Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) chieftain, Dr. Katch Ononuju, in this interview with BIYI ADEGOROYE and TAI ANYANWU, traces the history of the current clashes between Fulani herdsmen and other ethnic groups in Nigeria and offers some solutions.
What do you think is the major cause of the current action by Fulanis or Fulani herdsmen in the country?
It is democracy and nothing else. Democracy has over 19 years brought so much confidence to our people, you can’t stop it. This is the first time we are having the longest period of political stability, 20 years. You know when the British left in 1963, we became a Republic, not so? In 1966, we went to war. Then Chief Olusegun Obasanjo handed over in 1979 and in 1983, Muhammadu Buhari killed democracy. So this is the first time that Nigeria has had this thing for the longest period.
And you need to understand the fundamentals to the story. The Fulani don’t have numbers. Don’t forget that we were colonised twice, first by the Fulani over the Hausa states and second by the British. But while the British employed the Fulani for their indirect rule, the Fulani used that opportunity to surreptitiously build more Emirates in Wase and Jama’a in Kaduna State, even extending to Nasarawa, Keffi and of course, Lafia is occupied by the Kanuris who are members in what became the Arewa Federation. Fulani own their own, Sokoto Caliphate and the Kanuris own Borno Caliphate, when you join those you have a federation.
Lord Luguard lived with that federation first before he came down to Calabar. So when it got to the time we wanted our Independence, the Fulani said ‘no.’ So what happened is that the British were happy to see a friend among us. But the Fulani were not part of us. The Portuguese came first, and then the British, then the Fulani . The British then changed their mandate; it was first trade, missionary then colonial mandate.
Once the mandate was changed, everybody was now brought in. And the Fulani were defeated, but still in a twist of fate the British re-employed the Fulani to watch over the Hausas and report back to them which was called Izum Kali, the ‘Indirect Rule’. Why?, Because the British had less than 400 persons when they declared the colonial mandate. So they sent those people to the South and they were the District Officers, but in the North over the Hausa states, Fulanis were employed. Now we got ready for Independence, the Fulani said ‘no, it was neither the North nor the Hausa man.’ Aminu Kano was fighting for the Hausas. So, yes we had Independence, but yet the whole of the country was not free. This is when the freedom fight started, and that is what we are seeing it’s final phase today.
There is certain assertion of rights by the Jukuns, the Birom and the Tivs which has been met with fierce violent reprisal by the Fulanis. And yet inevitably, if you follow the property laws of the country, the people of the Benue have right to legislate in regards to the benue valley even the Jukuns around Gembu and the Mambila. What I think is going on is that President Muhammadu Buhari is failing in his duty, because he is not doing the Fulani a favour by allowing them to kill with no questions asked. He is dividing the country, stigmatising the Fulani; and they will not win. I say this because they do not have the numbers; and if they have numbers, they will rampage and occupy lands. All they have been doing is hit and run and that is the problem.
The Miyeti Allah fights alone, not even with the Hausa. Today they fight the Hausa in Maru, in Anka, in Dan Golbe, in Dansadau and Malele all in Zamfara State ; they are fighting the Gbagi in Pandogari, Brinin Gwari, Alawa and even as Kuserki. All that massive iron formations along Soho Brinin Gwari plains, they are fighting there with local people. They are fighting with the Jukuns; and you have heard the running battles the President has had with General TY Danjuma who were his very major backers. If Danjuma is against you, Olusegun Obasanjo says ‘no, why? Buhari has veered away from the directional principle of state policy in regard to the Nigerian project. He does no more care about Nigeria. President Buhari is now fixated on a Fulani nationalistic agenda.
When Defence Minister, Dan Alli says the states are wrong for enacting the Anti Open Grazing Bill and that an airport was built on old cattle path. What cattle path? Cattle path, cattle routes, when we have made good use of our land, we now build schools, we now build airports, we build hospitals, Minister Alli is telling us that herdsmen who brought in cattle from Mali, from Mauritania, from Niger and Chad that they have more rights than Nigerians to build airports, schools. This is nonsense. And recently, they want to bring the Water Management Bill to seize all surface and ground waters and adjoining embankments of land so that he can issue that to his people for grazing land; because you can’t have grazing land if there is no water beside it. The cattle will not stay without water, no matter how fresh the grass is.
Could you explain this seeming agenda to seize surface and ground waters a little more?
The idea of pulling the control of fresh water, salt water, underground and surface water all in the exclusive arms of the Federal Government; and then to also seize the embankment lands there occurring with the water no matter where the water is. If the water is a major river like say, the Cross River, or the River Num, all the adjoining Anang, Ibibio, Efik , Igbo and Izon lands in the Niger Delta and all the areas where the River Niger and their tributaries, the River Nom and their tributaries, the Cross River and their tributaries and even the Imo River and its tributaries, the lands and water shall now all be confiscated by the Federal Government. The strategy is simply to put them in federal hands away from the provisions of Land Use Decree, control of all lands and waters therefore. President Buhari’s plan does not mean well for Nigeria. This is the first Federal Government Executive Bill brought to the Senate in this 8th Senate apart from the national budget.
Are you saying that the purpose right from the beginning is anti-people?
It is anti-people. Buhari has employed himself for the interest of the Fulani as against the interest of Nigerians. Professor Wole Soyinka wrote, he did not answer; but he invited Soyinka to deceive him with vitriolics about his recognition of June 12; not the government recognition of June 12. He should go the full hug and announce the result of June 12 presidential election and mention MKO Abiola’s name as winner of the election.
What does the fact that he has not done it portends?
It shows you that this is a Greek gift. He gave it to you, somebody next year goes to court and the court says those are just talks; nothing was legislated at all; and the dates are gone; don’t mention it again. It will take a constitutional amendment to remove May29 and put June 12. If you do it holistically you force people. Let him build a coalition to reform and restructure Nigeria, and then Abiola’s spirit will be happy.
Are you saying that May 29 is not ….?
May 29 is officially, till tomorrow, embedded in the constitution that on that day, no matter what happens, whoever is the president will be sworn in on May 29 next year.
So is there going to be a reversal of that pronouncement?
He must amend the constitution to change that date. That is why he agreed with his ministers that though he mentioned that date, it is legally not feasible until these things are done.
But hasn’t he asked the minister to gazette it?
Gazetting is one thing; that is just government’s side. The gazzetting of the guilty findings against Kayode Fayemi did it stop Buhari from employing him or employing Rotimi Amaechi. Those things don’t mean anything; they have no teeth in law. The gazzetting of Amaechi’s wrong doings in Rivers and Fayemi’s wrong doings in Ekiti, did that stop the government from giving them jobs as ministers? If you should respect the law then you expect the law to work for you. If you don’t regard the law, anything you say people will regard you as a clown.
Are you saying that President Buhari does not respect the laws?
It is on record that he doesn’t respect the law. He is not the only one. Governor Rochas Okorocha doesn’t also respect the court injunction. He doesn’t respect them. Remember court injunctions to release Sambo Dasuki, he has not respected. So you must find a way for our laws to work. If they don’t work, well amend them and get them to work. We should seek to uphold the constitution not break the constitution because of emotions, after all the country’s laws should come first.
Like you mentioned, Fayemi is contesting an election, but in Benue former governor Gabriel Suswan was indicted by judicial commission of enquiry and EFCC picked him up. Why do you think Amaechi and Fayemi are walking freely?
Exactly, that is because of Buhari’s selective administration system. He selects what to attend to; he selects what Nigerians want… Nigerians said stop the killing by the herdsmen but he has not given it attention. The President’s body language is what confuses security services and makes them stay away from interdicting and prosecuting the herdsmen. If the President gives instruction, in 48 hours the herdsmen’s story will be over.
He was sworn in to attend to all the security needs of the people and the security needs of their properties. That is number one law. The killings represent a security need…He went to London and said they are not neighbours of Benue people they are Libyans, people trained by Muammar Gaddafi in Libya. So, are Benue people supposed to accommodate Libyans? The government’s insincerity is the reason why people believe that President Buhari is complicit in the killings by not acting to stop them. Let him respect Prof. Wole Soyinka’s words, to act to stop the killings, for removal of those who have so for occupied lands and for the land so occupied be returned to their owners and their owners helped to return home. We had this problem in a local government of Nasarawa State between the Ibira people and the Basa; it was resolved and the Basa people came back to their homes. So Buhari should listen to the words of Soyinka in resolving these killings immediately. It is counterproductive; on the long term, it will stigmatise the Fulani before all indigenous populations where people have been killed, their properties burnt and population sacked from where they lived.
Let’s look at Zamfara State, in recent times; it has become a killing field. Only recently, the governor said he is no longer the chief security officer of the state. The Minister of Defence hails from that state, what is your opinion?
You need to understand this. The Minister of Defence parrots the emotions he believes to be shared by President Buhari. He will not do in regards to Zamfara what the governor wants. No; he will do what the President thinks . And that’s why I said that President Buhari’s body language allows Minister Dan Alli to speak this publicly without knowing that he is a Minister of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, telling the constitutionally composed House of Assembly to abrogate laws they have made to protect their people. .. His words give him out ; instead of upholding the law, he tries to tell the state to rescind the law. And I was happy when Senator Barnabas Gemade spoke in the Senate that he must be called to order; he must not only be called to order, President Buhari should sack him, if the President wants us to believe he does not approve or somehow is still complicit in this killings. If he doesn’t encourage it, President Buhari should sack Minister Alli and get the police to implement the law wherever they are dually passed by requisite authorities, in this case the state’s House of Assembly and the assenting of signatures by the governor makes the law. No Policeman should refuse to actually carry out such law. So, for the Inspector-General of Police and Dan Alli, two men that head security organisations to speak like that publicly, gives impetus to those under their ministries not give any recognition to those laws. That’s why we are in a security mess and the best way to handle this is President Buhari should sack the Inspector -General of Police, the Minister of Defence and all the Service Chiefs the wrong signals from these people to make them not live up to what they swore to do when they swore to serve the Nigerian security services.
To what extent do you say that is true that there is a clamp down on the opposition?
Yes it is very clear; there is a clamp down. Once you are corrupt and you join the APC, you are a saint; but if you are still in PDP you are in trouble. But for me, I do not think that will save Buhari’s government from being removed I think he will be removed because of ineptitude and incompetence. He lowered the standards; his government has not done well; security has gotten very bad; the economy, we have not seen a good effect it has passed on the people; we have not seen a robust rebound in consumers’ confidence . So I do not want us to be talking about a rejuvenation of economic activity without the poor and those on the street actually saying it reflects on their tables and when they sleep.
It’s been argued that the people, who are being accused, arrested have skeletons in their cardboards..?
That is true; a lot of them have skeletons in their cupboards. What we are saying is let us have a holistic question time for all those people who are challenged. Amaechi is challenged; Fayemi is challenged, actually going back again to run despite the challenge of corruption upon his head. Now Adams Oshiomhole is being accused in court yet President Buhari told governors to support him which is what he should not do. If any man has a complaint against him let him go out and clear his name.