Governor Bala Mohammed of Bauchi State on Friday defended his comment about armed herders, explaining that he used AK-47 as a figure of speech for protection.
“It is a figure of speech to show you the despondence, the desperation and frustration and the agony that this particular person is exposed to by his own people, by his own tribe and by other tribes who have all seen him as a criminal and therefore, he has the inalienable right to protect himself,” the governor said in an interview on a national private television on Friday.
“What I said in that context, I was addressing the media people. And the topic was the use of the media to foster national unity and I was trying to situate the problem,” the governor explained.
And doubling down he said: “The Fulani man is so exposed, dehumanised, demonised in fact, because he is being seen as a bandit and so, anywhere he goes, he is being pursued. Not only in the southwest or the southeast, even in the north because he is in the cattle route, his commonwealth which I call his cows, are being taken and rustled and of course, sometimes, they are fined beyond your imagination. If one cow strays into the farm because the cattle route has been taken away illegally without the authority giving permission, he will be fined seriously, mercilessly.
“And so, he is exposed and then he has no option but to protect himself. We have so many vigilante groups in Nigeria even at the level of government, subregional groups, sub nationals are establishing vigilante groups to make sure that their communities are protected. Why wouldn’t the Fulani man protect himself? And if he carries a gun in order to protect himself, it may not be a legal carriage, it may be legal. He may also register and carry it to protect himself.”
The governor’s comment on armed herdsmen triggered a flurry of condemnation, increasing instead calls for the prohibition of open-grazing.
Governor Samuel Ortom of Benue State and his Ondo counterpart, Rotimi Akeredolu, were quick to knock the Bauchi governor’s statement.
Governor Akeredolu said, “So statements like that must be condemned and I condemn it. Bala Mohammed has not spoken like a statesman. He probably lost everything out, he lost out as to what his reaction should be.”
The Benue state governor, Ortom on his part,questioned the section of law the Bauchi governor cited to support herdsmen’s free movement around the country with sophisticated weapons.
“It was the same Governor Mohammed who once said on national television that a Fulani man is a global citizen and therefore does not need a visa to come to Nigeria and that the forests belong to herdsmen,” Ortom stated as he poked at Bala political ideology.
Herdsmen and farmers clashes have been an age-long phenomenon in the country. Locals, especially farmers, in the southern part of Nigeria accuse the herdsmen – mostly from the northern region of the country – of committing violent crimes, such as rape, killing and kidnapping.
But the herders have denied any wrongdoing, arguing that they are being profiled, exposed to danger and their cows constantly rustled.
Meanwhile, a popular Islamic scholar, Sheikh Abubakar Gumi, has called on the Federal Government to give bandits willing to make peace ‘blanket amnesty’ if the current security situation in the country must be tackled.
The Islamic scholar disclosed this on Friday while addressing journalists after meeting with Governor Abubakar Bello at the Government House in Minna, Niger state.
“The Federal government should give them blanket amnesty, then if somebody continues, then we will deal with them,” Sheik Gumi said while giving updates, on the demands of the bandits operating in Niger state who according to him, complained that they were being killed and maimed unjustly.
The cleric who premised his thought on his earlier visit to bandit camps in the state said, “The outcome (of his visit) is very positive. We have many factions and each faction is saying I have complaints and grievances – we are persecuted, we are arrested, we are lynched -,” the cleric said, quoting the bandits.
And speaking regarding his discussion during his secret visit to the bandits, Sheik Gumi said there is a positive response from the bandits who are holding the Kagara school students and their staff captive though did not state if the students have been released.
Gumi’s comments come a few days after gunmen gained access to Government Science College, Kagara, Rafi Local Government Area of Niger State around 2:00am and abducted scores of students, teachers, and many others with one student reportedly killed during the attack.