Our story, by Fulani herdsmen
Baba Othman Ngelzarma is the National Secretary, Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association of Nigeria, otherwise known as Fulani herdsmen.
In this interview, he explains the challenges confronting the Fulani herdsmen and frowns at the negative profiling of the Fulani people.
And whereas he admits that there are a few criminals who are of the Fulani stock, the true situation is that Fulani herdsmen too are victims of cattle rustlers.
I want to believe that you have seen part of the Grazing Bills and the question is, do you think that would solve the problem?
Firstly, before I say anything, let me use this opportunity to condemn in totality what has taken place in Enugu, it is extremely shocking and I want to sympathise with the government and people of Enugu State irrespective of who has done it. People have lost their lives. It is a sad happening and we hope the security will do all they could to fish out the perpetrators.
We, too, have suffered immensely in the hands of these perpetrators because our cattle are lost in their thousands, Fulanis are always kidnapped - hardly a day passes and you will not hear that five or 10 Fulanis have been kidnapped for ransom. Only that it is a silent happening and the media is not covering it.
Fulani being kidnapped?
Yes. Every day. Find out from Kaduna State. It's is really sad. These are things that are perpetrated by criminals but, surprisingly, everybody is blaming the Fulani herdsmen; so we are now victims and culprits at the same time.
Since some of them are victims, do you think these Bills will address the issues on the table?
Yes, definitely. The law governing the establishment of grazing reserves is not new, it started in 1965. Later in 1978, the Land Use Act was extended to cover it. In 1988, National Agriculture Policy also earmarked 10percent of the total national territory for grazing areas - that is, 9.8million hectares of land were earmarked in 1988 for grazing reserves. That figure was later increased to 20million hectares.
So what happened to all the land?
What we have today is less than three million hectares - the so-called gazetted grazing areas cover only about three million.
We have about 415 grazing areas and grazing reserves and forest reserves because these are different things. The grazing reserves are those that are gazetted. Out of the 415, 141 were gazetted. And those 141 reserves gazetted cover only about three million hectares of land.
And even that one today has been damaged by ecology, encroachment and the rest.
If that is the case, you now have state governors who are saying they will not give out any land. Do you think they should just hold on to see how they could solve the clashes first, before the Bills?
You see, these clashes came as a result of the absence of developed grazing reserves and the protection of those reserves. These are areas that have suffered a lot of neglect because the pastoralists' livelihood has been frequently undermined by unfriendly policies and laws.
The policies of the past administrations have given more attention to agronomy and not the livestock sub-sector. That is what has caused this problem.
This is a consequence of the neglect of this long-term sector of the economy.
As I told you, we have about three million hectares which have been destroyed. They are mostly located in the northern and the south-western parts of the country. These are all the states of the North, as well as Oyo and Ogun states.
How did the grazing reserves work for the herdsmen in the past?
A lot of legislations covered them because, if you go to the states, you have the local government and forestry units working effectively to protect the reserves but, today, I do not think they are there again.
Some people think if there are grazing reserves, that is where the herdsmen should be?
They were occupied to some extent but encroachment by small farmers and big-time farmers, who acquired land to obtain loans from banks and not for real agriculture and the environment, over-grazing and non-maintenance of the reserves, have rendered them useless.
Have groups like yours met northern governors to sensitise them to the future dangers of not maintaining those reserves?
We have been meeting with them for quite some time now.
So why are they not listening?
I don't know. As I told you earlier, it is the neglect of this sector that is causing this problem. If past administrations had done their work like the immediate post-colonial administrations did, we wouldn't be in this situation that we have found ourselves today. May be the reserves would have been developed to an extent that we won't have these issues.
If you look at the Fulani man, the cattle business is his livelihood, so you then wonder why he would be pushed to the southern part of the country in search of grass and water because, if grass and water were provided in the reserves in the North, I do not think the herdsman would have the desire to go anywhere and expose himself to danger because he always moves with his family. He provides security for his family and security for his business, so how do you expect , no matter how illiterate he is, to go and ignite trouble for himself to get killed.
I think some people somewhere are out to profile the Fulani herdsmen as terrorists.
Who do you think those people are?
We don't know. That is the problem. We see the media as going against the herdsmen because most of the challenges we face are not reported.
But if you don't incident the cases with the police, how do we report them?
The police know very much what is happening. Go to the Police Command in Kaduna State and find out what is happening to the Fulani herdsmen.
I'm sure you are aware of the thousands of cattle that are lost daily. Who are the owners of the cattle? They are Fulani herdsmen. We lose a lot of cattle as a result of cattle rustling but who is doing something to protect us? It is only once the coming of this administration that we have seen action being taken in that area.
There must be a faint idea of those who are killing people in the name of Fulani herdsmen?
They are criminals because we do not know them.
But they say they dress like the average Fulani men?
That cannot be ruled out. There was a case in Taraba State two years ago. They came in the Fulani attire but, when they were caught, it was discovered that they were not Fulani. Some people are trying to spoil the name of the Fulani herdsmen. That is what we have in the country today. They stereotype and profile the Fulani herdsmen as criminals.
What do you do if you were in the shoes of the victims or the media that, while carrying out your duty, the narrative you get is that they were kidnapped by Fulani people and this was the ransom they paid to them. Are you saying people should not say it as it is because it involves the Fulani?
Look, we must confess, we have criminals among the Fulani just like any other communities in Nigeria where there are criminals. You are talking about some 30million people in Nigeria. You are also talking about 16million cattle-rearing families in the country. So, if you go to the prison, you will see that the Fulani are more in number. You cannot expect a tribe that occupies just one local government to be compared to one with a spread across the whole country.
So what is your group doing?
As a voluntary organisation, there is a limit to what we can do. We have been reporting to the security agencies and they have been cooperating with us.
In fact, the IGP knows everything.
Take for instance the Olu Falae issue. When it happened, a lot of media attacks were on but we didn't respond; we just took the bull by the horn. We went on tour of the South-West. We went to Lagos, Oyo, Osun, Ogun, Ekiti and later we landed in Ondo. Finally, we visited Olu Falae himself and we discussed extensively and that was what laid that matter to rest because much of what happened then was propaganda. Definitely, Olu Falae was kidnapped; he paid ransom and we discovered that some people were involved. We admit that some people have criminal intent but profiling a whole race because of the crimes of a few or some is something that is not fair.
Some solutions have been proffered but a lot of people are saying the Bills cannot work. Some people insist that the Fulani herdsmen have a business to run and they should finance their business on their own without destroying other peoples' properties?
They are entitled to their opinion but, today, because of the profiling, whichever community that sees a Fulani man is apprehensive. Sometimes, youths of the community would push the Fulani, shoot their cows and that is what ignites problem. We visited Benue State during the last administration and we succeeded in bringing down tension. What we discovered was that when they go to graze in the forest, an area that doesn't belong to anybody, people would come and demand money from them before they can graze. And even after settling, another group would come and demand for money again and, if they refuse to pay, they shoot the cows.
When a Fulani man gets to an area, he reports to the Fulani head in that area and then report to the traditional leadership in the community.
This is the culture wherever they go.
Today, we have over 30million cows in Nigeria, and over 150million sheep and goats. So, if you don't plan for these things, there is definitely going to be a problem. We want government to settle these people in a place because we too are tired of all these problems.
There is this issue of AK-47?
That is one issue I would like to correct. If you see a Fulani man handling AK-47, that is because cattle rustling has become so much that one wonders if there is security in the country. With the coming of this administration, we are seeing a lot of improvement. No peace-loving Fulani man would be carrying AK-47 and moving about.
What sort of improvements have you seen from this administration?
This administration has helped us recover a lot of cattle. I'm sure you're aware of the amnesty granted to some of them in Kano State.
How do you know your cattle?
They have marks and there are traditional ways of identifying the cows. If there are many cows here and a Fulani man wants to identify his own cattle from the recovered cattle, some would sing or make some sounds and you'll see the Fulani man's cow coming out in his direction. All of them have marks for identification.
In Lagos, we have succeeded in catching about, four times, cattle rustlers. -Channels/Vanguard.