Why have the Fulani herdsmen crises persisted in most parts of the country?
Most of the clashes are between herdsmen and farmers. Most of them which I know occurred around the North central in states like Plateau Benue, Taraba, Nasarawa. You also have cases of such incidences around the far North. Recently, there have also been incidences of these clashes around the South West, the South East and part of the South South. When we came in as governors, particularly me, who is from the Plateau, I inherited crises between farmers and Fulani herdsmen. To manage the situation, I had to pray first that I would get a solution to the problem. At the NEC meeting we had, we were given a report of attempts by former President Goodluck Jonathan’s administration. He set up a committee at the Governors’ forum level to look for a solution to the herdsmen crisis. The committee came out with far reaching reports. Part of the report was to decide on whether states should have grazing reserves or ranches. It was from there that many of us adopted the solution of having ranches.
What are the nationalities of some of these herdsmen? Are they Nigerians?
If you meet immigration officers, they would tell you that they don’t have evidence that they are not Nigerians. Someone was telling me recently that some of the cows they see these days are not really Nigerian cows, so there are cattle that are not even Nigerian cattle. You can’t say that you don’t doubt that there are no foreigners among these herdsmen. There are people from Niger and there are also people from Chad. We live together with Fulani, and many of them are not the ones causing destruction. The Fulani man we see today no longer walks around with sticks, but we see them going about with AK 47, so for someone like that carrying such a weapon, he can be very dangerous.
Is it then safe to call them herdsmen?
A typical Fulani herdsman is not troublesome. The herdsmen we see now are very troublesome and they can come from Chad, Cameroun or even Niger. I grew up with Fulanis in my community and at a point, I was even speaking their language and they were also speaking my language.
Why do you support the establishment of ranches?
I told you that I inherited a state that had security crises which like I said were mainly farmers and herdsmen clashes especially in Barkinladi and Riyom. This problem was going on for many years and when I came in, I wanted to find out how to curb the insecurity. In the first joint meeting I had as governor, the first decision we made was on how to protect the Fulani and their cattle from killings and also to protect the farmers and their farmland. I went to Abuja and we were all confronted with the report which was carried over from Jonathan’s administration on the proposal on how to curb the crisis. The committee set up to proffer a solution came up with the recommendation to either set up ranches or grazing reserves. For we in the Plateau, it would be difficult to go for grazing reserves because the routes are not available, and even where the routes are, they are occupied by government buildings. If you go to Abuja today, many of the farms you see there are grazing routes; I would also not be surprised if the structure of the villa is on grazing routes.
What has the government been able to do to stop these herdsmen from carrying guns?
That is the duty of the security operatives and these operatives are under the Federal Government. We as governors are called Chief Security Officers, but we are quite handicapped because there are laws that checkmate these issues.
There may be laws that checkmate them, but you are a governor in a state where these herdsmen move about freely with AK 47 guns.
What I did in my state was to initiate dialogue.
Has it worked?
Yes, it has worked.
Has it reduced the attacks?
Very well. Before, people were not coming to Plateau State. By this time last year, no one was interested in coming to the state because the state was just seen on the map of Nigeria as an arena of killing and crisis, but it is no longer like that.
So, you were able to interact with the herdsmen?
We call them Fulani herdsmen and we were able to interact with them because some of them are Nigerians. If you interact with them, they would tell you that if you do not attack their cattle, they won’t attack your farmland. We had to use the traditional approach. I brought the Fulani and the farmers together and I asked them what the solutions to the issues were. When these crises took place in the previous administration and even the one before it, judicial commissions were set up and those commissions made recommendations, some of which we are now adopting. These commissions recommended either grazing reserves or ranches.
Some of those who do not agree with the concept of setting up ranches, believe that some of these governors are just finding a way of acquiring land for their Fulani brothers
I believe that most people do not know the difference between a grazing reserve and a ranch. There is a very great misconception about the adoption of grazing reserves and ranches. Grazing reserves is outdated. What has been accepted as a consensus solution is the provision of ranches. That is the policy that has been adopted and keyed into by all the states. People must understand the difference between the two. I have told you that when we got the report, it was recommended that we either consider the adoption of grazing reserves or ranches and all the states adopted the ranches. When you talk about grazing reserves, people should know the difference between the two. A grazing reserve is a place that has been reserved by the government for herdsmen seasonally. Perhaps once in a while, during the dry season, they can come there to graze their cattle, but a reserve is not very economical. It would create crises because it would always attract cattle rustlers, and if there are cattle rustling, it would create more problems for the country. It is for this reason that the government came up with the concept of ranches. Ranches are the more modern method of rearing livestock. So the emphasis of the federal government right now is to improve livestock breeding. Livestock breeding is not restricted to cattle rearing. It also involves sheep and goats, so what the federal government is trying to do in its policy is to subsidize the business of livestock in the country.
Has it begun already?
Yes. We are already in the system.
It seems the opposition does not agree with this policy. Does it mean that the federal government carried everyone along?
Everybody was carried along. The problem is that the lack of understanding of what grazing reserves and ranches are was triggered by my predecessor when he held a press conference vilifying the concept. There was uproar everywhere because many people did not have the understanding of what the issues were. When I came in, I took my time to carry out sensitization with stakeholders and even at the National Assembly. I told them that I was not bringing grazing reserves, that what I was bringing were ranches. I made it very clear that the former governor had gazetted grazing reserves for my state, but the policy I wanted was the establishment of ranches. Why should anyone now turn around and say that grazing reserves is not good. It is not compulsory. Anyone that has land can key into it and individuals have applied for it
Would the establishment of ranches prevent the killings that have been going on in the state?
Everything starts from somewhere. Are you saying that we cannot find solutions to what Nigerians are currently going through? Livestock farming is now big business and more modern methods are being used.
Most state workers are being owed salaries now. How much does your state owe?
I inherited nine months salary arrears, from the past administration and I did my best to pay off between four to five months salary. Right now, we have paid for two months and we have two months outstanding which we would clear up by next month. I applied for N12 billion bailout funds and before it came, I had taken a facility from the bank and paid the workers for two months. We just received the balance of our bailout funds and everything would soon be sorted out.