The Benue State Coordinator, Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association of Nigeria, Mr. Garus Gololo, explains in this interview why the Fulani are leaving the state following the implementation of the Anti-Open Grazing Law.
There are reports that Fulani herdsmen are beginning to leave Benue State. Why such sudden decision?
Yes, the Fulani have decided to leave Benue State because no provision is made for them to take care of their cattle before the implementation of the anti-open grazing law. There are no ranches and there is nowhere that the Fulani are shown to make their ranches. No provision for water for the cows to drink. So, where will the herdsmen stay in the state in a situation like this?
The Benue State government said that ranch is a global practice, why is the government not ready to provide globally-acceptable facilities before enacting the law? They don’t want Fulani in Benue State. They deliberately made the law in order to send the Fulani away from the state. Thousands of cows were killed in 2016 in the state and hundreds were also slaughtered in the Obi Local Government Area of the state early this year and the government set up committee where I served as a member. It was resolved that the Fulani should be compensated but up till now, no Fulani has received any compensation. The Fulani in Benue State are peace loving. We have nothing to do again but to leave everything in the hands of the Almighty Allah. They want Fulani to quit Benue. That is the truth of the whole thing and we have started moving out.
Why is MACBAN seeking extension of time for the implementation of the law?
The first time that the state government conducted a public hearing, the herdsmen were not informed. As the leader of MACBAN in the state, l was not called to any public hearing. It was after the law had been passed that we got a copy of the document. How can we accept the provisions of a law that does not take our plights into consideration? Let us be realistic. If we claim to be one Nigeria, no tribe should claim superiority to the other.
We believe in one Nigeria and we also believe in the unity of Nigeria but the truth of the matter is that some government officials in the state do not want Fulani herdsmen in Benue. It is not Governor Samuel Ortom who doesn’t want the Fulani; it is his advisers. We have lost confidence in some of them. During the amnesty programme, the arms recovered from the so-called militants are still in the hands of these officials; so, what they want to do is to use the seized arms against us because they know that the Fulani in Benue State have no arms to defend ourselves. We have decided to leave before their people start slaughtering our cows again.
Is MACBAN in support of the Kautal Hore threat to attack Benue land?
Nobody is threatening to attack Benue. The Kautal Hore has denied reports published in newspapers about the attack. The group said that it has nothing to do with Benue State. The Fulani is not prepared to attack anybody because we don’t have weapons to attack the Benue people. The latest development has shown that the Fulani are nothing to the people of Benue State despite the fact that we worked hard to ensure the victory of the current governor at the polls in 2015. My vehicle was stolen during the electioneering; and as a people, we lost property worth millions of naira to ensure the enthronement of this government. We are not happy with what is happening in Benue today.
The Benue State Government has promised to lease land to herdsmen to build ranches for their cattle. How many of your members have acquired land for this purpose?
Where is the land? I’m the coordinator of the Fulani association in the state and I am not aware of such arrangement. That has been the story of the state government, yet nothing like that. It is not true. Through which agency are they leasing the lands? All these things are propaganda by some of the state officials who do not want to see Fulani herdsmen again in the state.
Will your members still vacate the state if adequate facilities are provided by the state?
When will they make the facilities available? The law took effect on November 1. They are not ready to give out land to any Fulani man. They are not ready to do anything that would make the Fulani stay back in Benue.
Where are the herdsmen relocating to?
They can relocate to any peaceful state in Nigeria. The decision to relocate is an individual thing; it is not a collective agreement of the herdsmen. Even I, their leader, I don’t know where they are going since their cows are no longer safe in Benue.
Why is the leadership of the Fulani emphasising that it was not carried along in the formulation of the law?
It is a fact that we were not carried along. They didn’t call anyone for public hearing. I am in the state and l didn’t go anywhere. If you go for public hearing, names would be written and pictures would be taken. Let them bring the attendance list as evidence to show or prove that there was any public hearing. No one attended any public hearing; that is why we are emphasising that we should be given time before implementation.
Is it that the leadership of MACBAN expected government to officially communicate to it to attend the public hearing but government failed to do so?
Constitutionally, if they are doing anything pertaining to our group, we must be there to represent our interest and speak for our people. But in this case, none of us was carried along. We are Nigerians and we have voter cards. They were supposed to have done it in a way that it would not be a burden to any group.
Why are the herdsmen opposing the directive to put their cattle in ranches?
Nobody is opposing the directive. The point is that, where will the Fulani build the ranches? The government has not shown us anywhere; no land has been shown to us. Since there is no land, there is no way we are going to keep our cattle in ranches.
Has the state government reached out to you since your people are said to be relocating to other states?
The state government has not made any move to engage us in a dialogue apart from the last meeting it held with the national leadership of MACBAN at the Government House in Makurdi. At the meeting, the President of our group urged the governor to extend the date for the implementation of the law because that was the first time they were hearing about the law. But the chairman of the Tiv association, who spoke for the other groups, like Idoma and Igede, said that if the government failed to take action or implement the law, they would take action against the Fulani. The man was not cautioned by the governor. It is very bad.
In case the Benue State Government calls for dialogue, which section of the law would you want more clarifications?
We are for peace. We don’t want anything that would cause war.
Now that the government has refused to extend the date for the implementation of the law, what would be your group’s next action?
The Fulani herdsmen have started moving out of the state. Benue people don’t want them in their land and they have started moving to other places of their choice. It is unfortunate that they are driving us away from where we were born and brought up.
Some people are saying that those who are moving away from the state are not the indigenous Fulani but the foreign ones who usually come to the state periodically to attack Benue. How would your react to this?
There is nothing like foreign Fulani in Benue State. All the Fulani living in the state were born there. Some of them settled in Benue since 1817.
With this development, would you say you have lost confidence in the leadership of Governor Samuel Ortom?
No, not at all! Ortom loves the Fulani and till tomorrow, he remains my boss. However, I have lost confidence in his aides, particularly, his security adviser because he is behind all these things.
As the leader of MACBAN in Benue State, can you give a conservative figure of herdsmen that had so far vacated the state?
At the moment, over 10 thousand Fulani herdsmen, including me, are currently moving away from Benue State. We want the Federal Government to intervene in this matter. President Muhammadu Buhari should appoint an adviser on herdsmen matters because during former President Goodluck Jonathan, he did that and it greatly helped.