Barely 72 hours after President Muhammadu Buhari asked Fulani herdsmen in the South to ignore the call by northern elders asking them to return to the North, the Miyetti Allah Kautal Hore, the umbrella body for Fulani herdsmen in the country, has asked its members to defend themselves against any ethnic militia group in the country, saying herders should exercise their rights to free movement as Nigerians.
The National Secretary of the group, Saleh Alhassan, in a telephone interview with one of our correspondents on Thursday, also said that governors in the southern part of the country would be held responsible if any of their members was attacked.
The South-East Governors Forum, through its Director-General, Prof Simon Ortuanya, had recently warned that movement of cattle into the zone by foot would no longer be allowed except through trucks to specific cow markets to avoid the incessant clashes between herders and farmers.
The position of the governors was echoed by the Ohanaeze Youth Council worldwide a few days ago when it warned herdsmen to stop moving around bushes and farmlands across the South-East.
The council’s President General, Okechukwu Isiguzoro, pointed out that starting from Saturday, July 20, 2019 (today), there would be severe consequences if herdsmen were caught moving around on foot with their cattle.
Also, the Yoruba nationalist organisation, Oodua Peoples Congress, had through its President, Prince Osibote Oodua, warned kidnappers and herdsmen engaged in criminal activities to stop or they would be forced to vacate the region. It stressed that it was ready to flush out those abducting innocent Nigerians.
The leadership of the three indigenous youth groups from the major southern geopolitical zones, including the Ijaw Youth Council in the South-South, had equally said three days ago that they could no longer tolerate the killings and threats from herdsmen in the zones.
Following the warnings, members of the Northern Elders Forum and the Coalition of the Northern Groups had on Tuesday asked herdsmen to leave the southern part of the country and return to the North where their safety could be guaranteed, a directive the President and all the southern groups had condemned.
But, speaking on Thursday, Alhassan said herdsmen would remain where they were and that governors of the respective states would be held responsible should anything happen to their members.
He said, “We are Nigerians and we have a history. Anybody that thinks he can wake up and take on the Fulani pastoralist is making a grievous mistake; we are well prepared to defend our fundamental human rights of movement in this country.
“They (herdsmen) are Nigerians, so they are entitled to stay where they are. They should remain where they are and defend themselves against ethnic militia and assert their citizenship in this country.
“The only thing we would say is that we will hold all the governors of those states responsible for their safety and security, but if any ethnic militia, by any name, attacks our members, they should defend themselves in a manner that nobody would try such again.
“We have been saying it that people behind insecurity are not herders; bandits are behind these killings, and if the government is saying foreigners have infiltrated the herders, have they been arrested and what is their nationality? Anybody that is trying to destabilise this country should be dealt with.”
Speaking further on the call by some northern groups that they should vacate the southern part of the country, Alhassan said, “Those so-called northern youths called coalition of northern groups should note that if because of their action any herder is killed, we will first look for them before we go after our enemies.
“We are Nigerians and we are not going anywhere. Our attachment to the land is opportunistic; we don’t farm the land. So, if anybody is thinking that because he has cultivated the land in a particular place for long and he has rights there more than us, then we would ask where is the grazing area that the colonial masters created for us?
“Politicians can play their politics but they should leave our people out of it because it is the desperate politicians that are causing this confusion and they are looking for anything to hang on to, but we are watching them critically.
“If you threaten the herders, they react; they cannot be used for any political game because we have our way of defending ourselves. We hate injustice and we fight it. Anybody that thinks we can be squeezed is making a mistake.”
Asked the solution to the persistent clashes between herders and their host communities, he said grazing reserves that were carved out before the country’s independence should be developed to serve their purposes.
“When we begin to discuss the Nigeria question, we would ask where the grazing reserves are because we know them and we have the records of where they are,” he added.
But, in their separate responses, the Ohanaeze, OPC and Ijaw Youth Counciln said Miyetti Allah was testing the patience of the various ethnic militia groups.
Buhari taking sides with Fulani herdsmen, may divide Nigeria –OPC
The leader of the New Era group of the OPC, Rasak Arogundade, has said President Buhari should be careful not to divide the country in the manner he is giving tacit support to the herdsmen.
He said herdsmen in the South-West were expected to heed the directive given to them by the Northern Elders Forum and leave the region.
Arogundade, who spoke in an interview with one of our correspondents, said the Yoruba were accommodating but their gentle disposition should not be miscontrued for cowardice.
He said, “The only solution to this problem is to revisit the report of the 2014 Confab. Representatives of each of the regions met and agreed on how to resolve many issues, including this one. They should stop politicising it, read the report and use the good ones there.
“Also, each person living outside their region should respect the cultures and traditions of their host communities. There has never been a time when Yoruba leaders outside the South-West raised their voices against traditional rulers in the places they reside.
“Yoruba people are accommodating. We allow visitors in our midst to do what they like but they should not see us as fools. I know that we will react when we are pushed to the wall. I believe that the President himself will divide Nigeria with the way he is taking sides with Fulani people, his kinsmen. There had been presidents before Buhari and they were not clannish.”
He added, “Buhari should tell us if he wants to divide the country or he wants it to remain as one nation. He should implement the 2014 Confab report.
“They have been called to return to the North and my position is that if they want to go, they should go. We had farm settlements in the South-West during the time of Chief Obafemi Awolowo and there were ranches on the farm settlements. We will live if we don’t eat beef; after all, Fulani do not eat beef. They should go away with their cows.
“If they attack our people further, we will defend ourselves. And if Buhari sends soldiers, we will defend ourselves. We won’t run from anybody, we will defend ourselves.”
Miyetti Allah arousing feeling of war, we may resort to self-help, say Ohanaeze, IYC
The Igbo socio-cultural organisation, Ohanaeze Ndigbo, and the Ijaw Youth Council, have accused Fulani cattle breeders of arousing feeling of war in the people of the South-East.
Ohanaeze spokesman, Prince Uche Achi-Okpaga, said, “The problem is that each time they (MACBAN) sound primitive. This is 21st century where the world is going global and digital; people are trying to improve on every single facet of the society and they are going backwards.
“The people that Fulani herdsmen killed on the road and in the bushes, in their homes every day and night, they are not talking about that. They are only talking about something happening to their kith and kin in the South. If you feel that there is danger, why don’t you return to your own home?
“This is not even the idea of the people (of the South-East) attacking them; it is them (Fulani herdsmen) attacking people in their home. Let them return to their places.
Achi-Okpaga said that with the rising insecurity, the people of the South-East would have to defend themselves.
He added, “They are just arousing the feeling of war, restlessness and unrest in the people because it is getting out of hand. And when you push somebody to the wall, what do you expect them to do?
“Even the Bible says, ‘When the foundation is shaky, what will the righteous do? You do the best you can. Since the security forces are no longer there to protect you, you do the best you can to protect yourself and that means self-help.”
He stated that Ohanaeze Ndigbo did not issue an ultimatum to Fulani herdsmen to return to the North, adding, “There is unrest; there is distrust. There is a high rate of corruption; there is ethnic chauvinism. The only thing remaining is disintegration.”
The President, IYC, Mr Eric Omare, in an interview with Saturday PUNCH, blamed the impunity displayed by the umbrella body of the herders’ group on the tacit behaviour of the President Muhammadu Buhari in addressing the killings by armed Fulani herdsmen.
He said, “Generally, the Fulani herders or Miyetti Allah groups are exhibiting impunity because the government of the day has failed to live up to the citizens’ expectation. In the first place, that comment calls for an investigation and a government that is alive to its responsibilities ought to caution those people.
“This is because what they have said or the position they are taking is a threat to national security. Unfortunately, they have the tacit support of the President that is why they behave with impunity.”
He said if the killings continued, “I urge youths from different parts of the country, especially in the southern part, to start the process of defending their communities because the government has failed to defend them. We have passed the level where we would be calling on the government to do the needful.”
The Nigeria Police Force spokesperson, Frank Mba, had yet to comment on the development as of the time of filing this report on Friday.
– The Punch