Bala Mohammed’s Volte-Face

By Adewale Kupoluyi

The complex security challenges facing the nation require a multifaceted approach and strong political will on the part of leaders to put a stop to this nightmare. The herders-farmers conflict has become a menace that should be tamed without further delay. Apart from the high casualty figures traced to this crisis, a frightening feature among the herders is arms-bearing whereby many of the pastoralists are seen brandishing all manners of weapons as they lead their cattle on open grazing.

The recent comment by the Governor of Bauchi State, Senator Bala Mohammed has continued to elicit criticism from a cross-section of Nigerians and raises the question of whether our leaders are getting it right or going astray in tackling insecurity. According to Mohammed, herdsmen are not to be blamed for bearing firearms, and that they are only protecting themselves against cattle rustlers, who attack, kill, and take away their possessions. Mohammed, who made this known as Special Guest of Honour at the launch of the magazine titled ‘Correspondents’ Watch”, argued that the herdsmen have the right to live anywhere as Nigerians because the forests where they graze their cows belonged to nobody.

“The west doesn’t want to accommodate other tribes but we are accommodating your tribe in Bauchi. We have Yorubas, who have stayed in Bauchi for over 150 years, some of them have been made permanent secretaries in Gombe, Bauchi, and Borno, but because the Fulani man is practicing the tradition of trans-humans and pastoralism, he has been exposed to cattle rustlers who carry a gun, kill him and take away his cows; he has no option to carry AK-47 because the government and the society are not protecting him. It’s the fault of the government”, Mohammed claimed.

The Bauchi State governor, who was a former Minister of the Federal Capital Territory, averred that “Nobody owns any forests in Nigeria, it’s owned by Nigeria. Under sections 23, 24, and 25 of the Constitution, every Nigerian is free to stay anywhere. Anybody can speak … but we are only exercising restraint. If cybercrime is being practised mostly by one tribe, you don’t criminalise the whole tribe because of this. That’s why you journalists need to be sensitive and exercise restraint. Avoid writing reports that will threaten the unity of this country”.

Contrary to the position of Mohammed, the Special Adviser to the President on Media and Publicity, Mr. Femi Adesina disclosed that “If the governor (Mohammed) would say that he hasn’t heard the President speak on that matter, that’s what he should make clear. It is not that the President hasn’t spoken because a number of times, the President has spoken on that issue. “His position has always been the same. Anybody that carries arms unlawfully should be arrested and prosecuted. The President has said it countless times and that is the position. Whoever he is, wherever he comes from, criminality is criminality; anybody bearing arms unlawfully must be arrested and prosecuted”, the presidential aide added.

Some months back, it would be recalled that President Muhammadu Buhari swiftly resolved the confusion and burning rift within the ranks and file of factions in his party; All Progressives Congress (APC) by throwing his weight behind the court-recognised Chief Victor Giadom-led faction of APC against the former factional Acting National Chairman, Senator Abiola Ajimobi that could have torn the party apart. In view of the general perception by many Nigerians that the Federal Government is not on top of the situation, the President must act decisively and deploy this kind of energy into national affairs by dousing tension and curtailing the excesses of the marauding herders.

There is the need for our elites and leaders to speak with one voice if truly we are going to curtail the excesses of herders and insurgents, whose activities are often linked with the killing, raping, maiming, and destroying of farmlands. Attesting to this dangerous dimension is the report by The Broker, which is a peace and security Sahel watch titled, “Africa’s Pastoralists: A New Battleground for Terrorism”, which warns that “Herder-farmer tensions will undoubtedly persist in Africa; they will be worsened through association with terrorists, who actively aggravate hostilities and manipulate ethnic and religious differences attached to the two lifestyles”.

Unfortunately, some of the herders behave as if they are above the law. Hardly, has anyone of them been apprehended and prosecuted. To worsen matters, their umbrella body; Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association of Nigeria has from time to time, issued threats and inflammatory statements suggesting that they are untouchable. So far, what can be gleaned from the disposition of our leaders is that they are speaking with both sides of their mouths. For instance, the Northern Governors’ Forum has come out to decry open grazing and at the same time, but an active member of the forum is justifying arms bearing by herders, which implies that open grazing should continue and herders should protect themselves in the process.

Mohammed, in a statement issued by his Senior Special Assistant (SSA) on Media, Mr. Mukhtar Gidado, recanted and stated that his comment was meant to avert the dangerous prospect of the backlash and generalisation of the Fulani clan as criminals. The governor said it would be inappropriate to label an entire tribe as criminals, based on the crimes committed by some people. He further stressed that reference to AK-47 was merely to put into perspective, the predicament and desperation of Fulani herdsmen in carrying out their legitimate business and resorting to self-help to defend themselves while the description of forests as ‘no man’s land’ was a carry-over from his geopolitical environment where a pastoralist could set up camp in any forest of choice without facing opposition.

This kind of double-standards cannot engender good governance that entails the sincerity of purpose, discipline, and determination to pursue a common goal. This is lacking on the part of our leaders in ending the herders’ lawlessness. We should also remind the governor that although the constitution allows every citizen to live anywhere he/she wishes, but that does not allow for trespass. He equally needs to clarify what he meant by “… journalists need to be sensitive and exercise restraint (and) … avoid writing reports that will threaten the unity of this country …” Are journalists now responsible for fanning the embers of discord and violence? The earlier the likes of Bala Mohammed stopped the blame game and call a spade a spade, the better for the nation in its quest towards achieving virile security.

Kupoluyi writes from Federal University of Agriculture, Abeokuta (FUNAAB), Ogun State @AdewaleKupoluyi

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