Nigeria should return to abandoned old system, says Taiga
President General, Urhobo Progress Union (UPU), Olorogun Moses Taiga spoke with journalists on the activities of herdsmen in Urhoboland and their negative effects on the communities. He vowed that not a single inch of their land would be ceded as cow colony for the herdsmen. SEYE OLUMIDE reports.
Attacks by Fulani herdsmen on their host communities especially farmers across the country pose a great threats to the unity of Nigeria, how can this menace be addressed?
Nigeria must first look inwards, if it must give the necessary solutions to the challenge, otherwise we will continue to make noise and at the end of the day nothing concrete will come out. It is a critical issue that deserves serious attention from all the stakeholders in Nigeria; otherwise it is dangerous enough to jeopadise our unity and corporate existence if the menace is not carefully and tactically addressed before it gets out of hand from the way it is going.
As it is currently, the herdsmen activities across the country have raised tensions and our various governments must be very proactive in addressing it as soon as possible.
We need to go back to the automation system whereby we use rail and lorries to transport cattle to the South. In those days, herdsmen used to bring their cattle to the South through the Nigerian railway lines. For example, in Sagamu, they used to bring cattle by train and take back kolanut to the North through the same means. We need to reactive that.
I learnt that Ajaokuta-Warri rail line would be commissioned before the end of this year. They are also working on the Lagos-Ibadan rail line. With pockets of such projects, I believe the situation will improve. Besides, the roads are not too bad for trailers to bring cattle down to the South. During Christmas, I used to send people as far as Sokoto to buy cows for me to distribute to my communities, which they bring in lorries.
So, we cannot abandon what has worked for us before. There are trailers coming to buy diesel and petrol all the way from the North. They are there in Apapa, Warri and Port Harcourt to carry the products up North. So, what is the problem using the rail and the roads for cattle transportation?
We also need to start planting trees so that we can reclaim the land that had been lost to desertification. Recently, the Economic Intelligent Unit published by the London Economist said that 57 percent of our arable land has gone. Togo is the worst with 79 percent. We need to develop land for grazing by planting trees that will create foliage.
Do you agree with the argument that the killer herdsmen are not the real Fulani herdsmen living among the communities, but migrant Bororo who are very elusive to track?
I really don’t know whether the attackers are the Bororo or whatever name you call them. Recently, I attended the meeting of Southern Leaders’ Conference held here in Lagos. And the Southwest zone, which has been keeping statistics, noted that up to 2015, there were only about 50 cattle herdsmen’s settlements in the region. But suddenly between 2016 and 2017, the figure grew to 127 in the West alone. That is an increment of about three folds in one year. It is possible they have an objective for coming, but we do not know what their objective is. What we do know is that their land in the North has become bare as a result of deforestation. When the land becomes bare, they try to move down South. That is why I am suggesting that the Federal Government should reverse that trend. If at all they have to come with their cattle, they should move them by rail and roads. I don’t buy the excuse that the attackers are difficult to track. I also don’t buy the excuse that they are foreigners from Niger. This is a problem that was not there before and has now become a real problem.
Government seems to be insisting on establishing cattle colony across the country as the best solution to the crisis, would you subscribe to a cattle colony in Urhoboland?
No inch of Urhoboland will be ceded to any colony. Are there cassava colonies or poultry colony in the North? Why is Federal Government segregating and selecting a particular type of people?
Cattle rearing is a private matter and individuals should make their private arrangement, just as crop farmers do, in that regard. Has government established cassava, yam, cocoa or plantain “colonies”? These squatters are trespassers and have to stop.
Also, no colonies have been established for poultry farmers throughout the length and breadth of Nigeria. Why the special arrangement for cattle farmers? They should sort out themselves peacefully and stop behaving like an army of occupation.
I am speaking on behalf of my people; no inch of Urhoboland will be ceded to a colony. And I am on the same page with my governor, Ifeanyi Okowa, on this. He has even made a statement on the matter. So, we are speaking with one voice in Delta State. I don’t know of any other place, but for the Urhobo on whose behalf I am speaking, we are one and united. I want to use this opportunity to inform the Federal Government that Urhobo nation is against the proposed “cattle colony” and the Urhobo will not cede an inch of their land for the purpose of establishing a “cattle colony.”
Could you briefly narrate the threat being posed to the Urhobo nation by the herdsmen and steps you are taking to protect your people?
I am saying this with a heavy heart that the activities of Fulani herdsmen in some communities within our land are already creating fears of attacks among the locals.
In recent times, the persistent herdsmen killings across the country is a fundamental problem that demands special attention and I am using this medium to raise the alarm that many atrocities are being perpetrated by armed herdsmen in Urhoboland, which is currently endangering lives and property of our peace-loving people.
The Urhobos in Delta State face a clear and present danger. You would have been reading about the incessant attacks of Urhobo people by Fulani herdsmen in their towns and villages for some time now. Our men are being killed and our wives and daughters are being raped. The attacks are going on in Abraka, Uwheru Kingdoms and towns, Ovwor and many other towns and villages in Urhoboland.
Recently, they struck in Ovwor, attacking three men and raping one woman. Ironically one of the men they attacked is a butcher going to his place of work very early in the morning. These herdsmen are very daring and callous. Even a butcher, who patronises them by buying their cows, is not spared of the attacks.
While we called on President Muhammadu Buhari, Governor of Delta State, Senator Ifeanyi Okowa and the security agencies to, as a matter of urgency, dislodge the herdsmen from the land, I want to state that at present over 300 herdsmen are illegally occupying shops in an ultra-modern market not in use between Otovwodo and Ogor towns in Ughelli North Local Government Area. There are fears that the number of the herdsmen might double in no time.
As I speak, most Urhobo people live in perpetual anxiety and trepidation in their homeland and the onus is on the security authorities to dislodge these hoodlums immediately before they wreck further havoc. We must not allow the recent disaster in Benue State, where 73 people were killed by the herdsmen to occur in Urhoboland or any other place for that matter, again in Nigeria.
Do you agree that communities should start arming themselves for defense?
Urhobo are peace loving; we have never been involved in any intertribal war. We are not to arm ourselves to fight back. If we are going to do that, we will not be calling on government to take care of the situation. Urhobo do not think that the solution to the problem is to arm ourselves for war.
What are you telling your people so that they will not be victims of these attacks?
Our people are farmers, they grow cassava, they produce yam. Now, they are being told not to go to the farm. That is why we are shouting. In the case of Ughelli, some women went to the farm and they were driven back. They have virtually taken over a town called Agadama. So, it is a serious issue. I want to implore my people to be patient. We are crying hard to let the government know that it is not peace as usual and that they need to do something. It is not a one-day affair. We are hoping that the authority will do the needful. There is already hunger in the land and we must not compound the situation. As we speak, our women can no longer go to the farm to produce yams, cassava, and garri, which they bring to market to sell. The government should know that we are standing on the precipice and it is very dangerous. They need to make sure that peace comes back to the land because we are a peace-loving people.
As the President-General of UPU, you have expressed concern on the effects on your people but the issue cannot be addressed in isolation, how can Nigeria get out of the crisis?
A genuine cattleman is leading his cattle through farmlands down to the South, destroying the crops along the way because there is no green vegetation for them in the North anymore. As they do this, they are stopping our people from going to the farm. The trend portends a great hunger in the land. There is an urgent need for government to stop the hunger. They should stop these people from marching down to the South. One way to stop it is to start planting trees and provide more irrigation waters. We should also go back to automation. That is, using railway and roads to transport cattle to the South rather allowing the Fulani to troop down like an army of occupation.
Like I said earlier, we need to re-examine the old system. There is the need for a return to the 1960 Constitution where regions managed their resources and only contributed a percentage to the Federal Government. That is one of the ways to achieve lasting peace in Nigeria. It will also bring back the healthy competition among regions, which helped to speed up growth and development in those days.
Would you subscribe to the fire for-fire approach of Governor Ayodele Fayose of Ekiti State?
I am not for or against what Fayose is doing. Ekiti is a small state, while Urhoboland is a huge land. We have to be careful to see whether the new model started a few weeks ago is worthy of emulation. At this point in time, we are waiting for the response of our appeal. If there is no result in another two weeks or three weeks, we meet again and decide on the next line of action.
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