Sometime ago, Umar Labdo Muhammad, a Professor of Islamic Political Thoughts at Yusuf Maitama Sule University, Kano, came under fire for his view that Benue State belongs to the Fulani by conquest. In this interview, he insisted on his earlier position on the contentious issue even as he made another startling disclosure that the Hausa/Fulani founded the city of Jos, Plateau State, at a time the locals in the area were still living in jungles and mountains. Indeed, he claimed the Middle Belt area belongs to the Fulani. He shared his thoughts on other contentious issues, including the spate of killings in the region in this interview conducted by DESMOND MGBOH in Kano.
Talking of governance and good leadership, what is your assessment of the Buhari administration? Where is it that he is strong? Where is he weak?
I think that the Buhari administration came at a very, very critical time. It came after 16 years of systematic looting and destruction of this country, not only in the economic, but in the social aspects. Nigeria politics and its economy need to be reformed and this is not a small task to undertake. Number two, there are vested interests, who are massively opposed to Buhari and everybody knows this. These are the members of the former ruling party – the Peoples Democratic Party, the club of powerful retired Generals and some business moguls who exploit this country; and maybe also, some foreign interests who don’t mean well for this country. Generally, I think that Buhari is trying, but the job is not an easy job. These wanton killings of people – which unfortunately are being exploited by sections and interests in the country, it did not start today. It started many years ago and it is all over the country. But in some sections of the country, it is given a different name and in another section of the country, it is given a different name. For example, if the killing takes place in the so – called Middle Belt, they would say that it is Fulani and they would say that the Fulani are emboldened because their kind is the President. And when it happens in the enclave of Fulani-Zamfara for example or Katsina where the President comes from, then they would be silent. So, the situation is becoming complex, but personally, I think that President Buhari has good intentions for Nigeria. And if the masses of this country would support him to get a second tenure, I think that it would be good for Nigeria. But he needs time, he needs time and he needs the good will of people, although the vested interests would never allow him to have peace. My call to Nigerians is that they should rally round their President. This is a man who was Minister of Petroleum, who was Governor of six states – that is the whole of the North East as it is today. At that time, it was one single state – who was a military head of state and who was an Executive Chairman of the defunct PTF, but he is almost koboless and he is over 70 years. I tell you if he had wanted the things of this world, he would have accumulated a lot by now. We should please reason. We should not be blinded by tribal sentiments and others. If these vested interests call him names, they have their own reasons. They may be guarding their loots. But for us who don’t have anything and we need this country to ourselves and for our children, we should rally round this president who is recognized across the world. See how the man is being welcomed at world capitals. A couple of days ago, he was at The Hague. Do you know that if some leaders would have to go to The Hague, they would go there in chains. But Buhari was there as a guest of honour and the world listened to him. So, we should be grateful to God that we have Buhari. Otherwise, this country would have disintegrated by now.
The killings of Nigerians that is not abating; there is also the case of vested interests in the whole crises as has been alleged by the Presidency. In your view, how can we step away of the turbulent situation?
Well, the situation needs careful planning. It needs time and it needs honest people who would help President Buhari. A President cannot single handedly reform a country. He needs people to help him. These killings, a lot of things make them possible. For example, the proliferation of small arms is one of them. This is an issue that has been with us for many years. Again, there were political crises in many West African and North African countries like Libya – There was conflict in Chad, conflict in Liberia in the last 20 and 25 years. We have to feel the effect. We are not an Island. We have to feel the effect. And Nigeria is a large country. We attract a lot of people. For example, if you look at our Northern borders, they are open. I was born in Kano and I am 58 years old now and I can tell you that I know hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of people (Non Nigerians) who are living in Kano today and they have become Kano people. They don’t have naturalization. They just walked into Nigeria and they became Nigerians. And this has continued to happen. And this is also the case with herders. A lot of herders are not Nigerians. And Nigerian herders also go outside. What I am saying is that this not a thing that we can tackle in 5 to 6 or 7 years time. Don’t also forget that it also took several years before it got to the present state. So I believe that the man Buhari is planning – he is a fine General – he needs people to help him and I am sure no leader of a country would condone the killing of his citizens unless he has a hidden agenda, which I don’t think that Buhari has. Buhari is a very open person. Buhari has never lived outside the country more than the required months that he was expected to attend courses, Buhari does not have foreign accounts and Buhari is not like Obasanjo who has friends all over the world. While Obasanjo is an international citizen, Buhari is a Nigerian citizen. So we should be fair to the man, and I think that we should give him time and also we should join hands with him because each and every citizen can help – for example, passing over useful information, however little it is, expressing goodwill not negative ones and doing away with all these base sentiments like tribal sentiment and so on. And also showing these vested interests that we Nigerians, we have come of age. We know them, we know that they are our enemies and we know that if we allow them to have their way, they would destroy this country and fly out. They all have their houses all over the world. They can leave this country in 24 hours and you will never see them again.
Talking about these killings in the region, something novel happened. Sokoto State has rarely been affected by these tragedies; but a few days, Sokoto fell victim to killings. How do you see this?
You know that Sokoto has a border with Zamfara State. Actually, Zamfara used to be part of Sokoto. My interpretation of this is that the bandits – because they call them bandits in Zamfara – are feeling the pressure in Zamfara.
This is because things are happening in Zamfara. This government is not folding its hand. If you remember, Buhari had to go personally to Zamfara and he appeared in army attire. Nigeria Army is moving one of the Brigades to Gusau and that is why they are trying to run away to an area where there is no security like there is in Zamfara
…(cuts in ) But there is security in Sokoto
What I mean is a place where there is no preparation for them…. the security is normal in Sokoto. The security in Zamfara is not normal, it is waiting for them. It is those elements in Zamfara who are fleeing the heat now that are spreading out So, it is a desperate effort. To me, they are retreating.
Sokoto is special in a sense. Historically, it is special. But it is not special. It is just a state in Nigeria. It is not more than Kano. It is not more than Enugu State. Not more than Ondo or Oyo State . It is just a state and the inhabitants of Sokoto State are Nigerians. It just happened to be a neighbor to Zamfara State. And the bandits in Zamfara are beginning to feel the heat and they are desperately withdrawing to safer land. And because their trade is to kill, wherever they go, they kill. And people would naturally not welcome them, so wherever they go, they make their way. That is my interpretation to the recent killing in the state.
Recently, you were in the news for your comment on the Fulani and Benue State. Do you still stand by your position that parts of Benue State are actually belong to the Fulani dynasty?
Yes, I still stand by my position 100 percent. Like I said in an interview sometime ago, this Upper Benue and Lower Benue, they used to be part of Bauchi. A large chunk of what is today’s North Central or what some people prefer to call Middle Belt today were actually territories belonging to Sokoto Caliphate. If you agree that Abuja used to be part of Sokoto until 1975 or 76 when Niger State was carved out of Sokoto, you begin to understand. Benue is part of Bauchi Emirate. Before the colonial masters made their intrusion into Nigeria, those areas used to be administered by the emirate of Bauchi. Of course, there were no fully established authorities because of the nature of the times. There were raids and counter raids, which unfortunately were being exploited by the colonialists and later by the colonial pupils.
Back to your argument, I read that they challenged you to align your submission to scholarly papers or any empirical proof. Were you able to do this?
You were saying that I was challenged, you are not entirely correct. I was rather insulted and not challenged. Apart from the Benue State Government and a few other Middle Belt Associations, the rest of the people just hauled insults on my person. And if you have followed the firestorm, you will realize that I kept my cool. I never replied a person while they insulted me. One of them called me later to apologize to me and I replied him that I forgave him as I have forgiven every other person. Now, we need to be discussing. What I said about the Tiv nation, I didn’t mean to belittle the Tiv nation. The Tiv nation is a great nation. It is known in history, they are like Nupe, like Fulani, they are like Hausa. We have regard for them; they should have regard for us. But what pains us, especially we Hausa/ Fulani, is that we open our doors to everybody – you have been in Kano for many years. If you care to learn, you will see that other tribes are here and they are making a living in Kano, not only in large towns but even in small villages. If they are not allowed to live in peace, I am sure they would not do that. They take their investments into the remote and smallest areas and they live in peace and they buy and sell. Why is it that when we cross to the so-called Middle Belt, we are regarded as non – Nigerians. Do you know Kura town? There is a tomato market there and there are Tiv people there. The moment you see them , you would know that they are Tivs. We call them Tivis. But if you see them, you will know that they are Tivs. They have been there for many years and nobody is harassing them. They are there because they choose to be there. They are there because they find the place useful and conducive to them and they buy and sell. Why is it that only the Hausa/Fulani are hated? What is their crime in Nigeria? We have and we have continued to give our own contributions to Nigeria. Some people shamelessly call us parasites! How can you call a Fulani or a Hausa man parasite? We are the ones who produce a bulk of the food that Nigerians produce in this country. Everybody knows this fact. How many truckloads of cattle are taken into Lagos and Enugu and other places in Nigeria? How can you call people who feed the nation parasites? Just because we don’t have oil? How many countries in the world have oil? If you are given the choice between food and oil, which one will you choose? And even if you will choose oil; you will sell it to buy food eventually. This is why our own people including herdsmen should be allowed to do their own business in any part of the country they choose to.
Let me take you back to the recent devastating attack on some communities in Plateau State. What is your take? Is it not sufficient to warrant the kind of hostility against the Fulani that you have just complained against?
My take on this is that enemies of Nigeria are perpetuating that kind of attack. You know that Plateau State Governor, Simon Bako Lalong has succeeded in bringing peace back to Plateau and he did that by trying to be fair to all. If there is no fairness, there can never be peace. I cannot live in a state for a hundred years and you call me a settler. Yes, a hundred years in a place is enough to make you an indigene of the place. We have Kano – Yoruba, we have Yoruba in the capital of Zamfara, Gusau and we have Yoruba in Funtua. They have become indigenes in those areas. There was one Sikiru who even contested an election here in Kano and he won and they went celebrating saying “Sikiru has won an election in Kano; he too is an indigene of Kano.” And we didn’t harass them. When the Hausa/Fulani started developing Jos and the environs, the so- called indigenes were not sufficiently enlightened to join a civil life. They were more or less liv- ing in jungles and mountain tops. It was our people who founded Jos. Even though they tried to give the word: “Jos” another interpre- tation. But you know that we have “Josawa” And majority of those Hausa in Jos, you know they are from Kano and Kano has been an en- terprising part of Northern Nigeria for long. So it is a very big injustice for anybody, whether it is Berom or any other tribe, to say that Hausa/ Fulani must leave Plateau. If Hausa/Fulani are to leave Plateau, what about the Beroms and others who are living in Kano? Do you know that Zamani Lekwot has a house in Kano? And we know that he has a house in Kano. And the young people in Kano know him and nobody would take stone and throw at him. So about the recent killings in Plateau, it was orchestrat- ed by the enemies of Nigeria, by those vested interests who are against a government of the people. They want the government of the very rich, they want to destroy this country. They are not only Buhari’s enemy, they are your enemy, and they are my enemies. They are en- emies of Nigeria.
But do you condemn the killings of innocent people in Plateau?
Of course! Vehemently, I condemn it. Killing – even if it comes from a Fulani – I condemn it. Even if it is a reprisal, I condemn it. If a Fulani is attacked, he is not supposed to take revenge. He is supposed to report the matter to the local Fulani association, report to the Nigerian Police and so on.