The Northern Elders Forum (NEF) on Saturday called for the arrest and prosecution of any Fulani herdsman that broke the law.
The NEF said it was not against the arrest and prosecution of herdsmen that violated the laws of the land or engaged in kidnapping and banditry, saying anyone caught in crime should be treated as a criminal. The group, however, said the arrest and prosecution of errant herdsmen should follow due process.
In an interview with THISDAY, spokesperson of NEF, Dr. Hakeem Baba Ahmed, cautioned against allowing ethnic militias to assume the role of law enforcement agencies, because it might lead to anarchy. Ahmed, who said the increased agitation in the country was evidence of failure in governance, called on well meaning Nigerians to speak against the growing insecurity.
The NEF spokesman stated, “The Fulani man or woman, like every Nigerian, deserves to be protected. They deserve the protection of the state. They deserve the protection of the community. People, who are living peacefully, people, who are living within the law, people who have not broken the law should not be harassed, should not be attacked, should not be intimidated, not just about the Fulani or not, but any Nigerian.”
He said any Nigerian, irrespective of tribe or religion, deserved the protection of the state, adding, “We must be free to live anywhere in the country. If the state is unable to protect the Fulani and the community that they’re living with and known to them for decades, then, they should come back home where maybe they will be safer.”
Ahmed said, “But we are not asking anybody to leave where he or she is to come home. We are saying Nigerians should be protected wherever they are. Be them Fulani or Effik or Itsekiri, or Igbo or Yoruba, everybody needs to be protected.”
He argued that nobody was above the law, stating that the Fulani, like any other Nigerian that commits an offence, should be arrested and prosecuted.
He said, “They should be arrested. We know that there are criminal Fulani elements among the Fulani people just as is the case among other ethnic tribes. We know that in the North, like in any part of the country, there are also the bad eggs.
“Our position is that they should be arrested, tried under the law of the country. The Nigerian state must not allow anybody to get away with criminal activities – whether they are Fulani or Yoruba or Igbo. Nobody should be seen to be above the law and this is important.
“Arrest any Fulani man if he breaks the law. Arrest him but don’t tell innocent people that have not been identified with any crime to leave where they are. If they have not broken any law and they have not violated any law, you don’t have the right to tell people to leave a place if they are living there lawfully and legally. This is wrong. This is our position.”
Ahmed called on patriotic Nigerians to speak up against the demonization of any Nigerian anywhere on account of tribe or religion.
According to him, “The immediate thing is that we want all Nigerians with responsibility to speak up, to come now. We need to assure people that Nigeria is safe for everybody. We need to stop all this terrible rhetoric that is tearing everybody and community apart. We need assurances that they are safe, whether you are at home or in somebody’s home. Nigeria must be protected.
“Second, we need to look at why we have this kind of quarrel now, when we have been living in the past peacefully. This is a country that accommodates all of us and provides for all our needs. Why are we fighting over pieces of land; fighting each other as if we are just strangers.
“We have lived with each other for hundreds of years. Something is wrong, something is wrong with the country. Something is not working well. We need to sit down and look at what is wrong this year. People are saying they don’t want a particular tribe of Nigerians living in their country. We have the police. We have the constitution. We have laws, something is wrong.
“What is the problem? We need to know? Is it that the Nigerian state is failing us or we failed to resolve those problems that come out every once in a while? Whether it is between the same ethnic groups or different ethnic groups that have been living in the past, the Nigerian state has the capacity to provide resolution, to enforce the law, to deal with violations of the law.
“Unfortunately, in the last few years, something is wrong or has gone wrong or is it that Nigerians have failed to deal with the people that are taking the laws in their own hands? What you are seeing happening now is the reflection of the failure of the Nigerian state.
“We are assuming powers that are not ours. It is the government that should deal with criminals whether they are Fulani or not. Why are communities now exercising that rights of the state by exercising that power to eject people?”
On whether a sovereign national conference was the answer to the problems facing Nigeria, Ahmed declared, “I don’t know about sovereign conference. What we recommended so many times and we are still recommending is that Nigerians should sit and discuss with or without government’s approval to discuss what is wrong with Nigeria.
“We don’t need the approval of the federal government to sit down and discuss and right now, I am telling you we are actually reaching out to each other from the North to the East and South, we have a forum where we talk and we are reaching out to elders and leaders, who are responsible to try and bring down the temperature.
“We are in a very dangerous state and we do not need the approval or the consent of the government to discuss what is wrong with Nigeria, but if we can do that with government, that is even better because the government has law behind it, the agencies behind it to assist Nigeria to be a little bit more secure where we live.”