Zacharys Anger Gundu is a professor of archaeology at Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria. He is also the Pro-chancellor and Chairman of the Governing Council of Benue State University, Makurdi. He had spoken extensively in the past on the security challenges in the country. In this interview, Gundu speaks on the dangers constituted by herdsmen and other criminalities in the country. He also speaks on other developments in the polity.
The country is virtually held by the jugular by security challenges. What in your opinion is responsible for this dismal state of things?
Successive governments, right from the military era, have slept on duty on several issues including the security of the country. During the military, there was more concern for securing military dictatorships than securing the lives and property of ordinary citizens. The different fault lines and grievances of citizens and constituent parts were ignored. The country has always been about an iniquitous tribal trinity of Yoruba, Igbo and Hausa Fulani. The unholy trinity has continued to ignore grievances from other citizens leading to the insecurity we see today. Unrest and insecurity in the oil producing areas including agitations over resource control and restructuring was poorly read by our leaders. Boko Haram when it started was reduced to illiteracy levels in north-eastern Nigeria and when Fulani herdsmen decided to graze their cattle forcefully spilling blood in all parts of the country, our leaders acquiesced and took decisions that showed clearly that between the cow and human life, they had no hesitation to rate the
cow over the life and property of the citizen. We are reading the situation differently all because our value system is skewed. The one fighting for resource control is not putting the country first, same for the iniquitous tribal trinity, Boko Haram and Fulani herdsmen. The Federal Government that would have stepped into the gap to correct the situation and reassure citizens is inept and has acquiesced in several instances and thus losing the trust of citizens. Our security architecture is skewed and there are so many ungoverned spaces in the country to a point we can describe Nigeria as a failed state.
How is this related to the herdsmen challenge?
Fulani herdsmen were listed by the Global Terror Index as one of the top four deadly terror rings in the world. They have an international ‘vigilante’ active in every West African country called Tabita Pulaaku. In Nigeria, the Udawa were in the vanguard of the first Fulani people to bear arms. As a transhumance group, the Udawa possibly infiltrated criminals and turned against their kith and kin in the country and were also the first to start the business of cattle rustling as far back as General Sani Abacha’s time as Head of State. Records show that current President Muhamadu Buhari recognized the security challenge posed by the Udawa while heading the Petroleum Trust Fund, yet what the Nigerian military did was to push the Udawa from states like Gombe to parts of the Middle Belt normally considered as ‘wastelands’ by the core North. The Fulani of Nigeria have continued to take the country as home for the Fulani of the whole world using the ECOWAS Protocol on Free Movement and Transhumance as a shield to move indiscriminately to graze cattle by use of force in the country. In parts of West Africa and Nigeria, these herdsmen are affiliated to Jihadi movements and have access to military grade weapons because of our very porous borders. For every official land border we have, there are about 17 illegal land borders through which illegal armed herdsmen or their agents enter the country with weapons. President Muhamadu Buhari has repeatedly admitted that some of these people come from as far as Libya. They respect neither boundaries and territorial jurisdictions nor private property. They are vengeful and responsible for maniacal killings including robberies and kidnappings. In 2016 or so, Governor El Rufai of Kaduna, according to reports, had to search for their ring leaders in neighbouring West African countries to give them huge amounts of money to stop attacking communities in his state.
This did not work. Only a few weeks ago, the Federal Government, in a parley with one Fulani group, reportedly offered them the incredible sum of 100 billion naira to enable the group restrain the Fulani of the whole world in their ‘war’ against the country. Government has also told us they will establish a radio station for the Fulani where ONLY Fulfude will be language of the station. The point is that there is a nexus between insecurity and rural banditry in the country and Fulani herdsmen and the Federal Government is taking steps that seem to be emboldening the herdsmen more and more.
What do you think government did wrong or is not doing correctly?
Several things have been done wrongly. You cannot secure a country as complex as Nigeria using a unitary template. We must restructure to allow the component parts a viable role in the security of the country and in building a sense of nationhood in the citizenry. You can also not secure this country except you know who is a Nigerian and who is not. As argued before, our borders are too porous and a situation where somebody walks into Nigeria from Chad or Niger; stays in Kano, Zaria, Sokoto or Katsina for five years and becomes more Nigerian than somebody from another state who has been there for more than 20 years is unacceptable. We must know who is a Nigerian and who is not to be able to secure the country. We cannot also secure the country with skewed security architecture. Talking of things we are doing incorrectly, there are also many. We do not seem to be fighting insecurity with good intelligence. Do we know who and who are sponsoring these acts of insecurity and criminality in the country? What intelligence do we have on them? If we had good intelligence, we would not have ‘killed’ Shekau for the many times we have ‘killed’ him. With good intelligence, we would have caught somebody like Gana in Benue by now. We cannot also be fighting rural banditry using conventional strategies, whether in Zamfara or the North East or the Delta area. Those responsible for the insecurity in these areas normally fade into the local population, and taking helicopter gunships to indiscriminately bomb these places is not the correct thing to do. It will be wrong to go after any one bad Nigerian and put other innocent Nigerians at risk. In other instances, our security agencies have also compromised as in when they are found to have opened their armouries and sold arms and ammunitions to criminal gangs. We have also not made very good use of our forests. Many of our forests, including Sambisa, Kuyambana and Kumuku, have been taken over by criminal gangs, herdsmen and Boko Haram. Government is not thinking of securing these forests and developing the huge potentials of the forests in terms of non-wood forest resources (NWFR).
What do you think should be done to ameliorate the situation in Zamfara and Katsina?
When the other parts of the country, especially central Nigeria, were burning, people thought the situation was not urgent and threatening enough. President Muhamadu Buhari, in one of his parleys with leaders from Benue, told them casually to go and learn to live with their neighbours. If today we ask the people of Katsina and Zamfara to go and learn to live with their neighbours, we will come across as callous and not sensitive. We will not do that. Instead we will urge all of us to appreciate the fact that we face a national problem that is threatening and can, if not resolved urgently, consume all of us. We cannot allow criminals to take over our rural areas. We cannot also allow the Fulani of the whole world to hide under the ECOWAS Protocol on Free Movement and Transhumance to indiscriminately graze by use of force across international borders in West Africa. We must accept the Benue template of ranching. Pastoralism is an obsolete way of life and we must look the Fulani in the face and tell them the game is up. Livestock production must be regulated because it is good practice to do so. We must also restructure and give states a viable role in securing their boundaries through state police.
In one of your lectures, you alluded to the fact of ‘useful idiots’ being relied upon by those who are bent on dividing Benue along tribal lines.
Can you expatiate on this? When I used this first in one of my public lectures, people thought I was just being abusive. But the truth is I was responsible in my use of words. In espionage and spy vocabulary, the ‘useful idiot’ is one used by the enemy to hurt his own people. The Fulani have a heritage of statecraft which many underestimate. A people who came from pastoralist background to upstage the Hausa people who were hundreds of years using only religion and herdsmen with swords, bows and arrows can do much more now with military grade weapons. People forget that they have perfected the manipulation of political Islam and the game of divide and rule. When a senator leads a delegation of political leaders from his state to President Muhamadu Buhari to absolve Fulani herdsmen of responsibility in the killings even when Fulani groups have claimed responsibility, it becomes clear that a ‘useful idiot’ has been recruited and is playing the role of a Fulani pawn on the chess board of the Nigerian project. Many of these are in place acting against their own in favour of the Fulani. They are looking for favours and think the only way to get them is to pander to what the Fulani want no matter how unreasonable.
President Olusegun Obasanjo recently raised the issue of Fulanisation of the country. Do you agree with him?
Yes, I agree with him and, in all fairness to the discourse on the national question, President Obasanjo is not the first to draw our attention to this. He may only be the first prominent Nigerian to do this. Only last year, I articulated how the Fulani of the whole world were trying to take Nigeria as a preferred home. They have continued to choke every state of this country demanding grazing reserves and grazing routes for their cattle and livestock. The idea is to have these reserves for the Fulani of the whole world to enable them begin staking usufractuary rights over these lands. They are coming by stealth and blood just as they took Hausa land. We must be vigilant. In all places without exception, they have come from outside to kill and displace, they have settled on others ancestral lands and are renaming these places. What can this be if not Fulanisation?
How does state police fit into this conundrum?
State police will give states a more viable role in national security. States will have more control and will move faster in situations of security breaches. For now without state police, governors are toothless. They cannot bite. The police which are federal take orders from the centre and, in many instances, ignore the position of states on security matters. Even if the President continues holding up the size of the stomach of his Inspector General of Police as a sign of hard work, other states may have their yard stick to show how much work their state police chiefs are doing.