Herdsmen from different parts of Nigeria have stated that nobody can stop them from grazing their cattle in any part of the country, especially in the south. They described such restriction as unconstitutional. The nomads, who spoke to SUNDAY PUNCH under the auspices of the Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association, dismissed the ultimatums given by different groups for the herdsmen to vacate the southern part of the country. This is despite the fact that groups, including foremost Yoruba farmers’ pressure group and ethnic militia, Agbekoya Farmers Association of Nigeria in the South-West; the Movement for the Actualisation of the Sovereign State of Biafra (South-East); the Independent Peoples of Biafra (South-East); and some ex-Niger Delta militants in the South-South, stated their readiness to defend their territories should herdsmen attack their communities again.
Suspected Fulani herdsmen, who grazed their cattle from the northern part of the country to the southern part, had been accused of killing, raping and robbing members of their host communities. The Enugu incident, where several lives were lost, was the most recent. But the herdsmen, in separate interviews with our correspondents on Saturday, noted that it was wrong for people to restrict their movement as the constitution guaranteed their movement into any part of the country.
The Chairman, Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association, Plateau State, Mr. Nuru Abdullahi, said nobody could deprive Fulani herdsmen of their constitutional right of free movement. Abdullahi said, “Why would they ask them not to go to the southern part of the country? It is their constitutional right to move freely as guaranteed by the laws of the land. What the various governments and security agencies should do is to prevent attacks and counter-attacks and such things that breed violence like cattle rustling and trespassing into farmlands.
“The Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria guarantees freedom of movement for every citizen of the country; this includes the right to live, work and carry out any legitimate activity in any part of the country. If and when you breach this freedom, then, the law should deal with you. So, asking anybody not to go to any part of the country is unconstitutional.”
Also, the Chairman, MCBAN, North-West Zone, Mr. Ardo Ahmadu Suleiman, warned against criminalising all Fulani herdsmen over the attacks. He said, “We are law abiding citizens of Nigeria. The constitution forbids anybody or group from banning anybody’s movement from one part of the country to another. We have been staying peacefully with tribes across the country for ages. Therefore, for anyone to say he wants to ban Fulani from entering their land is uncalled for.”
However, several socio-cultural and militia groups in the southern part of the country on Saturday stated their readiness to reject the invasion of their communities by Fulani herdsmen. Agbekoya gave the Federal Government a 14-day ultimatum to stop the incessant attacks by suspected Fulani herdsmen on farmers in Yorubaland even as it vowed to retaliate any attack on its members. The position of the group was made known by its National Publicity Secretary, Mr. Olatunji Bandele, in a telephone interview with one of our correspondents on Saturday.
According to Bandele, if the Federal Government fails to act decisively within the stipulated time, the Agbekoya will have to defend its people with whatever means at its disposal. Bandele said the association held an emergency meeting last Thursday where it discussed the incessant onslaught by Fulani herdsmen against Yoruba farmers, especially in the Oke Ogun area of Oyo State. He stated that if the situation was not brought under control, the group would “close down all markets in the South West; make sure that Fulani herdsmen do not enter any village in Yoruba land with their cows. And if they dare enter, they are doing it at their own risk.
“We have alerted Agbekoya South West warriors across Yorubaland to be battle ready in case the Fulani herdsmen do not heed our warning because this thing has continued for the past four to five years now.” Bandele added, “We have other security measures that we are taking but keeping to ourselves. If the Fulani herdsmen failed to heed our warning and they dare enter Yorubaland, they will be doing so at their own risk. We are waiting for the Federal Government to take decisive action.” The deadline, he added, started to read from last Thursday.
Asked if the group was now arming its members against the reported sophisticated fire arms of the suspected herdsmen, Bandele said, “We are not bothered with whether they carry arms or not, we will deal with the Fulani herdsmen hands down. We have done it before. The Agbekoya fought a 14-month war with the military. That was in 1968/69. We have instructed our warriors. Anywhere they kill farmers again, we will move in.” Asked what the association would do per chance any part of Yoruba land was attacked, he said, “We will retaliate.”
The leader of MASSOB, Mr. Uchenna Madu, lamented that Igbo people had been “talking and talking” while they watched their people being killed. He stated that it was time for “action” to end killings by herdsmen. Madu said, “The Fulani herdsmen are cowards. After the recent attacks, they ran away. If they mean business, let them wait for Ndi’gbo and we will engage them man-to-man.
“It will be demeaning to ask us if we have the capability to confront them.”
IPOB, another Igbo secessionist group which dismissed security agencies as failing to secure the people, alleged that Boko Haram had been disguising as herdsmen to attack parts of the country. The Publicity Secretary of IPOB, Mr. Emma Powerful, stated that the group would not be at the forefront of reprisals against criminal herdsmen in the region but would encourage those under attack to defend and retaliate in self defence. He said, “The world is watching IPOB; the plan was for us to retaliate the attacks by Fulani herdsmen but we will not do so. Rather, we will ask those who are under attack to defend themselves or get killed. “The international rule is that you have the right to self defence if your life is under threat; security agencies know that. Face whatever or whoever is going to kill you or you die.”
Another Yoruba group, Oodua Peoples Congress, said although the Yoruba were perceived as accommodating, the group would not sit by and pretend as if all was well. The National Coordinator of the OPC, Mr. Gani Adams, told one of our correspondents in a telephone interview that the attacks by Fulani herdsmen in the region had gone out of hand. Adams said, “Nowadays, it is becoming too rampant in the South-West. Now, nobody is provoking the Fulani herdsmen; they are the ones taking laws into their hands, killing and maiming innocent people in their (victims’) communities.
“These Fulani herdsmen may even be Boko Haram in disguise. If government is looking at this as if they are an influential tribe or race in Nigeria and that they can’t tackle it, it may become a very serious security treat. “We the Yoruba think that we are highly accommodating and that if a stranger who is living in our community has committed an offence, the law should take its own course. But I know for sure that the South-East will not allow their people to be maimed.”
The Chairman of MCBAN in Bauchi State, Abdullahi Abubakar, told SUNDAY PUNCH that the association was planning to hold an emergency executive meeting on Monday or Tuesday to discuss the issues affecting herdsmen.
Meanwhile, the Christian Association of Nigeria and the National Association of Nigerian Students have called on President Muhammadu Buhari to come out boldly and tackle the problem. The Chairman of CAN in the 19 Northern States, Rev. Yakubu Pam, said the President needed to be courageous in tackling his own people and condemning their terrible activities.