Banditry: This is not the right time to negotiate with any group of criminals —Bala Nasarawa, chairman, Fulani Development Association

Mr Mohammed Bala Nasarawa, a. k. a. Dan Ahli, is the chairman of the Fulani (FULBE) Development Association of Nigeria, Kebbi State chapter. In this interview by our Kebbi State correspondenct, AYODELE AJOGE, Nasarawa bares his mind on some burning national issues, including banditry, kidnapping, herders/farmers imbroglio and alleged criminal activities of Fulanis across the country.

Is your association an affiliate of the Miyyeti Allah Cattle Breeders Association of Nigeria (BACBAN)?

No, it is not. It is a different body. Our own association is Fulani (FULBE) and is registered under the Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC).

 

The herders/farmers imbroglio has been on for ages and has now degenerated into a big national crisis. Where did the country get it wrong?

Like you rightly said, this is an old, inherited issue from our forefathers but it had never assumed the dimension when are witnessing today because there are many other factors attached to it now. In the past, if a cattle rearer, by mistake, trampled on a farm, there was crisis but such crisis was always resolved by village heads by way of compensating the farmers. But today, as we can see, there are political and tribal dimensions and even foreign involvement in the issue. A lot of issues now characterise the whole situation. This is why the situation is different from what it used to be.

 

Today you hear of Fulani herdsmen, Fulani bandits, Fulani kidnappers, etc. What do you think has led to this criminalisation of Fulani as an ethnic group in the country?

You see, some people are benefitting from these ugly situations and that is why there have been ethnic approaches to them. The herders/farmers crisis used to be a normal issue but today, as you know, it is no longer a famers/herders issue; it is now an issue that that some people are using to achieve certain goals. Therefore, they are not Fulani issues at all. You know, for the past 30 years, kidnapping has been taking place everywhere in Nigeria. In town and cities, kidnapping takes place. This particular one that is taking place in bushes started with cattle rustling about three, five years ago. There was nothing like kidnapping people and taking them into the bushes; they were only rustling castles and there were lots of forces behind that practice. They could rustle cows that were worth up to N300,000 and then sell at N30,000, just in the name of stealing. This is the set of people that are enjoying the game and those who are transporting those cattle to the south of Nigeria. They were all part of the system and after the system collapsed, there is no other thing to do and these people must eat, they must buy weapons, they must stay in the bush and this is why they started taking people by way of kidnapping. This is exactly what culminated in the current situation we are in. They used to take one person, two persons but now, they have resorted to taking many people.

Just recently, they took 200-plus boys from a secondary school. Yesterday, they took away 300-plus girls from a secondary school in Jangebe, Zamfara State. There were those taken from Science Secondary School in Kagara, Niger State. This is changing from one tactics to another. Anybody can say anything they want but only the government can tell Nigerians what is happening. At the intelligence arm of security, they are not saying anything. Some people will just wake up, take 300 schoolchildren into a bush and keep them there until money is paid. Look at the Kankara issue, after collecting money, they allowed the children to go. That means they have been settled for that particular issue. Negotiation is still ongoing on Kagara and if you look at the video clips, you can see some buildings around the bush and government will come and tell us that they did not want to go with full force so that they will not injure the children. What I really want to say here is that there are some Fulani people who are into crime but not all Fulani people. To judge people based on their tribe is a very dangerous situation. It is unfair to tag every Fulani as a criminal.

 

Some people say there is no government in this country because this is not what was bargained for. Do you subscribe to this position?

It is very wrong to say we don’t have a government in this country. The level of crime or insecurity has not reached the level where we can call this country a failed state. We have a government in place and we have all apparatuses of government in place. It is just that the government is not doing enough, not only in the aspect of security but also in the aspect of economy. But to say that there is no government means there would be anarchy. We have a government but the government is not doing enough and that is why people are having such a mindset. We have the federal, state and local governments. They are there but most importantly, it is the security that is lacking. We can still move around despite all odds. We should pray that it doesn’t get to a stage where nobody can move an inch. Therefore, the government should wake up and do more for Nigerians.

 

Foreign and criminal Fulani elements are said to have infiltrated the ranks of Nigerian Fulanis. What should be done to stop this rather costly immigration?

This is not a case of foreign bodies; people just say anything they like to say. This is a problem for Nigeria as a nation. We failed to handle the problem at the early stage and it degenerated to the level we are talking about now. Foreign bodies’ infiltration is not the case; we Fulanis in Nigeria know ourselves. There are different dialects within the Fulani race. I am talking to you now as a Fulani man from Kebbi State. If a Fulani man from Adamawa State talks, you can easily know where he comes from. Fulani from Niger Republic and Fulani from Arewa here in Kebbi State, we speak different dialects but we understand one another. We know Fulani from Sokoto. We know Fulani from Mali, from Burkina Faso, from Libya. They come here for menial jobs and they come through our borders because our borders are too porous because our border security people are not doing enough. They allow them to come in freely without resistance. We Fulani in Nigeria are humans; we don’t have the minds to kill. It is not in our attitude. We have no such minds but because of the porous nature of our borders, criminals who have been chased away from other countries have a haven here. Bad elements give them information and this kind of attitude is found in other tribe across the nation.

Nobody can say for sure the number of bandits in Nigeria now but I can assure you that people causing mayhem are not Nigerian Fulanis. I have seen them. I have heard them speak. I have seen their mode of dressing. They are not from among us here but people are saying Fulani, Fulani. This will not help the situation until everybody stands up to say a criminal is a criminal regardless of tribe. If we identify a Fulani criminal, let’s just call him that name and let the full wrath of the law catch up with him rather than calling every Fulani man a criminal. Before now, criminal Fulanis rustled their fellow Fulanis’ cows. They raped their wives and daughters and killed some of them in the process. The Fulanis are faced with a lot of problems and are suffering at the hands of criminal Fulanis more than any other tribes in Nigeria. Having led all their lives in the bush as pastoralists, they have no security; they are easy targets. They have been paying ransoms. They call them on their phones to bring so and so amounts of money or ‘you will be killed’. You see them take their cattle to the market and pay ransom from the proceeds. Recent, they killed one prominent Fulani man and his wife where they stayed in the bush. If the bandits are truly Fulani, why are they killing their fellow Fulani? We need to stop this illusion.

 

Do you think it is a good idea for the government to be negotiating with criminals?

This is not the right time to negotiate with any group of criminals. We don’t even know whom to negotiate with. When you have groups of bandits in different locations and you call one group and negotiate with them, what about the others? They are unlike Boko Haram which has two factions. We know a leader called Shekau and the other called Albarnawi. But in the case of bandits, they don’t have a central leader. They are criminals operating from different locations. Therefore, how do you negotiate with these groups of people? Some of them are operating in Sokoto, others in Zamfara, in Katsina, Niger, Kogi Nasarwa, so many places. If you negotiate with the ones in Niger and after negotiations, they move to another place, will you know them? They move to Sokoto, Zamfara or they move far away to Kogi.

That approach is very wrong for now. What we need from the government now is aggressive military action and other security activities to bomb them right away. The armed forces of Nigeria that are well trained are afraid of bandits who are not trained, why? They are holding guns in their hands and you, on whose training a lot of money has been spent, cannot confront them head-on. Those are not patriotic soldiers, soldiers who are afraid of bandits. People who are ready to defend themselves have no weapons to do so and those who are trained to defend them are not doing so. This is very wrong. Therefore, negotiation is out it. Let our military carry out offensive actions against them. You can imagine criminals who ran away from their countries and found themselves in Nigeria because we have porous borders and living in our bushes doing illegal farming, illegal mining businesses, claiming to be business people. All these are happening because we don’t have patriotic people manning our borders. If you offer them a token, they allow you to pass. Every security man in Nigeria is after money. Examples are the people at the top. They were elected but they go there to gather money. This is why Nigeria’s leadership is corrupt. Imagine a vehicle conveying foreigners and the security men will just look inside the vehicle and the driver will say I have so, so and so foreigners inside my vehicle, this is N200 for each of them. They now say okay, go Is that how it is supposed to be?

 

What, in your opinion, are the solutions to the problems being faced by Nigeria today?

We need to be patient and patriotic. We need to be our brother’s keeper. We need to be focused. We need not be tribalistic. We don’t need to be discriminatory. As Nigerians, we need to be devoid of religious and ethnic sentiments. We need to join hands together to fight common enemies. Fighting a particular tribe because of the bad eggs among them and criminalising all of them is a very bad approach and it will not solve any problems. All the tribes in Nigeria have their criminals among them. Banditry is not the only problem in Nigeria, we have corruption. We have piracy, which is even more criminal in nature. We have armed robbery taking place in the cities and these bandits are operating in the forests. Our security forces should be up and doing. They should not be cowards. They should not be afraid to smoke out the criminals operating in our forests. Let them be practical in their jobs. People are not happy with the way they are doing things presently.

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