The story of Fulani herdsmen has continued to reverberate across the nation with its attending calamities. This had led the Bayelsa State Government to find a way to be immune from the violence, as PAULINE ONYIBE reports
While a bill seeking to establish a National Grazing Reserve is yet to see the light of the day in the National Assembly, some Fulani herdsmen have continued to rampage the country and had found their way into the southern part of the country, with the South East as the latest ‘abattoir’.
Since the carnage began, hardly had a week passed by without the news of the marauding herdsmen and their senseless attacks on their host communities, killing people and destroying farmlands.
In Bayelsa State, they had recently found their way into Ekpetiama Kingdom in Yenagoa Local Government area of the state, before the Henry Seriake Dickson government hurriedly earmarked about 1,200 hectares of land for them to prowl on. With the outcry that followed the attack on the sleepy community, many had thought that the state governor would not have the political will to stem the tide.
Saturday Telegraph had sought to know from the state government through the Commissioner for Information and Orientation, Mr. Jonathon Obuebite, the measures being put in place by the state government to repel the Fulani herdsmen, in case of a repeat of the nuisance that was earlier constituted.
Though the commissioner had assured that the blood-seeking invaders would not be back in the state, it is not certain whether the government had the political will to promulgate a law that will put an end to the carnage, as it had been done in some states like Ekiti and Benue.
Analysts have argued that without such laws, there might not be lasting peace in the state, though the government had built a ranch for the herdsmen. As the time of filling in this report, the ranch was almost ready with a big abattoir, yet the cows were still seen straying round the environment.
The expectation of the people is that, with the ranch nearing completion, the cows straying about would have been put in confinement, as the place is partially ready to accommodate the animals and their shepherds. The question now is: Why did the Bayelsa State Government donated 1,200 hectares of land to the herdsmen which was said was to be for the control of indiscriminate grazing in the state, if these sets of people won’t use the facility?
According to the government, the decision to create such facility was to prevent the invasion of farmlands and check any security breach in the state. Owing to this development and not satisfied with the actions of the government, a coalition of Ijaw groups across the Niger Delta region on the platform of Ijaw Peoples Development Initiative (IPDI), recently gave the state governor an Shitu Mohammed, assured the government that there would be no records of violence from the herdsmen, instead they will help to train the youths of the state and create employment.
Arguing that there had been no cases of violence by the herdsmen in the state, Mohammed said that the 1,200 hectares of land was for ranch development, grazing and slaughtering of cattle.
More ranches, he maintained, would be donated to the cattlerearers in order to maintain peace and order in the state, while commending the Dickson government for releasing the land, saying that the gesture would help to sustain the lasting peace that had existed between herdsmen and farmers in the state. Mohammed also noted that a committee was set up by the state government to foster cordial relationship between the cattle guides, farmers and the people of the state.
“This is simply because the committee in collaboration with the state government and the security agencies had put in place quick response mechanisms. You have a wise governor who has put a measure for them.
If you cannot rear your cow in that place, don’t come to my place. “Because the law provided for movement of every human being to move from one place to another, the state governor now said you can move to Bayelsa.
If you come to Bayelsa, go to Bayelsa Palm. If you can’t go to Bayelsa Palm, and I see you around, I have right to arrest you. “You can’t see violence in Bayelsa now, there will never be violence.
That is why they were given a portion and told to go and graze in that place and create jobs for Bayelsa youths”, he said. Disclosing that the project will generate revenue for the state government, Mohammed reiterated that the youths of the state would learn hide and skin which they can take to Onitsha and sell and make more money adding that it will give the youth employment opportunities.
He said they were building the Abatior so that the dungs of the cows will be used as fertilizer, saying; “If these youths are empowered, they can make N50, 000 from only cow dungs a day. Most rich people today in America are cow boys”.
What caused problems in other states, the chairman said, was because the governments did not take any measure. He said they couldn’t just come into a community and attack people saying that it is not possible. He said that the Government of Bayelsa State had taken measures by saying, “you either go to where I give you or you quit.
For you come to my place, I have right to arrest you because I provided a place for you”. He said that they are already gathered at a place adding that they will start paying revenue to the state. Mohammed said: “that is why we appointed a lot of youths to be there. It has created a lot of employment for Bayelsa youths. If they learn they will become millionaires.
He called on the people of the state to appreciate the provision of the ranch as it will create job opportunities and boost tourism in the state. However, Saturday Telegraph’s investigation showed that for about three months now, since the herdsmen have been occupying the Bayelsa Palm, there had not been any record of violence between the host community and the herdsmen, though the herdsmen are still moving about with their cattle.
According to a young herdsman who gave his name as Saliu Ahmed, the cattle were still being moved around because the foliage they planted had not matured for grazing. He said immediately it does, no cattle will be seen outside the ranch. Ahmed said the lettered ones among them also educate the illiterate ones to eschew violence in any form in the state as they go about rearing their cattle adding that most of the cattle are owned by Bayelsa elites.
However, the soaring price of cow meat in Yenagoa market has yet to come down even as analysts argue that low price is supposed to be one of the benefits of having a ranch in the state. For now, the herdsmen seem to be living peacefully with their host communities showing that the state government might have actually done its homework before agreeing to accommodate them in the state.
The people of the state are hopeful that the cordial relationship that exists would continue to grow so as to change the orientation of the masses about the Fulani herdsmen. ultimatum to revoke the allocation of 1,200 hectares of land the state government allocated to Fulani herdsmen for grazing or face a mass shutdown of all government facilities across the state.
In the same vein, a group known as Mothers of Ijaw Nation (MIN), led by Niger Delta activist, Ms Ann-Kio Briggs, had recently organised a mass protest in Yenagoa, the state capital, to occupy the state until Dickson rescinds his decision. The MIN said: “The act of the Bayelsa State Government was treacherous and a clear betrayal of Bayelsans who voted the governor to power.
This is a critical period in our nation. We do not want our women raped and killed, we do not want our children defiled, we do not want our kings to be kidnapped and killed, and we do not want AK-47 wieldin g herdsmen within Bayelsa State.
“We want to unequivocally state that Dickson is inviting terrorists to Bayelsa State by allocating grazing lands to killer squads under the guise of herdsmen. If we may ask, how many free fishing rivers and farmlands have northern governors allocated to southerners to carry out fishing and farming businesses in the North?
“Dickson is doing eye service to the Northerners for political alignment. He is exposing the Ijaw of Bayelsa State to unnecessary danger. We now live in fear, we will wage war against Dickson within the confines of the law on this genocidal mission against the future of Ijaw people”.
But despite the ultimatum, Dickson did not mind any group as the Fulani herdsmen had been at the Bayelsa Palm, the site of ranch for about three months, waiting for the final takeover of the project. To douse tension, the state chairman of Cattle Ranches Management and Control Committee