How we prevented herdsmen/farmers clashes in Plateau south — HRH Miskoom Martin Muduutrie Shaldas III
Herdsmen and natives in Southern Plateau have for years lived in harmony, before recent skirmishes. In a chat with The Guardian, His Royal Highness, Miskoom Martin Muduutrie Shaldas III, shared his experiences.
How do you deal with issues of permanent residence of non-Plateau persons, particularly migrant herders?
Ordinarily, you will think that Fulani people are migrants, but the fact is that we in Southern Plateau have Fulani, who are indigenous to us. If you must know, this set of Fulani no longer stay in huts as they used to; they now build and live in modern structures with their family members. In our own system, we permit every tribe to do what is legal and right. For example, if a Yoruba man can come here and own land and build his house, a Fulani man also has the same right, simple. A stranger can own land and property in any part of Southern Plateau; so long he or she goes through our tradition and legitimately own the properties. The fact that must not be ignored is that, it is the itinerant Fulani that oftentimes cause all the troubles in the areas they pass through. But we have warned the Fulani people who are permanently resident here and play host to their itinerant kith and kin that they would be held responsible for their relatives’ actions. If any of these people are on transit, the resident Fulani should be able to know whether or not such a person or persons are going to stay for a day or two and while they are within our territory, they should be able to keep our rules of engagements; that is all we require from them. We do not trouble any visitor; Fulani people can stay as long as they want and leave when they want to, so long they are law abiding.
Is there any way you take head count of the Fulani that pass through your areas for security reasons?
Let me be very honest with you, contrary to diverse opinions about the Fulani, they are such an organised people. They have a method of knowing when a stranger is in their midst. And once they discover there is a stubborn person or persons in their midst, they will immediately alert relevant authorities. At this instance, we do call such a person to go away from here, but if he or she wants to live with us, he or she must abide by our rules, but if you don’t want to, you are free to relocate to wherever that pleases you outside our areas. We will always emphasise: We are not asking you not to stay, but if you must stay, please you have to live by our rules and regulations for peace to reign.
If you were to advise other traditional rulers and people of Benue, Jos, Taraba and Zamfara, what would you tell them?
The issues here may not exactly be the same and I may not be able to proffer the right solutions unless I am there. The natives in these areas must be properly schooled on how to decently put their matters across to the other person. Once this is done, there will hardly be any problem. Maybe, I would say we are lucky here, because we have cordial relationship with all the tribes. The relationship, I am talking about didn’t just happen; we genuinely built it. All the traditional rulers in areas of conflict must also have the patience to listen very carefully to all the aggrieved parties for permanent solution to be found.
As a traditional ruler, you must endeavour to listen to all complaints that are before you, treat everybody with decency, once this is done, you may hardly have any serious security issues at hand. We don’t just talk to strangers on our own, but through their leaders, who will as well fish them out to be punished when they break our rules. We do not force them to obey our laws; we only make them to understand our laws and obey them.
What are the six Local Government Areas in Southern Plateau?
They are Shendam, Panpan, Nikan, Langtan North, Langtan South and Wase.
Since the recent incident in Jos where many people were killed, has the government beefed up security in your area?
Fortunately, we do not have such security concern in Southern Plateau and, so, the issue of beefing up security does not arise. The truth is, we have good relationship with all the people domicile within our domains and as such there is no reason for any person or group to ferment trouble.
All the traditional rulers in Southern Plateau have agreed to regularly come together to meet and brief our people about any problem that may lead to crisis. About two weeks ago, when the very unfortunate incident happened in Jos, traditional rulers from this part of Plateau immediately met in my palace. In that meeting, we exchanged ideas on how to maintain peace in our areas. We laid emphasis on the need for our people to remain peaceful with their neighbours, especially now that it is the farming season. Before the raining season, we had also called a meeting of all the traditional rulers, alongside leaders of all the people living with us and specifically asked if there was any Fulani man, whose cattle routes were blocked by any farmer and that if there were any, we were ready to immediately contact such a Fulani man either through the ‘Meanguwa’ the village head(s) or leader(s) to immediately open such passage. We, therefore, made sure that no cattle route or routes were blocked and nobody was disturbed on his/her farming activities. We also made sure that we immediately resolved the issue of any person’s farm or farms being destroyed by cattle so that we can continue to live in peace and harmony. With this approach, we have not had any problem for quite some time now. And everybody is happy.
Since this approach is working very well, why did you not introduce it to your contemporaries in Jos North, Zamfara, Benue and Taraba, as a way of saving lives and averting crises?
I know quite early in the life of the current Plateau State government that some communities came together and agreed on the rules of engagement, which must apply in their areas. The Plateau State government found these rules to be very useful and even gazetted it. During President Muhammadu Buhari’s recent visit to Plateau State, the Governor spoke about the gazette and the agreed resolution of the committees that were set up. It is most likely that these crises are happening now because of lack of will to put these resolutions into practice. Communities in these areas came together and agreed on these resolutions, which the state government put together and sent to the Plateau State House of Assembly to pass into law.
Could you shed more light on how you prevented conflicts in Plateau South?
There is nothing extraordinary about what we do here. We strive to meet not only the Fulani ‘Ardo’ leaders, but also the leaders of all the other tribes living with us on regular basis. In these meetings, if anybody or tribe has any issues not only with the natives, but with other people from other tribes, we discuss it exhaustively; resolve the matter right there and then. Even religious matters are handled in this manner. This open system is working here and it should be a model to all the other natives and tribes in other areas such as Benue, Taraba, Zamfara and Jos. This approach is open and honest and has created cordial relationship with all the tribes, as they trust and appreciate how we handle matters without fear, favour and partisanship. With this, they have direct access to us; they go through their leadership, which gets through to us, on any issue(s).