Quit notice to Igbo living in Northern Nigeria. Recall notice to Fulani herdsmen in Southern Nigeria. These are two directives some elements in the northern part of the country had given, to the bewilderment of a beleaguered nation. They are instructions by people exhibiting a propensity for superiority, in a country where all peoples and tribes ought to be equal.
Some years ago, a group of Arewa youths, operating on the platform of a coalition group, shocked the nation with a declaration, wherein they asked Igbo or south-easterners living in the northern part of the country to leave before October 1, 2017. They said, since groups in South East were agitating for a sovereign state of Biafra, the Igbo should leave the North and also be allowed to exit Nigeria, if they wished. The Arewa youths said the Igbo would forfeit their property and businesses in the North after vacating the region. They warned of consequences should Igbo fail to vacate the North before the deadline.
The quit notice raised much tension in the country, with leaders from the North and South speaking out, for or against. There were peace shuttles and meetings, leading to the suspension of the quit notice, eventually. The Federal Government did make pronouncement to the effect that Nigerians were free to live and do business in any part of the country, within the ambit of the law.
Today, northern elders have also stirred the hornet’s nest by serving Fulani herdsmen in the South a recall notice, asking them to return to the North, from the South. Speaking for the Coalition of Northern Groups, Alhaji Abdul-Azeez Suleiman, declared: “Based on our observations, and the fact that instigation of hatred against Fulani persists, we feel obliged to advise the leadership of the Northern Elders Forum to consider calling on Fulani to forego their right to live and flourish anywhere in the South and relocate to their various states in the North, to ensure their safety, noting the inherent return value of such denial.”
Chairman of the Northern Elders Forum (NEF), Prof. Ango Abdullahi, responding to the call by Suleiman, had said: “If there is no certainty that their (Fulani herdsmen) safety is guaranteed in the places where they are residing, we (would) rather have them back into places where their safety would be guaranteed.”
He also said: “We watched with concern the escalation of the collective resolve of southern leaders in rejecting every initiative for the resettlement of Fulani, which did not preclude the use of inciting and provocative languages to instigated hatred against northerners, particularly herders living in the South.”
In the midst of reactions to this “recall notice” by people and groups from northern and southern Nigeria, the Federal Government has stepped in to not only condemn it but also asked herdsmen to ignore the directive. In a statement on behalf of President Muhammadu Buhari, Special Assistant to the President on Media and Publicity, Mallam Garba Shehu, said: “All citizens of Nigeria are free to move and live in any part of the country they please, whether or not they are originally from there … No one has the right to ask anyone or group to depart from any part of the country, whether North, South, East or West.”
To say the least, northern elders have over-reacted. If they are asking herdsmen to return home, as part of their considered solution to the herders-farmers’ clashes, one would not worry much. But this is not the case. These northern elders are issuing this invidious instruction to create the impression that southerners hate herdsmen and do not want them in their territory. They are trying to sow seeds of hatred and, therefore, are guilty of the same thing they are accusing southern leaders of. This gives them away as people who do not fully appreciate the plight of southern farmers, who are complaining, and justifiably so, that herdsmen have taken over their farms and that cattle are eating up their crops.
The attempt to sell the belief that southerners do not want Fulani in the South is an orchestrated and deliberate ploy to cause disaffection, leaving the main issue. The fundamental issue is that there are clashes between herdsmen and farmers occasioned by the fact that herdsmen go to other people’s villages as well as forests and occupy them, without any discussion whatsoever with owners of the land or any agreement. When the owners of the land complain, the herdsmen take offence and this usually leads to confrontations that have claimed lives.
If the position of states in the South and Middle Belt that the Federal Government cannot site Ruga settlements anywhere it likes is what northern elders are taking to mean that Fulani herdsmen are not wanted in the South or some parts of the country, this is mischievous. The fact is that land, wherever in the world, belongs to somebody or some people. That is why the term “ancestral land” of “ancestral home” is universally recognised. That’s one. Two, the Land Use Act entrusted power over land in the hands of state governors. This explains why governors issue certificates of occupancy to landowners. This is also why state authorities approve building plans, with which property owners, among other documents, obtain certificates of occupancy (C of Os). Therefore, the Federal Government cannot go anywhere and take land for Ruga settlement or any other project, perhaps, except in the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Abuja.
The governors are saying this: If Ruga must be sited, it should be by our consent, not by the Federal Government’s executive fiat. Therefore, states that do not want Ruga in their land could not be said to have committed abomination. It is their choice. Every land has what it likes or dislikes or what it wants or does not want. In the North, there are Sabon garis, where visitors are designated to live or do business. That is classification. In the North, there are places where approval cannot be given for the building of churches. That is what they want. Therefore, if a church, for insatnce, in states in the North, insist that its worship centre must be sited in restricted areas, such a church would be disregarding regulation or going out of its way to stoke trouble.
This is why the position of Arewa youths and, by extension, northern elders, that Ruga settlements must be sited in southern states, where governors are raising objection, is out of place. Such saber-rattling is not necessary. This is certainly not how to fight for Ruga settlements or for herdsmen. There must be mutual agreement and rules of engagement, if you like. Many complaints have been made against herdsmen. Even in the North, where the herdsmen come from, it is complaints galore against them. This is why some people are not comfortable with any arrangement where herdsmen would be permanent settlers in their land.
Northern elders and the northern coalition should be worried that the state of insecurity in the North has reached an alarming dimension. Bandits and terrorists are running riot in the North. Kidnapping is the order of the day in the North. The Senate had made pronouncements regarding this. It first said the Abuja-Kaduna road is the most dangerous road in Africa. Sºenators also declared that the North is under siege. This is the same North that northern elders are asking herdsmen to return to – the so-called safe place.
Northern elders should realise that there is danger in their land owing to insecurity. They should, therefore, brace up to contribute to the solution and stop chasing shadows.
Happy birthday, Peter Obi
Today, former governor of Anambra State and vice presidential candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in the last election, Mr. Peter Obi, is 58.
Obi has made an indelible mark in politics and business. He remains a pride of Nigeria, as his stewardship is an example of service with excellence.
Wishing Obi Happy Birthday and many happy returns.