Kidnapping now better business than cattle rearing to some herdsmen —Bayari
Alhaji Saleh Bayari is a Fulani leader and former National Chairman of Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association of Nigeria (MACBAN). He is currently the National President of Gan Allah Fulani Development Association. Alhaji Bayari speaks with ISAAC SHOBAYO on the involvement of Fulani herdsmen in kidnapping, banditry and the raging controversy over the plan by MACBAN to form Fulani vigilance group in the South-East, among other issues. Excerpt:
YOU recently advised President Muhammadu Buhari to listen to the advice of Nigerian elders like the former President Olusegun Obasanjo. What informed this piece of advice?
In a democracy, people have the freedom to make observations; you also have the freedom to air your views. But we have been finding it a little bit difficult to air our views as citizens. The government is trying to give this freedom, but there are some people who hold very stringent fanatical political views that they do not want Nigeria to be discussed. But the problems of this country is that we want dialogue and that is why some of us have decided that whenever we have the opportunity to talk, especially on issues that would help build this nation, we are not always afraid to talk.
I want you to get me right. I did not say President Buhari did not listen to elders. What I said was that I wanted him to listen more to the elders. I gave example of the former President Olusegun Obasanjo. I never said that until I sat down with the former president for about seven hours recently. I leant a lot during the seven hours I spent with him. As a responsible citizen, I thought I should tell the government, not the president, because the president has a lot of eyes and ears to listen to the former President Obasanjo so that they can also learn what I learnt form from him.
My feeling is that Obasanjo deserves to be listened to and from the way he talked to me I know he was indirectly complaining that he was not been listened to. By the time he took me on the issues of Fulanisation and Islamisation, I believe that his perspective was right but weather [Fulanisation] is something that would happen today or will never happen is another issue. I know there are some people the president [Buhari] listens to and that is why people refer to some of them as cabal. But what I’m saying is that he should listen to people like the former President Olusegun Obasanjo.
The rate of insecurity in Nigeria is alarming. Apart from Boko Haram, the herdsmen, especially Fulani, are usually fingered in the kidnappings, banditry across the nation. But some people are refuting the claim, saying it is a deliberate stigmatisation of the Fulani. As a prominent Fulani leader, what is your view on this?
It is my position that, in every tribe, group or religious set-up, there are usually the good [people], the bad [people] and the ugly. That is just natural with human existence. I know exactly that kidnapping did not start with the Fulani herdsmen; it started from the South-East, moved into the South-South and to South-West. Kidnapping came into Northern Nigeria through Kogi State.
Kogi is a unique state; it has boundaries with the South-East, South-South, the North and South-West. When the governments of both the South-South and South-East took drastic measure against kidnapping some time back by demolishing houses that harboured these criminal elements, the kidnappers started looking for another place to keep their victims, those they kidnapped. And what they did was to move into the forest areas, the bush. But when they got there, they discovered that there were Fulani already living there and they know that if they don’t have the cooperation of the Fulani, there was no way they could hide anybody in the bush.
So they decided to partner with the Fulani. So from the cooperation, they co-opted them; from co-opting them, they trained them. They found out that the Fulani are the masters of the jungle. These people would hand over the captives to the Fulani and go back to town. The Fulani were the ones picking the ransoms. They would pick N50 million, and the boss would come from the town and give them something like N50,000 out of the total ransom.
So they [Fulani] started asking themselves questions and came to the conclusion that they were the ones doing the most risky aspect of the ignoble business and virtually collecting nothing. And so they moved into the business themselves. Before you know it, they took over the business. Fulani is a person that has a lot of bravado; he is a man that has little or no fear at all, because of the environment he is exposed to. So with the depletion of their mono trade of livelihood, cattle rearing, through clashes between them and farmers, kidnapping for ransom is a viable option. That is why today you can hardly hear the problem of farmers and herders clashes, except in some places like Taraba; very few places because half of the cattle are gone. Many of them have all gone out to concentrate on armed banditry, kidnapping, because the cattle are no longer there to take care of the family needs as they used to do.
They have no fear. They see this as a birthright for them to do in order to survive, because the society has allowed them to be deprived of their lawful source of livelihood. Therefore, there is the need for the leaders to come in and address the situation. The affluent ones in the society are supposed to have come to their assistance, but, unfortunately, our society does not have communal way of assisting the underprivileged like it is obtainable in other countries. That is why you have some of the Fulani getting involved in various crimes; they are even rustling the cattle of their fellow brothers who are not involved in all these crimes. Kidnapping has become a lucrative business because of the huge amount of money involved; it is now a collaborative business between the Fulani and their masters who introduced the obnoxious business to them.
Are you saying kidnapping cannot take place in the south without native collaborators?
It can take place. The Fulani have lived in the South-West from the time immemorial as far as I know. They have been in the South-East for a very long time, and they have also been in the South-South for a very long time. They sleep there; they wake up there, and they know these jungles more than some of the natives. As far as I am concerned, Nigeria is number one in kidnapping in the whole of West Africa. This kidnapping is a Nigerian phenomenon. I don’t want to believe that foreigners are involved in this. If you say procurement of arms and ammunition, I will agree, because after the Arab spring, there was massive influx of arms and ammunition into the country, especially into the Northern parts of the country. As far as I am concerned, there is no kidnapping in Chad, Cameroon or Niger Republic and based on my findings, Nigeria is the only place where kidnapping is in vogue in the entire West Africa. It is not the Fulani from other countries that are carrying out this act, but I discovered we don’t want to tell ourselves the truth. I have told you the history of how it started from the South-East to Kogi State and it has now degenerated to a sorry level.
What is the way out of this ‘Nigerian phenomenon’?
It is not only kidnapping, armed banditry is there. There are also the issues of insurgency, Boko Haram and other crimes. When the problem of Boko Haram started, it was not given adequate attention until the people moved into Sambisa forest to build a caliphate for themselves. At that time, some people were saying it is a matter of dog eat dog until it turned out to be a monster not only to the North but also to the entire country. They were saying it was the problem of Muslims or the states involved, but before you knew it, it engulfed the entire North and now it has gone back to where it started. Once there are problems, make your suggestions on how to arrest the situation. Don’t look at it as another man’s problem, because if you allow it to fester without positive contributions, it might turn out to affect you as well.
But the problem we have in this country is that we see small fire and never try to put it out until it becomes a conflagration or inferno. And that has been our attitude. I want to tell you that we are all affected by this in one way or the other. There is no family in Nigeria that has not lost one person or the other to all these crimes; it may be your relation in the police or the military, DSS, civil defence or direct attack in one way or the other.
We must address the issue of hunger in the land; this can make any person to lose his sense of reasoning. And the federal government should consider this as a necessity and do the right thing, because all these issues of banditry, kidnappings and others are products of hunger whether we like it or not. People’s welfare should be paramount. We should go back to see where we have missed it and what we have done that is making our journey as a nation very rough.
Do you support the idea of MACBAN forming vigilance group in the South-East as part of the measures to stem farmers’ and herders’ clashes?
I am a Fulani leader and I have an association. Since 2016, my association the Gan Allah Fulani Development Association, has an intelligence squad approved by the former Inspector General of Police. We gave the breakdown of what we wanted and why we came up with the idea. We source for security information among ourselves and passed them on to the security agencies. In the process of working on the tip-off, if the security agencies arrested anybody wrongly, we would go to them to help separate the wheat from the chaff. We did not advertise it like some people are doing now.
It is the Miyetti Allah that is making this unnecessary noise. The difference between the Miyetti Allah and Gan Allah Fulani Development is that we are not partisan and whatever we are doing, we are doing it for the benefit of our ethnic group. We don’t go into politics and we don’t endorse anybody for political office. We are a minority wherever we find ourselves. So when you are in Rome, you do like Romans. If you are living in the South-East and you want to have a vigilance [group], do you have to go to the media to announce it? You do it among yourselves. Even without a vigilance group, every Nigerian has the right to arrest. You can use that to ensure that your people don’t commit crime that can bring problem. The Fulani people that have been stigmatised, that have been called bad names in order to hang them or us and yet you go on to make provocative political statement, saying the North will never leave power. Who gave you that political mandate? Are you a political party? You are being reckless for pecuniary interest and at the same time risking the lives of so many people.
This kind of association should be called to order before they plunge this country into anarchy. The best is to live an exemplary life. People have tagged the Fulani as militias and you said you want to form a vigilance group. The two Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Associations should be cautioned not to continue to jeopardise the lives and means of livelihood of Fulani herdsmen.