How herders, farmers clash can be averted – Miyetti Allah scribe
National Secretary of the Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association of Nigeria, MACBAN, the umbrella body of Fulani herdsmen, Baba Ngelzarma was in Makurdi recently to swear in the new executives of the association in Benue. In this interview with journalists, he proffers the way forward out of the perennial crises between farmers and herders. Ngelzarma also spoke on measures being put in place by the association to nib the menace of cattle rustlings across the country among other issues. Scholastica Joseph was there for The Abuja Inquirer. Excerpts:
What is your association doing to curtail the menace of cattle rustling in the country?
We are planning to launch what we call 'Fulaku' in our native language against every cattle rustler and kidnapper. Every Fulani man and woman knows what Fulaku is. It is a cultural way of keeping our people in check. Fulaku literally means we are going spiritual against cattle rustlers and kidnappers. We are launching it in Kaduna State soon. Also, we are introducing what we call Joint Action Council, JAC waybill in the country. The waybill is going to carry the logo of cattle breeders, National Road Transport Workers and cattle dealers associations.
How would you react to the incessant clashes between farmers and cattle breeders in the country?
Farmers and cattle breeders will have to embrace each other and be patient with each other because the relation is a relationship of the tongue and the teeth. There is no way one can do without the other. The farmer is guarding over his farm produce while the cattle breeder is also guarding over his cattle. Both sides have a duty to each other because where you have Fulani cattle breeder unnecessarily encroaching into people's farms is very bad.
We always tell them to stop encroaching into people's farms because that is what is triggering conflict between Fulani and most of the communities in Nigeria today. And this small farmer/herder crisis develops into religious crisis in some areas and in other areas, it develops into ethnic crisis.
For example in Benue, you have the Tiv as the sole farmers and the Fulani as the cattle breeders in the other hand, this problem degenerated so fast that one cannot easily comprehend. What we have seen in Benue State emanated from small disagreements here and there.
So, my call on both the farmers and the cattle breeders and more particularly to the cattle breeders is that like we always tell them, they should stop encroaching into people's farms. They should have respect for the cultures of the communities they coexist with. They should also have clear understanding of the local communities they live in. But we know culturally, that the Fulani man doesn't stay in a place without seeking the permission of the traditional leadership of that area. Wherever you see a Fulani man residing, he must have gotten the permission of the traditional ruler of that area before he resides there. So we are calling on the Fulani to respect the cultures and tradition of their host communities wherever they are.
We are also calling on the host communities to exercise a lot of patience with the Fulani. When there are issues, such issues should be reported to Miyetti Allah rather than taking the law into our hands. So, wherever there is an encroachment or quarrel, let them report to Miyetti Allah so that we can intervene and resolve the issue amicably.
What is your take on calls from all over the country on government to adopt cattle ranching as a measure to curtail these clashes?
We also support that call as a long term measure. We are also bringing in Europeans from New Zealand to help our people understand the modern ways of animal husbandry. We will be providing them with land for their pilot program in some states. Maybe Benue will be one of the states we will select for this pilot program because they are coming in to invest in dairy and beef in Nigeria.
So, they are coming in with model on how to settle the Fulani permanently in a particular place. And in preparation for their coming, we are embarking on a seminar which will bring all stakeholders together with the Fulani to discuss on how to move from the primitive way of animal husbandry to a modernized form of animal husbandry.
What is your intervention of situation on ground now between the farmers and the Fulani because there are reports that the herders are currently occupying Benue villages?
There was a time we came to Benue and we were asked by the then governor to go to a particular area that was said to have been taken over from the Tiv by the Fulani. We went from Makurdi up to Jato-Aka and we were on our way to go to that particular area that the Tivs complained about but they refused to go there.
So, we held our meeting there in Jato-Aka. But what we discovered then and we told the Tiv leaders in Jato-Aka was that that area in contention belongs to the Jukun people of Taraba State. When there was peace, the Tiv were occupying that area in Taraba but when there was a breakdown of peace in that area, those Tiv left the area to come back to Benue State. So, when there was peace, they wanted to go back to the place in Taraba State but we discovered that the Jukuns asked the Fulani to come and stay there because they didn't want the Tiv to occupy that area again.
And so, during the administration of Governor Suswam, we went with him to Kashimbilla where he met with the then governor of Taraba State for peace talk. It was after then that former Governor Suswam invited us to come and mediate in the problem in Jato-Aka. Also, when the Agatu problem started, we tried to reach out to the leaders of Agatu to discuss with them. Our branch in Kogi has identified and discussed with the Agatu leaders in Kogi State and we are now doing something about the conflict between Fulani and Agatus in Kogi.
If a problem is reported to us, we act immediately but we don't always act on hearsay. We go there and see for ourselves and identify what are the causes so that we can find a lasting solution to those problems. That is what we have been doing. The last time, we were in Ekiti where we saw a very disheartening situation where Fulani were uprooting cassava and slicing it with their knives for their cows to eat. We saw it with our own eyes. We immediately gathered our vigilante and they went and arrested those Fulani and we asked them to pay back the destruction that they carried out in those farms.
So, we know definitely that our people have their own problems and that is why we are calling for restraints from the other communities. Sometimes, our people are also provoked by some of the youths because sometimes, they come and shoot and kill their cows. When you shoot and kill a Fulani man's cow, you have invited very big problem. It's better for you to kill his children than killing his cows because his life and that of his family depend for a long time on the cows because he might have inherited those cows from his forefathers. That is why we are always calling for restraint, endurance and patience among the farmers and the cattle breeders.
When Benue State Government declared amnesty, those who surrendered arms were mainly the Benue people. Why didn't we see any of the herders submitting their arms?
We are also embarking on it very soon. We have been trying to embark on it but we did not get the appropriate body that will take responsibility for us to do it. Here in Benue, you have a listening governor who has taken the responsibility of amnesty. You know that amnesty is something that bothers on security. Before you get somebody to come and embrace amnesty, you have to have the backing of either a governor, government or any strong security functionary.