Alhaji Balarabe Mus a was the governor of Kaduna State in the Second Republic. In this interview, he looks at xenophobic attacks in South Africa, and the suspended RUGA settlement project by the Federal Government.
Let’s start with the row between Nigeria and South Africa. What do you make of the responses of both countries to the xenophobic attacks on foreigners ?
I think the most important thing is for both countries to realize that criminals from Nigeria and South Africa in South Africa are fighting one another. Unfortunately, this has involved the governments of South Africa and Nigeria. And this matter should be very well investigated and the truth made public in the interest of the progress of Africa in the eyes of the international community because South Africa and Nigeria are the most civilized countries or two of the most relevant countries in Africa and what happens in these two countries affect the image of Africa in the world. There is no doubt about it that the clear evidence and indication is that criminals who are South Africans and Nigerians are fighting each other over criminal loot, particularly drugs. And this involves these two countries. Both countries must be careful. The only way to be careful is for them to investigate this matter very well with the help of Civil Society Organisations of both countries and other African countries. It is not the problem that can be decided by Africa and South Africa alone. We know very well what the relationship was between Britain and former colonies particularly when racism was very high in the 60s and how Britain handled it inspite of the situation of racism on the part of the security services and the police in England; but still the damage done by criminals was minimized. I can tell you this because I was a student and worker in Britain for many years. I know how the British and Nigerian criminals in particular made the situation between Britain and Nigeria look bad. The situation was restored with the help of Ghana those days under Nkrumah and Egypt under Nasser. Nigerians were very much involved in crime together with British criminals.
Are you satisfied with the reactions of Nigeria because as we speak President Buhari has ordered that Nigerians willing to return should be brought back?
But let me ask you how many Nigerians are in South Africa? According to reports they are about 800,000. Has Nigeria the capacity to hold these back with the situation in Nigeria; the amount of crime arising from poverty. How can Nigeria accommodate half that 800,000 Nigerians from South Africa? It was the same thing, before this problem got to this level it was between Nigeria and Ghana. The only regions which escape from all these are Niger, Cameroun, Chad and so on. The number of people involved in those areas is much larger than Nigerians involved in South Africa. Yet we do not have these problems. Let us get it right. It is a matter of facing reality, that there is crime going on and that this is affecting relationship. It should be faced and very well investigated.
But is it plausible to use the actions of a few foreigners in South Africa to judge over their countries and ask all foreigners to leave having regards to the African Charter?
I agree with you, but to know the truth and get to the depth of the matter it should be very well investigated by South Africa and Nigeria jointly with the help of other African countries particularly neighbouring countries and in the interest of all communities in Africa.
Right now some Nigerians are angry and are calling on the Federal Government to severe diplomatic relations with South Africa, including nationalizing their business concerns in Nigeria? What do you think about that?
Let people turn back and think of the consequences for both South Africa and Nigeria. We have to realize that there are forces in Africa particularly South Africa and Nigeria and other leading African countries that there are forces of colonialism trying by every means to destabilize these countries and stop the unity of Africa. There are both internal and external forces; the external forces being agents of imperialism and the internal are the thieves.
It is the black South Africans that are asking foreigners to leave. Why linking external forces when Africans are those engaging themselves in what some diplomats have said is a needless row?
According to media reports, South Africans are saying Nigerians and other foreigners should go. But can you honestly believe that an organized and stable country like South Africa would ask foreigners to go? Whether we like it or not South Africa is more organized and stable than Nigeria and most of these other African countries. I am not saying it is not true; it may be true, but let us investigate it. The situation here is worse than in South Africa, even in terms of education. The level of poverty in Nigeria is worse than in South Africa. So, let no one say it is because of poverty and lack of education that is the cause of the xenophobic attacks. Let’s tell ourselves the truth. I am not blaming South Africa or Nigeria per se. Both countries should have a wider view of the matter no matter how bitter they are. It’s not all the 800,000 Nigerians that would return. At best we will have about 100,000 returnees because the condition for them in South Africa is better than in Nigeria. When we were students in Europe, because of the level of racial discrimination there, Nigerians were given free tickets to return to Nigeria because of this kind of racial discrimination. How many Nigerians left Britain to come back to Nigeria? They were very few because of the level of poverty in Nigeria. They preferred to stay in Britain in spite of the problems and even racial killings. Nigeria was the poorest community then in Britain, but they preferred to remain in Britain in spite of the racial problem because their children would get free education, free medical services and the security situation in Britain at that time was such that anybody who arrived there whether criminal or not would not be allowed to stay. So, they preferred to stay. The condition here is worse.
Let us now take a look at the controversial RUGA Settlement project that was suspended some time ago. Now it is rearing its ugly head again. There was a recent comment by the National President of the Myetti Allah Kautel Hore, one Alhaji Abdullahi Bodejo, demanding that RUGA should be in all the 36 states of the Federation and that every state in the country should give the Fulani a place to settle as they are the largest ethnic group in Nigeria. Are you of the same view?
In any circumstance, government should not be involved in any problem that may exist between the Fulani and the indigenous people anywhere in Nigeria because right now Fulani are negotiating with the communities. Even in the East, West, South-south, where they call South you find Fulani living peacefully there. They would rather live there than coming back to the North because if they come back to the North where is the land for grazing and so on. Fulani in the South are living in the South peacefully. What happened when the northern youths and the Northern Elders Forum asked them to come back to the North? They said they would prefer to stay in the South; the same thing with the southerners in the North. Many of them have been there for long. Why do you ignore that? First of all this RUGA affair is mismanagement by the Federal Government. The RUGA should not under any circumstance be imposed in the South because it is unknown in the South. If you want RUGA for any reason in the South, then the starting point is the community and the Fulani in the South asking the community if they want it. But in the North we are having RUGA. What RUGA means is a small collection of Fulani herdsmen in an area. That is not strange in the North, but it is very strange in the South and before you talk about it in the South you have to liase with the community. That has not been done. Instead it is the state governments and the Federal Government that want to handle RUGA with the Federal Government imposing RUGA. This is careless and should not be guided by the people who call themselves Fulani. Here in Kaduna, I had an experience near my farm. I went there and I was told that a group of Fulani leaders, about seven or 10 were found in a place and they were thinking of which part of that local government they should go and buy land and settle. They could arrange with the community sometimes without the involvement of the Village Head or District Head because there is the understanding between the Fulani and indigenous community in every part of the North and that can be done through community relations. But you can’t think of doing that in the South. You should leave the people; they are there among themselves and if they want water, school and other facilities like that it should be after they have agreed. It should not be like you are pampering the Fulani because they are from amongst you. Why make things difficult. It is mismanagement by the government. If a Yoruba man or an Igbo man wants to trade in the North he doesn’t have to go to the state government. He comes here and goes to the community and asks for land and if the community agrees they sell to him and he goes ahead. It is happening here and in the South particularly the Southwest where you will see people who were originally from the North, but they have become universe. We know so many of them. So, why make things difficult? It is mismanagement by the government. There are the problems of the herdsmen. First, you have to realize that the Fulani man or herdsman has five problems and they are responsible for the problem now. First, complete ignorance; that is lack of any kind of formal education. Second, poverty; third, what we call in Hausa, girman kai , arrogance, because a Fulani man is basically more arrogant than the Hausa man because of his origin; fourthly, if you provoke the Fulani man he doesn’t wait to listen to you. He sees it immediately as a threat and retaliates and the fifth problem is the negative condition of living in Nigeria. If you study these problems and their origin you will find solution to these problems and the rest of Nigerians will live peacefully. I can give you examples and the root of all these problems. If these are addressed you will have a situation whereby the Fulani in the North who is in the South will live there peacefully like a Yoruba man or Igbo man living in the North peacefully, a northern man in the East and West living peacefully. I know that occasionally there are crises arising most likely from the neglect of the government.
Some Nigerians have suggested ranching as a solution…
Ranching is just like RUGA and ranching is capitalistic. Many of the herdsmen cannot afford it. It is people who have money that can afford it…
But these cows are owned by rich men?
No; this is just interruption in reasoning to say so. Very few are owned by rich men. Yes there are rich men who own cows; maybe they are 10 per cent. We are now talking about ranching. Ranching is the normal thing, but you can’t impose it in parts of the country where they say no. You can have ranching in the North, but you can’t have ranching in the South where they see it as a threat particularly with the relationship they have with the communities now in the South. One of the things government can do is to make it easy to rear cattle without moving from one area to another, without grazing from one community to another. We should do what Britain and other developed countries are doing. There are many countries with problems of herdsmen, but they have solved them looking at the origin of herdsmen and also making easily available animal feeds. For example, if you go to Britain they have animal feeds and they are available. That will keep your animal within bounds.
That is ranching?
No, it is not necessarily ranching. You can’t call it ranching. Okay you can call it ranching if you like; but ranching is facilitated by free availability of pasture, animal feeds, medical services and quality raising of…
But all these are part of what the government says will be provided in a RUGA Settlement?
It is not RUGA when you impose it. In the South they see it as an aberration. At my prime I could go to the South, Yoruba land and say I am a RUGA man, but today that is not possible because the relationship has been bastardised. The Nigerian communities are now apologetic of each other. It is now a situation where you see a Fulani man in the South and you have seen an invader, a foreigner.
We are beginning to hear the drumbeats of the 2023 presidency early enough and it would appear the battle has started with some people saying you cannot push Southeast aside while others are saying it would be to Nigeria’s peril if you reject a Southeast presidency. Yet others are saying threats cannot achieve an Igbo presidency. What do you make of all these?
Well, in the first place threat cannot solve the problem of the Igbo or any community in Nigeria. What can solve the problem of any community in Nigeria is working together for reconciliation, unity, equality and regard for human person. Threats cannot achieve anything. Those who are threatening will not achieve anything. They are making the situation of the country even worse.