December 9, 2022

Herdsmen admit illegally taking lands in Plateau State

Fulani herdsmen set up tent in Plateau Government forest reserve in Qua'anpan LGA (representative image)

Herdsmen from the Fulani tribe generally blamed for attacks on farming communities in Nigeria have admitted not being original owners of lands they occupy in Plateau State.

At least 72 Christian communities have been seized by herders in the central State, CSI investigations show. One of them originally called Rankum in native Berom dialect has been renamed Mahanga by the invaders. Others are Rotchun renamed Rafin Acha, Hywa renamed Lugere, Maseh renamed Lugel and Fass renamed Tafawa, all in Hausa and Fulfulde.

Leaders of the Fulani on Tuesday, June 22, 2021, in a local radio interview admitted the communities originally belong to displaced Christians. The Fulani cannot claim ownership of these communities, Director of Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association of Nigeria (MACBAN) in Plateau State, Mohammad Adam said.

“There are many places you know where people have been and are no more there. Why? Because of insecurity. I never think that there is fight for one to claim somebody’s land. I never think Fulanis have that idea of reclaiming somebody’s right,” said Adam.

“The change of the name of the community, that one I think has been resolved. Because the immediate (native) community have sat down and resolved that issue of renaming and whatsoever in Abuja. That is what I know. So that one is a gone issue,” Adam added, referring to Rankum village which locals say was seized after a deadly attack on 10th September, 2001.

Federal Primary School named after Fulani leader

Last year, following a petition by the natives challenging the naming of a federal school in the Rankum village after a Fulani leader “legitimizing land-grab”, the herders claimed ownership of the community for over 200 years. But confronted with evidences, they withdrew their claims before federal Officials, accepting a new name that recognizes the original land owners. Nevertheless, Mr. Nura Mohammed, the Chairman of MACBAN in Plateau State, said Fulani herdsmen have ‘merely’ been accused of attacking villages with no evidence.

“When they say they are being invaded by herders, who are those herders? For 21 years, they have been suspected herdsmen and up till today they are suspected herdsmen. Where are your security? What are they doing? They should come and assist and minimize the killings and try to get (arrest) somebody from the scene, let us see who is that person – is he a farmer, is he a herder, is he a foreigner, is he Boko Haram, who is he? Who is he representing? Why is he attacking other people? We should go into that thing but for the past 21 years, they are still suspecting Fulanis and up to now they are suspecting Fulanis,” said Nura.

However, on 10, 2019, Military Task Force in Plateau State arrested six Fulani herdsmen that allegedly killed five soldiers in the State. The suspects paraded before Journalists in Jos were identified as Muhammed Abubakar, Abduallahi Abubakar, Habib Abubakar, Marina Dandash, Saidu Abdullah and a female conspirator, Mrs. Salamatu Saiyit. Maj-Gen. Augustine Agundu, Commander of the STF also known as Operations Safe Haven (OPSH), said the suspects arrested in Bet Village, in the Barkin Ladi Area confessed to the crime.

Also, on March 8, 2018, Police confirmed the arrest of a Fulani herdsman with an AK-47 rifle in Plateau’s Daffo village where over 20 people had been killed. Spokesperson of the Plateau State Police Command, Mr. Terna Tyopev, said the herdsman, Muhammadu Bimini, was arrested by riot policemen hours after the murders. Eleven civilians were killed in same village by “familiar Fulani herdsmen” according to survivors, on January 23, 2018. The killings started after a herder was knocked down in self-defense by native youths after he accosted them for allegedly trespassing into ‘grazing land’.

Later on March 14, 2018, two policemen attached to the military Task Force in the State were killed in gun duel with Fulani herdsmen in Rafiki, Dong and Maifarin-mota villages near Jos, the capital of the State. Over ten civilian natives were killed by the herders before securities intervened. Several properties, including a Church were also razed.

On June 27, 2018, Special Military Task Force, “Operation Save Haven’’ paraded another two Fulani herdsmen arrested in Gashish village in Plateau State on June 23, 2018 when over 200 local Christian farmers were killed. The suspects were paraded hours after the North Central Chairman of MACBAN, Danladi Ciroma said the killings were retaliatory.

“Fulani herdsmen have lost about 300 cows in the last few weeks – 94 cows were rustled by armed Berom youths in Fan village (in Plateau State), another 36 cows were killed by Berom youths (in Plateau State). In addition to that, 174 cattle were rustled and the criminals disappeared with them to Mangu. Since these cows were not found, no one should expect peace in the areas,” Ciroma said in an interview published by Punch newspaper.

But on January 31, 2018, Police authorities declared that over 80 per cent of cattle rustling in Plateau State was carried out by Fulani men. The State’s Commissioner of Police, Undie Undie, in a news briefing, cited a case involving a herder, Bala Mohammed who conspired with three others on January 26, 2018 to kill a fellow Fulani herder named Ibrahim, before steal 15 cows and 14 I’m his care.

During his June 22 radio interview, Nura, the Plateau State MACBAN Chairman also confirmed the involvement of Fulani herdsmen in cattle rustling. “What will interest you is that we have tried to arrest these Fulani boys but they are at large up to now,” said Adam.

“2,400 Christians killed, 2000 Churches destroyed by herdsmen”

Despite involving in cattle rustling and murder of herders, the Fulani have never attacked another Fulani settlement in retaliation. “The agenda is jihad, land grab and Islamization”, said a Nigerian activist and Trump advocate, Samson Tongman, in a widely published 2018 article by former Presidential Aide and Minister, Femi Fani-Kayode.

According to Statistica, “Jihadist Fulani herdsmen” murdered over 7.4 thousand Christians between 2015 and 2020. Together with Boko Haram, and bandits or highway kidnappers, the herdsmen killed between 11,000 and 12,000 Christians within the period, Statistica, a site that keeps data about global trends in human societies reports. According to the site, four to five million Christians were displaced and two thousand churches were destroyed in Nigeria.

Government backed land-grab

Fulani Jihad in Nigeria is generally traced to the 19th century Usman Danfodio Jihad which forcefully entrenched Islam in present-day Northern Nigeria. However, modern day killing of farmers started with crop destructions in 1900s, during Nigeria’s colonial rule.

“Why have those conflicts occurred in the colonial period? One of the major problems then was damage to crops; cattle damage to crops,” said Professor Sati Fwatshak, the Dean, Faculty of Arts, University of Jos. Another problem, Fwatshak in the June 22 radio interview said was “land hunger, occasioned by what the colonialists called overgrazing.”

The British colonialists successfully tamed the excesses of the herders through controlled movements and grazing, as well as stiff fines for farmland destructions, Fwatshak said. However, a 1965 grazing law, passed by a Fulani led post-colonial Administration in Nigeria, forcefully converted lands in farming communities to grazing reserves, said Fwatshak. These grazing reserves and cattle routes created by colonial Governments to control cattle movements, are still protected by the present-day Administration of President Muhammadu Buhari, who himself is Fulani.

On June 10, 2021, Buhari announced plans to reclaim the routes now submerged by rapid population growth and urbanization. “What I did was ask him (Nigeria’s Attorney General) to go and dig the gazette of the First Republic when people were obeying laws. There were cattle routes and grazing areas. Cattle routes were for when they (herdsmen) are moving up country, north to south or east to west, they had to go through there,” Buhari said in an Arise TV interview. Many analysts attribute growing attacks, which are currently spreading to Southern Nigeria, to open grazing and cattle movements.

The Federal government had created a National Livestock policy to allocate public lands for grazing. The Government established agro-rangers to protect the predominantly Muslim Fulani herders in the designated facilities. However, lands forcefully taken from farmers have not been recovered or compensated for, a twist to a March 2021 report by the US Department of State which alleged injustices against the Fulani and Hausa populations in Central Nigeria.