Miyetti Allah Kautal Hore, the umbrella body for Fulani herdsmen in the country, has called on its members to defend themselves against any attempt by an ethnic militia group to move freely.
This is coming barely 72 hours after President Muhammadu Buhari asked Fulani herdsmen in the South to ignore the call by northern elders asking them to return to the North.
Speaking in an interview with The Punch, The National Secretary of the group, Saleh Alhassan, also said that governors in the southern part of the country would be held responsible if any of their members was attacked.
Recall that the South-East Governors Forum, through its Director-General, Prof Simon Ortuanya, had warned that movement of cattle into the zone by foot would no longer be allowed except through trucks.
Ohanaeze Youth Council, Oodua Peoples Congress, and the Ijaw Youth Council have all supported the call, warning that they could no longer tolerate the killings and threats from herdsmen in the zones.
But, speaking on Thursday, Alhassan said herdsmen would remain where they were and that governors of the respective states would be held responsible should anything happen to their members.
He said, “We are Nigerians and we have a history. Anybody that thinks he can wake up and take on the Fulani pastoralist is making a grievous mistake; we are well prepared to defend our fundamental human rights of movement in this country.
“They (herdsmen) are Nigerians, so they are entitled to stay where they are. They should remain where they are and defend themselves against ethnic militia and assert their citizenship in this country.
“The only thing we would say is that we will hold all the governors of those states responsible for their safety and security, but if any ethnic militia, by any name, attacks our members, they should defend themselves in a manner that nobody would try such again.
“We have been saying it that people behind insecurity are not herders; bandits are behind these killings, and if the government is saying foreigners have infiltrated the herders, have they been arrested and what is their nationality? Anybody that is trying to destabilise this country should be dealt with.”
Speaking further on the call by some northern groups that they should vacate the southern part of the country, Alhassan said, “Those so-called northern youths called coalition of northern groups should note that if because of their action any herder is killed, we will first look for them before we go after our enemies.
“We are Nigerians and we are not going anywhere. Our attachment to the land is opportunistic; we don’t farm the land. So, if anybody is thinking that because he has cultivated the land in a particular place for long and he has rights there more than us, then we would ask where is the grazing area that the colonial masters created for us?
“Politicians can play their politics but they should leave our people out of it because it is the desperate politicians that are causing this confusion and they are looking for anything to hang on to, but we are watching them critically.
“If you threaten the herders, they react; they cannot be used for any political game because we have our way of defending ourselves. We hate injustice and we fight it. Anybody that thinks we can be squeezed is making a mistake.”
Asked the solution to the persistent clashes between herders and their host communities, he said grazing reserves that were carved out before the country’s independence should be developed to serve their purposes.
“When we begin to discuss the Nigeria question, we would ask where the grazing reserves are because we know them and we have the records of where they are,” he added.