— Prof. Umar Muhammad Labdo of the Faculty of Humanities, Maitama Sule University (formerly Northwest University), Kano, who recently said that Benue State belonged to Fulani by right of conquest, blows hot again in this interview with TED ODOGWU
You said that Benue State was part of Bauchi and Adamawa Emirates, but the Benue State government has dismissed the claims and asked for proofs of such statement. Did you make it up?
The origin of Benue State is Bauchi and Adamawa Emirates; it’s historically Fulbe area (another name for Fulani). What I mean is that it is a Fulani domain and not for Tiv. Originally, Tiv people were from Fulani tribe and Jukun; that is Tiv background.
The origin of the Tiv people is that their father was a Fulani. His name was Mohammed Alla. He migrated from Katsina to that area and got married to a Jukun woman and he fathered the Tiv. That is their origin.
But according to some people, what history says is that Fulani are migrants from Futa Jallon and did not own any land in Nigeria until they migrated and brought war here. How would you respond to that?
It is factual that Fulani originally came to this area from somewhere in modern Mali, which is called Futa Toro or Futa Jallon. It is an incontrovertible fact. But then, when did they come here? It was between 800 and 1,000 years (ago). Now, people who migrated more than 800 years ago, they are no longer migrants. If you study the history of all people in the world, you will know that they migrated from somewhere else. Take America for example, Europeans migrated to America about 500 years ago. Now, is it proper to call white Americans settlers? They are simply not settlers but own the country. Also, Europeans migrated to Australia. Now, they own the country. Europeans migrated to South Africa and it took many years of struggle for the black majority to gain independence from them. Now, Adam, that is, the first man, did not live in Tiv land. So, Tiv people came to Tiv land, Fulani came to Tiv land, they came to Nigeria, they came to all areas that they live in today. The bottom line is that you cannot label them as settlers. If you call them settlers, then all the people and the rest of the world would be called settlers; that is the point that is being established!
If you say Benue belongs to Fulani by right of conquest. Is such a right greater than that of the original owners or people, who the Fulani met there?
Don’t talk about original owners. Now, the right of conquest is recognised worldwide. And many of the people, who live presently in different countries, they are there and are living there by the right of conquest. And this right of conquest is recognised, even by our Supreme Court. One of my followers on Facebook, who is a lawyer, said he could mention 10 cases in which our Supreme Court recognised conquest as one of the basis of getting titles for land. So, don’t talk about that. Who are the original owners? Original! When did they come? We submit that the first father of the Tiv was Mohammed Alla, who migrated from Katsina, that is why today, you have Katsina Alla! Let them explain, what is the meaning of Katsina Alla? So, this Fulani man, when he got to that area and fathered Tiv, there were other Fulani people there. That was why he came to join his own brothers. So, if you are talking about any original owners of the Tiv land, it is actually the Fulani. And the Fulani are the fathers of the Tiv and the Jukun are their mothers.
Are you saying that traditional rulers in Benue State are under the Sokoto Caliphate or some other Emirate?
For example, are the traditional rulers, who are ruling Tiv land, under the Emir of Bauchi or the Emir of Adamawa? Were they under them? Trace the history of northern states, from Gongola, Benue and Plateau states. Benue/Plateau was originally from Bauchi Emirate, while Gongola was from Adamawa Emirate. So, today’s Benue State started from Bauchi Emirate and Adamawa Emirate. That is history.
Some people are asking why the Fulani people have a sense of entitlement wherever they go. What does the history say about that?
Many of the people living in the area they live today migrated to that area. And I also mentioned in my Facebook post that Fulani are very kind and benevolent conquerors because when the Europeans settled in North America, that is, today’s USA and Canada, they massacred all the people. That is why there is no one to call them settlers today. They killed them all and destroyed their means of livelihood. When the Europeans settled in Australia, they killed the Aborigines. That is why there is no one to call them settlers now. But Fulani, we did not kill anybody. We ruled over the people and some people are asking if it is true that Benue belongs to Fulani? Why are they not Muslims? Now, the answer is Fulani did not force anyone to embrace Islam. Even today in Kano here, you have people who are not Muslims and they are originally from here. We call them Maguzawa. That is why the missionaries had the opportunity to come here and convert them to Christianity. You have them in Bauchi and even in Sokoto, Kebbi, Zamfara and Katsina. You have people who are not Muslims and are Hausa. So, it doesn’t mean that once Fulani are ruling in an area, all the people must be Muslims. Now, take the Arabs for example, the Arabs conquered what is today called Syria, Lebanon, Iraq and Egypt. The Arabs conquered those areas 1400 years ago. but you still have Christians there. Why? It is because they were not forced to convert. But Muslims lived for 800 years in Spain, they were exterminated and today, you cannot find an original inhabitant of Spain, who is a Muslim now. Why? It is because Christians would give you the choice to either convert to Christianity or get killed. That is what history is saying and I did not write that history. And the material proof is that Muslims ruled the areas I mentioned in the Middle East for over 1400 years and you still have Christians there.
The Federal Government is suggesting to states to have cattle colonies but many of them have rejected the idea. Many people believe that once they establish cattle colonies/ranches, what would follow is the installation of Emirs in all the places and then Jihadist war would start. Your statement seems to confirm such fears.
You cannot install Emirs just like that. If you follow the history of the Emirate that we have today, they were not installed just like that. These Emirates emerged, as a result of a popular revolt, which involved all the tribes of northern Nigeria. It just happened that Fulani led the revolt because they were more educated and enlightened. That is why they had to lead the revolution and because of what prevailed at that time. It was not their own people who became Emirs because they were the leaders of the revolution. Currently, we have a constitution; we are living in a modern world. We cannot just go ahead and install Emirates in people’s domains; no! What we are saying is that just like we have others in our own area, who are doing legitimate businesses, without being harassed, we Fulani also have the right to be allowed to do our business, which is rearing of cows. We have to do that. Now, in every village and town in Kano, for example, which is my home state, you will find Igbo and other tribes doing business. You find Igbo in every village, however small it is. They open chemists and sell drugs. Now, nobody is either harassing or calling them settlers. Let me tell you, in Kano city here, our forefathers, between 40 and 80 years ago, even carved out places for settlers. For example, we have Sabon Gari, which was mapped out by the Emir of Kano for non-Muslim settlers, while Fagge is for Muslim settlers. That is why you have the Abachas there. Sani Abacha (a former military head of state) is not from Kano, he is not Fulani or Hausa, he is Kanuri. His parents settled in Fagge because it is the area reserved for Muslim settlers. So, now if we make room for others to live in our own land and they pursue their legitimate businesses and they make money and live peacefully, why not us? And why are people calling us settlers? What is the meaning of a settler? Everybody is a settler. No one was dropped from the sky in a place. So, wherever you see people, if you go back to between 100 and 2,000 years, you will find out that they were settlers. For example, the Jews are laying claim to Palestine. They left there 3,000 years ago. The Bible says so! Where did they live for those 3,000 years? They were settled in all the European countries. Now, they even settled and lived for over 500 years in Spain when Spain was ruled by Arab Muslims. Now, they are coming back to say that they are originally from here. So, in other tribes, if you follow their history, maybe they came from Congo, like my brother is saying or from other areas. So, what we are saying is that we are all settlers. So, if you want to call us settlers, call yourself settlers first before you call us settlers.
Prof. Umar Muhammad Labdo
When some people came to Kano, they bought land, why can’t the Fulani also buy land in other places instead of trying to force themselves on people?
Yes, it is the nature of their business. By the nature of their business, Fulani are roamers; that is why they are called nomads. They roam from place to place. Now, we Fulani are coming to realise that, that way of life is no longer feasible in this modern time. But what we are however saying is that you cannot just enact a law and overnight ask people to comply with that law. Fulani have been roaming around for over 1,000 years, then you will change that with a stroke of the pen. It is not proper. You have to plan. You have to introduce the plan phase by phase. You should have short term and long term plans. Then, if you talk of purchasing land, Fulani cannot purchase land for all their cows. If you compel them to purchase land, how many square metres will they need to purchase? Before now, there were cattle routes, spread all over Nigeria, which were recognised, even by the colonial government. These routes were mapped out and gazetted by the colonial government, but they have now been taken over by farmers. Now, the nomadic Fulani are not interested in owning land. We Fulani that settle, we all buy land and do not take land by force, like all others buy. For example, if I go to Ibadan or Lagos, I buy land there because I want to settle there. But why must I just buy land because I need it for between six weeks and six months before leaving? The Fulani are contributing to the economy of this country. People talk as if Fulani business is for themselves alone. Now, who provides the protein that Nigerians consume, 85 per cent of it is provided by Fulani. So, Fulani are entitled to be supported by the Federal Government, just like other people, with different occupations, they are entitled to be assisted. Now, the various state governments assist farmers by constructing dams for them in order to irrigate their land and so on. They even sell fertilisers at subsidised prices. Is that not assistance? So, if the federal and state governments help farmers and others, why not the Fulani? This is the question.
Does the idea to have colonies in states have anything to do with President Muhammadu Buhari, a Fulani man, being the President?
It is not Buhari who is establishing cattle colonies because he is Fulani. Any President of Nigeria has the obligation to help Fulani to settle down but not to use force. What is being done in Benue State is attempting to expel Fulani. Now, the Fulani in question are unsettled Fulani, not Fulani like me; I am a professor. But most of the unsettled Fulani are illiterates. It is organisations like the one led by the Chairman of Fulbe Development Association of Nigeria, Ahmad Toro, that are helping them. So, if you want to change their way of life, which they have been following for centuries, you have to do it step by step. But you enacted a law today, then armed a militia and asked it to enforce the law tomorrow. You are expelling these people; this is what is happening in Benue. There is a militia, which was organised by the Benue State Government. They call them ‘cattle-something’. They are not even operating within the boundaries of Benue State alone. They are even crossing into Taraba State. It has been reported that some of them have been arrested. They are now in the custody of the Department of State Services.
People believe that all that the Federal Government is doing is part of a plot to hand over states in the country to the Fulani people.
Not at all! Tafawa Balewa, although, he was not Fulani, he was Prime Minister for some years and Sarduana of Sokoto (Ahmadu Bello) was also Premier of Northern Nigeria for so many years. If Fulani wanted to do so, they would have done it at that time. Shehu Shagari (a former President) was the first Executive President, what did he do for Fulani? So, this is something that should not appear on the pages of newspapers at all.
You made your statement about Fulani conquest after the killing of about 70 people in Benue by suspected Fulani herdsmen. Many people have described your statement as the height of insensitivity. How would you react to that?
First of all, I said there was no proof that it was Fulani people who committed the atrocity. I am sure you must have read the DSS’ statement that it was Islamic State and you know IS originated from the Middle East, even though they claim that they have a West African branch. Now, I do not subscribe to that submission. They are trying just to hoodwink people and not to work hard. Now, where are the members of the militia that were arrested? Where are they? Why have they (DSS officials) not brought them out to interrogate them in public so that we can establish and know who sponsored them? So, it was not Fulani who did that, at least we can’t say that with all certainty; that is number one, Two, to be honest with you, my post was deliberate and I knew what I was writing when I did so. I was tired of defence, defence and defence. I wanted our people to start attacking (in writing and speaking) instead of waiting to be attacked and defending, sometime, with lame defence. If you are in Nigeria, you should know how our people are being stereotyped and stigmatised and it has been going on for donkey’s years. So, we are always left to defend. So by my post on Facebook, I was calling on my people to start attacking; it is now time to attack if we want to survive because as you know, stigmatisation is a precursor to genocide. We know what happened to the Hutu people and Tutsi people in Rwanda. When you start stigmatising people, you paint them with a very gory picture for everybody to hate them. So, wherever they move to, they are killed. You would see that if you read that post entirely, but I know that many people just took what was of interest to them. I was quarreling more with my Fulani leaders in that post. Go and read it again! I was calling my Fulani leaders meek, spineless, irresponsible and incompetent because they couldn’t defend their own people; that is what I said in the post! Why are people not talking about it?
Some people are of the view that your statement justified the killings; how would you react to that?
Not at all! First, I don’t know who masterminded the killings, so how can I justify it? And no one would justify such killings. So, no one is justifying the killings! Now, they are trying to put words into my mouth and nothing in my post points in that direction.
Which other states or areas do you think belong to the Fulani by right of conquest?
For example, many of those who followed my post and responded were asking, now, can you say that Abuja belongs to Fulani? Yes, Abuja belongs to Sokoto, even as late as 1975, Abuja was part of Sokoto before the coup that terminated Yakubu Gowon’s administration. Abuja was part of North Western State, with Sokoto as the capital. What we know as Niger State today was under Sokoto. And that is why we have Suleja because when the Fulani donated Abuja to Nigeria, they took the Emir from Abuja to Suleja; go and read the history.
What of Plateau and Taraba states?
Plateau and Taraba states are part of those Emirates that are close to them. Now, those who rule are those that are more civilised and educated. Now, Fulani happened to be more educated than all other tribes in Nigeria before the Europeans came. We are the ones who brought literacy here as we have manuscripts, hundreds of them, which were written between 300 and 500 years ago today, when no other tribe knew how to write. And that is why the lot fell on our people to lead in this country and we are still leading the people. We are destined to continue leading people; but I know, if people read this, they will say he is a supremacist or something like that, no! It is not like that. This is a burden and we pay for it. Sardauna was killed because he was a ruler. If he had not been a ruler, why would he have been killed? Murtala Mohammed (a former military head of state) was also killed. Why? It was because he was a ruler. So, it is a burden. It is not something we are proud of; it is a burden but we have to shoulder the burden because we are the ones who are qualified for it. Now, if others come, who are more qualified than us, naturally, they would take it. Currently, we are competing with others. We are aware that we are disadvantaged. The reason is that western education came through missionaries. That was why our forefathers refused to embrace western education initially because accepting it meant accepting Christianity. Now that there are many other tribes that are becoming more educated, we are competing with them. Jonathan, for example, led this country for five years! Then, we mobilised our people and others, like in the South West – the Yoruba people – and we took power from him and now, if others are interested, let them also use their initiative to mobilise people and take it from us. Then we continue like that. But, you told some people, leave my state and now, some leaders in Kogi State are saying that there is no land for cattle colonies in the state. Why? Is it not Nigeria or are Fulani not Nigerians? Who eats the cow and its legs and tails? It is the Yoruba and the Igbo. Fulani don’t eat beef; we eat goat meat and mutton. We drink milk and eat goat meat. Who eats the cow? It is others, not us. Then, people are saying, we have no land for cattle colonies. Okay! Let them not have land for colonies. Other states would have. Already, six states have expressed interest and said that they would make land available. Now, after two or three decades, people would invite Fulani to their states because they are not liabilities but assets. They are moving, with millions of naira and they are not stealing from anybody. You can accuse them of destroying your crops, but you can never say that they stole your crops. They don’t steal!
How would you respond to calls by some Nigerians for your arrest by the DSS or other security agencies for making statements that could incite violence?
Well, if I have done anything wrong, it is the job of the DSS or the police to arrest me. My post has been there for over 14 days now. So, it is over three weeks and I have not been arrested. Those, who know the reason why they arrest people, know that I did not commit any offence. By the way, most of the people who responded to my Facebook post, insulted me. No one wanted to discuss or debate or ask questions. They just said: you are stupid, we killed Dan Fodio, you are a settler and so on. All this will not help us.
Some people believe that it was like a declaration of war by the Fulani people on the people of Benue. How would you respond to that?
What is a declaration of war? If you are talking of killing about 73 people, it has not been established that this atrocity was committed by Fulani. It has to be first established, then you build something on it. But for now, you cannot build anything on it. No one can declare war on anyone in this modern Nigeria; it is not possible because the Fulani believe in the unity, peace and stability of the country.
Your statement was just like stoking fire as no one is even asking anyone to leave Benue, as you suggested in your post. Benue State’s anti-open grazing law is saying that herdsmen should keep their cattle in ranches and not roam all over the place destroying other people’s crops.
No, Benue State government is indirectly expelling Fulani because it has enacted a law without creating any soft landing for Fulani. No one will enact a law that will bring to an end to a way of life that has been practised for 800 years or more and then ask people to comply within a week. That is madness; the bottom line is that Benue State government is expelling Fulani indirectly. And look at what is happening in Plateau State. I am sure you heard what the Plateau State Governor (Simon Lalong) said.
But why is it so difficult for Fulani herdsmen to keep their cattle in ranches and not destroy other people’s source of livelihood in order to save theirs?
We Fulani, who are educated and enlightened, know that our people are suffering and losing. And it is time for them to settle down, and we want them to settle down, but how? These people are in millions and their cows are in hundreds of millions. So, you have to help them to settle down, but not just by expelling them from one place to another place. The Federal Government needs to help these people to settle down. We are for settling down, whether you call it ranches or you call it colonies or you call it by any other name, as it is being done in other parts of the world, and the situation in Nigeria should not be different.
You said that Fulani have remained unbeatable throughout their history, but some historians have also described that as twisting history as according to them, Fulani jihadists were defeated in Osogbo by Yoruba warriors in 1840. How would you respond to that?
Now, you are talking about one battle, but if you compare it to all the battles Fulani people were engaged in, their defeats are not even up to one per cent. We are talking about Fulani as a people and you are talking about one incident. I can agree for the sake of argument that they were defeated in one battle but to be defeated in one battle does not mean being beaten; that is what I mean. It is one out of a thousand. So, it is an exception. If you want, you can count that, but for me, I will not (count that).