The Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders’ Association (MACBAN) on Saturday condemned a flurry of inflammatory comments credited to its sister group, the Miyetti Allah Kautal Hore.
The MACBAN national secretary, Baba Usman, told PREMIUM TIMES on Saturday afternoon that his organisation was shocked to read media reports that said a leader of Kautal Hore had asked Fulani herders to violently retaliate any attack or attempt to restrict them in southern Nigeria.
The Kautal Hore also said Fulani herders have equal rights to all land in southern Nigeria, notwithstanding that specific ethnic and tribal groups have occupied those land for centuries.
The Punch on Saturday quoted the national Secretary of the group, Saleh Alhassan, as making the comments in an interview with the paper.
The comments came amid a spate of increasingly confrontational comments from groups across the country following the killing last week of the daughter of Reuben Fasoranti, a prominent Yoruba leader, on her way to Lagos.
Although the police said Funke Olakunrin’s death was an abduction attempt gone wrong, Afenifere, an influential South West group, blamed Fulani herders for the killing. Herders have been accused of perpetrating similar attacks in other parts of the country, but there is no evidence yet they were responsible for Mrs Olakunri’s killing.
Last week, the South East governors’ forum announced it would no longer allow cattle to roam communities. It said cattle should only be transported to approved markets in the region.
Suggestions that herders return to the north was rejected by President Muhammadu Buhari, who has faced criticisms for his handling of the nation’s growing insecurity. Prominent leaders have also urged restraint, and have advised against what has appeared to be a growing anti-Fulani sentiment in the country.
The Punch quoted the Kautal Hore as urging its official to remain in the south and defend themselves against any threat or use of force.
“If any ethnic militia, by any name, attacks our members, they should defend themselves in a manner that nobody would try such again,” the paper quoted Mr Alhassan as saying.
The group said southern governors would be held responsible for any violent attacks on Fulani herders in their region, and insisted that grazing routes designed by colonial lords should continue to govern pastoral administration across the country.
“If anybody is thinking that because he has cultivated the land in a particular place for long and he has rights there more than us, then we would ask where is the grazing area that the colonial masters created for us?” he said.
‘Shocked as most Nigerians’
The comments by the Miyetti Allah Kautal Hore group sparked a huge blowback on social media on Saturday, with commentators demanding an urgent arrest of its leaders by the Buhari administration.
“We read the comments of Kautal Hore in the newspapers today and we were shocked as most Nigerians,” Mr Usman, MACBAN’s secretary, told PREMIUM TIMES Sunday afternoon. “We totally condemn it because it was dangerous to the peace of the country.”
Mr Usman said MACBAN as the foremost cattle breeders’ group in Nigeria had long focused on how Nigerians could coexist in peace and security.
“Even though we are a group mostly known as Fulani cattle breeders, we are only interested in actions and discussions that will improve Nigeria’s peace and stability,” Mr Usman said. “Nigerians should not see us as agents of destabilisation.”
For years, MACBAN has dissociated itself from Kautal Hore’s controversial comments and actions. In 2015 for instance, MACBAN rejected Kautal Hore’s endorsement of former President Goodluck Jonathan for a second term.
Governor Samuel Ortom blamed the group for the deadly violence that broke out across Benue State between late 2016 and mid-2017 when suspected herdsmen unleashed mayhem on villagers following the state’s adoption of a law that ban open grazing of cattle.
Mr Ortom said he documented all the threats from Kautal Hore and forwarded them to President Muhammadu Buhari, but the group was never proscribed, neither was any action taken against its leaders.
Mr Usman said MACBAN had been registered since 1986, while Kautal Hore had been a fringe group of disgruntled breeders who registered less than 10 years ago.
“We tried to ensure that they were not registered because of the similarities in names, but politicians who wanted to use them against us ensured they were registered by force,” Mr Usman said.
Mr Usman said it was unfortunate that Kautal Hore still regularly makes headlines for its controversial statements, which could drive sales for media outlets.
“We have issued several statements in the past to educate the public on the difference between MACBAN and Kautal Hore,” Mr Usman said. “But we have now realised that would not be enough.”
The MACBAN secretary said the association has planned a summit and workshop for reporters and editors on the differences between the two groups with the hope that it would reduce raging confusion in how their activities are reported.
“If we are able to get media practitioners to understand our operations and how unrelated we are with Kautal Hore, then the masses will be better educated also,” he added.
Security analysts said the Buhari administration has refused to rein in Kautal Hore and warned of security implications for the country.
“Notwithstanding whether Kautal Hore is a fringe group or not, its past and recent statements are far more dangerous to national security than what we have heard from pro-Biafrian groups and others from the south,” Cheta Nwanze, lead analyst at SBM Intelligence told PREMIUM TIMES on Saturday.
“We saw the level of force that was used to crush pro-Biafran agitators and how Ralph Nwazurike was recently invited by security agencies for saying he would not allow his hometown to be overrun by killer herdsmen,” Mr Nwanze said. “But you now have a northern group like Kautal Hore frequently issuing very sinister statements without being called to account.”
“This different rule for the goose and another rule for the gander is what is worsening how people are reacting and how the security situation is worsening across the country,” the analyst added.
He said Mr Buhari has done little to disabuse Nigerians that he is a leader of the country rather than a partisan president that he is being perceived as, especially across the south.
“The perception of a favourable treatment of some groups over the others is not helpful,” Mr Nwanze said.