Baba Othman Ngelzarma is the National Secretary of the Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association of Nigeria (MACBAN). In this exclusive interview, he spoke on the raging crisis involving the Fulani, the vacation order in some states in the South West over grazing controversy, and how former Governor Ayodele Fayose of Ekiti State resolved the problem. He said other state governors in all parts of the country have a lot to learn from the Ekiti model. Excerpts:
Let’s start with the issue of the purported vacation order for the Fulani in Ondo and Oyo states. If governors or their officials ask herders to vacate forests, where do you think they can go?
To start with the issue of Ondo, I think there was a misrepresentation because I had the opportunity to speak with one of the government officials, whom I think is a commandant of Amotekun in Oyo State.
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When I saw the story trending on the social media, I put a call to my Ondo State representative. What my chairman told me was that they had a meeting with the governor, which lasted about 2 hours. During that meeting they took some decisions; but I don’t even see them as new decisions.
Maybe they emphasized what we did with the governor last two years. When these issues of kidnapping started in Ondo, we visited the state and had a meeting with the governor and all the Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association leadership in all the local governments.
We had the meeting separately with the associations before meeting with the governor of Ondo State. And we took some decisions, including that henceforth, there would not be anything like grazing on farms, and there won’t be night grazing.
We discovered that the issue of night grazing had been causing a lot of conflicts between farmers and herders. Since then, we never allowed cows to go on night grazing. We did it intentionally to protect the farmlands. These were the same things that were emphasized by the governor when he met with the leadership of Miyetti Allah in Ondo State.
They also said cows were roaming around the Government House and some official buildings; they all agreed that too must stop.
Moreover, they requested the leadership of Miyetti Allah at local government levels to go and liaise with the leadership of their security outfit, Amotekun, so that they would work together to checkmate these activities of bandits and kidnappers. That was what my chairman told me.
When I asked about the seven-day vacation order, he said they were not even aware of this because we met with the governor and we have not heard about this.
When I was discussing with the official and asked about the issue of vacation order, he said government asked those people living in grazing reserves and forests to leave within seven days because the forest is like den for kidnappers, cattle rustlers and bandits.
So they should all vacate the forests since there are alternative areas for grazing for them. Seven days was given for them to register themselves with their various local governments; those who were indigenous herders in Ondo State because they confessed that they had indigenous herders who have been there for over 40 years. There is no how they will chase them out of the state.
They said they gave them seven days to register with their local governments. Whoever did not register after seven days would be considered a criminal and will be chased out of the state by Amotekun. That was the explanation given by the official of the government.
The chairman said they didn’t even know about this order people are discussing. I believe there were misconceptions.
Though they definitely gave seven days for registration, I told the government official that the seven days were not realistic for all the herders in Ondo State to go for registration. To sensitise them to understand that there is registration going on will take more than seven days. There should be some exceptions so that they would go and register.
I even told them that we had a similar initiative in Ekiti State during the time of (Governor Ayodele) Fayose. When these farmers/herders issues became saddened, we went there and had everything with government and the leadership of Miyetti Allah. And we came out to settle everything.
These decisions in Ondo are the same decisions taken in Ekiti State. We stopped night and open grazing and agreed that culprits must be punished. If a farmer touched herders’ animals arbitrarily, he must pay. If a herder made destruction to farmlands, he must pay. So, we took all these decisions.
What are the exact steps taken by Fayose?
Fayose explained that Ekiti did not have grazing reserves but game reserves. So all the herders were allowed to stay in game reserves, but they must all be registered in their various local governments, on the payment of N5, 000 fee. And since that time, kidnapping ceased in Ekiti.
This registration of herders is what we are encouraging to hold across the country. I had a security stakeholders’ meeting in Yobe State recently and this was part of the decisions adopted. We met with all the traditional rulers in the state.
Government officials, traditional rulers, security operatives, commissioner of police, among others, were in attendance. Registration or compilation of a list of pastoralists topped the agenda of the meeting.
We said traditional rulers must know the pastoralists living in their domains, either through the collection of jangali (tax on animals) or creating a means of profiling and registering them so that each traditional ruler will know the number of pastoralists living in his domain. As such, when there is a new comer he must also report to the traditional institution for registration before he is allowed to stay there.
Once this is done, those with criminal tendencies would not want to be registered. And they will leave the state because they won’t want to be identified. When registration is done, if something happens in the domain of a traditional ruler, he must be made to fish out the criminals because he has to know who is coming in and who is going out.
The point I am making is that we want this to be introduced throughout the country. Local governments or states can produce edicts to back this up.
As it is now, traditional rulers don’t even know if they are responsible for herders because of the presence of local governments. And the local governments don’t even care about them, their numbers or how they move because they don’t get anything from them.
But the moment jangali and halaji are collected from pastoralists, every traditional ruler will know their number in his domain because it is benefitting, and the government too is benefitting from them, so they will know them.
And when you have 100 cows this year but you go somewhere and come back with 200, there must be a question. We must calculate. These checks are very essential. Lack of all these is what put us in this serious problem today.
Nobody knows the number of herders in the country. No state government knows the number of herders living in their domain, no local government has any record of herders living in their areas, neither do traditional rulers know the number of herders under them. Traditional rulers should also know the number of cows in their respective domains.
So we think the decision of the Ondo State Government has a means of checking and separating peaceful herders from criminals.
Even in the northern part of the country today, if you leave Damaturu for Kano you would see a lot of pastoralists living by the roadside because of the fear of attacks in the forest. They fear cattle rustlers, bandits and kidnappers. So, most of them don’t even stay in the forest.
I can authoritatively tell you that if you see a Fulani man having cows in the forest of Birni-Gwari, Zamfara or Katsina, that forest must be under the control of bandits. If you see owners of cows living in those forests, the cows must be stolen.
If the cows are legitimately owned, that owner must have initiated children into banditry because that is what can allow him to keep those cattle in those forests. Apart from that, you don’t dare stay in the forest. Your cows would be taken away by bandits. You either initiate your children into banditry for them to protect your cows or maybe you have some money to pay them monthly, else, those cows belong to rustlers.
Can you shed more light on exactly what Fayose did to bring peace to Ekiti State?
Even before Fayose left, there was total peace in Ekiti State. What we did was simple. When we held a meeting with the government, security agencies and the leadership of Miyetti Allah in both state and local levels, and it was in the presence of prominent members like ardos and lamidos living in the state.
If a Fulani man comes into a forest, he would be given a marching order to report to the lamido before he operates. That is how important ardos and lamidos are. They are not appointed by the Miyetti Allah or government but traditional rulers and decorated with traditional attires. An average Fulani man reports to his leader.
If you engage the ardos and lamidos in the forest they will definitely know the perpetrators of crimes because they live with them. So they have no place to hide in the forest. Because of this, we brought them and took decisions. Apart from the issue of night grazing, we also identified the use of minors as another major problem.
At a meeting in Ondo, they said they saw about 300 cows grazing in the Government House. When they went after the herders, they discovered that it was a very small boy of 10 years that was moving the cattle, and he was arrested. But after a plea by the Miyetti Allah and his parents, they released the boy because he was a minor.
When you allow children to go on grazing they will be playing somewhere without even knowing when the cows would break into someone’s farm and cause destruction. And when there is farm destruction, the big problem has come because normally, the farmers will not clearly present the damages done to his farm. He will extort and seek the assistance of a policeman.
Sometimes, even local leaders of the Miyetti Allah will come together to explain the ignorance of the herdsman, who will be compelled to pay an outrageous amount that is far above the damages done by his cows. He will be forced to pay, but he will think of how to revenge, including bringing the cows again to eat up all the crops. He will definitely seek vengeance. So the presence of ardos and lamidos is very important.
In Ekiti, there was a complaint related to loss of lives. Two Fulani men and one Yoruba man were killed over farmer/herders clash and we went there. After the meeting with the governor, he said there should be reconciliation. He brought N1million and gave to the family of the Yoruba man that was killed and asked them to exercise patience.
The pastoralists said three of their people were killed, so he gave them N3 million (N1m each). They also said they lost seven cows as a result of the conflict, and he gave N1m separately for cows.
But when we went to share the money for the pastoralists, we discovered that the deaths were two, not three, so we gave them N2m. We also discovered that the cows were three, not seven. We then divided N1million by seven and gave them three parts. We took the balance of N1.7 back to Fayose and told him what we saw.
He was surprised. That was how we built a serious understanding with Fayose.
He said there was the need to work together and bring back peace. We must endorse agreements and respect them. He added that there had to be a local government security committee comprising pastoralists and farmers in each of the local government, so that when there is a problem in that local government, the committee would mitigate and note what took place.
He suggested the composition of the security committee and directed all the local government chairmen to establish same and give them logistics from time to time. That was what we did in Ekiti with Fayose. Throughout his tenure, there was peace in the state.
Two years back, when we went to Ondo, we told the government what we did in Ekiti to get peace. He was also ready for that. But you know, sometimes, leaders don’t sustain these things. And once it is not sustained, the situation would go back to where it was, even worse than where it was.
I think (Governor Kayode) Fayemi continued with what they saw on ground; that is the reason we still have little peace in Ekiti State, unlike most of the other Yoruba states.
Apart from the agreements you mentioned, did they make an alternative place for herders in Ekiti?
Fayose allowed all the pastoralists to live in game reserves, but they must register with their local governments. Each family must pay N5,000 into the state’s purse for registration.
In Ondo, when I was discussing with the commandant of Amotekun, he said they didn’t ask herders to vacate the state, adding that some of them have lived with them for over 50 years. He said some Yoruba men were also herders in the state.
And we saw Yoruba people who are also herders living in the forest with other pastoralists and their cows. They only understand Fulfulde and the Yoruba language. Some of them don’t even understand Fulfulde but Yoruba.
At the meeting, that was what we told the Ondo State Government to replicate between herders and farmers.
What is the situation in Oyo?
Some of the Fulani people in Oyo don’t understand the Yoruba language, so we have to work together because we also suffer the attacks of these criminals. We are not spared because we are Fulani. They take away our cows and kidnap us as well. So, let’s work together to bring back peace to Oyo. That was the agreement they had.
From the story I received from my chairman in Oyo State, when there was a problem earlier, these people didn’t invite Miyetti Allah, they just went there and killed innocent people. After that, they also arrested Fulani vigilantes they met there and brought them to the police, but they were later released. That was what happened in Oyo State.
It seems they don’t want to work with the pastoralist group, and once this is allowed to happen, they will kill a lot of our people and this will become a problem in Oyo. Our members have opened their arms to embrace them so that they will work together for the interest of the state. And we have grazing reserves in Oyo.
In all the states in the South West, Oyo has grazing reserves, so this is where you will have a very light population of pastoralists, starting from Oyo town. If you go there and see the population of pastoralists you will be surprised.
Are they living in those reserves?
They have been living there. And they have intermarried with the Yoruba, most especially in Ogun. You can hardly distinguish between an Ibariba man and a Yoruba man because of marriage. They are very close.
Whenever we hear that the Yoruba are saying we should leave, we laugh because we know it is impossible; it will never happen. You cannot take an Ibariba man out of Ogun State.
A lot of Yoruba people also rear cows. We know some governors who have 500 and above herds being reared for them by these people in the forests in the Southwestern part of the country.
All the noise you have heard about chasing out of the Fulani are just mere statements to create problems and confusion; some are political, some are hatred. Some are ideas of the Northern- Southern dichotomy; we know what is actually taking place. Sometimes when we see these headlines we just laugh.
For example, when Olu Falae was kidnapped, we decided to take a tour of the entire Southwestern states and discovered that it was nothing serious. We went to Ogun and met with the commissioner for agriculture with the leadership of pastoralists and there was nothing serious.
We discovered that what was in the media was just propaganda. Many guys there didn’t even know that such things took place. We visited a lot of their traditional rulers.
It appears the issue of RUGA has been swept away by political bickering. Don’t you think the Ekiti example is a temporary solution?
You see, there is a very big problem in this country. We started hearing about RUGA, Cattle Colonies, Livestock Transformation Plan, but we lost hope because up till now we have not seen anything on ground as a model developed by the government for our members to see how a settlement can be beneficial to them.
Unfortunately, we still have out-dated species of cattle, which do not weigh more than 100 kilograms. They give an output of milk not more than 3 litres per cow. This is as against another breed weighing 800, 700 kg per cow and giving an output of 50 litres of milk per cow.
This is where the problem is. Our members are still left in the past. No attempt is being made by any administration to change the way they do their business or their lifestyle. We are still living in the primitive world, roaming while searching feeds for our cows in this era of growing population against the land value decree. They also need lands to farm as pastoralists, apart from other farmers that claim access to limited lands.
Also, no attempt is being made to seriously educate them, either religiously or western-wise. They don’t enjoy anything in government. They only see government as an isolated cubicle, where they are arrested and locked up.
That is the only thing they know government about.
Even in hospitals they are cheated on the prices of patients’ cards. Maybe it is not more than N500 in Abuja, but they will be asked to pay N5,000; and they will pay.