Alhaji Nasiru Turaki Masama, former Secretary Miyetti Alla, Kebbi State chapter for 10 years, now Special Assistant to Kebbi State Governor Atiku Abubakar Bagudu on Fulani Normadic Affairs, speaks on the burning issue of Farmers,Fulani clashes across the country, causes of the clashes, how they can be curbed, among others issues.
How has the state government curbed clashes between herdsmen and farmers in Kebbi
What we did in the state even before the idea of the Federal Government on cattle colony or ranching came, is that we have a committee known as farmers, Fulans District Resettlement Committee. This committee is headed by the Executive Governor at the state level, including the Chairman of council of chiefs. Then we have the same committee at local government level and at district level down to village level. At the village level, the village head is the Chairman of the Committee. The committee is made up of representatives of farmers, head of every grazing reserve, leaders of single grazing reserve, overall head of grazing reserve in districts, then we involve security agents. Divisional Police Officers serve as members. Any police officer who is in charge of police station at village level are member, vigilante groups are members, traditional title holders are also members, road transport workers are members. The committee was inaugurated down to village level. Whenever there is any dispute between farmers and herdsmen it will be resolved at village level. When parties are not satisfied they take it to district level then to state level. This does not allow the escalation of fighting. The committee is made up of highly responsible people. Members of the committee are the ones to advise government whether to allocate Fulani herdsmen area to graze, they will make provision which will be accepted by the government and farmers as well. The committee advises government, makes arrangement to settle arguments between farmers and Fulani. For instance, the committee can say this area we have irrigation farm, the committee will now make a provision for time that will be suitable for grazing in that area. The committee can say farmers are harvesting their crops here, then the Fulani can use the other area to graze. The committee creates routes for Fulani to graze, it can say from January to March, the herdsmen can follow this area to graze or the other area. Those farmers who plant as from July will also be taken into consideration when caving out routes for herdsmen.
Why do you think there are clashes in other states of the country between herdsmen and farmers?
The issue is the elite, we politicians. Sometimes we use politics to gain people’s favour. They will make noise for the people to say they are doing something or protecting them. But it is not the best. What we ought to do between farmers and Fulani, I view it in two ways. After raining period these cattles want to drink water, like human beings, you cannot stop them from drinking water, they will have to pass through farms to get water. We cannot stop them from looking for water to drink. So, if you want Fulani herdsmen not to pass certain areas you have to make provision for them. What we did in Kebbi was to advise government to sink boreholes with hand made pumping system because if we use the one operated by electricity it will not work in many areas because of no light. We advised the government that every grazing reserve should have at least two boreholes so that these cattles will not pass througt farms to look for Water. Another method to avert crisis is to map routes for them.
But sir, passing through farms is not the issue here because we have had herdsmen for years, but we have not heard of them destroying farms. I believe destruction of crops is new. Is it not possible for them to pass through without them destroying crops in the farm?
At times you cannot control, say like 50 herdsmen at the same time, you cannot control them. Someone is carrying like 200 cows and there are different sets, controlling them will be difficult. What I am saying is that if there is provision where they drink water, it will be good. Secondly, we should advise farmers not to plant on the routes which cattles normally take. It is very important. The country is becoming densely populated. Places that were not habitable 10, 20 years ago, people now live there. It is advised at the local governments level that no farmer plants on cattle routes.
Federal Government is talking about colonies and some states are saying no to it, what do you think will be a solution to that?
I told you earlier that we politicians are the problem. We use the word colonies, approve and not to approve, it is just to get attention of their people. What is most important is that we are all Nigerians and live in one nation. If any state wants to operate a colony, herdsmen and farmers should be involved so that they will decide at the local level. It should not involve state government. Call the farmers, hersdmen and ask them how do we do this, they will agree among themselves. Or if they don’t want colonies, say OK, let us create routes for cattle to pass to drink water during dry season, then government can make a specific place for water and there will be peace.
The clashes are now taking a colouration of religion and ethnicity. How do you see this?
I don’t believe in that, it is people who like to see it that way. Among Fulani, you have Christians and Muslims. And secondly, not only Fulani rear cattles. It is not the issue of religion or ethnit, it is the issue of how do you control animals. It is the issue of politics, it is not religion at all. How many Fulani are Muslims and how many farmers who are not Muslims?
From experience as Secretary of Miyetti Allah, Fulani who attack villages with sophisticated weapons, are they members of the association?
I agree that they are not necessarily herdsmen but militias. That is why in Kebbi State in the last years, I introduced what we call Fulani volunteers. I asked all the heads of grazing reserves to bring names of two youths, give them training. The primary responsibility of the volunteers is to take care of the security of their environment so that they will know people who are killing either from Niger, Mali, Chad. Once these herdsmen arrive your place the volunteers will have to be a watchdog over them and report any misbehaviour from any of them.
So, it is true that killer herdsmen are not from Nigeria?
Of course, they are not. Fulani herdsmen are scattered throughout West Africa. During dry season, they can trek from Mali to Nigeria, they can go any length to look for food, look for water. They are not coming officially because they are not registered. Sometime, a Fulani can trek from Mali down to Kebbi then stroll and sleep in Yaounde, Cameroon same night. So, when a farmer sees his crops destroyed he can just attack any herdsman seen in that vicinity without knowing that the person who did it came in the night and left that same night. So, it is better, like a state of Benue to look for volunteers, incorporate them, I mean Fulani and farmers, let them bring their youths, work together in harmony. That is if there is any bad man from Fulani or farmers, they will easily be recognised. The danger of organising a group of people without involving the other, is that you are making the other group to attack the other because one group will feel not wanted, because the other group does not speak your language, it would will be like as we are the enemy. Let us say we have volunteers, Fulani people bring your children, farmers bring your children, nobody will fight anybody. This is what we did in Kebbi that has given us peace between farmers and herdsmen.
But the question is the kind of weapons herdsmen now carry, where do you think they get them from?
It has to do with lack of security in the country. What are our security agencies doing about it? If you remember 15, 20 years back, even a policeman did not carry weapon except when going on operation. Now see the the kind of weapons displayed. We have Immigration officers at our borders, we have army, customs, police. How do people still manage to bring weapons into the country. After all we don’t produce these weapons here. So, it is lack of security. How can you allow anybody to buy anything? That is the problem. Don’t forget that most of the Fulani are not educated, how do you allow somebody taking care of cows in the bush to have AK47 riffle. This is the problem. This can be curbed through their leaders. Tell them anybody with weapon, they should bring it out, the leaders must know them. A policeman may not know but a leader must know those who have weapons.