Professor Umar Labdo, a renowned Fulani activist, is bothered by the welfare of his people, whether as herders or settlers in any part of Nigeria. A Professor of Islamic Political Thought, at the Yusuf Maitama Sule University, Kano, he is never known to be silent on issues that affect the interests of Fulani or when they are under any form of threat. In this interview with DESMOND MGBOH in his office, he condemned the expulsion notice issued to herders in the forest of the South West just as he insisted that Nigerians have a right to reside in any part of the country they may choose. He threatened that if South West people insist on the expulsion of Fulani from their region, they in turn, would have no option but to expel Yoruba people from the North.
What is your thought on the present crisis between the Fulani in the South West and their host?
I think the expulsion notice is wrong, especially coming from a leader like a whole state governor. It is very, very wrong of him to stereotype a whole tribe or a whole community just because some criminal activities are taking place or are traced to some members of this community. This is a wrong approach to the problem solving and it will only create another new problem without solving the problem for which it was intended to solve. Now, if you follow what is happening in the South Western Nigeria, you will quickly notice that it is not only the governor, there are other actors who are also trying to do the same thing, that is, expulsion of the Fulani from the South Western Nigeria. Of course, you have heard of one Sunday Igboho. This guy is not an official of government. He is an ordinary citizen, although he may be speaking for an organisation. I hear some people connecting his name to Odua Republic. He is also issuing ultimatum to Fulani to leave Yoruba land. What is more disturbing is that his own utterances and words are encouraging some people to take law into their hands. I am sure you know of the murder of the three Fulani- just some three or four days ago and it came on the heels of the statement made by this Sunday man. I think that it is very bad for Yoruba land to have a warlord and a whole state governor speaking on the same wavelength. Even if he is a thug and he can break the law; but what about the governor,a senior lawyer for that. matter. He should be speaking differently from a thug. On the whole, I think that what the Ondo State governor did is not helpful and it is not respectable. Insecurity is everywhere in Nigeria and it is the duty of the state governor to be concerned, and also to think of ways to secure the lives and property of his people. No one doubts that. But then, there should be more than one way of doing things. There is the solution of reasonable people in government and the solution of ordinary people on the street. They should not be the same.
At some point in the recent time, there was a clash, where perhaps the Fulani herdsmen resisted and dared the South-West security organisation. Wouldn’t you think that this was also responsible for heightening the fears of the people of the host community and complicating the crisis?
Well, if the host community attacks you, what do you do? Of course, you defend yourself. Just because you are a settler or you do not belong to the community does not warrant that those who are your host should attack you. Instead, both the host community and the Fulani should resort to dialogue. Let me tell you wherever the Fulani are resident, they have their leaders, they have what we call Sarkin Fulani and this same Sarkin Fulani, as you know, was one of the people that were given expulsion notice. So I think if the Fulani are attacked anywhere, they have the natural right to defend themselves.
Have you heard the comments of the leadership of Miyetti Allah? It is certainly not sounding as conciliatory as your comment. What do you have to say on this?
Miyetti Allah is an organisation. It is supposed to represent herders. But here, we are talking about Fulani. Although the deadline given to Fulani is directed at the herders, but then, Fulani are Fulani, whether they are herders or they are settled Fulani. Fulani is Fulani. So we are talking about a whole community being stereotyped as criminals. That is what I think is very, very wrong and dangerous at the same time. This is because if you stereotype a people, what usually follows is genocide. This is a well- known fact of history. It happened between Tutus and Hutus. The moment you say Fulani, everybody will be ready with their sticks, with their arrows and with their arms.
The approach adopted by the Fulani in their relation to their host, is it any better than the approach of the Yoruba to them? Are the Fulani in Yoruba land friendly, law- abiding and ready to relate? I want you to relate this to the daring statements coming from Miyetti Allah.
Well, I don’t really know, they may be over reacting. But the fact that they stated that they have a right to graze, that is correct. Just as you have the right to reside in Kano and to do your business in Kano, every Nigerian has a right…
(Cuts in)…to do my business lawfully, not unlawfully?
Lawfully of course; every Nigerian has a right to live anywhere in Nigeria and carry on with their means of livelihood and so and so forth. But maybe the cattle breeders were over reacting. Now consider this story of the murder of about three Fulani, who were murdered in Oyo State. They were attacked just after they met the Commissioner of Police of Oyo State and the representatives of the Director of the State Service, which means that they were talking with authorities. They said that they were given assurances by the state Commissioner of Police and by the Director of DSS. But shortly after that, they were attacked. So, whose behavior is more unbecoming between the Fulani and their attackers? The Fulani were making efforts to speak to the police, to speak to DSS, to speak to the government of the state and actually government listened to them, sat down with them, gave them assurances and some hours later, they were attacked. So I think that Fulani are not the provocateurs here. They are not looking for trouble and they just want to be allowed to live, just like everybody is living.
Looking at the heart of the problem, it is about grazing on other people’s farms. Most of the victims cry that their foods and farm produce are always endangered and destroyed, arising from grazing by the herders. What is your take on this? How do we go about solving this problem?
Number one, grazing is not new in Nigeria. For many, many centuries, people have been grazing in Nigeria. Even before the coming of Europeans. Number two; there are people who are experts in both grazing and in farming. The history of relationship between the farmers and the herders is well known. This problem started less than 30 years ago. Before this, Fulani herders and farmers in every community in Nigeria, they have been living in peace. If that is correct and true, then we have to think what changed? Why are they are at loggerheads now? The reason is economic, social and also political. The economic reason is that we have more population than we had 30 or 50 years ago and therefore, there are more pressure and demand for land than it was 50 years ago. The colonial masters gazetted herding routes for livestock in Nigeria and these routes were well known. Even now, they are part of our official maps- if you look at our maps from the time of colonial masters to date. The point is that now, farmers and others have encroached on those routes. For example, large-scale farmers, industrialists, ordinary people in different communities have encroached on these routes. In some communities and places in Nigeria, these routes have been overtaken completely. Now these Fulani, they need to go round with their livestock, not because that is what they prefer. But that is what they were forced to do by the Nigerian state. If the Nigerian state has taken steps to settle Fulani, maybe 50 years ago, there would be no reason for all these crises. But like other sectors, like people in the country, Fulani people are also victims of the neglect by the Nigerian political elite. They did not do anything to forestall these crises. Every rational individual could see that these crises were coming. And now their way is obstructed, what do they do? And they cannot stay in one place by the nature of their own trade. Now, you see there is political reason, economic and social reasons. The political reason is very, very important. At the moment, politicians are using this to lure the electorate. Now, in certain places in Nigeria, you become an instant hero if you hate Fulani. Now, look at this governor who is issuing quit order to Fulani, maybe he wants to contest for President in 2023. That is why he is seeking for cheap popularity from a people who maybe are not well enlightened. He is actually courting trouble for his people. This is because you cannot expel others from your land and expect your people to be welcome in other people’s land. For example, this Governor Akeredolu, he is a Yoruba man, he is expelling my people, the Fulani, from his own state. Now, we have Yoruba in Fulani states. We have Yoruba in Kano, we have them in Adamawa and we have them in cities and very small villages, they are living in peace. You find them where the arms of the law cannot reach, where there is no presence of police at all. So people, in retaliation, can do whatever they want to do to them. Just like their brothers are doing to us in the bush.
So you are saying, you hit me and I’ll hit back?
Yea…. If you are hit, what do you do?
You are saying that if you expel me, I will expel you too?
That is how it should be. That is how it should be because you cannot expel others and you live in peace.
Let us talk about forests and banditry. You know that herders stay in the forest. I am not saying that all the herders are bandits but we know that bandits take advantage of their profile to do some of the things they do. What is your take on banditry, herders and forests?
These are problems created by conditions- political and economic conditions. This country is large enough for everyone. Our resources are more than enough for us. But unfortunately, we didn’t have leaders. They didn’t plan. We used to have five – year national plan, but we don’t have it anymore now. So our population was growing and there are no resources available to take care of this growth. Aside from that, there are various injustices committed against certain people. For example, many of these Fulani- like they have been saying- many of them were pushed to this condition- I mean those of them who are taking part in banditry. There are a lot of Fulani taking part in this banditry, especially in the Northern part of the country, who were pushed into it. For over 20 years, people have been stealing their cows, their economic produce, burning down their settlements and their villages and government is not available to protect them. No one protected them. It got to a point where their livelihood was wiped away and many of them resorted to crime in order to make ends meet as they say. Banditry and all these crimes are as a result of the absence of the state.
But as a state governor, what would you do if bandits hide under the same identity as herders to commit crimes- kill, rape and maim people who go to the forest and bushes to farm? What would you have done?
The responsibility for securing lives and property lies with the Federal Government. So if I were a state governor, I will put pressure on the President to do something about this. And even if I had created a militia like the Amotekun, I will not ask them or encourage them to go and attack others. I will ask them to be separating two warring groups and never to allow them to come to friction. But to give an order that they should leave my land, it has a lot of meanings. What do you mean by your land? We are members of the same Federation and you have your people living in my own area and now you are telling me to leave your area. If you want this country divided, come and say it. But you cannot hide under the claim of protecting your people when you are exposing others to harm. That is not correct. So the governors, who are concerned about the security of their people- which is quite legitimate- they should put more pressure on the Federal Government, they should put pressure on our legislators to look at the security issues and to do the needful. There should be a massive recruitment of soldiers, police and DSS and these politicians, they should stop stealing our money, they should put our resources to good use. They should buy equipment that would help fight security issues.
There are a number of regional security outfits in the country. In the North, say a state like Kano, we have KAROTA and Hisbah, which are clearly regional police outfits by another name, we also have Amotekun in the South West and I understand that the South –East is working on something. My question is how safe are non – natives resident in these respective regions in the hands of regional police given the ethnic hatred and grudges everywhere?
Ordinarily, there should be no problem with a state police. You could even have local government police. In other countries, they have city police. There is no problem with this idea in normal circumstances. But the problem with our case is part of what you have mentioned. There are local grudges; there is also the wickedness of politicians who want to exploit the ignorance of their own people. Now, talking about Hisbah, Hisbah has been there for about 20 years and I think the Kano Hisbah has been the most active of the Hisbah in the 20 Sharia States. But this Hisbah has been living in peace with non- Muslims in the state.
(Cuts in) They have been having crises with the people saying beer in the state is not allowed, they have been confiscating their property and arresting them
No! This one is a law enacted by the government that beer should not be taken in public, but if one should take it in private, I think they would not come for you. I think that this is about the only area that they have friction and they should not have because this is a law enacted by the Kano State House of Assembly and it is according to the constitution. But they are not armed and their presence is largely in towns and cities and they have helping in social and religious activities. But Amotekun from the start, they are armed. Number two, they are poorly trained as experts said and number three, and they have not been properly oriented in terms of the relation with various communities that they are supposed to be protecting. If you remember, it is not only Fulani. They killed students in school; they killed drivers driving their lorries. So there is difference between Hisbah and their mode of operation and Amotekun and their modes of operation. But basically, there is no problem having federal police, state police, and local government police. This should not be a problem in normal circumstance.
The Inspector General Police has reportedly ordered the arrest of Sunday Igboho who equally issued a quit notice to Fulani herdsmen in Oyo state. But there are evidences that his was not the first quit notice in Nigeria. There was the quit notice by Arewa Youths and nobody asked that they should be arrested. They were in fact pampered. Is this not a case of double standards?
If you are talking about the Coalition of Northern Youths, their issuance of quit notice was in reaction to a previous order of expulsion, which was given before their own. It is just like what is happening now. The first expulsion order came from the South and the youths were reacting to that. Number two, as for this Sunday person, who was ordered to be arrested by the Inspector General of Police, he has been enjoying a protection. I don’t know whether his governor is protecting him but like I told you he is a hero in the region. According to the papers yesterday, it was reported that he went on a tour to supervise the forest in the South –West, to check the level of compliance of the Fulani with his order. He was going round in the bush, making sure that the Fulani are preparing to leave – it is here in the papers- wherever he went the local people of that community would be cheering him. So I am sure that he is under the protection of his people. And in any case, he is a thug. He has weapons, he has people to protect him and I think that he is an outlaw, he is outside the law. Otherwise why didn’t he report himself to the nearest police station? If he knew that he is not a criminal, he should have reported himself.
But the Coalition of Arewa Youths was no different; their local communities celebrated them. It appears that to be popular, just issue quit notice to another tribe in Nigeria that is unpopular in your community
But who started it? Southerners of course! They started it. Number two, the Coalition of Northern youths, they called a press conference and they spoke openly. But this Sunday, he is in the bush; he also belongs to the bush. He is among those operating in the bush; he is not in the civil society. His stories filter to us in the civil society.
Do you share the fear that Fulani people across Nigeria might react negatively if the situation is not brought under control in time?
If they are driven to the wall, of course, they can react.