Director of the Muslim Rights Concern (MURIC), Professor Ishaq Akintola, speaks with SAHEED SALAWU on the security situation in the country, especially as it has to do with the menace of herdsmen and bandits.
You recently confirmed that herdsmen destroyed farms of some Muslims in the South West. What is the situation with those victims now?
I want to correct the impression that our complaint was about the destruction of farms owned by Muslims. No. Several farms were destroyed by cows and many of the owners are Muslims. Some of them also happen to be members of our organisation, the Muslim Rights Concern (MURIC).
Nothing has been done for them to date. They are still counting their losses. On our own part, we appeal to the Federal Government to compensate farmers whose crops were destroyed by cows. That compensation will not go to Muslims alone. It should cover all farmers. We did not ask for compensation for Muslims only. That will not be fair.
Your hometown, Ile-Ife, is very peaceful. At least, there have been no reports of herdsmen disturbing farmers there. What do you think is responsible for the relative peace there?
For now everywhere is calm in my home town, Ile-Ife. But the credit goes to the proactive steps taken by the governor of Osun State, Isiaka Gboyega Oyetola some years ago. The government reached an understanding of peaceful coexistence between farmers and herders. It was agreed that any herder whose cows destroy crops will compensate the farmer otherwise his cows will be seized until compensation is paid. There has been no ugly incident since then.
Meetings are also held regularly between traditional rulers, political office holders and herdsmen in Osun State. For example, that of Ife North (including Ashipa, Oyere, Famia, etc with headquarters at Ipetumodu) was held two weeks ago under the chairmanship of the Apetu of Ipetumodu. All these are coordinated by the state government.
You see, there is no conflict without a solution, particularly if the political will is there. I give kudos to my state governor, Isiaka Gboyega Oyetola. Other governors should emulate him. They should spend security vote on ensuring security in their states. But everybody is blaming the president. They forget that the state governors must also be held responsible. They must use their initiatives. Why are they governors? What are they governing? Are they waiting until dead bodies fill the streets? Can they govern ghosts?
Bauchi State governor, Bala Mohammed, recently said that Fulani herdsmen carry AK-47 rifles in order to protect themselves from criminals who attack them and rustle their cows. What do you think of his position?
It was not well thought out. Are those rifles licensed? It is illegal for anyone to carry illegal arms. Bala Muhammed should not try to pull the wool over our faces. Is it not those arms herders use to intimidate farmers in Zamfara, Kebbi, Kaduna, Enugu, Ibadan, etc? Is it not the same arms they use to kidnap and rape? No herder has the right to carry dangerous weapons like AK-47. Are they going to war?
Farms are being deserted in the North East, North West, North Central, South West and South South. We have sent an invitation to famine and I pray the invitation will not be honoured. There may be famine very soon if the situation is not urgently addressed. A practice that threatens food production nationwide has to stop. Anybody with a loaded pistol has the power of life or death over his neighbour unless he is a law enforcement agent protecting the citizens. It is a different picture entirely when herders bear arms openly.
Another dimension is the source of those weapons. Who gave herders AK-47 rifles? Your guess is as good as mine. It is most likely to be cow owners because herders are mere errand boys. Unfortunately nobody sees the cow owners when cows are on the move or when they invade farms. We only see the herdsmen and assume that is all but there is more to it than meets the eye.
That is why MURIC has suggested that state governments should register all cow owners. They are everywhere. They are astute businessmen and women who hide their merchandise in the fields. The mistake Nigerians have been making is that they assume that all cows are owned by Northerners whereas there are cow owners all over Nigeria.. Our major problem in this country is perception. Yes, perception. We jump to conclusion so easily. While our eyes are on Northerners alone as the perpetrators of all crimes, the real criminals get away with atrocities and smile to the banks.
We can only get to the root of this herdsmen saga by unveiling the owners of the cattle. Only the owners can be anxious to protect the cows. The herders are poor workers employed to tend the cows. Only the owners can afford to buy AK47 for the herders. We must therefore identify the cow owners. Only the state governments can do this successfully.
MURIC has revealed that there are cattle owners in all states. It has been suggested that some retired army generals and high ranking police officers are among them. It is normal business so there is no crime in owning cattle but the crime begins when you allow your cows to be driven into another man’s farm. The cows eat up all the crop and leave the farmer panting and groaning. That is why farmers should be compensated and open grazing banned.
For example, Ogun State government can turn its searchlight for cow owners on Ijasi area of Ijebu-Ode where Ijebu cow owners are well known. Government can mobilise them and grant them bailout funds to build ranches. Their cows will stop roaming and there will be peace. Government stands to gain as it will be easy to collect cow tax when the number of cows owned by each businessman is known. But at least we should stop pretending that all cows are from the North.
Zamfara State governor, Bello Matawalle, has been a strong advocate of amnesty for bandits. Do you think his approach is right?
Yes of course. It has to be carrot-and-stick. Repel their attacks (that’s for the security agents), engage them in dialogue in their own camps and convert them into good and law abiding citizens (that’s what Dr Gumi is doing and I commend him for that).
The recent abduction of school kids in Niger State continues to shock the nation. How do you view the incident and government’s response so far?
It is multidimensional. Hoodlums now see mass kidnapping as the quickest way to amass wealth. It is all due to the current situation of insecurity for which we are all to blame. Space and time will not allow me to expatiate upon this. It is too early to assess government’s response to it. But at least the Federal Government reacted quickly enough (within hours of the incident) unlike in the case of the Chibok girls when former President Jonathan was cynical and inactive for 21 days after the abduction.
There are major security issues in the South West blamed on Fulani herdsmen, do you think the people should take the advice of the Minister of Defence that they should defend themselves against these marauders?
I don’t want to comment on the statement credited to the minister of defence. He may not have been correctly quoted. But state governments in the region should actively support their police commands and the new security outfit. Amotekun operatives should be well paid. The outfit should also be well equipped in terms of vehicles and communication gadgets. A good welfare package should also be outlined for Amotekun men. But their targets should not just be Fulanis and Hausas. That will be myopic and parochial. They should go after all the Evans, the Oyenusis and the Shekaus.
There are fears that the country may be dancing on the brink of a major armed conflict. Do you share same fears?
I don’t belong to the camp of alarmists. Nigeria is a great country. It has all the potentials to rise again. All the present noise can be attributed to the anti-North sentiment fuelled by hate speech. Electioneering campaign which has already begun will drown this noise and its current will sweep off the fears. Trust me, the narrative is certain to change once a Southerner emerges as the next president in 2023. So my advice is for all agitators, particularly proponents of Biafra and Oduduwa Republic to shift focus to power shift and support a presidential candidate capable of actualising their dreams.
How do we avoid another civil war?
Our problems are the Trumpists (bad losers), tribal jingoists, authors of hate speech and bearers of fake news. Some people want government to be run on a particular pattern and so they threaten war when it is not going their way. It is a game of armtwisting, blackmail, harassment and intimidation. The path of governance has become ridden with landmines.
Hate speech stoked anger and provocation. It led us to where we are today. The way out is to legislate against hate speech. That is the first step. Farmers whose crops were destroyed by cows should be compensated. That will douse tension. Cow owners whose cows were killed should be pacified. Next, we must register all cow owners. There is urgent need to know who is who. We must separate the herdsman from the cow owner. The herdsman is a film trick. It is the cow owner who is the producer and director. The next step is for the Federal Government to give bailout funds to cow owners to enable them build ranches. Thereafter open grazing must be banned.
Most importantly, there is an urgent need to educate Nigerians on the evil of war. We should remind them of the Hutu-Tutsi internecine war, the wars in Mozambique, Somalia, Liberia, Sudan, Ethiopia, Uganda, etc and the huge humanitarian disaster that followed.
We saw Liberian professors, engineers, lawyers and top civil servants crowded together at the refugee camp in Shagamu, Ogun State. They queued for food, water, and toilet. They came to the streets and begged for bread. War is not just about fighting. Daughters will be raped in the presence of their parents, wives in front of their husbands. No, no, no. May Allah forbid war for Nigeria. Let us resolve whatever differences we have now before it is too late.
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