Peace has eluded Taraba state since the initiation of the Anti-open Grazing Bill in the state by the government. According to the House of Assembly, the Bill was to curb the incessant farmers/herdsmen clashes in the state which was recorded in Lau, Ussa, Takum, Bali and of recent the worst of all- Sardauna. The herdsmen under the umbrella of Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association (MACBAN), had staged a protest to the Taraba state House of Assembly against the Bill, followed by a statewide strike which paralyzed meat and dairy business. The latest being a total boycott of the public hearing on the proposed Bill. MAFINDI UMAR DANBURAM, is the Zonal Chairman MACBAN. He spoke to NICK DUGBA on how peace can be restored in the troubled state.
Why did your association boycott the entire public hearing on Taraba state Anti Open Grazing Bill?
First of all, the date selected for the public hearing coincided with the day we are mourning our people that were being massacred in Sarduana local government. We lost 400 members. Most of our members went to Sardauna local government to search whether they would see their relatives alive or wounded. They proceeded up to Cameroon to search for their loved ones. It is unfortunate and inhuman for Taraba state House of Assembly to select a date when they know this is mourning time. It means they don’t have respect for humanity. It has proven what we have said in our press statement that we are being termed as second class citizens. In a situation where we lost lives and properties worth millions of naira, I think they should have sympathized with us and shift the date to another time so that we can be more prepared to make our presentations at the public hearing. But it is unfortunate that they did not consider all these factors and for that we decided to boycott it. Secondly, the whole content of the Bill is against the constitution of the federal republic of Nigeria. I don’t think the Bill has gone through the office of the Attorney General of the state. In a situation where the constitution of Nigeria enshrines freedom of ownership of movable and unmovable properties, freedom of movement; we are surprised that Taraba state House of Assembly has gone ahead with that Bill. We don’t have any properties other than our animals and we are Nigerians. These two factors stopped us from appearing at the public hearing. We are already in court. We lodged our complain at the federal High Court Abuja. We are waiting for the date.
In your press statement recently, you attempted to connect the Sardauna crises and the anti-open grazing Bill, how are the two connected?
We put into cognizance the utterances of the Speaker of the State House of Assembly. He is Mambilla by tribe. We made a peaceful demonstration to the Taraba state House of Assembly of which the security agencies proved to the world that it was one of the most peaceful demonstrations ever done in Taraba state. We are surprised that the speaker went ahead telling people that fulanis have attacked the House of Assembly trying to kill him with sophisticated weapons. He should remember he is a political figure in Sardauna local government. Doing this has created more enmity between the fulanis and the Mambilla people. That is why we are connecting it with what has happened now. (what has happened was as a result of someone being detained, then the Chairman of the local government went on radio telling his people to wake up because a Mambilla leader has been kidnapped by Fulani men and that they should wake up and protect themselves). You see these two events are what prompted this crisis. The Speaker is Mambilla by tribe, the Chairman of the local government who made that statement is Mambilla by tribe. You see there is a connection between what the Speaker has said and the crisis.
Your association seems to hammer so much on your constitutional rights while claiming the Bill is against herdsmen. But don’t you think that the farmers too have the right to protect their farms?
My gentleman, it is only on the stage of drama that you can turn fiction into reality. This is a government that said they would not give an inch to grazing reserves when the federal government asked for 5000 hectares to start ranching in Taraba state. Secondly, this is a state that for the past two years, nothing has been allocated to the livestock sector because of their hatred for herders and what the herders have. If now, the Taraba state government would say they want to provide ranches for you for security purposes, tell them they lie! The primary objective of every government is to protect lives and property. Okay, the government attributes the whole crisis in Taraba state to farmers and herders; I tell you it is a lie. If it is herders and farmers; let’s take for example what happened in Kurmi, Ussa and Takum. Up to date, did you know the causes of the crisis? They just purported that a Fulani man went to a farm and injured a woman. Who is she, what is her name, from which community is she from? These questions are always rising up in our minds. You see, it is like the government has ‘a skeleton in its cupboard’. The government has to come out and say this person- Jacob, Musa, Ismaila or what, is the cause of this crisis. Come down to Lau local government recently, this is just a bone of contention between two people. The Mumuye man injured a Fulani man. What we heard was that they attacked the houses of Fulani people. They killed two people and burnt the whole village. Okay, agreed they were the people that were hurt and so went for reprisal attacks. (I did not kill you but you killed me and burnt my entire house), what type of reprisals is this? Next we heard that in Lushi (the settlement of Fulani for the past 300 years). They went there and burnt the whole community. Still Taraba state government has not done anything! The House of Assembly constituted a committee and just like a tea party, up till today nothing is heard of it. What type of irresponsibility is this? Are our people being protected? Okay, consider what happened in Sardauna; Sardauna has a land mass of over 200 kms. The whole fulani settlements with the exception of nine settlements were burnt. The world must hear this! The government has termed us as second class citizens, the government segregate, the government is not responding to our plight.
What then in your opinion is the solution to the frequent farmers/herdsmen conflict in Nigeria at large and Taraba state in particular?
This is the question that Taraba state government has to ask! They have to call all stakeholders. Let’s come and sit down and find out what the causes of these crises are. Let us go back to the drawing board. Is this how we were before? Is it the advent of local politicians that brought this thing? Okay, I have a solution to this problem. To my own perception, only justice would bring peace to Taraba state. Until we all agree that we are all Tarabans, until we all agree that it is God that made us fulanis, Jukuns, Kutebs or any other tribe. Until we agree that it is God that made us to live together and he has a purpose for that. All these crises in Taraba have nothing to do with religion. Most of it is tribal. If you think you can cleanse the whole of fulanii in Taraba state, how many fulanis do we have in Nigeria? In the whole of Africa, we have 27 countries of which we are not minorities. We need to have a rethink; we need to have a good program for our people. The peace of Taraba is in the pocket of the governor.
Finally sir, are you ready for dialogue with government to ensure peace in the land when the opportunity comes?
You have to understand one thing. Praise be to God who created the fulanis. We are the only tribe in the world who have met wealth waiting for us to inherit. A rich man does not like diatribes; a rich man is supposed to look for peace even if it is with his money. In Taraba state we have tribes; we are the only tribe in the state that operates vigilante group that fights criminal around us. We are peace makers, we are peace lovers. We have been maintaining peace and we are loyal to the government of the day. Whatever they have done to us, they have done to indigenes of Taraba state. We are not settlers, every Nigerian that was found in the land before 1st October, 1960 is a Nigerian. Our parents have been here for the past 300 years. Let equity, justice and peace reign. We are Tarabans. We don’t have any other state and we would not contribute to the destruction of Taraba state.