National Secretary of Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association of Nigeria, (MACBAN), Baba Othman Ngelzarma, has advocated the setting up of vigilance groups by his organisation as a sure way of bringing to an end the present spate of killings, kidnapping, banditry and other forms of insecurity across the country.
In this interview with Saturday Sun’s VINCENT KALU, the MACBAN scribe, said its proposition was misinterpreted in Enugu last week because of lack of proper understanding of it, adding that their desire is not only to their deploy vigilantes to the Southeast but to all states of the federation.
What is your view on the state of the nation?
What is happening is so disturbing and it is so alarming and urgent solution needs to be provided for us to come out of it. Everywhere you go, there are crises, kidnapping, banditry and other criminal activities.
Following your meeting in Enugu, where your organization mooted the idea of your members being part of vigilance group or form one in various Southeast states to provide security, how do you want to achieve that?
The whole thing was misunderstood or some people deliberately failed to make people to understand us. What we meant is that Miyetti Allah will establish a vigilante group, and it was a mere suggestion to the governors of the zone because we feel that security should be everybody’s concern, and we have our members across each and every forest in the southern part of the country. So, in order to also help the government and the security agencies to do their work that is why we want to assist in anywhere we can to bring about peace in the Southeast, Southwest and South-South. We just proffered that one as a solution because it is only a Fulani man that can identify a Fulani criminal. When a Fulani man commits a crime, it is always easier for a fellow Fulani to go and fish him out and bring him to justice.
Where there is farm destruction, in order to avoid a confrontation, which leads to loss of lives on either side, it is the Fulani that will help the security to go and bring the culprit to face justice. That was what we meant, when we said let some of our members work with either the security, neighbourhood watch or vigilante group as the case may be, so that they will be working together if there is any problem or any sort of crime, farm destruction as the case may be, then our members within the group of vigilantes will go and apprehend the culprit so that he faces justice and pay for the farm he has destroyed. It was a mere suggestion to the state governors. MACBAN is not going to appoint a vigilante. Who are we to go and appoint a vigilante in a state, as the state governors are the chief security officers of the states, the police and other security operatives are there. We can only assist or offer to assist when our offer is accepted. The last time we had a meeting with our members, we agreed to work closely with the government, work with the security and do all they could to try to fish out criminal elements within the fold of the herdsmen because Miyetti Allah is not a criminal organisation; it doesn’t represent any crime or criminal because those criminals are not our members, and we don’t see them to be our members because we don’t condone crime and we condemn crime wherever it takes place, and we sympathise with victims of crimes whether they are Fulani, Igbo, Yoruba, etc. We don’t tolerate criminals in our fold.
It was a mere suggestion to the governors, if they accept, we work together, but if they don’t, whatever approach they want to adopt, we are always ready to be part of the security initiative in every state to do our best in assisting government, security agencies to fish out criminals because we have had enough, where some few criminals are smearing the name of the entire Fulani people in the country. We don’t like it and that is why we offer ourselves to security agencies and to state governments, where they require our assistance, and we have instructed our members whether at local government level to work closely with traditional rulers, vigilante groups and the government in fishing out criminals, and working to ensure security in their community.
This is all what we meant, but somehow, some people gave it a wrong interpretation. It was a mere suggestion, but with or without it, our doors are open; we are ready to assist security; we are ready to work with government, we are ready to work with community, work with neighbourhood watch or vigilante groups, whatever you have that is taking care of security in those areas. Our members are ready to work with security in fishing out criminals.
This your suggestion, if accepted in the Southeast, will it be replicated nationwide?
We have been agitating this thing in all the states we have visited. We visited Ekiti State some two years back, we have a similar initiative, where the communities’ youths and the pastoralists’ youths are working together as vigilante group. It has created a very good peaceful atmosphere in Ekiti. During the time of Governor Fayose, we were there and engaged a lot of initiatives that brought peace in the state. At Ondo State, we did a similar thing and selected some people that would be working with the government in assisting the security in trying to bring out criminals and those responsible for farm destruction to face the wrath of the law; if it means paying for the damages, the culprits have to bear it.
In every state we have visited, we always proffer this to be part of the solution, and where it is applied, we have seen the result and that is why we made it as a suggestion when we visited the Southeast.
Wherever we go, we make it as suggestion; Ekiti has a law on grazing, which prohibits night grazing and children of pastoralists’ from being used as herders; the law also confines pastoralists to game reserves, and not moving around because the governor said he doesn’t have land for grazing reserves but has game reserve where he can confine the pastoralists to stay and be paying some levies at the end of the year to the local governments where they stay.
That is the initiative we did during the time of the former governor, and there was peace in that state and we have replicated it a number of states.
We did a similar thing in Ebonyi State, where we agreed to stop night grazing, agreed to stop grazing by minors, agreed that the culprit must be punished – if a pastoralist destroys somebody’s farmland, he must be made to pay, and if the farmer kills any cow without any reason, he must be made to pay for the cow.
These are some of the things that when we go to a state, we put forward and we call all the pastoralists leadership in those states to tell them that henceforth if any of our members destroys somebody’s farms, as we have selected these people, our members, you know them and they know you and you have no hiding place as they will go and pick you wherever you may be.
They know you and they know the type of your cows; if they see a cow they know which family has it. You know cows are identified by clans and families; you know cows are different, but people can’t distinguish them, but we know them; they are different. If we see a particular cow, we know which clan or family of Fulani that cow belongs to.
So, it is easier for them to know the owner of the cows that destroy a particular farm, and because they are in the grassroots, they may also have some information about criminals. That is why we are making this thing as a suggestion, and if it is accepted we work together; we have worked in so many places and we have seen the result.
Following incessant kidnapping in the Southwest by alleged herdsmen, the OPC leader, Aare Gani Adams recently gave them a week ultimatum to leave the region or taste the wrath of his group, what do you say to this?
I don’t have much to say on this, but it borders on understanding. A criminal is a criminal, no matter which tribe it belongs to; we have criminals in all the tribes, we have them in the Fulani, Yoruba, Igbo, etc. Kidnapping started in the South, when the North didn’t know what it was, but it has become a phenomenon now, as you can find it in any group, even among pastoralists.
Crime should be seen as evil perpetrated by criminals. You cannot condemn an entire race or tribe for a crime perpetrated by few criminal elements in the society. You can bear me witness that there are always reports of cattle rustling, and who are the owners of the cattle, are they not the pastoralists? They are the owners of the cattle in the country, and today we have lost over two million cows as a result of cattle rustling. Who are the rustlers? You can’t rustle cattle without the help of the Fulani because you can only move a certain number of cows when you know the psychology of moving them.
Kidnapping is a crime that has all sorts of people committing it. You can’t condemn an entire race by a crime perpetrated by a few elements. Miyetti Allah is being understood and whoever that commits crime is assumed to be its member. It is an association that has registered members; when we speak we don’t speak for everybody, we only speak on behalf of our members and we don’t speak for criminals because we are not a criminal organisation, and we don’t condone crime because we know that crime doesn’t pay.
Some of our members are suffering from crime; even this kidnapping that we are talking of, the kidnapping that is happening to Fulani is not reported. Today, before one personality is kidnapped, ten or more Fulani have been kidnapped and they are made to pay ransom by selling their cows to raise money.
Our members are also caught up in the hands of bandits, kidnappers. This is a phenomenon that is affecting every part of the country. The North is not spared from the spate of kidnapping; it is there in the south, it is everywhere. What we are supposed to do as leaders is to put our heads together and see how we can bring back peace in the various communities that we live and to help the government and the security agencies.
You find criminals everywhere. We have our own share among the pastoralists, but we have been working to fish out these criminals, we don’t see them as our members; we don’t like them because we don’t condone criminality, we only talk on behalf of our members who are going on their legitimate ways of cattle rearing as an occupation or profession. We don’t speak for criminals; we are also victims of crime.
Why can’t you establish ranches, which are the modern ways of animal husbandry, instead of herding cattle from Maiduguri to Port Harcourt?
If you consider some factors like climate change and population explosion, these are some of the natural factors mitigating grazing reserves that the pastoralists were enjoying before in the North, and this is also a factor causing them to go into hinterland, but how far can that last considering the growing population and the land that doesn’t increase. Whether we like it or not, time will come when it will be impossible for the pastoralists to move from one local government to the other, even in the North that they belong.
So, this calls for effective planning on the part of government. We are not opposed to ranching, but all we are saying is that it cannot come within a short period of time. A pastoralist has been practicing animal husbandry for a very long time as a source of livelihood, as a source of occupation, as a source of food and employment, etc. He is practicing this outdated model as he inherited from his forefathers because there was no attempt by subsequent governments to train him to improve his skill, to educate him, to even sensitize him to know that there is cow that gives a minimum of 50 litres of milk per day, against the ones they have that gives a maximum of three litres per day; to let them know that today, we have cows that are weighing over 500 kilogrammes against their own that weighs a maximum of 120 kilogrammes.
They should be educated to know that they can get 50 cows that can do what their 500 cows cannot do for them. They can have cows that give greater output in terms of meat and milk; their children can go to school and be educated.
Whether we like it or not in the long run, the pastoralists must embrace either ranching or any form of settlement model that is being introduced. Ranching has different models. Ranching that people are talking about is to address cow for economic purpose alone, without knowing that for the average pastoralists, the cow is not just for economic purpose, but there are other things it is for him, as food and employment on daily basis, and it is a form of prestige; the number of cows you have attests to your status in the society. So, his concern is the number of cows he has because he inherited them from his father and increased them and his desire is to handover to his children who will also increase them, and it continues.
All these are causing serious challenges in the land, they are also farmers and so they need land to farm. The farmers are increasing by the day, new towns, cities are always emerging against land that does not increase, so this calls for effective planning. We are not opposed to ranching but it should come as a process – do something that will bring them together when you get them in large number in a place, train them, bring in some models, and begin to plan how to settle them to be growing cows, as well as teaching them on so many improvements in the cow business. I’m happy; the current administration under the Livestock Transformation Plan is coming up with some settlement models.
On this Ruga settlement idea, Benue has already kicked against it, do you think we will ever have peace?
Sometimes, when something new comes up because of the suspicion we have in the country, people tend to kick against it. Before this time, there were disagreements between the herders and the farmers and they used to fight. They lived together, fought and continued to live together, then there was good communication, and they would shake hands and continue to live. But today that good communication is being replaced by misunderstanding, suspicion and mistrust due to so many things.
This is why when something comes up new you find some people becoming jittery about it. Maybe they have their reasons for kicking against it. If you don’t like it, let it be for those states that want it. Maybe, when it is established in other states, this man that is rejecting it now will say, I don’t know there was no problem, you can come and build it for us.
Like in Taraba, we have some gazetted grazing reserves. So if Benue doesn’t like it, there is no problem, then let the government go to those friendly states and begin to see how this Ruga settlement will work. It is a settlement that will make the pastoralists to know pasture is being grown. Let it be done in friendly states, all we need is for them to be settled and continue to do their businesses in a settled environment, where their children will have the opportunity of going to school to be educated. It is a model in some selected states; those unfriendly states should not be involved in order to avoid another quarrel.
The argument is that, cattle’s rearing is a private business, why must government be taking it upon itself planning cattle reserves, grazing reserves and routes, cattle colony and Ruga?
What can you say about the road that is being constructed and maintained by the federal government that motorists ply for their personal benefits? Roads are constructed by government, maintained by government, and road users are using them for their personal benefits, they are not using them for the government.
What can you say about foreign investors who are coming into the country to invest, using our own security? Sometimes, people deliberately confuse this. If the government can construct roads, spending far more than what it can spend on ranches; you have roads that are constructed at billions of naira that are not used for the interest of government but for the interest of personal benefits to transport their goods and when they get the money , they will not give it to government but it goes into their pockets.
In the last three years, over three hundred billion was spent on crop production with nothing spent on livestock. What can you say about this? Farmers are given fertiliser, inputs at the expense of the government. Today, crop production has enjoyed over three billion naira intervention, while livestock enjoys nothing. Some times people just close their eyes and become so parochial and don’t see things the way it is, say what they want from the dictate of their selfish minds, if not, if a government can construct roads, support crop production all these things free for users who are using them for their own benefits, why can you deny the government in providing money for service to pastoralists who have been enjoying nothing for decades. Up till today, I don’t see something wrong in this. If there is something wrong with this, then people should start paying government for the roads they are using for their personal benefits.
What is putting fear in people is that these days you see the herdsmen heavily armed unlike in the past when they were with stick and machete
These are some of the consequences of our porous borders. We have an international road that passes through Nigeria – from Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger; passes through Nigeria to Cameroon; this route is protected by the ECOWAS protocol. So, international herdsmen pass through this route and because of our porous borders, some miscreants come into the country to cause some confusion and go out.
So, I don’t rule out the involvement of some pastoralists who come in and cause trouble for us and put the indigenous herdsmen at the receiving end of the crises. People should be looking at this from this point of view. The herdsmen they have been living with are still the same people that you know. The pastoralist as you know holds stick and at most machete and bow and arrow. If you see them with sophisticated guns, whatever we hear of them, we consider them to be criminals; cattle rustlers. Because of our porous borders, you cannot rule out the activities of foreign pastoralists who are coming into the country to cause trouble and put the indigenous pastoralists at the receiving end of the crises.
Some people say the government is desperate to establish either, grazing reserves, cattle colony, Ruga, etc, because of Fulanisation or Islamisation agenda by President Buhari, what is your position on this?
I don’t know of any Fulanisation agenda; who will Islamise who? I don’t know anything about Fulanisation and Islamisation; all we know is that ours is an association that was established in February 1986, for the economic wellbeing, social wellbeing and educational wellbeing, and nothing more.
We don’t preach to somebody to say we are converting him; we don’t do anything of such, we work. We came in as elected officers of the association, and after our tenure we leave for those who have won election to succeed us as leaders. We have board of trustees, and we are a non-political association. We don’t condone or represent anything that will bring confusion or violence. So, I don’t even know what Fulanisation and Islamisation mean; is it converting people to become Fulani and to Islam? We don’t preach, we only canvass for people and encouraging our members to be law abiding citizens.