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The Expulsion Of The Fulani In Wase
  By Reuben Abati                    The Guardian         Sunday May 17, 2009



With the dust generated by the ethno-religious violence that attended the 2008 local council elections in Jos North Local Government not yet settled, with nerves still frayed and ethnic and religious sentiments still strong and fears of reprisals still hauntingly real, the expulsion of Fulani nomads from Wase Local Government in Plateau state in April is a terrible blunder and a needless act of provocation. Both the local council and the state government unfortunately have not said enough to demonstrate good faith. In the wake of the Jos North election crisis, the Federal Government and a number of Northern spokesmen, including some PDP leaders of Fulani extraction, had accused Governor Jonah Jang directly and his government by extension of such partisanship in the crisis which promotes genocidal feelings against the settler Hausa-Fulani communities in Plateau state. Governor Jang denied this profusely and provided evidence to show that neither he nor his government was the author of the crisis.

However, what happened in the villages of Zak, Bumyun, Sabon Gari, Kampanin Zerak, and Yuli in the Bashar District of Wase local Government recently provides fresh ammunition for those who do not trust the Jang administration. He needs to get on top of the situation quickly, put an end to such further deportations and set the machinery in place for the return of the expelled Fulani settlers. What the Plateau state government has on its hands, for want of a better phrase, is "bad politics".

At the heart of every outbreak of violence in Plateau state has been the politics of indegeneship and settlership with the indigenous ethnic groups in the state insisting on their ownership of the land, while protesting about the plans of the settler Hausa-Fulani communities to seize social, political and cultural control of a land that is not theirs. The settlers who had been in the Plateau area, first as nomads and later as residents for more than a century, naturally also insist on their right to remain where they are and enjoy all due rights under the Constitution of Nigeria. This conflict of primordial and proprietary rights is made worse by religion: with the indigenous people mostly Christians, and the settlers, predominantly Moslems. The Plateau, a crossroads of cultural and social diversity, suddenly explodes into an orgy of violence and hate each time this terrible argument is wrongly conducted. The decision to expel Fulani nomads from the Bashar District in Wase no matter what the government says is bound to look bad, given this background. It is one obvious reason why no government in Plateau, state or local, should have been tempted to get involved in such mess. There is a failure of leadership here.

As reported, a combined team from the Nigerian Army, the Nigerian Police Force, and the Nigerian Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC) stormed the affected five villages, purportedly "acting on orders from above", to identify and deport all aliens who had settled down in the area. All the aliens in question happened to be Fulani herdsmen and under heavy security supervision, they were deported to the neighbouring states of Bauchi, Gombe, Katsina, and Jigawa. The explanations that have since been offered for this action are shocking. The Plateau State Special Adviser on Media and Publicity, Dan Majang, has been quoted at length by the Daily Trust. In one instance he says "the evacuation was carried out by the Wase local government, not the Plateau state government". Majang should have left this utterly sensitive matter at that. But he goes further to commit the blunder of making the following statement: "They are aliens because they migrated from somewhere, that is that, they are not known to be residents in Wase local government... these people came to settle there permanently; as for the Fulani that moves around, we are aware of them and nobody has stopped them."

But the bigger blunder was committed by the state Commissioner of Information, Gregory Yenlong, who was subsequently credited with the following depressing declaration by the Daily Trust to the effect that the migrants arrived in the state after the sectarian crisis of November 2008: "they came in trucks instead of on foot as Fulani nomads do". Then he roped in the state government when he said "to douse the emerging tension as well as avert any breakdown of law and order, the Plateau State Security Council consented to the cry of the host communities for the migrant Fulanis to relocate to where they came from". The chairman of the Wase local council also said as much. But the Fulani intelligentsia is unimpressed. They are riled by the state government's open admission of involvement in the expulsion.

It will be recalled that one of the major complaints by the Plateau state Government in November 2008, was that the state was infiltrated by mercenaries from other states and the Republic of Niger who fought on the side of the Muslim-Fulani to attack other groups in Jos. The Niger Ambassador in Nigeria denied this at the time and defended his country. The Plateau State Government stood its ground, and this probably explains why the State Security Council became jittery this time around when it received reports that a group of aliens had taken residence in Wase local government. And so it conspired with the Wase local government authorities to expel them in order to prevent the influx of more mercenaries pretending to be herdsmen! Indeed, if the expelled Fulanis had been Nigeriens or Chadians and they had been deported back to Niger and Chad, there may have been no problem at all. But in a country where there is no national identity card scheme, it is difficult to know who is a citizen and who is not. The Plateau state Government also "deported" the Fulanis to neighbouring states- which means there was no doubt about their Nigerian-ness, the issue is that they are Nigerians trying to settle down permanently in a part of Nigeria where they are not wanted.

No Nigerian can possibly be an alien in his own country. The Nigerian Constitution guarantees every citizen the freedom of movement, including the right to take up residence in any part of Nigeria. In one of the Daily Trust reports, one village head was quoted as having pointed out that the state officials who came to enforce the deportation said the Fulani nomads did not obtain official permission to settle down in Wase. This sounds strange, as no Nigerian citizen needs a visa or a resident permit anywhere inside Nigeria. The law also does not allow any form of discrimination against any Nigerian on any grounds whatsoever. To treat Fulani nomads as if they were the Vaswani brothers is wrong, and even then, only the Ministry of Internal Affairs is empowered under the law to deport or declare anyone an illegal alien. The state government, the local government, and even the Police, the Civil Defence Corps or the Nigerian Army cannot on their own exercise such powers. State government officials also need to be careful with their choice of words in handling sensitive issues. Yenlong was quoted as having said the herdsmen came "in trucks instead of on foot as Fulani nomads do". Manjang also talked about "the Fulani that moves around". Such labeling betrays a partisan bias that can only inflame passions. Of course, there are Fulani nomads who travel in aircraft and luxury cars. And it is not only the Fulani that move around.

What we are dealing with however, is not purely a matter of law, leadership and human rights, but a dangerous reality in Nigeria, namely the crisis of indigeneship and settlership which puts a question mark on the entire Chapter 3 of the Nigerian Constitution on the rights of Citizenship. In spite of this Chapter, and Chapter 4 on Fundamental Human Rights, Nigerians are routinely treated as outsiders in their own country, even when they are among their kith and kin. The country has a large population of non-citizens who are discriminated against based on their location and often times, this is with the active connivance of the state. In the crazy swirl of the mid-60s, Ibos suddenly became persona non grata in Northern Nigeria and they were expelled by an angry indigenous population. In their own country, they had to flee.

After the creation of the Mid-Western state in 1967, the Yoruba in the Western Region civil service insisted that all mid-Westerners in the service should go to their state of origin. Each time a new state is created, persons are asked to leave, as happened with the creation of Ekiti, Osun, Delta, Enugu, Akwa Ibom, Adamawa and so on. Sometimes, the problem is intra-communal. Till tomorrow, the people of Ife consider the people of Modakeke settlers in their land. Women who are married to men from other states are suddenly reminded that they are outsiders when they seek political appointments in their husband's state of origin. Expatriate wives are also similarly discriminated against. Some states of the Federation employ Nigerians from other states as "expatriate staff" or in more civilized situations as "contract staff", and the moment there is an indigene, even a less qualified son of the soil to fill that position, the alien from another state of the Federation is promptly sacked.

It is also a fact that students who go to school in states other than theirs are made to pay special fees as if they were foreign students! In many parts of the country, non-indigenes are not allowed to buy land or run for political office. Lagos is probably the only exception in this regard. What does all this mean? It means we are in fact, not yet a nation, just a collection of ethnic groups, selfish interests and primordial communities. It is possible that some of the people who took part in the deportation of the Fulani in Wase are themselves Fulanis who see the influx of other Fulanis as a threat to their own economic or political interests, but those who want to use the incident for political reasons overlook this sociological detail. It is one more reason why the Plateau state government should have steered clear of this kind of politics.

If the concern of the Plateau State Security Council was that of security, government's primary responsibility is to ensure that adequate security is provided for every human being and all property. If the new migrants had violated any known law, the proper thing to do is to subject them to the law. But to descend on innocent people, with a combined team of security operatives in three armoured tanks and 15 trucks, simply because these are Fulani herdsmen who arrived in trucks and not on foot as their kind is wont to do, lays the state government open to charges of ethnic cleansing.

Majang, the Special Adviser on Media and Publicity, told the Daily Trust: "... those affected did not tell the truth. They are in a better position to tell you why they were asked to leave." No sir. You should tell us. Already, some Fulani commentators are suggesting that Hausa/Fulani state officials should also deport Plateau state indigenes residing in their states. Or that the Plateau Government wants to flush out all Fulani from the state. Most conveniently, they have forgotten that Mohammed Badu, the Chairman of Wase Local Government, the Emir of Wase and the District Head of Bashar are all Fulani! Or that the aggrieved can exercise their right to judicial redress. Further sign that fresh trouble may be brewing is well indicated by the meeting which Governor Jang held with Fulani leaders in the state on Thursday, May 14. The meeting was reportedly boycotted by the leaders of the Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association of Nigeria (MACBAN).

Governor Jang has an official and a personal responsibility to douse the brewing tension, to discourage those who may be tempted to use it as an opportunity for a declaration of another ethno-religious war. He should summon another meeting of the Fulani leaders in the state, and quickly get onto the airwaves to reassure all Fulani in and outside Plateau state, that his government means no harm. This should include allowing the expelled Fulani to return, paying compensation for the destruction of their property where applicable, and possibly, an apology.
 

 

 


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