Brigadier-General John Shagaya (rtd) is a former Minister of Internal Affairs. Having retired from the Nigerian Army, Shagaya joined politics and represented Plateau South Senatorial District from 2007-2011. He gives an insight into the various dimensions associated with farmer/herders clashes among other issues. Excerpts:
Daily Trust: You had a long career in the Nigerian Army. What point of it all would you say is the most memorable for you?
Shagaya: Memorable moments are very many but I would attempt giving four of the most significant that have helped in modeling my life and creating a focus and some seriousness in the chosen profession. The first will be that assignment as a young Corporal of the Nigerian Army having left Military school. I was assigned to guard a cemetery and that particular cemetery, somewhere in Wukari, Taraba State was where it was suspected that some 40 human beings were buried and the period of responsibility was dependent on how soon the forensic police officers would come from Lagos and someone from Scotland Yard in England. That assignment made me the subunit Commander of the troops that guarded and protected that graves until bodies were exhumed, counted, numbers were known and some form of DNA was taken before they were reburied. That was in 1964. In the night we were intimidated by all sorts of things, spiritual things but then, we remained unshaken because we had a duty. The second was in 1965 in the South-West, “Operation wetie” during that election where every community was almost ungovernable but we had to contend the situation under orders of the Prime Minister. One found himself in terrible areas where human beings were burnt in their numbers, in their homes, streets and one had to be a party to being in between the belligerent factions. My commanders at that time were Ibrahim Babangida, Garba Duba, I am not too sure if S.D Abubakar is alive from Kano.
The third experience, just before the war broke out was the rascality of a young man who happened to own a big motorcycle and had the temptation to traverse Abeokuta-Ibadan-Ilorin to visit a girlfriend. And that weekend, I was then called that my attention was needed somewhere, the unit I was as a young officer had been ordered to Okene to begin to train for a potential peace-keeping mission. What Gowon would regard as ‘police action’ in the South-East. In my bid to hurry to catch up with the movement order which was to resume in 24hours, I went under a trailer with my motorcycle and came out alive. I fixed the motorcycle before leaving for the potential war front. The motorcycle was WAF Registration 261.
The fourth and I said so in my autobiography which I have completed. This was when one almost fell victim of a Prisoner-Of-War in the hands of a Biafran unit in Otagbono in September 1967 when we entered the Mid-West from Escravos. It was the grace of God that some heavy thundering and heavy downpour started and there was confusion so one escaped.
DT: How about regrets, do you have any?
Shagaya: I don’t think so. I joined the army through military school against the wishes of my parents. He wanted me to be a pastor or a teacher. He was a priest, a very gentleman and I had been given opportunity in Gindiri, on scholarship, he was very happy, I was also given scholarship in Kuru, and Keffi but when the military school examination came, I had resumed in Gindiri and I ran away without parental consent and of course my teachers’ consent.
DT: There are security challenges especially the farmers/herders clashes. How would you advice the government tackle this?
Shagaya: We must understand the dimension of the kind of crisis we are facing through the movement of herdsmen either migration, if I will call it that. This is because anybody of my age will know that in the part of northern Nigeria where we come from there is an annual migration of what Ghanaians later modified as trans-human migrant Fulanis. In Langtang for example, you know the dedicated routes of the particular movement every year running from Wase through Garkawa through Yelwa through Shendam all the way to the south. We know when they move down south and up north. And if for any reason the migrant Fulani have to be in any place for a week or more, they will send a delegation maybe because they have some weak ones among them or women who may likely deliver. No quarrel. So we were brought up with that understanding. In the 50’s when we were in primary school, there was this big radio which we used to carry when our parents went out. We will go to the Fulani routes and sit under the tree and when the Fulani women are passing with cow milk, we will say ‘look, these people are tasty’ we will switch off the radio and say the people inside the radio are tasty and the Fulani women will be happy to give us milk so that they people can keep talking. So that was the kind of peaceful things that we knew that is why I am advising that we have to be very careful.
In this current dimension in migration, there are three things involved. The first is that there is desert encroachment. With this and with the drying of Lake Chad which used to accommodate quite a lot of them, the Cameroonian authorities had blocked the source. So, it means more numbers would have to trample in an attempt to find within the Benue and Niger trough for feeding. It requires a very serious planning. With the experiences that things were changing, Mrs Mary Lar and Prof. Jibril Aminu came up with the programme of Nomadic Fulani Education and Mary made her PhD with it. In that study, if we do understand it, we could create some kind of a habitable stopping area for the migrant Fulanis on their migration routes. Today, it is nice for somebody to call it colony. But they were stopping in places when they were moving, it was never given a big English name, now that you are magnifying the name, you are magnifying the problem.
The second dimension is what happened in 1984 after the ‘Ghana Must Go’ exercise. Between 1984/85, what we are witnessing today took place in Sierra Leon, Ghana, Benin Republic and Togo. They decided that all the migrating Fulanis must leave and that was where the word trans-human came from. They gave a marching order to all the Fulanis and their cows saying they were Nigerian Fulanis. So, today in Ghana, you find ranching existing only, you don’t find migrant Fulanis. They came to Nigeria and I had left the Military Secretary’s office and taken over the command of 9 Brigade. I was sent to establish tents, receive them, document them and know where they were going, whether truly they would settle in Nigeria or go to Mali or wherever they came from. They were treated nice by the administration at the time. There is a tripartite point between Togo- Nigeria and Benin Republic, very close to Kamba. That area of Kamba running all the way down to Kainji through Babana through Kayama, Digidiru pearl, very rich, beautiful area along the River Niger. So we received them and they were spread there for months. While government was deciding on what to do, they all left in their groupings. Some went back through their normal route of migration. The next thing government said is that there should be a leadership within the Fulanis, hence the encouragement of the registration of Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association. I signed the certificate.
The intention of government then was to say; if we were faced with any minor problem, there should be a leadership that government can hold. But today, they themselves have broken into various factions and the migrant Fulanis have refused to have anything to do with local Fulani and that is part of the problem. We have to study these things well before we start condemning ourselves, they have to be taken into confidence in the discussions and that was the comment I made to the Governor of Benue State, that there must be a constructive engagement with all the stakeholders, you must know the reason.
The third dimension is arms and banditry and what have you. With the fall of Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi, we must remember that a lot of soldiers of fortunes who came from Chad, Niger and Nigeria who found themselves making good money in Libya. Some of them are still being deported today. Some went as soldiers of fortune to work to defend Libya and when that government was dismantled, some of these very serious weapons fell in the hands of some fellows that moved down to Niger and Chad and mingled with the militants. You find there were already some trained soldiers of fortunes, they had these weapons and I believe it could be part of the build-up that today we face in the North-East. You will notice that within the first few months of this administration, the President had to make some tours of these friendly neighbours in order to know which direction the problem was coming from and not limiting and pretending it was only within Nigeria. That is what has helped us and many people don’t understand that.
The other dimension could be the politicisation of the issue by whichever ethnic group and I think a lot of propaganda has to be carried out by government. Nigerians have to start seeing certain national problems as a problem of the country and not a problem of one religion or a problem of Buhari because he is a Fulani man and a Fulani man entered a farm. We have to outgrow that, after all, down in the South-East, South-South where kidnapping became an industry, it wasn’t done along religious line and yet there are governors there who come from some of these communities. So why don’t we go round there and say it is this community that is perpetrating it because they come from this governor or that governor’s area is shielding these people. It is not a problem. But if it happens in the North then it is a Hausa Muslim or Christian issue, I think those are issues that we must outgrow.
DT: Some people think Nigeria is becoming militarized with armed operations in almost every state. DT: After your first stint as Senator from 2007-2011 you have made attempts to return but failed. Are you likely going to try again or eyeing other political opportunities?
Shagaya: I am not going back to the Senate. I want to encourage people younger. The other reason is that I am very sure it took President Buhari some very tough thinking to say to me, of the four autonomous boards to head one. To me it’s a big honour, bigger than being in the Senate. I think it is the highest national responsibility in my life that I have been honoured with and I would rather stay and do justice of that assignment but I remain a very strong adherent of the All Progressives Congress government, a strong loyalist of this administration, a strong believer that this administration will win the 2019 elections.