Former civilian governor of Plateau State, Sir Fidelis Tapgun has berated the Federal Government and some state governors for holding negotiations with and paying ransoms to bandits and other criminals.
Tapgun, a former Ambassador to Kenya and one-time Minister of Industry, said Nigeria was becoming a failed state and charged the Federal Government to halt the dangerous drift. He also called on Fulani leaders to speak up to douse the tension pervading the country and offer genuine solutions to the lingering crisis.
In an interview with GYANG BERE in Jos, the Plateau State capital, the Third Republic governor expressed resentment at the construction of rail lines from Nigeria to Niger Republic at a time several parts of the country are yet to be linked by rail, terming the project “a complete waste.”
Regretting that Nigerian borders were extremely porous, Tapgun blamed the Federal Government for failing to protect the borders from the influx of foreign bandits. He said the Fulani in Nigeria had become fully integrated with other ethnic groups, noting that foreign bandits terrorising the country should be fully dealt with by government.
He also spoke on other issues. Excerpts:
There is deep acrimony between parts of the North and South over issues of insecurity. How can the country overcome these challenges?
First, we need to recognise that our borders are very porous. That is number one. Because the confusing situation now is that there are Fulani herders and there are people who are just gangs of bandits. There is need to differentiate between the two.
Now, we have lived together with the Fulani for several years and there are people that I didn’t know that they were Fulani- a lot of them – until this crisis started. But what you get to hear from them is that, a Fulani man supports his brother anywhere in the world. Part of the information we got during one of the committees the Federal Government set up headed by late Chief Solomon Lar, the Pioneer National Chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) is that if a Fulani man is attacked here in Nigeria, people will come from Senegal, Mali and all Fulani will come to support and we thought there must be a way to resolve the issue since we are all brothers and sisters in this country.
Therefore, there are a lot of Fulani leaders in this country who should be able to come out openly and speak. The Sultan is a very respectable Fulani man, I know he speaks and people listen. We have the likes of Lamido and a lot of governors that I know are Fulani people. We also have respectable politicians in this country that are Fulani. I think if we put our heads together and get the Federal Government to control the borders, these issues will be reduced.
It is the responsibility of the Federal Government to control the borders because the borders are too porous. If these people are coming from different countries to come and help their kith and kin here in Nigeria, we should be able to stop it by sitting down and discussing it here among ourselves. The way we are going now, we are going to a point of no return. Because in the South West, in the East, they are all springing up, whether they are Fulani, we don’t know. Some say they are Fulani, some say they are just bandits. But the Fulani, if they are Hausa people, have stayed in the West for a very long time. They are so integrated that you don’t even know who is Hausa and who is Yoruba.
Even here on the Plateau, if you go to Bassa, if you go to Bokkos, if you go to Mangu; the Fulani are so integrated to the point that sometimes when they speak, you don’t even know that they are Fulani people. I think there is that bond already. What we need to do now is to get a common idea about how to solve the problem, so that we can live in peace with one another just like it has been.
But the Federal Government has a lot of role to play in this matter. I know the state governors have their own roles to play, but the overall security of this country is in the hands of the Federal Government and until the Federal Government takes a very bold step that everybody can see and for people to know that they have taken a very bold step to curtail this insecurity, this thing will continue.
Do you think the effort made by the Northern Governors Forum on the Ondo and Oyo crisis is yielding any result?
Yes, it will help. The crisis in Oyo is between the Yoruba and the Hausa people. They call them Fulani, but the people have been there for years. They have lived there for years and they have so entrenched themselves into the society to a point that some of them don’t even know where they come from.
I think the move by the Northern governors was a good one, because it was a quarrel between brothers and brothers. They went there to make sure that the thing doesn’t escalate, so that they can live harmoniously again as it used to be. In those days, the Mayor of Enugu at one time was a Fulani man, one Umaru Altine. He was an elected man. This is to show you how the people have lived harmoniously among themselves. So if this had once existed in this country, why can’t we go back to such practice? We can go back there if we put our heads together. But it must be pioneered by the Federal Government because the security is in their hands. The Federal Government has to take the lead and show by every example that it is taking the lead in this matter, that everybody can come together so that we talk. If they are bandits, there is a way to handle bandits. You can’t capture bandits who commit crimes and say you are rehabilitating or giving them amnesty. These are people who kidnap people and you say you are paying ransom? It means you are encouraging criminality
But there are governors who have been negotiating with such bandits, kidnappers that have been abducting people, including innocent schoolchildren?
This is the wrong step that I am talking about. How do you negotiate with bandits? If you know they are bandits, why would you negotiate with them? For me, if they are kidnappers, there is a way you can trace them, there are technologies that can be used to get them where they are and you can handle them efficiently. Unless we don’t want to be serious, there are technologies everywhere now with which you can trace all the bandits and know where the kidnappers are. Then you will know how to handle them and free your people.
So, you can’t begin to beg bandits and then you give them money. They asked for N130 million, you keep on negotiating and then they will say give us 30 million and then you give them. Then they release the victims. Then they do it again. We are not helping matters at all. I know and it is a fact that there are technologies now that can pinpoint where kidnappers are and you can free your people if you want to. There are technologies; let’s not deceive ourselves.
If there are such technologies, why do you think the government doesn’t want to deploy those technologies?
I don’t know why. Maybe they have their reasons, although there is no reason for it any way.
How can government prevent foreign Fulani herders from coming into Nigeria?
That was why I talk about the porosity of our borders. Our borders are so porous that people can just come in and go any time they like. That is the major problem. That is why I am saying that the Federal Government must take active measures to control entry from the borders. Because these people, if they are coming to help their people, they come from Mali, from Senegal. They speak French. They came in through the borders. If the Federal Government controls the borders, they cannot come in.
Nigeria might be unable to control its borders, but the FG is currently constructing a railway from Nigeria to Niger? How do you see that?
Well, I don’t know how to describe that. We don’t have a railway from Kafanchan to Jos here, which we used to have. We used to have train service from Port Harcourt to Jos. We don’t have from Kano to Maiduguri. But we are constructing one from Nigeria to Niger Republic. I don’t know the reason for it. If we have money to waste, fine. But I think it is a complete waste of money. A complete waste..
Many have been accusing the Fulani and the Northerners of being the cause of insecurity. But some Northern elders have also accused President Buhari of not protecting them, What’s your take on that?
This blame game will not help us. We know where the problem is, and until we are sincere among ourselves, we cannot handle it. If we are not sincere, we will not move forward. I am very sure the Northern Elders that are talking know where the problem is.
If they are talking about the President, then we are talking from the same point of view that the Federal Government has not secured our borders. So, the Northern Elders know exactly where the problem is and they should be able to come out straight and blame who they want to blame, because like I said, there are a lot of politicians in this country that I didn’t know are Fulani. But when this crisis came up, they started showing themselves.
Would you say we have a failed system in Nigeria?
Yes, you can call it a failed system if you want. If the Federal Government cannot secure the country and innocent people are being killed left right and centre, not by fellow Nigerians but by people who come from outside, then there is a big problem. I know, like I said, there is a technology that can identify everybody that is coming into this country illegally. And when they come illegally, where they assemble, you can trace them and deal with them. I know when the Amotekun came up, what I saw – I don’t know if it is true- is that they have their technology that was monitoring the people. If we have that technology in the South West, there is no reason why the Federal Government should not have it.
What is your advice for the new service chiefs?
They have come in, so let’s see what they will do. From what I have read, they have been doing something different in Borno area where others have failed. So, let’s us wait and see what they will do.