Bauchi State Governor Bala Mohammed on Sunday described as erroneous, claims that he had, during his speech last week in Lafia, shown support for crimes committed by some Fulani herdsmen.
He said nothing could be farther from the truth, adding that as a “constitutionalist”, he could not support anything that would subvert the Constitution.
Mohammed, in a statement, said his reference to AK47 was simply to put in perspective the predicament and desperation of law-abiding Fulani herdsmen who have become victims of cattle rustling, banditry, kidnapping and assassination.
The governor, during last Thursday’s Press Week Celebration of the Correspondents’ Chapel of the Nigeria Union Journalists (NUJ), had said herders bore firearms “for self-defence” against cattle rustlers.
But in his statement on Sunday, Mohammed’s media aide, Mukhtar Gidado, provided a context for his statement.
Gidado said: “During the speech, the Governor used the occasion to weigh in on the contentious issue of clashes between herdsmen and farmers, particularly against the background of the eviction and other forms of restriction orders issued by some state governments and non-governmental entities.
“The primary objective of the Governor was to avert the dangerous prospect of nationwide backlash as tempers were flaring up and given that the phenomenon of inter-ethnic migration is a national pastime involving all ethnic groups in Nigeria.”
He made several clarifications. They include that “At no time did the Governor set out to justify criminality by anyone, no matter the person’s ethnic nationality. Rather, he admonished us, in the interest of national unity, to avoid wholesale branding of any ethnic group as it is inconceivable that anyone group can be made up of only criminals. By extension, the Governor made it abundantly clear that it will be inappropriate to label anyone tribe based on the crimes of a few members of the ethnic group.”
“Second, to the extent that not every herdsman is a criminal, the Governor’s reference to AK47 was simply to put in perspective, the predicament and desperation of those law-abiding Fulani herdsmen who, while carrying out their legitimate cow-rearing business, have become serial victims of cattle rustling, banditry, kidnapping and assassination.
“These are the people who, in the absence of any protection from the security agencies, are forced to resort to self-help, to defend both their means of livelihood and their lives.
“As a constitutionalist, which he has proved over time, all through his political career, Governor Bala Mohammed will be the last person to advocate a subversion of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. He did not do so in the past; he will not do so today.
“Third, Governor Bala Mohammed’s description of forests, as “no man’s land”, (please read as gift of nature), is a carry-over from his geopolitical environment where a pastoralist could set up camp, in any forest, for a few weeks without causing any uproar or opposition. To interpret such a temporary stay as a form of ‘land grab’ by the Fulani herdsmen is completely incorrect.
“Neither does such temporary habitation of the forest inconvenience anyone nor does the itinerant Fulani sojourner, bother anyone about his plight in the forest characterised by life without access to electricity, pipe-borne water, good roads or hospitals.”
He said, on the contrary, Governor Mohammed was very familiar with the Land Use Act, including the criteria for land acquisition and could not seek to undermine the statute which, as Governor, he has sworn to uphold.
He added: “Fourth, the Governor would want it placed on record that his statement was intended to caution all stakeholders to guard against escalating the tension, just as many patriotic stakeholders, particularly from the North, have been working round the clock to avert reprisal actions that could throw the entire country into a cauldron of unimaginable proportions.
“Rather than vilify Governor Bala Mohammed, it is incumbent on all those criticising him to admonish those Governors whose lack of restraint is responsible for the escalation of this crisis. Governor Bala Mohammed’s antecedents, as a bridge-builder, humanist and nationalist are so well known that he will never, under any circumstances, deliberately fuel any national crisis or subvert the Constitution.”