A Reporter’s Diary in the Middle Belt – Days 3-4
A lesser-known fact, as Mallam Nuru Abdullahi, head of MACBAN in Plateau State, told The Africa Report in exclusive chat on 11 July, is that the Fulani are not the only constituent ethnicity of MACBAN. There are Igbos, Yorubas, Beroms, Tiv, Hausas, Kanuris and other ethnic group, he said.
“It is not just for Fulanis. That is the misconception, and we have so many [members] in the whole of the Nigeria,” said Abdullahi in a small office adjourning the main prayer hall at the central mosque in Jos. “MACBAN is not meant for only Fulani. That is why today the secretary of Miyetti Allah of Benue State is not a Fulani man. Go and ask him.”
Beyond Abdullahi’s explanation, however, the misconception is rooted in the fact that the Fulani together with the Hausas – who they have a long-running affiliation with – represent a majority of the members of the association. The Fulani are also the only mobile population in the mix, unlike cattle owners of other ethnicities who either own cattle farms or do not own bulk cattle like the nomadic Fulani.
Holding the fort
The Miyetti Allah Kautal Hore, a sister organisation to MACBAN and the arm of the Fulani hierarchy responsible for preserving its culture, has been in the news for making many provocative remarks. When it is not holding the fort for the remarkably silent service chiefs who seem overwhelmed and incapacitated by Nigeria’s multiple security issues, it is insinuating that all the land across Nigeria belongs to the Fulani.
The Nigerian media has reported that attackers, believed to be herdsmen, are renaming as many as 54 communities captured in raids that have left hundreds dead and thousands displaced in camps across Plateau State. Abdullahi vehemently disagreed with those accounts of land-grabbing. On the controversial matter of the name Barkin Ladi, ‘The Area Formerly Known As Gwoll’: “It is a lie,” he bellowed.
“Barkin Ladi has never been called any name apart from Barkin Ladi. Barkin Ladi was a Fulani village from the beginning. Hajia Ladi was a Fulani woman who saw food – that is how they create that name and give this village before even mining, before even the oyibo (white) man came to this Nigeria. They have tried to rename it to Gwoll, but they have not succeeded.”
Every other day, there are emotive polemics stemming from ethno-religious crises and from the pastoralist/farmer conflict, which has itself assumed a religious dimension. Christian clerics have called for a halt against what they believe is a significant drive by either the northern elite or the Fulani aristocracy within Nigeria and beyond – or both – to Islamise the country. Some of the northern elite, particularly those from minority groups – who are predominantly indigenes in central Nigeria – have insinuated that there is collusion between the state and its agencies to promote bouts of ethnic cleansing.
Danjuma sounds alarm bells
Theophilus Danjuma, a retired general and erstwhile minister of defence, made such a statement at a public function in his home state of Taraba in March. “There is an attempt at ethnic cleansing in this state and, of course, in all the riverine states of Nigeria,” he told the audience, which included a significant number of the Junkun tribe, his kinsmen. “We must resist it. We must stop it. Every one of us must rise up. The armed forces are not neutral; they collude with the armed bandits that kill people, kill Nigerians. They facilitate their movement. They cover them. If you are depending on the armed forces to stop the killings, you will all die one by one.”
It is a statement that Abdullahi, who repeatedly refused to confirm the possibility of members of his association owning and using guns throughout the hour-long interview, agreed with. This, despite arguing just minutes before that the army chiefs were doing their best to cope with the situation and applauding the work of Operation Safe Heaven, the military task force working to keep peace in Plateau State.
“I agree,” he mused about Danjuma’s comments. “Let us go and dig into these security personnel. I know not all of them are involved in this thing, but there are bad eggs among them. So they should work towards fishing out the bad eggs and dealing with them decisively.”
“Let me tell you, in the near future, if a car on the major road on a high-speed somersaults and kills the passenger inside, it will be tagged as herdsmen. [There is not] any crime in this country committed that [they] are not alleging herdsmen [are responsible fore] – be it armed robbery, kidnapping, killings everywhere. But the real killers are there. They know themselves, the security [forces] know them.”
Crisis and curiosity
While fixing the interview with Abdullahi the day before, he’d revealed unwittingly while softly rejecting my request to meet that evening that he’d been invited to a meeting with officials from the United States embassy in Abuja. They had come to Jos on a fact-finding mission, he told me during our interview when I asked for an update. Just as I suspected, they were talking to him about the raging crisis and proposed solutions.
But what he said next piqued my curiosity. The Americans had met with just him and Alhaji Sani Mude, a representative of the state chapter of Jama’atu Nasril Islam, the umbrella body of Muslims in the country – the Islamic equivalent of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN). Why were the embassy officials meeting with just one of the two sides involved? Perhaps they had wisely met with CAN officials and representatives of the mostly Christian farmers too? Or they didn’t see the need to?
A camp for internally displaced people in Jos