Last Saturday, Governor Abdullahi Ganduje made a proposition that will not only constitute an affront to the constitution, but will, if implemented, be the beginning of the end of Nigeria. At an event in Daura, he called for a law banning Fulani herdsmen from the middle belt and southern Nigeria, contending that this is the only way to end the cropland crisis and cattle rustling. It should go without saying, but must nevertheless be said, that Ganduje’s suggestion is untenable: it is unconstitutional, it is a recipe for disintegration, and it would not work in any case.
We shall deal first with the constitutional question. Ganduje’s suggestion violates sections 35 and 44 of the constitution that allow every Nigerian to move freely and to establish themselves in any part of Nigeria they choose. The only situations under which the constitution contemplates restricting Nigerians’ right to freely move is (a) when there is court order following the commission of crime; (b) for the purpose of controlling the spread of a contagious disease for other health reasons; or (c) in respect of persons below 18 years of age, for the purpose of their education.
- Northern Elders Forum: There are millions of Fulani living lawfully, these attacks must stop
- Ganduje wants cattle movement from north to south banned
Even the above measures only apply to individuals, not an entire class, and must be temporary, not permanent. Ganduje’s plan doesn’t fall anywhere near any of these exceptions. It is a call for a blanket permanent ban on an entire class. Furthermore, even Section 45 of the constitution, which allows the legislature to enact a law “that is reasonably justifiable in a democratic society” to derogate from the fundamental rights when it is in the public interests to do so, exempts sections 35 and 44. So neither the state nor federal legislature has the authority to enact Ganduje’s dangerous proposition.
What is more, the idea of a north and a south, which has become so ingrained in our minds thanks to divisive elites, and upon which Ganduje’s thoughtless idea is based, is completely alien to the constitution. The constitution knows only “one indivisible and indissoluble” Nigeria with a Federal Capital Territory, 36 States and 774 Local Government Areas. Thus, if Ganduje’s proposal were to be followed, the legislation would need to specify particular states or local government areas from which Fulani herders are declared persona non-grata. But any such law would be discriminatory as restricting a class of people on account of their tribal affiliation is a direct violation of Section 42 of the constitution. Ganduje’s proposal targets Fulani herders specifically, and not other herders. Thus, they will be excluded not for being herders, but for being Fulani.
As for its effects, if this proposition were to be enacted, it would be the first formal step ever taken by any government towards disintegrating Nigeria. It will strengthen the agents of hate and division and embolden those stoking ethnoreligious fears, tensions and violence. Banning all Fulani from parts of the country for the crime of a few will lead to calls in Fulani-majority states for laws targeting Nigerians from the states that barred Fulani. The law will be interpreted by some from a religious prism. They will argue that Fulani were excluded because they are Muslims and advocate for the banning of non-Muslims from Muslim-majority states. Others will see it as a south-north fight and advocate for the barring of southerners from the North. In fact, some will not even wait for any law or procedure; they will issue illegitimate quit notices and/or start raiding minorities. Before you know it, there will no longer be a Nigeria.
And as for its efficacy, even if Ganduje’s proposal were legal and not dangerous, it would be completely useless. He was obviously responding to recent tensions in Ondo and Oyo states where Fulani were issued illicit quit notices and assaulted by criminals. What many of us don’t seem to remember is that most of the Fulani living in the South today are not northerners. They are bona fide southerners. Their ancestors settled in the South over 200 years ago. They settled in the area long before Nigeria was created, before any talk of North and South or creation of Oyo, Ondo and other states.
Some years ago, I got lost with a friend on our way to Ladoke Akintola University of Technology in Ogbomosho, Oyo State. As we wandered in the middle of nowhere, we saw Fulani men looking after their cattle. When we stopped to ask them direction, communicating turned out to be not as easy as we had anticipated. They stood looking at us blanking as we spoke Hausa to them. They didn’t understand a thing! They only spoke Fulfulde and Yoruba. It was Idris Rogo’s little Fulfulde that saved us. This isn’t an isolated incident nor limited to the bush. BBC Hausa recently interviewed the Seriki Fulani of Oyo, who is the leader of all Fulani in the state. The journalist had to rely on an interpreter because the head of the Fulani in Oyo State doesn’t understand Hausa, the lingua franca of the North.
What does Ganduje plan to do with these Fulani? Will they be expelled from their ancestral homes and repatriated to the unfamiliar North? The same North where the overwhelming majority of the farmer-herder crisis happens?
From Kebbi to Borno, from Kogi to Katsina, we grew up as witnesses to the annual ritual of conflicts between farmers and herders which has recently intensified across the North. Similarly, the North is at the moment the major frontier of cattle rustling and criminality. How will Ganduje’s law solve this? It will only exacerbate it.
Rather than proposing measures that will further divide us, our politicians should pursue measures that will restore peace and foster unity. In addition to security measures, we need to work to tackle the underlying causes of social polarisation and fragmentation and confront local sources of insecurity. We should work to rebuild traditional dispute resolution mechanisms and repair broken bonds.
Prudent management of public resources by the Gandujes of this world to provide quality education, equal opportunities, create friendly environment and infrastructure is the first step toward a peaceful, prosperous Nigeria. Politicians that act like demigods and only know how to enrich themselves should save us their divisive gobbledygook.