Chief Goddy Uwazurike is a lawyer and the President-Emeritus of Igbo think tank, Aka Ikenga. In this interview with GBENRO ADEOYE of Saturday PUNCH, Uwazurike, who was a delegate to the 2014 National Conference, says Prof. Umar Labdo of the Maitama Sule University, who recently described Fulani as destined to lead Nigeria, should seek more education
What do you think about all the things Prof. Umar Labdo of the Maitama Sule University said in a recent interview he had with the Saturday PUNCH?
I think he has freedom of speech but his right to speak stops right when it becomes an insult and a libel. You can libel a whole group and you can also libel an individual. The law of defamation is very clear, you don’t talk nonsense. If you want to speak rubbish in your bedroom whether you are a professor or not, it is your right. If you are teaching students in your class nonsense, it is your right. But if you want the rest of the country to take you seriously, then you must be serious. That man is a professor but I don’t know what he is professing. I read the whole interview and I knew I would be ashamed if that man should say he was my teacher. As Fela Kuti said, ‘Teacher, don’t teach me nonsense’. If you are surrounded by intelligent and people who have common sense, then you will benefit from them a lot. But remember that common sense is different from education. Whenever I see that someone is saying rubbish, I tune out because I know they will contaminate me. I have a lot of professors who are my friends and are very intelligent and speak in measured tones. They don’t speak like rabid people; people who have no control.
What do you think about his assertion that Fulani people have a burden of leadership and are destined to lead Nigeria?
Nobody has a burden of leadership and everybody has the burden of leadership. This country is a contraption of unwilling people brought together in 1914 by Lord Luggard, which is known as the amalgamation of the North and South. Before then, we had no Fulani person ruling anywhere in the South. In the North, we had them ruling in some places but not in all the places, so I don’t know the history the professor was talking about. If he was talking about the history of a man (Usman dan Fodio) whose origin is Futa Jallon and who settled here and abused the privilege of being hosted by a certain Hausa king, and eventually killing him and conquering some areas, then he must say it as it is. I have many Fulani who are my friends and I have many of them who are well-educated. I know there are two broad classifications of Fulani people – the township Fulani and the cattle Fulani. The township Fulani people in Nigeria are always seeking political power but they don’t always get it and whenever they get it, they don’t forget their cattle Fulani brethren. The cattle Fulani are more like those who do all the menial work for them but also own their cattle. But then, those cattle Fulani are regarded by the township or settled Fulani as people whose only knowledge is about animals, religion and where they come from. So, I don’t know where he got the idea that he had a burden of leadership from. If he wants to test his knowledge as a professor, let him go to other universities within Nigeria to interact with them and he will begin to learn those things he has not learnt. Every man learns something, retains some and discards some. The mind has a way of filtering information so if he has a narrow-minded person as a friend, he will see things from a myopic point of view. I’m sorry for the students of that professor; they should please broaden their knowledge elsewhere.
You said Usman dan Fodio abused the privilege granted to him by a Hausa king. But Prof. Labdo said that Fulani were actually kind and benevolent when they settled here and didn’t kill their hosts like the Europeans did to the aborigines in America.
No, it was in the name of religion that they killed those they killed and captured the areas, and installed themselves as Emirs. Each one of those emirs got a flag and the first thing they did, which was wise, was to adopt the commercial language of the empire they conquered – Hausa language. Hausa language was also the language of the palace but the Fulani retained their language, which is called Fulfulde. Even on radio, they listen to Fulfulde. If you ever get close to any herdsman, it is Fulfulde he listens to on radio. So, even as he is in the bush, if you think he is not aware of what is going on, then you are wrong. There has been a lot of mixture of Fulani and Hausa and Fulani-Kanuri through intermarriage but there will always be distinction. If you asked a Fulani man to make Hausa man his leader, it will be difficult. In those days, the Sardauna of Sokoto (Sir Ahmadu Bello) appointed Abubakar Tafawa Balewa from a tiny tribe in Bauchi and made him Prime Minister of Nigeria. He (Sardauna of Sokoto) preferred to stay as the Premier of Northern Nigeria. In simple language, the man who was calling the shots was in Kaduna and the man who was ruling was down South and nobody ever looked at Balewa as the real ruler of the North. He was never that, he was the man sent by the ruler of the North to rule Nigeria. But in today’s world, there are a number of emirs who are neither Hausa nor Fulani. They have their titles and the Fulani did not conquer the Kanuri Empire. They couldn’t continue their attack against the Kanuri people. The Kanuri, who had an empire called Kanem-Borno Empire, were fierce fighters. The Fulani fighters could not get into Tiv land; Tiv people resisted them. The whole of the Junkun Kingdom from parts of Nasarawa, Kogi and down to today’s Benue and Taraba, the fighters there were very fierce and they resisted Fulani. And the skirmishes still going on can be traced in history to what happened. And when you begin to insult the Tiv man, saying he is your servant, you’re a Fulani man, you own his place or insult a Benue man, saying it is your place and so on, he will look and wonder what you are talking about. He will just tell you what his own father told him. That is why it is difficult to find Muslims among the Tiv today, except only few who practise it for political purposes. They are very fierce and proud people. The same goes for the Idoma people. The Igala have many Muslims and you may live comfortably with them, but they also maintain their identity.
So are you saying Prof. Labdo was lying?
He was not lying but he had limited education, which is the only way I can describe him. If he wants to do history; first, he should go and study history and after that, he can now talk about history. When you read history from different sources, then you begin to have an idea. I’ve never seen a well-educated Fulani man claim that they conquered Junkun Empire, never.
Prof. Labdo said that Fulani owned present day Abuja before they gave it to Nigeria and moved the emir there to Niger State.
I don’t think he is right. Look at the current fight going on in Abuja. It is a big fight between the indigenes and the people they call settlers and most of the people they call settlers are Hausa people, they are not even Fulani. They are Hausa itinerant traders and today if you ask the indigenes of Abuja who are their rulers, they know the names to call. And they still retain their culture. They still have their cultural displays where they dance half-naked. Those people were never subdued because the Fulani invaders could not climb the hills in the area, so they stopped at Suleja. And if you look at the nature of the hills, you will realise that if you are fighting them and they climb those hills, there is nothing you can do.
Even the Plateau people were never conquered by anybody, they have always been independent. When you get to Jos North Local Government Area, they have a heavy concentration of Hausa people with a few Fulani people; those were labourers who came to work at the tin mines about 100 years ago. And because they had to settle somewhere, the place became a town from just a slum. When one powerful man became the Governor of Plateau State, he created a local government for them. Now, there is a campaign to have an emir in that place but that may never see the light of day because Plateau people are very fierce. Nasarawa, Benue and Taraba were never conquered. The Igala and Egon people who accepted Islam accepted the religion on their own and not through conquest. When the Fulani went to Ilorin after the Alimi vs Afonja fight, they moved in a certain direction towards Oyo Empire and the empire stopped them. They retreated. Does it mean we have no Muslims in Yorubaland but it was not conquered by Fulani, so we have Muslims in the Middle Belt but they were not converted through conquest but through trade?
Do you agree with the professor’s assertion that the Fulani people were more educated than other tribes in Nigeria and that they have manuscripts dating back 300 to 500 years?
He should go to Ekiti State and tell them that. If he goes to Ekiti State and says look, I come from the most educated tribe in Nigeria, they will laugh at him.
He meant before the Europeans came and brought education to the rest of the country.
It depends on what he meant by education. If he was talking about western education, there are many states where if you don’t have a professor in your family, then you have not started. I’m talking about real professors and not emergency professors. If you go to Mbaise and say you are professor, they will say we have 10 in their family. You go to Ekiti State and say you are a professor, you will see an old man sitting by the door, who will say: my son, when did you become a professor? I was there 70 years ago. And if it is about native education or religious education, you can go back as far back as you want but knowledge is what is transferred when you teach other people. The ability to write in Islam is distinct. Nubian education is distinct, Roman education is distinct, Igbo education is distinct and Yoruba education is distinct. So if you asked a Tiv man, he would tell you about his own history, so when you begin to brag that Fulani people were the most educated, people will wonder about what you are talking about. We are living in a global village. Just google: I need a doctor or professor or Senior Advocate of Nigeria who specialises in this or that, names will come up. That will begin to give you an idea. Among lawyers and judges, we know what happens. That thing called federal character is what is used in the judiciary. Go and check the exam scores. If you want to get into Junior Secondary School 1, in Imo State, the cut-off score will be 113 and for some states, it will be 10. If you score 100 in Imo, you will not go in. But a boy that scores 10 in some states will gain admission into JSS1. And for him to gain university admission, he will still benefit from ‘catchment area’ policy. All he needs to do is to score 200 while the man who scored 250 elsewhere will not get in. And after all that, you come out and start bragging to that man, who was always required to score far higher marks than you did, saying don’t you know we are more educated than you. The man will begin to wonder what you are talking about. Yes, competing educational interests will always be there but please, it is childish to make such a statement.
Some Nigerians are saying that Fulani people tend to have a sense of entitlement, which they think the coming into office of President Muhammadu Buhari has worsened. Where do you think that comes from?
Not all Fulani people. But when you have a small group spoiling the name of an entire people, it is difficult to distinguish. But those that will suffer are the honest ones. The Fulani people are a great and very intelligent race. But if you move from intelligence to domination, it becomes another thing. I can win you over as a friend and I can also overpower you and when I do that, what happens. What is happening in southern Kaduna is as a result of the failure of the jihadists to subdue the southern Kaduna tribes and there are many of them. So when the British came, instead of allowing them to be on their own, they put them under the Zaria province. And from Zaria province, it got to the Emir of Zaria having an emirate and they became part of the Zaria emirate. And when they rebelled, the military descended on them. That was how the Zangon Kataf king came up and the most prominent man was sentenced to death and that led to an uproar. Till now, if you go to Kafanchan, the damage is still there. And some people are proposing to have an emir on Zangon Kataf, this is one of the things causing problems.
What can you say about claims that Fulani were never defeated and can never be defeated?
It is wrong; the Yoruba defeated them now. They sacked some Yoruba towns and the Yoruba were organised, that was how Ibadan came up as a military camp. Before you knew it, the Yoruba fought back and expelled them, so they never went beyond Kwara anymore. Even till now, the Afonja Descendants Union is still thinking of how to push them out even though we are now in a modern world. So it is not true. If it were true, they would have overrun Kanuri Empire. The head of Kanuri in Nigeria, the Shehu of Borno does not bow to anybody, just like the Emir of Kano does not bow to anybody because when the Fulani attacked them, they were stopped. The Borno Empire was very powerful.
The professor said people should allow the Fulani herdsmen to do their business and that after all Igbo people do their business peacefully in his own village and that it was wrong to come up with the anti-open grazing law and expect people who had been nomads for 1,000 years to abide by it just like that. What do you think about that?
I think there is a lot of deceit going on here. There is a breed of cattle called Sokoto White, it is commonest breed that you see in Sokoto State, and it is pure white in colour. Those cattle do not destroy people’s farms; they live with the Fulani people in their homes. Now the cattle that cause the destruction come from across the Cameroon Mountains; most of them come from outside Nigeria. Some are owned by Nigerian Bourgeois Fulani and others are owned by outsiders and they know. Those cattle men are entrusted with them to move them around, which is why they send for reinforcements anytime they have a problem, so it is difficult to see a herdsman without a mobile telephone, so they know what is going on. They also listen to radio. Let us see an Igbo man that will go to Kano or Sokoto to tell them that he wants to raise a piggery farm and needs land to start. Let us see whether they will answer him. The Igbo man in Kano buys land and gets the approval of the government there because that is what the law demands. If you come to Imo State, we have laws there made by the state House of Assembly and you are expected to abide by them. At the confab, I remember a comment made by a delegate from Kano, he said anywhere we go to, you must give us land. That was when I got to know about the seriousness of these movements. Don’t joke with Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association; it was serious when it said the law must be repealed because they knew that they had been stealing and grabbing land for so long. You cannot be in Sokoto and determine what a man in Kano should do, it is not possible. Benue State Governor and the state House of Assembly are on their own; therefore, you must respect the autonomy of the state. If the people of Anambra State make a law that if you want to plant rice, this is what you should do, then for God’s sake, if you must plant rice, go and do it. Dealing with each other has never been a problem; it is when you bring in politics that there is problem. As it is today, the government of Nigeria is shielding those herdsmen. It is not even talking about arresting them and charging them with killings, they are not doing that. All they are saying is live with them. How can a Benue man live with those who killed his kith and kin?
What do you think about the argument that it is the Igbo and Yoruba people that eat cow and not the Fulani people?
Since I heard that statement, I have started taking census of those who make Suya and those who hang around Suya spots. Most of them are from the far North. You can find someone from the South and Middle Belt strolling in and buying but most of the people who truly enjoy it are from the far North. I think the professor was not correct, just like he was not correct to talk about grazing routes. There is a law in Nigeria called the Land Use Act. It is the supreme law when it comes to land. I heard about grazing routes at the confab and I went back and read the law I had already read before. I read it 10 times on purpose. There is no reference to grazing routes. I know of Obudu Cattle Ranch and I know of ranches in different parts of the North so if they have them in those places, what is their problem? The people in Zamfara, Niger and parts of Kaduna have that problem but they have a ranch, but they allowed thieves and outlaws to inhabit all those areas and that is why in Zamfafa, Niger and Katsina states, their problem is more of cattle rustling and herdsmen attacking people. So if the professor is talking about cattle rustlers and fighting on behalf of herdsmen, he will be on a better ground. But when you talk about those who take lives with impunity in defence of their cattle, then he is in a different planet and not ours.
How would you rate the Federal Government’s handling of killings by suspected Fulani herdsmen across the country and more recently in Benue, Taraba and Nasarawa states?
At the confab, we treated the issue. I remember that a delegate from Benue State came with pictures of the killings in the state, and expended canisters and many of us were afraid. She pointedly accused the Fulani and I remember that a highly placed Fulani delegate said no, we’re not the ones killing your people, go and find those who are killing you. And I remember her saying that the Fulani people know those who are killing and they accept them. Some people survive the attacks and they know them. When Agatu killings took place, fingers were pointed at Fulani. When Enugu killings took place, they accused Fulani people of committing the crime, same in Ogun, Ondo and so on. So, how come everywhere, people are accusing Fulani? They see it as their entitlement to do what they are doing. As soon as Buhari came to office, we started seeing cattle in Abuja city. There was a picture that trended online of a man rearing cattle in front of the Ministry of Finance, Abuja – a massive complex. Why was that? Now, 73 people were killed in Benue. The President has not visited the state and the Inspector General of Police talks like somebody who is not a policeman. He spent one day there, moved to Nasarawa and went around saying I’ve gone to the local government, I didn’t see anybody, terrorists are not here. Did he expect to see them waiting for him as he was coming? One of the things I learnt at the confab is this: As the cattle Fulani people move around, if they have their families around, they will never look for trouble. When they fight and escape, they send for their assassins, who can come from Chad, Niger or Futa Jallon. When they arrive, they are shown the homes of the indigenes by the resident Fulani people. They will tell them, go to that place, kill, maim, burn down the place and leave the same night. These people speak French and Fulfulde. So as they move around, they kill, maim and escape. As they drive you away from your home, you the owner of the farm cannot come back there because the Fulani people are there. And this is when the police and the military will come and say everybody should stay where they are. And the Fulani will stay on the farms belonging to others. Meanwhile, the owners of the farms are taking refuge somewhere else. A delegate from southern Kaduna said at the conference, I come from a place suffering from this and it is nothing but land grabbing. And another person described it as ethnic cleansing.
What do you think will be the implications for our nation if this problem is not effectively dealt with?
The crisis will always be an albatross of President Buhari; he cannot run away from it. It’s either he tackles it now or it will fester. As it is, those Fulani are claiming that they are right to do what they are doing, that is why they are doing it with impunity. If I were a policeman, I would not fight them. If the government of the day had not condemned them and if my IGP had said it was a communal clash, why should I risk my life? Those who were killed in Benue, did they die for doing something government didn’t approve of? When the members of the Indigenous People of Biafra were shaking their fists and asking for a referendum, which was all the young men and women asked for, what did the government do? It sent armoured vehicles, heavily armed soldiers and helicopters over there, intimidated everybody and since then, people have not set eyes on the leader of the group and his parents. The Attorney General of the Federation strolled into the office of the Acting Chief Judge of Federal Capital Territory and got him to sign a document ex parte. As a lawyer, I know that when you have an ex parte application, you always have a motion of notice following it; it does not end as ex parte. So it was granted as ex parte and ended there. But in the case of herdsmen who go about with AK-47s, what did the government do? The President said ‘try to accommodate your brothers’. That was all; there was nothing about those who died. They died for what they knew nothing about. Men, women and children sleeping in their homes were slaughtered. So what would you say to them when you meet them, that they died for a noble cause, no. they died for a Nigerian cause, no. So why did they die?
What are the implications?
It has ominous implications. If you do not treat a small wound on your leg, it becomes a sore and then gangrene can set in and when gangrene sets in, it’s either you cut the leg off or it leads to death. That is the only analogy I will give. If government wants to pretend like the ostrich- see no evil, hear no evil, it should know that evil is still there. (Culled from Saturday PUNCH)