The National President of the Middle Belt Forum, Dr Bitrus Pogu, in this interview with James Abraham, published in The Punch explains consequences of the rising insecurity in the country.
Are you comfortable with the security situation in the country?
Nobody in his right mind is comfortable with the security situation in this country, particularly somebody like me who is from Chibok community ,Borno State, North-East where killings, kidnapping for ransom ,destruction of people’s homes and their farms have become a daily occurrence. This thing(insecurity) started in the North-East and it has spread to the whole country and nobody is comfortable. Even people in Abuja where I am at the moment are not sleeping with their two eyes closed because nobody knows what is going to happen in the next minutes since Nasarawa State where Boko Haram insurgents are regrouping as confirmed recently by the state governor is just next door to Abuja.
The Southern Kaduna is also next door to Abuja. Travelling to Kogi State by is not safe.If you travel from Kaduna,the same thing. Everywhere has been infested with insecurity and knowing what is now happening in the South-West, unless the person is not a Nigerian, he cannot be comfortable with the security situation in Nigeria because nowhere is safe for the citizens.
Has government addressed the menace of the herdsmen sufficiently?
The government has always pampered the herdsmen from one attack after the other .Since the present administration came in, it appears the victims of these attacks are the ones the government goes after. When these things were happening on a regular basis in Plateau State which then came to Benue State and then to Taraba and back to Plateau, Southern Kaduna besides similar happenings in the North East which have become normal issues the people had lived with, the response of the government and the Presidency have always been nothing affirmative with regard to the herdsmen. For instance, when people were killed in large numbers in Benue State in 2018,we were surprised to hear the President making a statement telling the state governor and the people of Benue to learn to live with their neighbours. How do you live with your killers?. So, this situation has continued even as the victims are usually arrested and no aggressors are not arrested. So,the whole thing is even skewed against the victims. People are killed by the herdsmen. They are chased out of their houses, compounds, settlements, farms and forced to stay in IDP camps while the aggressors, the herdsmen move around freely . You will see some with their cattle and others without them, but with weapons and nobody apprehends them.So,the government is seen by observers as actually creating the existence of the criminality of the herdsmen .But when crime is committed and is not punished ,it surely continues and that is what is happening in the country because the herdsmen have not been punished nor the culprits arrested .From the north, they have now gone to the South. So, the attitude of government has to change otherwise, the situation will continue unabated
All over the country, herdsmen destroyed people’s farm, raped women and kidnapped. If all these are not checked, what are the likely implications?
Certainly, we are moving towards a scenario that played out in the Central African Republic when the indigenous people got fed up and rose up to the situation and dealt a blow to the Fulani. The CAR experience is similar to the one in Nigeria. In CAR, the Fulani took over all key positions in government ,the military and in other places and started doing what is happening now in Nigeria .Indigenous people got fed up, organised themselves and unleashed vengeance on the Fulani.The story is now history but the Fulani were defeated and kicked out. The CAR is a small place compared with Nigeria in terms of population and the indigenes. If these things get to a level when Nigerians are totally fed up be it Hausa,Igbo,Yoruba and as it happening in Zamfara,Kastina; Middle Belt areas, the South South and the South-West, it will reach a stage where there will be a spontaneous response to the aggression and Fulani domination will be history. I would have loved them to reason and know that this the direction we are heading to .But unfortunately, they think erroneously that they can achieve whatever they have set for themselves to achieve. It is rather unfortunate but what I can tell them is to listen to wise counsel because I can assure the Fulani and those who are herdsmen and unfortunate ones who are peace loving among them that the killer herdsmen are going to lead them to destruction .When that happens, they will lose everything. I only pray that they will listen to wise counsel and stop the ongoing criminality in the country.
In Ogun State, soldiers supervised herdsmen, from other countries whose animals were destroying people’s farms. And farmers that voiced opposition were beaten. Is this not an indication that the herdsmen have the backing of the Federal Government?
We in the Middle Belt have always cried and said that when they introduced the cattle colony or ruga or whatever the policy is called when Audu Ogbeh was the Minister of Agriculture ,we have always said that these herdsmen moving across our land are foreigners and not Nigerians. At that time,we kicked against the whole exercise be it colony or ruga because we know our indigenous Fulani and if there has to be such a policy, it has to involve the people. And we made it clear that the best policy is ranching rather than practising some kind of 17th and 18th century mode of rearing cattle which creates conflicts.But the Federal Government continued to push these policies that are not acceptable; that create conflicts and continue to be a thorn in the flesh of every other Nigerian. We believe that everything is being done to favour the Fulani and we continued telling the government that this thing will not work in the 21st century because the modern way of animal husbandry is ranching .But the government refused and allowed these people to be roaming everywhere to create problems. Interestingly, the majority of those who roam around don’t even have cows. Those found in the forest, how many of them were found with herds of cattle? They come around and attack people,kill them and disappear into the bush .Thereafter, the ones who have cattle now surface and occupy the place .So it is a premeditated attack which they carry out. We have said it before that it land grabbing and nothing else. If the government is not giving them backing, they wouldn’t be doing what they are doing successfully without getting apprehended all these while.
Other West African countries particularly Ghana, Togo and Benin have banned open grazing. Why is the Federal Government unwilling to do this?
It is because they have an agenda . The agenda is not just allowing cattle to move around freely and graze in the old traditional way, to me and we within the Middle Belt, they have an agenda of land grabbing, changing of demography because all these foreign Fulani moving around under the guise of West African protocols is deliberate. They are trooping in from all other parts of West Africa and even Central Africa to come and occupy our land using Federal Government policy and then increasing their population for political purposes and domination .
Has Nigeria handled ECOWAS protocols well particularly as far as security of the country is concerned.
If the Federal Government has handled it well, there would not have been the problem we are in now. Ghana is part of ECOWAS.Togo and others are parts of ECOWAS and they know that that freedom of people is guaranteed under the protocol but seeing the security of their countries being threatened, they had to rise up to the situation and deal decisively with what is happening. The kind of thing happening in Nigeria would not happen in Ghana because they will not tolerate it. Unfortunately, we have a government that is not only tolerating it but encouraging it as well.
You mentioned that Ghana wouldn’t tolerate what is happening in Nigeria. Why did you say so?
There was a time the President (of Ghana) stopped that. The issue here is that for this country to be tolerating this kind of thing, it means that government (Nigerian government) is in active support of what Ghanaian President said he would not tolerate: Cows moving on the streets like Nigeria. It was widely reported even by our local media. What do you make out of that? But the situation is different here in Nigeria. Even in the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja, sometimes you will see cows on the roads blocking free movement of people. That kind of thing happening in Nigeria would not happen in Ghana because they will not tolerate it. Unfortunately, we have a government that is not only tolerating it but encouraging it as well.
Why are Fulani herdsmen from other countries are trooping into the country? Is it because a Fulani man is the President?
There must be an incentive because for somebody to argue that desertification is chasing Fulani southward of Sahara is not an adequate statement to explain the situation. There must be an incentive from the government encouraging these Fulani to troop into the country. Like I told you earlier, many of these Fulani trooping into the country don’t even have cattle. Some of them when they come in even try to intimidate the local Fulani by rustling their cattle. The agenda is to change demography ,populating Nigeria with their people in areas where they have little influence with the intention to subjugate the natives and take over their lands and making Nigeria their colony in the 21st century .Let them see the danger of what they are doing because the people will one day resist such a move across board because it will not work. Nobody has the monopoly of violence and violence can only beget violence. Before now ,we used to hear like in Plateau State that the Fulani cows have been rustled and that is why they were killing the people. But are cows still being rustled now? and yet the killings have continued. So the issue is that the government has been encouraging them to do what they are doing with the conviction that the presidency which is under the control of a Fulani will help them with the wherewithal to make it easy for them to achieve their aim .Otherwise, they wouldn’t come from outside the country to attack the natives with impunity. So, there must be an encouragement from the government.
Do you believe in the statement of some people that Buhari views other parts of the country as conquered territories
I would want to take issue with people who make such statements but one thing I do know is that if they are conquered, they wouldn’t want to try conquer them again. Conquered people are captives. What is happening which remains the truth is that the current administration as we have it in Nigeria is the most nepotic and is bent of favouring the Fulani more than any other group in the country. And whether the President considers other sections of the country as equal is to be judged by the indices of what he is doing .Let me give you an example. In Taraba State where the Fulani are in the minority with less than ten per cent population, all the federal appointments due for that state were all given to the Fulani. I don’t know of anyone that is not given to Fualni. What does that indicate? It means that this government is for Fulani and to be enjoyed by the Fulani while others are considered as second class citizen. If one who being is considered as a second class citizen is seen as the same with a conquered person, then it left for those who make such a statement to explain. But as far as I am concerned, I wouldn’t say people are conquered but I will say that the President is ‘nepotic’ and only favours his people who are Fulani more than others in the scheme of affairs in Nigeria.