecedents, as a bridge-builder, humanist and nationalist are so well known that he will never, under any circumstances, deliberately fuel any national crisis or subvert the Constitution.
Nevertheless, he strongly reminds all stakeholders, in the Nigeria project, that the delicate nature of our diversity coupled with the fact that we are interwoven in many respects, calls for reasoned circumspection in handling inter-ethnic hostility of the nature that the ejection of herdsmen, from parts of the country, is degenerating into. It is his fervent wish that, together, all stakeholders will work towards re-establishing inter-ethnic trust and harmony that has been so badly dented, within the past few weeks or months.