Prior to the ambassadorial posting in 1999, he had held office as Federal Minister of Education and Federal Minister of Petroleum and Mineral Resources (1989 and 1992). As Petroleum Minister, he was President of the African Petroleum Producers Association (1991) and President of the OPEC Conference between 1991 and1992.
In this interview, Aminu blames the face-off between Fulani herdsmen and host communities in many parts of the country on government. He also says unless government fights Boko Haram as if in a war, insurgency in the country will not abate. Aminu is also a delegate to the on-going National Conference. Excerpts:
Can you tell me the story of Fulani herdsmen?
The Fulani story is a tragic paradox because when we talk about the Fulani as a group, people tell you about the Fulani rule in Sokoto Empire and sub empires like the one we have in Adamawa, and they talk about all the rulers in northern Nigeria where Fulani, consequent upon the establishment of the Caliphate and other
empires headed by Fulani and all the historical problems associated with that including emirate rule, including what some people call Fulani dictators, slavery and how Fulani rule dovetailed into modern politics with old parties like the NPC, NPN. People who might not be Fulani often like to identify themselves as Fulani because of the pedigree.
And so, the ordinary Fulani man bears all the brunt of this historical animosity when truly he was not responsible. That is one side of the Fulani people. This is the one people are talking about especially in politics. There is another one that touches on the Fulani at all levels including the nomadic Fulani.
They are all lumped and tied as one and they have to bear the cost of the unpopularity of the ruling class. The Fulani man with his cows is seen now as belonging to the ruling class which he doesn’t belong to.
And, therefore whatever, animosity there is to the ruling class automatically is transferred to this poor man, poor woman or poor clan. And we all speak same language, we all look the same. How can you say ‘this one is not my own, or these people are not my people or the people in the ruling class are not my people?’
You cannot say that. You have this problem. Now, on the other hand, you look at the poor, ordinary Fulani with no land, who are not even settled, the nomadic Fulani. Before the restrictions, they were moving throughout West Africa. And it is the same thing you find wherever you go. They don’t have their own land.
They are not interested in farming. They are nomads, grazing and they have not got what you call their own grazing land where they will keep their cows and give them food. That doesn’t happen.
So, they have to move from place to place. The move say from Plateau to Mambilla, from Mambilla to Plateau. They move all over the place and their contacts are the farmers particularly now that their brother Fulani are not ruling. You see, there is a a disadvantage to indigenous people, the indigenous tribe. They drive them away.
They used to have cattle routes in the days of the British in the first republic. You have cattle routes everywhere. And no farmer will come to farm on these routes. But you now find out that they pass through this route this year, next year they come to find out it is either somebody’s house or somebody’s farm.
They are not aggressive people. Are they mad? They are not. They just come back and pass where they passed, where they grazed last year. But somebody has taken it and says it is his farm, his house, his land. That is what is causing a lot of the problems that you see. And what will they do with their cows?
‘I passed through here last year and I even stayed there. Coming back, you now say I can’t even come there. You say I have eaten your corn, I have eaten your this and that. My cows have destroyed your farm’. Now, you can see the problems.
And this is not only with the minority tribes, the Christians, in fact, in a lot of Hausa land, Sokoto, Kano, Jigawa, you have this problem. And for a long time, they have been trying to establish grazing reserves. They are only talking about it. They have not done anything.
If there was anything like grazing reserve, when I was heavily involved in this, that was Plateau, not even a Fulani state or province. In short, government talks about it (grazing reserve) but they have not done anything.
They have not established anything for them. And these people supply meat, milk, hides and skin, manure. But they don’t care to look after them. The only time they are looking after them is to tax them. Gen. Gowon abolished the tax. Today, they pay tax yet they are not looked after. Nobody cared about their education until I came with nomadic education.
This is nothing more than just primary school education to make them accessible to information. Somebody who is an illiterate is not accessible to development information, information of any kind. So, we began to educate them.
All over, people talk about nomadic education yet I don’t know what they have been able to do. But what I know is that you pass a school and they tell you it is nomadic a school. But you find children from town in them. The society is not doing anything for these people.
Is that the justification for destroying people’s farms?
‘I passed this road last year and this year you say I can’t pass’. I don’t know any other alternative. This is the cause. I didn’t say it was a justification. It is the cause of these frictions. The Fulani are not mad. They can’t go round destroying somebody’s farm but ‘I followed this road last year, I feel like coming to follow it again because my people have been doing it for a long time’.
When they come, you drive them away, saying they are destroying your crops. And you begin to fight and kill them.
In that case, would you blame the crisis on government for not establishing reserves?
Certainly, but the state governments in particular. The state governments haven’t done anything.
In that case, what do you suggest?
The first is education. With the support of General Ibrahim Babangida when he was in power, we started nomadic education. Thank God it is still on.
Now, the problem has escalated to killings, deaths like we could see in Benue State?
Not just now. It started a long time ago.
So, how do you react because a lot of deaths have been attributed to it?
It is the responsibility of government especially at the state level. These are their people. They benefit from them. These people move across state boundaries in the country as a whole. You find them as far south as Awka in Anambra State, as far as the northern fringes of Abeokuta, as far as Abakaliki. They are there because of the encroachment of the desert. They keep going down there.
Can you say they are hostile?
They are not hostile. I have told you what happens. They go round with their cattle. These are areas that they have known for decades. Their fathers, forefathers were following these routes. And they are going on their legitimate business. Somebody driving cows from Adamawa to go to the South-east.
It is a long time, I have been hearing of Aba and Abakaliki and Umuahia and Onitsha. I know these places. And people have been taking cattle there, selling them and coming back. And people know about the route between Plateau and Mambilla. So, they have been going there. Now, next year, they come and find somebody saying it is his farm.
But they are armed with weapons as they move?
Will you carry your weapons when you are going to the bush? There are robbers. There are high way men. There are wild animals. There are competitors for cattle. It doesn’t mean that because they are all Fulani, they are all brothers and friends and all that. Why won’t you carry weapons? They are not carrying weapons to rob.
They are carrying weapons for self-defence and they have been doing that for a long time. But as the sophistication of the society increases, the sophistication of their weapon increases. Before ,it was a stick.
Doesn’t that now convey an impression that the cattle rearers you knew before are not the ones you know now?
What about the Igbo I knew? Are they the same today? What about the Hausa I knew? Are they the same today? So , everybody can move but the Fulani man cannot move?
Ok. What would you say about Benue where a lot of allusion is being made to the Fulani herdsmen?
It is a pity. It is failure of government, failure of the elite. Government has failed to do its job. One governor was even saying he will stop eating beef. Let them stop eating beef. This is nonsense. How can you say you will stop eating beef because you are fighting the Fulani? What rubbish is that? The state governments in particular are not doing their work. And this is how all these crises begin.
Now, let me take you away from that issue. You are a delegate to the ongoing National Conference. So far, are you satisfied with the proceedings?
No. We are not moving at all. But I am the only who is saying this. No body is saying that. We are now in the end of our 4th week. Theoretically, we have eight weeks left. Yet this is how far we have gone. You can see we are not moving fast.
Do you believe in the conference? Do you think it will achieve positive results?
I believe in the conference because it has already been set up. You set up somebody, you pulled the citizens, particularly the elder statesmen, you have to try to do your best to make it succeed in the interest of the whole country.
What do you say about the security situation in the country at the moment?
You are just asking me anything that is worrying you, you just throw it at me. You, too tell me about the security situation in the country. (general laughter). You have asked me three or four questions, let me ask you this one. (more laughter).
Bombings have continued to go off ceaselessly. Citizens are worried and confused.
Because Nigeria has allowed a very important, powerful organization with international connection and motivation, with paradise in many countries of the world to infiltrate here. What they are looking for is a territory.
Of course, they said they have a divine cause they are pursuing. And they will not relent. To them, death means nothing. Death is martyrdom.
Are you really sure it is a divine cause?
Anyway, it is not all of them but when you start something, some others will come but i believe that if you ask them, they will tell you they are pursuing a divine cause.
With the killings?
That is not the point. You are coming from the point of view of Western, Nigerian oriented. For somebody who has dedicated his life here on earth, it is a struggle. To those people death is a welcome relief. They will never understand what is going on.
If it is true that these people are pursuing a cause to Islamize Nigeria and they feel it is their duty; if you become a Muslim, and you a good one by their own definition, they will do everything for you. But if you are not with them, then in these areas of theirs, they will fight you. I am not saying this is what is going on.
But you are a Muslim…
(Cuts in) A devout one.
Would you buy that idea?
People have different ways of pursuing their cause, pursuing their mission. Some of them we may consider to be extremists. But they will never do. They would think they are devoting a responsibility to God. The same thing in the olden days of Christians who said they were fighting in crusades or whatever they called it.
You do have it. It is not unusual. Look at what Jews are doing to Arabs in Palestine. You say it is their land. How can it be your land? Two thousand, five hundred years, it is still your land. Try to understand the dimensions of religious persuasions.
Do you think there will ever be a solution to this problem of insecurity?
Of course, there will be a solution. But we have to find it.
What do you think we can do that hasn’t been done? There is state of emergency in place…?
There are many things we have not done.
We are not pursuing it like a war. This is a very important war, a terrible enemy. But we are not pursuing it like that. You can’t go round killing your own people or allowing them to kill others. To stop them from killing others is not by killing anybody who looks like them. That’s not what you will do.
So, what do you do?
You have to put more resources, more struggle, more political solution. Political solution is always the only one that lasts.
Political solution? So, how do we go about it because the Federal Government recently called for negotiation…
(Cuts in) How much negotiation has gone on up till now? Calling is one thing. Doing is another.
2015, the election year, is almost here. Do you see Nigeria crossing the hurdle with the insecurity situation?
We have been having elections since 1959, maybe earlier, I don’t see anything. If we have any sense, it shouldn’t be difficult for us because we have done it before. We have INEC, we have the money, we have everything. Why should election be difficult? Vanguard