…Says cattle rearers are fighting back over injustice
…Asks: What makes the kidnapping of Olu Falae so special?
…‘Those who live in Lagos don’t know what is happening in Nigeria’
By Chioma Gabriel, Editor Special Features
Professor Ango Abdullahi, a former Vice Chancellor of Ahmadu Bello University, is the spokesperson for the Northern Elders Forum (NEF).
Abdullahi, in this interview, bares his mind on the controversy dogging the creation of state police and herdsmen, describing the claims linking herdsmen to killings in the Middle Belt as a political agenda to split the ‘monolithic North’. He deplores what he points out as injustice meted to herdsmen, accusing the southern part of Nigeria of bias against them.
A national security meeting has reportedly accepted the creation of state policing as the way out of the insecurity in Nigeria? Do you agree with that?
There is apparent consensus in the security conference that the way out of our numerous security challenges in the country is the creation of state police. I think this is an accepted direction because it is not only in Nigeria that we will have multiple tiers of policing. In the United States, there are also three tiers. There is the local tier which they call Sheriffs. There is the Department of Police at the state level and FBI at the federal level. I support state police.
But I don’t support the fact that those in politics will manipulate it to satisfy their interests. It will be the responsibility of the people to determine how the police in their respective states should be used and, if there is any abuse, the people will stand up against that abuse.
But state police is a constitutional matter. There are amendments to be made in the laws establishing the police down to the state assemblies and, after the amendments, it will be optional for each state.
There could be confusion between the duties of the state and the federal police.
There will be no confusion. It all depends on the laid out terms of the relationship between the state and the federal police. For instance, there will be protocols, like the one you have in the army. Before you call the army, there is a protocol; you have to meet the commander-in-chief who will direct you to the chief of defence staff. If things are properly laid out, there will be no confusion.
What about the implications of allegiance of the state police to governors?
When you have a state police, of course the governor has the primary responsibility of how it is used in terms of the needs of the state. But one thing I worry about is that this control can be abused, but any form of abuse of using state police illegally should be challenged by the people.
The problem with us in Nigeria is that we don’t really get up to challenge things that tend to weaken our efforts. There is no way somebody from elsewhere will be able to come to my place and understand it more than I do. So, for the state police, the indigenes know the area and the place where the criminals hide in the state and know where to search for them.
I am now 80 years old, and during the days of the Emir Police and Local Government Police, they were more efficient in terms of tracking criminals because they knew their areas very well and they also knew where to reach out to get criminally minded individuals. I don’t think we should worry too much about it. We have about 500 ethnic groups in Nigeria and, in each state, the recruitment of the police would cut across the ethnic groups in that state to be able to reach out to criminal hideouts. All these should be taken into account in state police recruitment.
You don’t think there could be a possible clash between state police and the federal police in their areas of responsibility?
Virtually, you are saying that the country is no more a country where the laws are known. There are responsibilities of different levels of governments which are known. This is the same thing with state police. You cannot use the state police to violate the laws of the country or the Constitution of Nigeria. The Federal Government has a responsibility to defend the unity of the country.
It is criminal if it does not do that. There should be no reason to worry about this because policing at the local level should be effective but, at the moment, it is not. First, we have the problem of numbers; second, we have problem of poor training of the police; third, we have problem of understanding the various constituencies where the police are operating. And most importantly is the fourth problem which is corruption.
All these are the things militating against efficient policing in the country and if we can pay attention to them, we should be able to improve. Now, state police, unlike the local vigilantes that have no laws guiding their operations, will have laws.
But state governors could hijack it for political ambitions?
It depends on the people. How can a governor who claims to be elected popularly by the people of the state hijack a law enforcement agency that is supposed to serve the entire people? If the people understand that the state police are not for the governor but for them, then there should be no reason to surrender their right of policing to the governor. Most of the things happening in Nigeria today are due to the people’s laxity and their connivance.
If you look at it strictly from the point of law, the commissioners of police try to connive with governors to rig elections and terrorise opponents. It is the people that allow it. If they don’t allow it, they should come out and kick against it; they should make demands on the governor and insist these demands are met. The way things are happening in Nigeria is funny.
Something will happen and, before you know it, it has been given tribal or ethnic connotation. There are lots of religious and tribal sentiments in Nigeria. Politics in Nigeria has been tribalised. Religious sentiments are creeping in; in fact, into everything except the laws that govern the country. That is why we have failure in detecting crimes, failure in punishing crimes.
You are saying this because of herdsmen attacking communities and people saying its Islamisation agenda…
You have already taken a position as a journalist, that it is herdsmen that are attacking communities and I am sure you have a reason for taking sides which could be religious or ethnic. The media in Nigeria is promoting a lot of ethnic and tribal sentiments. Every newspaper has it editorial policy and you as a journalist work in accordance with it or you could lose your job. The herdsmen issue is being given religious and tribal connotations; the media calls them Fulani herdsmen. This is very well encouraged by the media which has not given a balanced narrative of what is happening.
If it’s not herdsmen attacking communities, who then are they? They’re northerners all over Nigeria who are living peacefully with the people; in the South-East, they speak Igbo language and intermarry. But what is happening now is different?
That is how it should be, living peacefully with one another. What you said is also happening in the North. We have Igbo and people from other tribes living there peacefully with northerners.
But I tell you, what is happening today is that politicians are dividing this country on the basis of political interests and people are paid to protect the affairs of these politicians. And journalists are also falling into the same trap of tribalism and all sorts of divisive measures.
I tell you, Igbo, Hausa, Yoruba have no problems with one another. Go the markets, check out personal relationships among ethnic groups but everything is being tribalised because of politics. Go to the big markets at Onitsha, Aba, Kaduna or Kano and you will not see what you are reporting. Everybody is one, but politicians who want to win elections are the problems.
These politicians operate at different levels; from ward to local government, state and federal, they poison the people’s minds and interpret everything with ethnic and religious bias. They take advantage of the ignorance of the people and brainwash them.
Some of the reports in the newspapers do not help issues. A man in the rural area reads some of these things and swallows them. Now, journalists who are supposed to be denying the politicians’ lies are working for them.
If you say I jumped to a conclusion that those attacking communities are herdsmen; that means you think they are not. So what do you call what is happening?
Everybody is talking about Benue but who is taking about Taraba? Did you report the 743 people that were murdered in Mambilla? Did you people report the 953 people that were murdered in Kaduna? Did you report the 500 people that were killed in Southern Kaduna? Did you report the Fulani that were murdered in Numan and so on?
You did not, but politicians are pushing you to report the 73 that were killed in Benue and this is what is heating the policy and the several hundreds of people that died in other places have died in vain. So, I am accusing the press of bias and for engineering some of the difficulties we are having today?
The herdsmen crisis is politically driven. We have been having herdsmen for over 200 years or 300 years ago in Nigeria, particularly we in the North. I haven’t seen how this crisis between farmers and herdsmen would lead to attacks and loss of lives. This is a politically driven agenda, perhaps, intended to split the monolithic North; we have been talking about the monolithic North for a long time politically in this country.
I have been involved in debates against some respected people from the southern part of this country who believe that this country is not balanced because the North is too big; because the North is too politically united, so there must be a way of disrupting this unity, and this is what we are seeing on ground today, and the elements that are being used are the Fulani herdsmen.
This matter would be looked at properly; political alliances and so on are welcome. You don’t need to lose blood, or property to engage in political alliance or whatever you want, or still, you don’t need to introduce excuses that will lead to loss of lives. We saw this when the Boko Haram was on ground; they said northerners created the sect to disrupt former President Goodluck Jonathan’s government, which led to his failure in the last election, and so on. Now that Boko Haram is out of the way, the new excuse is the Fulani herdsmen. This is what is happening in other places except in areas that you are talking.
We have seen what they called a new handshake across the Niger; it is political, and we have seen the mourning that has taken place in Benue and other places to show that the monolithic North is not in tandem with the Middle Belt; it is all politics. Our Middle Belters don’t need to take the agenda that appears to be a thing of distrust. We are not going to force anybody into a relationship politically or otherwise. We see this as a political agenda.
So, it is not herdsmen that are committing the murders?
The truth is, if you want to kill me and I have a chance first, I will kill you, or you do want people to be killed and not defend themselves? By your reporting, you have denied them justice and government also has denied them justice by not going to arrest those that are killing them. So, they defend themselves.
Are you saying herdsmen are the ones wronged? In Ondo State, Chief Olu Falae has a farm. First, he was kidnapped; second, his farm was raided and, third, his farm was set ablaze by herdsmen. Did he attack them first?
May uncle was kidnapped last week in Kaduna, my cousin’s children were also kidnapped and they had to go and find N2.5 million to pay. Why is Olu Falae case different? Because he was Secretary to the Federal Government? He is a Nigerian just like my uncle and my cousin whose children were kidnapped. The right of every citizen is important under the law. Why is he so special?
But you insinuated it is not herdsmen, but look at the social media and see their impunity; they occupy highways even in the cities, graze in government establishments, sack school children from the schools, because cows have occupied the classrooms, destroy farms and crops…
What about the impunity of the people killing herdsmen? The herdsmen in Nigeria are reacting to the injustice meted out daily to them?
Who meted out the injustice to them?
You people, you Nigerians, including you who are biased, who are not prepared to protect the rights and interests of herdsmen. They are killed but not reported, that is not acceptable.
I want to get this right. I live in Lagos….
You actually live outside the country. Those who live in Lagos don’t know what is happening in Nigeria. Lagos is the end of the world. Herdsmen operate in these places you mentioned because the country has denied them the traditional routes which the British created for them IN 1914 when they occupied this country because they realised that, like cars require tracks, herdsmen also require tracks they can use to graze and drink water. The British provided it for them and gazetted it but people have denied them these routes. So, where do you expect the animals to follow? They have to follow somewhere and the easy road is the one other people are using. We are all living in Nigeria.
Are you trying to justify the menace of herdsmen?
I am justifying it very strongly because herdsmen are being unjustly treated in this country.
You should take cognisance of that.
They are businessmen just like the farmers whose crops are being destroyed. They should invest in their business; buy ranches like the farmers bought their parcels of land…
They are businessmen. If an Igbo man could go to my state and set up a shop, why shouldn’t herdsmen operate elsewhere? Or are you the one who planted the grass the animals are feeding on? Are you the one who created the water they drink? The land belongs to Nigerians and herdsmen are Nigerians. If an Igbo man can go to the North and set up a business, why won’t herdsmen go to the South, including your village, to graze their cattle?
The Igbo man you are talking about rents a shop and pays for it. He also pays tax…
Where we come from, you don’t pay for land, you only ask for permission to use it. That is why I said you people are biased against other people and that is why the peace of this country will be very difficult.
You only see Nigeria in your own picture, not in the picture of other people. Then, of course, there is a problem, there are other people who also have pictures and are interested in the only thing you want to protect. That means you have a lot of work to do ahead of you.
So, should farmers keep quiet while herdsmen destroy their farms?
It is not farmers, it is all political now, I can tell you. Only 35% of the land in Nigeria is under cultivation. The remaining 65%, the wet land, the forests, the range are uncultivated. It only requires good policies of government to make sure that our land is efficiently utilised and you should know livestock industry contributes 6% of the country’s GDP; it contributes more than the manufacturing industry is contributing to the GDP of Nigeria. So, the economic contribution of the livestock man who is day and night in the bush is more than your own who live in Lagos.
What do you say to government?
Of course government is not managing the problem well. That is what we told the Vice President a few days ago in his office; they have not managed the problem well. When this thing started, what they should have done is to tell the Minister of Agriculture to call the National Council on Agriculture meeting. There are 36 commissioners of agriculture in the country who need to sit together and discuss this matter.
This is not a matter that will be treated in isolation by any state. It affects the whole country and that is why a more sensible solution should be applied to the matter. I see this now that the matter is political; the matter is tribal and religious. The matter is sectional. You are not looking at it from the point of view of fairness, equity and justice. I am not talking about you as a person but the entire media and the entire South.
We have not solved the security problem in the country and here comes 2019. Do you think Buhari deserves to come back?
It’s up to Nigerians to decide how they want to enter 2019; if they want to enter 2019 peacefully or otherwise depends on Nigerians. Everyone has a stake but because we have abandoned our stake, others are operating there and are treating us the way they are doing.
Nigerians should wake up and make sure that they get people of quality that will eventually take Nigeria to its proper place of good governance and the products of good governance.
We have been hearing reports of billions stolen by Nigerians, Nigerians who are politicians, who are civil servants and others who have stolen money and yet when politics comes, these thieves are defended on the basis of friendship, on the basis of religion, on the basis of ethnicity and, based on these, they are declared innocent. There are only guilty because other areas deemed them so. So, Nigerians really need to take control of their country, by looking at their country and finding people who will govern them well.
But Buhari is coming back for second term…
You should tell him that or you tell his party. I am not a member of government or a member of any party.
How do you assess Buhari government?
I will not assess it now until that time when we are ready to assess everybody. The government of Nigeria is not one.
There are various governments in the country, the collective success or failure does not rest in one particular government. It rests on several governments at different levels. Nigerians should be able to assess all these collectively and arrive at a decision whether the governments and the parties have done well.
If they have not done well, we should be able to decide to change them in the next election. This is the kind of thing we want to see next year. Everybody should be responsible for this assessment including the media which in many cases have written beautiful analysis of what is going on. The journalists are after information and it is through this information that a lot of things that are wrong are exposed.
You are also a politician from the way you talk. Why don’t you join politics?
I was in politics. I won an election as governor of Kaduna State but I was denied. I have been in the system for long.