A Response to the Nigerian Tribune Editorial Titled: “Bauchi Governor and the Stateless Fulani”
By Ladan Salihu
During a recent interview session with the Channels Television network; in response to a question, the Executive Governor of Bauchi State, His Excellency Senator Bala Abdulkadir Mohammed, CON, stated that the Fulani herdsmen, no matter where they came from, should benefit from the National Livestock Transformation Plan (NLTP), of the Federal Government. He hinged his position on the well known fact that, historically, being pastoralists, the Fulani traversed national boundaries, in a migratory pattern that literally conferred on them a transnational citizenship.
Understandably, his comment has elicited varied reactions. However, the TRIBUNE editorial comment of 26 September, 2019 titled: “Bauchi Governor and the Stateless Fulani”, threw the debate haywire by concluding that the Governor was making a case for a borderless country in which the Fulani would enjoy privileged benefits. Nothing can be the farthest from the truth. Anybody who has followed Senator Bala Mohammed’s antecedents will attest that he is not one given to ethnic bigotry. Besides, as a former staff of the ministry of interior, the Governor was speaking from a deep understanding of the delicate dialectics of Nigeria’s border dynamics and the implications for the citizenship question. The underlying thrust of his response was to place the controversy over the Federal Government’s livestock project in perspective vis-à-vis the unfortunate narrative that has tended to criminalize the entire Fulani ethnic nationality because of the indiscretions and unlawful actions of some members of the group who are in the minority.
THE NATIONAL NARRATIVE: BETWEEN FACT AND FICTION
The prevailing national narrative, fuelled by the actions of a new strand of Fulani herdsmen who go about wreaking violence on communities, is that all Fulani herdsmen are evil. We must admit that the activities of these gun-wielding herdsmen defy the canons of civilized conduct, threaten national security and therefore, stand unacceptable. But the Governor’s position is as follow:
- The violence being wreaked on many communities all over the country by a new strand of herdsmen is unacceptable; yet, it is patently wrong and equally unacceptable to tar every Fulani person with the brush of a criminal.
- Long before this band of herdsmen invaded the Nigerian space, Fulani herdsmen and Hausa traders have resided in various parts of Nigeria just as other ethnic nationalities, particularly the Igbo and the Yoruba, have resided in the north; with all the groups plying their legitimate trades. That is the origin of Sabon Gari in Kano, for instance and several Sabo or Hausa Quarters in nearly all major cities in the south. Inter-marriages and other sorts of relationships have been established over time, creating bonds that, in many cases, are inseparable. Governor Bala Mohammed is of the position that we should not, in one fell swoop, dismiss these immutable bonds because of the challenging phase the country is passing through.
- The menace of violent herdsmen is not confined to the southern parts of the country as communities in the north have suffered untold hardship and unremitting violence, in the hands of the volatile herdsmen who have been driven to desperation by the declining grazing lands caused by climate change and the disappearance of grazing routes that historically, had provided grazing land thereby reducing skirmishes between herdsmen and farmers.
- The attempt to reduce what is actually, a clear survival crisis, on the part of herdsmen, to an ethnic conflict is misleading with the potential of not only inflaming passions, as is presently the case, but distracting those who genuinely seek an amicable resolution of the conflict, from workable solutions.
- In the context of the above, Governor Mohammed accepts the National Livestock Transformation program of the Federal Government, as a timely and creative panacea to the problem as the nomadic Fulani herdsmen will now be reined in, in safe enclosures, away from the avenues of conflict. Bauchi State is naturally disposed to accommodating them because of the availability of a large expanse of land and the cultural and blood affinity with the Fulani whether in Nigeria or in the Diaspora.
- The contentious aspect of his response that even Fulani from other parts of West Africa should benefit from the program need not arise if it is understood that these migratory people, engaged mainly in pastoralist activities and transhumance, have no home that they can call their own. To them, everywhere is home and they have relations in every country. It was in that context that the Governor described them as transnational citizens; in fact, in modern parlance, they can be likened to holders of dual citizenship, perhaps in their case; multiple citizenship! To compare their situation with more settled ethnic nationalities or people, who got displaced, by historical circumstances that are best forgotten, as the TRIBUNE sought to do in its editorial, is to miss the point completely. The hard fact is that while the roots of the herdsmen could be in Nigeria, they are nomadic and by the nature of their economic activity, chase grazing land or pastures, from place to place; not minding that their movements could traverse national boundaries. Of course, a newspaper with the rich pedigree of the TRIBUNE, will accept that beyond Nigeria, this can cause some disquieting moments between countries.
ECOWAS FREE MOVEMENT PROTOCOL
What is often forgotten, in the heat of this argument, is that the cross-border movement of people for economic activities was long envisaged by the founding fathers of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) when the treaty of the organisation included a protocol on the free movement of people. Today, a bus takes off from Lagos in the morning and lands in Accra in the evening without molestation of any of its passengers. That some people are on foot, no matter their ethnic nationality, does not change the character of the cross-border movement. Perhaps, what needs clarification is that effort should be made to capture these social exchanges within the framework of Nigerian national jurisdiction.
The greatest disservice that any commentator would make, is to label Governor Bala Mohammed as an ethnic bigot on account of his statement that the Fulani herdsmen should benefit from the program, whether they are in Nigeria or from outside the country. Like most Nigerians, the Governor is very passionate about the Fulani with whom he shares blood relationship. But he is equally as passionate about Nigeria; about equity and justice and the peace and unity of Nigeria. When, in 2010, at the height of the disputation over whether Vice President Goodluck Jonathan should become President, he spearheaded the Doctrine of Necessity Bill, that paved the way for Jonathan to assume the Presidency and which gave the Niger Delta its first shot at the presidency, he was not acting out a Fulani agenda. When he accompanied President Jonathan home, following his electoral loss and exit from power in 2015, Governor Bala Mohammed was not acting out an ethnic agenda. When, as minister of the FCT, he ensured equitable distribution of strategic appointments among the various geo-political groups, he was not prosecuting an ethnic agenda. When he attended the Enugu end of the obsequies for the former leader of the defunct Biafra, Chief Odimegwu Ojukwu, he was not acting out an ethnic agenda.
Let the truth be told, Governor Bala Mohammed is one public officer who is prepared to pursue the cause of equity and justice even if it should cost him personal political position or material comfort. He would do so for the any other ethnic group as he would for the Fulani. In the present situation, he thinks that it is wrong to visit the sins of a few Fulani herdsman on all other Fulani herdsmen or the Fulani nation, at large. While he deprecates the activities of some lawless and murderous herdsmen, he rejects in its entirety the ongoing stigmatization and dehumanization of the entire Fulani nationality. By the same token, he insists that, in spite of vices associated with a few members of other ethnic groups such as cyber crimes, high end smuggling and grotesque drug which are causing incalculable damage to the image of the country it will be wrong, in fact unacceptable to hype these cases into ethnic profiles.
First, Governor Bala Mohammed sympathizes with all those who have lost loved ones on account of the herdsmen crisis in the country. In advocating the inclusion of herdsmen from everywhere in the livestock program, his aim is to guard against those factors that create opportunities for conflicts with fatal consequences. His position is that everything humanly possible should be done to avoid escalating the already widening fault-lines that threaten the fragile unity of the country. To him, the surest pathway to realizing this is through a just and equitable society that promotes inclusion of ALL in appointments, people empowerment and access to economic opportunities that reduce poverty. He maintains that including the Fulani ethnic nationality, whether inside Nigeria or in the Diaspora, in the National Livestock Program, is one such avenue.
Finally, we wish to make it clear that His Excellency, Governor Bala Mohammed respects the rights of everyone to engage in debates, dialogue and consensus building insofar that the objective is to achieve a peaceful and more prosperous Nigeria in which no one will feel alienated or excluded.
Dr. Ladan Salihu is the Bauchi State Commissioner for Information & Communication