The Miyetti Allah Kautal Hore, the umbrella body for Fulani herdsmen in the country, has asked Fulani herdsmen in the South to defend themselves against any ethnic militia group in the country, saying herders should exercise their rights to free movement as Nigerians.
The call came barely 72 hours after President Muhammadu Buhari asked the herdsmen to ignore the call by northern elders asking them to return to the North,
The National Secretary of the group, Saleh Alhassan, in a telephone interview with one of our correspondents on Thursday, also said that governors in the southern part of the country would be held responsible if any of their members was attacked.
The South-East Governors Forum, through its Director-General, Prof Simon Ortuanya, had recently warned that movement of cattle into the zone by foot would no longer be allowed except through trucks to specific cow markets to avoid the incessant clashes between herders and farmers.
The position of the governors was echoed by the Ohanaeze Youth Council worldwide a few days ago when it warned herdsmen to stop moving around bushes and farmlands across the South-East.
The council’s President General, Okechukwu Isiguzoro, pointed out that starting from Saturday, July 20, 2019 (today), there would be severe consequences if herdsmen were caught moving around on foot with their cattle.
Also, the Yoruba nationalist organisation, Oodua Peoples Congress, had through its President, Prince Osibote Oodua, warned kidnappers and herdsmen engaged in criminal activities to stop or they would be forced to vacate the region. It stressed that it was ready to flush out those abducting innocent Nigerians.
The leadership of the three indigenous youth groups from the major southern geopolitical zones, including the Ijaw Youth Council in the South-South, had equally said three days ago that they could no longer tolerate the killings and threats from herdsmen in the zones.
Following the warnings, members of the Northern Elders Forum and the Coalition of the Northern Groups had on Tuesday asked herdsmen to leave the southern part of the country and return to the North where their safety could be guaranteed, a directive the President and all the southern groups had condemned.
But Alhassan said herdsmen would remain where they were and that governors of the respective states would be held responsible should anything happen to their members.
He said, “We are Nigerians and we have a history. Anybody that thinks he can wake up and take on the Fulani pastoralist is making a grievous mistake; we are well prepared to defend our fundamental human rights of movement in this country.
“They (herdsmen) are Nigerians, so they are entitled to stay where they are. They should remain where they are and defend themselves against ethnic militia and assert their citizenship in this country.
“The only thing we would say is that we will hold all the governors of those states responsible for their safety and security, but if any ethnic militia, by any name, attacks our members, they should defend themselves in a manner that nobody would try such again.
“We have been saying it that people behind insecurity are not herders; bandits are behind these killings, and if the government is saying foreigners have infiltrated the herders, have they been arrested and what is their nationality? Anybody that is trying to destabilise this country should be dealt with.”
Speaking further on the call by some northern groups that they should vacate the southern part of the country, Alhassan said, “Those so-called northern youths called coalition of northern groups should note that if because of their action any herder is killed, we will first look for them before we go after our enemies.
“We are Nigerians and we are not going anywhere. Our attachment to the land is opportunistic; we don’t farm the land. So, if anybody is thinking that because he has cultivated the land in a particular place for long and he has rights there more than us, then we would ask where is the grazing area that the colonial masters created for us?
“Politicians can play their politics but they should leave our people out of it because it is the desperate politicians that are causing this confusion and they are looking for anything to hang on to, but we are watching them critically.
“If you threaten the herders, they react; they cannot be used for any political game because we have our way of defending ourselves. We hate injustice and we fight it. Anybody that thinks we can be squeezed is making a mistake.”
Asked the solution to the persistent clashes between herders and their host communities, he said grazing reserves that were carved out before the country’s independence should be developed to serve their purposes.
“When we begin to discuss the Nigeria question, we would ask where the grazing reserves are because we know them and we have the records of where they are,” he added.