By Owei Lakemfa
THE Nigerian state has never been as divided and besieged in its 107-year Amalgamation, as it is witnessing today. The 1966-67 crises which led to the three-year Civil War was roughly between two parts of the country. In the present crises, all parts of the country are in turmoil. The North East is besieged by the Boko Haram and Islamic State terrorists, the North-West by marauding bandits who have seized territories, and the North Central by terrorists and bandits, many of them, foreigners. The southern part of the country while having issues of criminality, cultism, and ethno-nationalism, has the general challenge of kidnapping and banditry perpetuated mainly by men identified as criminal elements of Fulani ancestry from within and outside the country who camouflage as herdsmen.
In his January 2019, interview with Arise Television in Abuja, President Muhammadu Buhari explained this phenomenon to the Nigerian people: “The Nigerian cattle herder used to carry nothing more than a stick, but these are people with AK-47 and people refuse to reflect on the demise of Gaddafi. Gaddafi for 43 years in Libya, at some stage, he decided to recruit people from Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger, Nigeria, Chad, from Central African Republic and these young chaps are not taught to be bricklayers, electricians, plumbers or any trade but to shoot and kill. So, when the opposition in Libya succeeded in killing him, they arrested some and they did what they did to them. The rest escaped with their orphans and we encounter some of them in the North-East and they are all over the place now organising attacks.”
With tension threatening to boil over, the Northern States Governors’ Forum, NSGF, met in a virtual conference of February 9, 2021, and declared: “The current system of herding mainly through open grazing is no longer sustainable, in view of growing urbanisation and population of the country.” They, therefore, suggested the adoption of modern methods of herding including ranching. The governors asked political authorities in the states to isolate criminality from herding, hunting or farming and bring criminals including those illegally occupying forest reserves, to book. They said they are working to douse tension generated by the eviction order issued to criminal herdsmen in some parts of the country, with threats of reprisals, and urged Nigerians to live peacefully as an entity.
Two days later, Governor Bala Mohammed of Bauchi State, broke ranks with his northern governor colleagues, distancing himself from their communiqué. Using the platform of the Bauchi Correspondents’ Chapel magazine launch, he fired three carefully packaged rocket launchers at their peace efforts. In his first salvo, Mohammed claimed that because: “the Fulani man…has been exposed to cattle rustlers who carry a gun, kill him and take away his cows he has no option (but) to carry AK 47 because the government and the society are not protecting him. It’s the fault of the government.” In this, he justifies the proliferation of arms in the country and killer herdsmen carrying guns.
Secondly, he places them above the laws of the country including Nigerian Firearms Act of 1990 which provides that no person shall “have in his possession or under his control any firearm or ammunition except such person has a licence from the President or from the Inspector-General of Police”. A governor who swore to uphold the constitution and laws of Nigeria makes superfluous arguments for some people in the country not to obey the laws of the country. Since he is aware, as President Buhari explained in 2019, that many of these armed bandits are mercenaries, the governor cannot be patriotic in defending their profession and rationalising their criminality. He presents the criminals as victims and falsely accuses Nigerians as being responsible for their situation.
In his Monday, September 16, 2019 interview on Channels Television, Bala Mohammed had rationalised the invasion of Nigeria by such men. “The Fulani man is a global or African person. He moves from The Gambia to Senegal and his nationality is Fulani…As a person, I may have my relations in Cameroon but they are also Fulani. I am a Fulani man from my maternal side, we (Nigerians) will just have to take this as our own heritage, something that is African. So we cannot just close our borders and say the Fulani man is just a Nigerian….They are all Nigerians because their identity, their citizenship is Nigerian even though they have relatives from all over the world. So, presumably, they are Nigerians because they move all over and have relations all over. That is why our population in Nigeria is fluid.” So, Mohammed knows precisely those he is making a case for.
His second salvo against the Northern Governors is that Nigeria is a no-man’s land: “Nobody owns any forests in Nigeria, it’s owned by Nigeria. Under Section 23, 24 and 25 of the constitution, every Nigerian is free to stay anywhere.” His third false claim is that: “The West (Yoruba) doesn’t want to accommodate other tribes but we are accommodating your tribe in Bauchi.” He also attacked the Tivs on the same claims. In this, he strives to stoke the ethnic tension and pour petrol on it.
I have asked myself why Bala Mohammed is championing this strand of anarchism and disunity. It cannot be for money, because even as executive governor with unrestricted access to security votes, he is very rich. I also do not believe he is high on anything.
However, the immediate past of the governor revealed that he was facing criminal charges before he ran to be governor which gave him automatic immunity from prosecution of any kind until he is out of office. The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, had in 2016 arrested Bala Mohammed for alleged involvement in a N1.6 trillion questionable land allocation to Aso Savings Limited in the Federal Capital Territory. The anti-graft agency had on May 10, 2017, arraigned Mohammed before Justice Abubakar Talba of the Gudu Division of the Federal Capital Territory High Court for an initial N864 million fraud. The governor’s son, Shamsudeen Bala, was also charged with laundering about N1.1 billion.
So can Bala Mohammed’s gambit be to put himself out as champion of the Fulani herders so that if his prosecution eventually reopens, he would claim he is being persecuted for his claimed Fulani origins? Can it be that he is sending signals to the ruling All Progressives Congress that he is game and would want the case against him dropped entirely?
Some kind of calculation must be going on. Governor Bala Mohammed is like a hunter who uses a goat to set a trap; he cannot plan to catch a rabbit; he certainly plans to catch something bigger than his bait.
-Owei Lakemfa, journalist, human rights crusader, labour activist and public affairs analyst, writes from Lagos