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Akinola: See a link between Fulani herdsmen and Boko Haram

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PETER AKINOLA

Former Anglican Primate of the Church of Nigeria, Peter Jasper Akinola had a chat with The Guardian on the state of the nation. COFFIE GYAMFI reports.

Herdsmen have always been in Nigeria. So why are we suddenly witnessing these incessant attacks? Is it that somebody somewhere is not doing something right?

I believe so. Like you rightly said, the Fulani herdsmen have been in Nigeria since time immemorial. They were bringing their cattle from the north to the south without clashing with anyone. However, we suddenly began to hear that the Fulani herdsmen ransacked villages, killed people, destroyed farm produce and all that. This was coming towards the tail end of the activities of the Boko Haram in the Northeastern part of the country.

So, I began to look into the scenario to see if there is any link between Boko Haram and Fulani herdsmen and I think there is. When Boko Haram first started, they were quite clear that what they wanted was an Islamic Nigeria. They even asked Jonathan, who was then president to convert to Islam for there to be a ceasefire. Of course, that was nothing short of ridiculous and since then, they had been fighting. The media and politicians have been giving different interpretations to the activities of Boko Haram. We fail to address the core issue, which is that these people want an Islamic society. 

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They want a society, where Islam and its dictates govern the society. Banking, education, health, military, governance, everything you do should be governed by what Sharia says. That is what they want. Right or wrong, it is not for me to judge. I can’t stop them from asking for an Islamic society. They want to uphold their religion and that is their conviction. But then, you call it insurgency; you call it terrorism. It is not terrorism. They are fighting for their religion. 

It is their faith that is fuelling their activities. Whether their faith is right or wrong, it is not for me to judge. But it is what they believe in their hearts that they are clearly doing.

So, as Boko Haram continues to fight, we claim that we have technical victory. But after the technical victory, the insurgents continue to cause huge damage and loss of lives, in the Northeast. Then the Fulani herdsmen also started their own. I think they started in Akure, destroyed Falaye’s farm, and then went to the southern part of Kaduna. Why do I say there is a link between Fulani herdsmen and Boko Haram in an attempt to Islamise Nigeria? 

The Fulani herdsmen what do they do? They go to Christian communities. That for me is the connection. Why are they not doing so in Katsina, Sokoto, Bauchi or Yobe? If you hear that Muslim fights Muslim, it is because of their internal differences between Shiite and Sunni. Those who are governing us mostly belong to the Sunni sect, while those they fight belong to the Shiite sect. 

But let us consider the one we are contending with right now, the Fulani herdsmen. They go to the southern part of Borno, which is dominated by Christian, to Chibok and all the way to Adamawa. Those places are largely Christian areas. They come down to southern part of Kaduna. The Northern part of Kaduna, Zaria, is mainly Islamic. Kaduna and its environs are largely Christian.

The entire southern Kaduna is made up of Christian communities. So, why are they carrying out their killings in those areas? What has the killing of innocent people got to do with feeding cattle, if there is no hidden agenda behind it? This is why I say Nigerians are not thinking about this thing in the right direction.

If we are going to develop at all, we should do so in the modern way. Go to Israel. Their cows are about three to four feet tall. Within six months, they are ready for the table. How do they do it? Those are the things we ought to learn, and not letting one man trek from Katsina with his cattle to Lagos. It’s archaic and inhuman. What am I saying? Boko Haram and Fulani herdsmen are two sides of the same coin. 

They want an Islamic society. When Boko Haram insurgents kill innocent people, they bring their own people to settle down in those places. The Fulani herdsmen are also doing the same thing. After ransacking communities, they bring their people to settle there. With time, they’ll begin to have chiefs and emirs. So, I personally believe what is going on between Boko Haram and Fulani herdsmen is what I call modern-day Islamic Jihad.

Some people believe the Fulani herdsmen are being sponsored. And considering that they always carry AK-47 rifles, which is said to cost N3m each, do you agree that they have sponsors?

Well, I am not sure they are foreign sponsors. But some people are actively supporting what they are doing. The ordinary Fulani man we knew had two or three articles as his property: His stick, a small radio, torchlight and sometimes a mat. But now, they are carrying expensive rifles. Who supplies those rifles and how do those rifles get into the country? Who is paying for them? Now, the cattle they are grazing is not even their own. They are hired.

The real owners are somewhere else. They are your senators, governors, presidents and men of huge resources. They have hundreds of these cattle. Our Nigerian government, in spite of all the cries, has not seen reason to investigate who is bringing these ammunitions they carry. They have seen no reason to arrest or prosecute any of them successfully. 

When they were going about killing people, what did government do about it? Nothing. We are yet to see any effective response from government.

It is obvious that President Buhari has not handled the situation well, fuelling insinuations that it is because they are his kinsmen. Is that the true situation?

I am not in Abuja anymore. I am here in my village. So, I really cannot say what is going on up there. As of now, what is happening and what people are saying are the only sources of information one can deduce from. But the president was elected to govern the whole country. Whether he is Fulani or Yoruba or Igbo is immaterial. He is the president of the Nigerian Republic, and not the president of just the Fulani.

The second thing is that his failure or the failure of his government to address this problem has raised far more questions than he is answering. If it were the Yoruba or Igbo killing the Fulani, what would have happened? Are we now legalising illegality? Just because they are from our tribes? If Nigeria is going to grow and become a modern state, then anybody leading it should be detribalised and should see himself as a national leader. 

It is very wrong for a government to be protecting one section of the country against the other. His responsibility is to protect every Nigerian. 
The President is saying the solution lies in creating a grazing colony…

Personally, the whole idea of colonies is what I would like to call a modern method of conquest. They have slowly but steadily taken steps to Islamise Nigeria with the support of the government directly or indirectly. They started with Sharia banking. Now Boko Haram, whether we like it or not, depopulated Christian communities. The Fulani herdsmen have also depopulated the Christian communities.

Creating colonies is a well calculated strategy to ensure that those areas the Usman Dan Fodio Jihad did not take proper root, will now be occupied by the Fulani Hausa. And whether we like it or not, they will grow in number and population. Politics is a game of number.

So, in 10 to 20 years’ time, we would have had more of those people than the original owners of the land. Thirty years ago in Britain, you couldn’t talk of any notable Muslim process. The Muslims were settling down and begging for tolerance. However, 15 years ago, they started talking of rights. Today in Britain, there are at least 10 or 12 Muslim mayors. Their numbers have grown.

Also in Britain now, Christians have no rights to determine the kind of meat to eat in schools. They are now bound to eat meat that is bound by Sharia. Even in our own Anglican schools, people who were begging for tolerance then, are now the ones determining what is happening. That is the part of the demographical shift. It is exactly what they are trying to do here, which nobody seems to be seeing. If we allow it, God sparing our lives, in 10 years from now go back and check the population of all those areas.

Some people are of the opinion that if the situation continues, it wouldn’t be long before the whole country will erupt in uncontrollable crisis…

That is easy to say. You see, these people have their own strategy. All these things that are happening did not just happen overnight. They have been working on this thing for a long time. They want to Islamise Nigeria. But what plans does the south have? What plan does any church have? However, these people are doing what they’re doing because they are compelled by their faith, and not necessarily for politics. 

However, if we want to remain one Nigeria, then there has to be ground rules for harmonious living. If a Christian should convert one Muslim, it is war. But for them, it is okay for Muslims to convert Christians and it is alright for Muslims to take over Christian lands and even kill them, if they refuse.

Can you foretell what is going to happen, if the president continues to show this nonchalant attitude for the next six months or one year?

I am not a prophet of doom, but I would like us to look at the facts and figures on ground. With the things that are going on now, my fear is that it will get to a point, where the people being oppressed will hit a brick wall and decide to fight back. 

So, what is the solution?

We have a constitution in this country, which guarantees freedom for all. I am not in a position to ask the Muslim or pagan not to promote his religion. But it should not be at other people’s expense. The government needs to wake up to enlighten the people not to infringe on the rights of others.

Secondly, restructuring simply means that we have six geopolitical zones today. Let all the zones come to the round table and tell the others the kind of Nigeria they want, in a free atmosphere. At the end of the day, it is possible that four out of the six zones may agree. If two disagree, after all the persuasion and they cannot be convinced, then those two would have chosen to walk away. Nigeria has large land.

Enough of this bloodshed. Every drop of blood we shed will not go unpunished by God. This murderous country is not just right. Nigeria will not grow or prosper, as long as it delights in shedding innocent blood. After the zones had met and agreed, then they can create a new constitution that will be a new road map to the kind of Nigeria they want. 

What is your advice to Christian leaders and the Christian community?

My belief is that Christian leaders, Muslim leaders, or pagan leaders, whatever they are, should be true to their God. The things you are doing, are you really doing it for God or for your own selfish, myopic interest? Let every Christian leader wake up from his slumber and be Christlike.

What is your advice to political leaders as far as this issue is concerned?

Nigerian politicians believe more in rhetoric, rather than substantial and effective means of doing things. This is because the people they are governing are too docile and as a result, the leaders are not held accountable. They believe they can do whatever they like because they are not accountable. Nigerian political leaders do not take the electorate seriously. It is only when it is time for election that they go and distribute N200, N500 and so on.

The electorate is also not holding them accountable. But as long as the political leaders see themselves as the Almighty, then they can do and undo until the electorate begin to know that they really are the masters. The average man who is paying tax in this country is the master. 

There are many respected ex-leaders and senior citizens in the country, but they seem unable to influence those governing us?

Take me as an example. I left office as Primate in March 26, 2010. Since then, I have kept to myself. I decided not to be seen or heard, because I have seen what happened to other leaders who left office before me, using my own church in this regard. I don’t want to be insulted. If the people, who are there now, know that those who were there before them passed through this same road, they should have the humility to call on them and ask for advice. Our constitution provides for the Council of State. But of what use is the Council of State? Does it give concrete advice?

As a statesman, did you ever attempt advising the president since this problem started?

No. I prefer to sit here on my own. If anyone seeks my advice, I will gladly offer it. But for me to go out, saying I was a former Primate, this and that, looks as if I am seeking unnecessary recognition. I believe they should have the humility to come and seek advice or opinion.

You said the northeast wants to Islamise Nigeria. The average Igbo man is talking about Biafra. Every Nigerian leader from 1966 and up till now uses one particular phrase: The unity of Nigeria is non-negotiable. But we gained independence over 60 years ago. Many Nigerians are saying they don’t believe in the Nigerian Project. So, what is really the solution to Nigeria’s problem?

We need to be honest with ourselves. Many groups in the country are not satisfied with the way things are. Let each geopolitical zone level and harmonise all the findings in their own areas to discover what kind of Nigeria they really want. Nigeria is negotiable. 

The thread of unity is so fragile. Perhaps, what is holding us together is even the oil money. The states are so poor that they need to go to the Federal Government to demand for money to pay their staff. As a result of this, the Federal Government dictates the tune. The Lord Lugard era of amalgamation has elapsed. You don’t coerce people into this kind of unity. Nigerians don’t agree on basic issues. The Muslims want a Sharia Nigeria, but I don’t want that and I should be free to live as a Nigerian. So, where is the common platform for living together? If there is none, then for goodness sake, let each one return to his father’s farm. There is no harm in that. Look at the Soviet Union, India, Scotland and Irish in the UK. 

People have the right to determine the kind of life they want. You cannot force them into unity. It is not working. We should come together to discuss these issues realistically, faithfully and honestly. If we say we want one Nigeria, then under what terms and conditions? Nigeria will burst if care is not taken. But if we are honest and frank with ourselves, we should negotiate Nigeria and let those of common mind go together. 

Supposing the government takes this advice, would you, if given the opportunity to lead such an organisation to harmonise Nigerians’ views to bring a new Nigeria, accept such responsibility? 

If in their wisdom, guided by God I am called upon to take part in such a conversation, of course, I will. I am sure there are many Nigerians with similar mind, who are honest enough and are not looking for any personal gain, but just desiring the best for the country. I have no other place that I can call my own except here. I want to live in this country and be at peace with myself and my neighbours.



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