The Irigwe/Fulani conflict in Bassa LGA of Plateau state has been observed to be one of the few clashes holding the State to random. In this interview with The News Chronicle’s VICTOR GAI, The Caretaker Chairman, Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association of Nigeria (MACBAN), Plateau State, Mallam Isa A. Bappa, exposes the real issues behind the conflict. (Interview was originally done in Hausa).
TNC: The conflict between Irigwe and Fulani in Bassa LGA has been on the increase and the blame happen to be on Fulani militias attacking villages, killing and destroying property; what has MACBAN been able to do to prevent these attacks on innocent Nigerians?
IB: I thank you for this question. First, Irigwe people are citizens of Plateau just like Fulanis are Plateau citizens. Right now, it is well known that the two groups are being pitched against each other. Therefore the herdsmen and farmers have resolved that they will settle the matter. How are we going to understand each other? It is through justice and fairness and truth. If they offend each other, there is a village head and Ardos to settle the issue. What brings soldiers or police in the issue. Because both farmers and grazers have a similar occupation. They are under the same Ministry and so they are supposed to be more united. We understand that some security operatives are responsible for the lack of peace. So as journalists you must say the truth by investigating issues.
TNC: Just last year, a peace meeting was held in Miango between Fulani leaders and the Irigwe people, where a document called ‘expression of commitment to peace’ was signed. Why has there been violence despite the truce?
IB: Conflicts in Plateau are many and happened at various times. But as far as I know, the problem between herdsmen and farmers; God has brought peace. The biggest problem is soldiers went and killed cows, burnt houses and we saw with our own eyes. In my capacity as head of herdsmen; (herdsmen are not only Muslims. Christians too are herdsmen). I observed that if at all these soldiers are genuine, wild and domestic animals have the right to be protected under the laws of the land. But here it is that a soldier would gun down a cow, injure it. It amazes me! Question is, where are these soldiers from and what type of soldiers are they? I can’t say, it is only the authorities that can say and they must be punished under the law, and if the law is not there, then it means they have been given the license. The law must act on all. If the law only punished the poor, then I think there is no government. Our biggest problem is not the Irigwe, our biggest problem is the army. They said soldiers were killed in Bassa, we said to them that as leaders, we should not be in a hurry to interfere by supporting truth or falsehood. So what have they done to the soldiers? I have spoken with Christian youth leaders and the local branch of Miyetti, they were living peacefully with each other. So I think, the government must intervene; whoever is guilty is not above the law”.
TNC: We know that in every conflict there are conflict merchants who benefit from the conflict, would you say some conflict merchants or criminals amongst both groups are responsible for the unending crises?
IB: Yes, when a Fulani commits a crime, he is a criminal and not a Fulani. We did not say there are no criminals amongst us. Just like we have criminals among the Berom, Yoruba and so on, so also you can find criminals among the Fulanis. But if a Berom steals, they don’t say a Berom has stolen, but they would label him a thief. But if a Fulani steals, instead of calling him a thief, they would say ‘Fulani thief’. Amongst us, there are criminals. In every ethnic group and security agency, there are criminals and they are responsible for the lack of peace. Therefore, we would have to collaborate in order to know the criminals and the good ones amongst us.
TNC: How far have you keyed into the National Livestock Transformation Plan of the Federal government, and the ranching policy being advocated for by most Plateau citizens?
IB: The educated elite who are envious of our wealth are those talking about ranching. So, we herdsmen do not support ranching. Let me ask you as a journalist, which herdsmen have you ever interviewed. So when they say ranching, it would be run by the educated elite and cows would be very expensive. But we support cattle colony or grazing reserve. The Fulanis should be provided with the land if he likes he should grow grass. It is the government that would ensure peace and economic prosperity through their intervention. Government has helped rice farmers. Now, a bag of rice and a cow, which one is more costly? A cow will produce milk, cheese and the milk has 70 health benefits. Why won’t they help us? They keep talking about ranching. If therefore, the government refuses to do our bidding, we would not support unless they will force it on us.
TNC: Lastly, what in your opinion is the best way to end the conflict and bring peace between native tribes and Fulani people?
IB: You all know we have found peace on the Plateau, even if a little. So we only need to consolidate. Fulanis are peace-loving. Since I assumed leadership, I have gone round to enlighten my Fulani brothers on peaceful co-existence and they understood. I still call on them not to take the laws in their hands. We should be patient and follow the laws. I also call on President Buhari to look into the Plateau matter because security operatives are intimidating us the leaders. This will not yield any meaningful peace. We have to respect each other. Miyetti Allah must respect security operatives and government and security operatives should respect leaders in our capacity as leaders of the people. The land would then have peace. The President should shift his attention to Plateau State and he will see the problems.