Communiqué of the Conference on Herders and Farmers Conflicts in Central Nigeria, organized by the Centre for Research Management, Benue State University, Makurdi, held at the Auditorium 1 of the College of Health Sciences, Benue State University from 13th – 16th March, 2017 Christened:
The Centre for Research and Management, Benue State University, having noted that thousands of people of the Central Nigerian States are being killed, with thousands more suffering debilitating injuries; communities being destroyed and hundreds of thousands being displaced from their ancestral homes; and concerned at the deteriorating security situation and the real threat of hunger and starvation in Nigeria as a result of the attacks on the farming communities in the region, which is the food basket region of Nigeria, decided to convene a conference to critically examine the unfolding violence and to explore solutions against the terror.
Members of the academia, the community of Middle Belt intelligentsia, human rights and community activists, community organisations, members of the media and government officials attended the conference. During the conference lasting for two days, several experts presented well researched papers, and participants held incisive discussions on the attacks on communities in the Middle Belt region.
Participants noted that between 2010 and 2017 the activities of herdsmen have posed existential threat to the communities in Central Nigeria. Over 5,000 lives have been lost with over 100,000 internally displaced people through attacks by Fulani militias operating in the Middle Belt region. Many communities have been dispersed and their people thrown into confusion, thereby breaking the cohesion of communities and threatening the survival of the People.
The Conference noted that Fulani herdsmen who follow and fight alongside their militias occupy the lands from which they violently and murderously evict our people, and that security forces and the government thereafter take steps to secure the Fulani possession of the occupied lands.
The Conference observed that the resurgence of the Fulani attacks is an undeclared war on the people of the Middle Belt by some power groups using the Fulani militia, which is a vanguard for jihadist conquest and subjugation of the people of Central Nigeria. The Fulani are intent on subjugating the people of the Middle Belt in order to realize the ambition of the 19th century jihadists to subjugate our forefathers, which they had never conquered in the first place.
The conference expressed deep concern over attempts by some northern power groups to use the Fulani militia to destroy Middle Belt communities as a prelude to forcibly enslaving the people and incorporating the region into a delusional North that has never truly existed; whereupon they would become part of a fake Arewa Republic in the unfortunate event of a break up of the present Nigerian Federation. Conference notes that people from the far north calling for the dismemberment of Nigeria are backing the agenda of Boko Haram to break up Nigeria if they fail to establish an Islamic state in Nigeria.
Conference observed that rampaging Fulani attacks on farmlands and houses of the people of Central Nigeria are coordinated with the support of the government’s security agencies, which watch on while the Fulani attack the unarmed communities. The indigenous people have become victims without protection from the government. Casualties have always been the indigenous people in their ancestral homes.
Participants noted that majority of the herdsmen terrorists are migrants from Chad, Niger, and other Fulani enclaves across our borders. A small percentage of these Fulani youths are Nigerians born in the states where they reside. They are the ones vested with the responsibility of leading the rampaging killers on their regular mission of murder, rape, arson, despoliation and rapine; serving as compasses to the blood-hungry hounds of terror and Global Jihad.
From the empirical facts that emerged, the Conference concluded that it is incorrect to see the genocidal attacks by the Fulani militia on the peoples of the Middle Belt as a “herdsmen/farmers conflict”, but an invasion by the Fulani to conquer and occupy the ancestral lands of the Middle belt communities and to appropriate the usufructuary rights to such lands to themselves by force of arms. Conference further noted that our people have no quarrel with the Fulani and have never attacked them. It is the Fulani who deploy heavily armed troops to invade peaceful and unarmed communities, decapitating children, cutting open pregnant women, destroying the communities, their farmlands and causing hunger and starvation. It is therefore deliberate genocide
Without doubt, the activities of the violent herdsmen who are killing and maiming their hosts in the guise of grazing their herds, represent the greatest threat to Nigeria’s national security and survival. Apart from the blood-curdling exploits of the Boko Haram insurgents and the renewed sabotage of oil facilities by militants of the Niger Delta, the herdsmen’s menace has the potential to undo the fragile unity of Nigeria if not well handled. This must never be allowed.
The widespread killing by herdsmen is a governance problem and considerate leadership is required to address this. Much of the solution, of course, lies in restructuring of the Nigerian state so that the country can be stronger and united. Nigerians want peace and confrontations can be defused by means of restructuring into a federation that harnesses the diversity of the people for the wellbeing of all. The level of discontent across sections of Nigeria is unnerving. Nigeria is being held down as a result of mass discontent. A perception that the Fulani have some exclusive right to graze anywhere is worrisome.
Besides, there is nothing stopping businessmen and farmers in various parts of Nigeria from developing their own cattle ranches to cater for local consumption. That is business. That is how to develop an economy. And that is one way to allay the fears of many Nigerians who see more than a quest for cattle grazing in the prevailing killings by the herdsmen.
Government approach to managing security challenges and especially the herdsmen’s attacks has been reactionary ways and impulsive, and has degraded the confidence of the Middle Belt in the government.
Developed nations employ mountain/forest rangers to protect areas less visited by the general population. In addition to our weak borders, we do not have any special forces guarding these areas spread across the nation. Recent reports of kidnap and robbery of citizens travelling through forest region by alleged nomads is a pointer to why Nigeria needs special policing for our forests and mountains.
The participants established that the people of the central Nigeria region believe in the Nigeria project and the agenda for development. They acknowledged and commend government’s response to the activities of Boko Haram in the North East and other parts of Nigeria. As a region, the people deserve security and protection of lives and property. Unfortunately, the conference noticed with dismay, the silence of the Federal Government on the genocide on the people as worrisome. Conference also noted with dismay the utter silence of the northern political class and intellectuals over the massacres perpetrated by the Fulani militia in the Middle Belt. That is why people of the Middle Belt find allusions to a “one North” by the northern Hausa Fulani ruling class a patently hypocritical.
Similarly, the virtual silence and lack of response by the international community to the carnage and genocidal killings in Central Nigeria is also a worry to the people. The people have appealed that UN Mission cover should also be extended to Central Nigeria.
Observing the undeclared war on our people throughout the length and breadth of the Middle Belt;
Viewing with dismay and alarm the ominous and conspiratorial silence of the Federal Government and the Northern elites;
Aware of our own conscience as a people of peace;
And conscious of the fact that there can be no peace without justice;
With no malice towards Islam, Fulani or the entire Muslim Ummah, we will not stand by and watch this genocidal war of attrition against our people – and we will never accept it;
We make bold to say that no one should tell a people who face an existential threat to their very survival, not to defend themselves, a principle enshrined in the sacred precepts of the Law of Nations since Hugo Grotius.
In view of the above, therefore, Conference reached the following resolutions:
The Federal and State governments have the evidence of the Fulani militia being a terrorist group. The Federal Government of Nigeria should officially declare the Fulani militia a terrorist organisation in line with the United Nations position.
The Federal and all State governments should direct the armed forces and all security forces to consider and fight the Fulani militia as terrorists in the same category as the Boko Haram insurgents.
All the terrorists and Fulani armed gangs in Middle Belt must be chased out and arrested by the security forces, and brought to justice. All Fulani militia camps and bands must be disbanded and their members arrested and prosecuted in accordance with the law.
The United Nations should declare the killings and massacres by the Fulani militia in the Middle Belt communities as genocide and the perpetrators tried for wars against humanity.
The Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, the UN Charter and Declaration of Human Rights and the African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights guarantee the right to every citizen to his/her life and the Federal and State governments must respect this international framework.
The UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples has to be fully implemented by the Federal and State governments in Nigeria. Our displaced people and communities should be assisted to return to their lands and resume all their social and economic activities.
The people of the Middle Belt have the right to their ancestral lands and the Governors of all the Northern States have to respect this right.
The communities of the Middle Belt do not have land for the settlement of people from other states and other African countries. Middle Belt shall not give up their land for grazing reserves or to the Fulani or to any other group; and the Federal and State governments should respect this position.
Governments of all the far Northern states should each set up at least three large functional grazing reserves in their states to accommodate the Fulani in their own states. They have no right to ask any states to set up grazing reserves when they are not willing to do the same for their own people.
All individuals and communities that have been attacked by the Fulani militia should be fully compensated by the Federal and State governments for the lives and property lost due to the various attacks by the Fulani.
States in the Middle Belt should borrow a leaf from the North East to insist that the security forces should work with our communities and organized youth to root out the terrorists from their camps and hideouts in the region.
The Federal and State government must expose the sponsors of the Fulani terrorists and those who arm them. The sources of their sophisticated arms and ammunition should be identified and stopped and their suppliers exposed, shamed and prosecuted.
The government and security agencies should impress on Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association who know the Fulani terrorists to make their names public so that they can face the force of the law or should be treated as conspirators in the menace.
The right of our people to defend themselves against attack should be upheld, and all arbitrary arrests stopped. All those arrested for protecting their communities should be released without any conditions.
The affected Communities must be vigilant, sensitive, security conscious and proactive in safeguarding their lives and properties from marauders and murderers.
Action must be taken against the kidnappers and cattle rustlers in Chikun, Kauru, Kajuru and Lere LGAs of Southern Kaduna, or any other place in the Middle Belt, with the same vigour and consistency as the government has done in Birnin Gwari LGA.
All acts of discrimination, denigration and lack of respect by the Federal and Northern States governments against the minority nationalities of the Nigerian Middle Belt, and their treatment, as second-class citizens should be stopped.
While our people are willing to enter into dialogue with any group on the security situation in the region, the patent insincerity and the deceptiveness of the so-called dialogue sponsored by allies and agents of the violent pastoralists, the Middle Belt communities should insist on the following conditions for proper dialogue to take place:
All provocations and attacks on all communities must cease.
No attacks will take place during and after the dialogue.
The actual attackers will be brought to the round table.
The government will produce the sponsors and leaders of the Fulani militia and bring them to the dialogue table.
The Fulani must vacate all lands occupied by Fulani following the attacks and the owners of the lands returned to their villages, towns and communities.
Fulani who have been permanent residents in the Middle Belt before 2010 should be represented at the dialogue by their leaders known to the communities, without any intimidation, threats or pressures by the leaders and sponsors of the Fulani militia.
Representatives of the Communities at the dialogue sessions shall be the leaders of Community Development Associations at whatever level the dialogue is being held (District, Chiefdom, Local Government, State).