Alhaji Shehu Usman Chindo Yamusa III is the Emir of Keffi, Nasarawa State capital. A PhD holder in energy law with specialization in 'Renewable Energy and Sustainable Development' from the International Islamic University of Malaysia (IIUM), he took his first degree in law from Usman Dan Fodio University, Sokoto and master's from the Centre for Energy, Petroleum and Mineral Law and Policy (CEPMLP), University of Dundee, Scotland, United Kingdom.
Born in Keffi on November 4, 1966, he ascended the throne on December 14, 2015. In this interview conducted in his Emirate headquarters in Keffi, the Chancellor of Nasarawa State University spoke on why the Fulani should rather be seen as a people that have been cheated in the polity rather than being seen as the problem of Nigeria.
Not many who virtually reached the peak of their careers like you, particularly with PhD degrees, would want to ascend the throne. How did yours happen and, the day you heard that you had been chosen as Sarikin Keffi, what came to your mind?
First of all, let me say that in every community, you will find people who think from different angles about their people. If today I choose to stay away from my people just because I have PhD or I am well educated, who will be there to educate them? Who will bring them to limelight? Who is going to stand for them?
But when you think in-depth, you will be left with no option than to stay back with your people to entrench in them the importance of education so that they too can be brought into limelight and also participate in the development of their community, the local government, the state and the country in general.
We have been here for the past 24 hours and have moved round the town. In the course of moving round, we discovered that there are people of different tribes who claimed to be indigenes and not settlers. We also found that there are Muslims, Christians and people of other religions in your domain who said they are peaceful the way they are. What is the secret of this peaceful community, considering that intolerance of language and religion is mainly the cause of social conflicts in Nigeria?
This place can be said to be the most peaceful community in the country. And this is so because, right from inception, our forefathers put in place structures that we keep building upon.
When they came here, it was a virgin land, a Trans-Saharan (trade) track and so, the first thing they did was to ensure how to live together in peace. This they achieved by treating everybody equally.
Now coming to that legacy of having a peaceful environment, I must say that when you have love and respect for one another, you will live in peace. Christians, Muslims and people from various tribes come to Keffi and we treat them equally because we are all equal before God.
Even during the time of Prophet Muhammad (peace of Allah be upon him), he spoke seriously about equality because, according to him, it is only God who knows who is better among us. Even the devil cannot tell what is in the heart of a human being. Only God knows because faith cannot be read through the face.
In Keffi, no matter what and as far as you are not a risk to the community, as far as you are not a conflict maker, as far as you are willing to live with all of us in peace, we treat you equally and with respect.
Keffi is the only environment, as far as I know, where you see Christian brothers and sisters coming together to celebrate with us; they join us during fasting and in breaking fasting.
It is only in Keffi during Christmas that you see Christian brothers and sisters distribute gifts among the people in town and also send gifts to the Emir's Palace.
It is only in Keffi that you see Christian brothers and sisters go to hospital to support those who cannot foot the bills of their treatment and they do that without considering your tribe or religion.
And it is only in Keffi that you see Muslim brothers move from one maternity to another to support people without looking at tribe or religion during the time of giving.
These things contribute to our living together in peace. We respect the religion of each other. We worship Allah as Prophet Muhammad taught us while Christians worship as Christ taught them.
And in Islam, you are not yet a believer if you don't accept all the Prophets of Allah including Isa (Christ). We recognize their (Christians) prophet. The only thing is that they don't accept Muhammad but they (Christians) respect him because we Muslims respect ourselves.
So this is the secret of the peace in Keffi and whenever there is a conflict, we treat the people concerned based on law of equality and fairness. We do not deny anybody his or her right, no matter his or her religion or tribe. If you are wrong, you are wrong and if you are right, you are right.
What cultures and traditions are there in Keffi as a notable emirate in northern Nigeria?
We have so many cultures. First and foremost, the people of Keffi have accepted horse riding as part of their culture and this is because, on Sallah day, we go to Eid and come back on horses. That is one.
Two, in the celebration of Sallah, we have the Andoche, where the Emir and chiefs ride on horses round the town to greet people. Those that don't have the opportunity to see the Emir ordinarily will see him that day. The Emir will distribute kolanut and it is during that period that people who have complaints lodge them, especially when the Emir comes to their respective districts.
Three, Prophet Muhammad supported horse riding so that Muslims would be strong and healthy and have the ability to perform during war at that time because horse was one of the instruments used in war of conquest.
So, horse racing in Keffi is well promoted. Sometimes winners get cars and sometimes money. It depends on the financial capability of the emirate at the time of the event but that takes place every year.
Also we have local boxing which is the game of people with youthful exuberance because it is only young people who have the strength to fight; not fight as in conflict but fight as in game. It starts from the day after Sallah and lasts seven days.
Sometimes the Emir calls for local boxing especially when the harvest period is completed during dry season. So it is one of the cultures to bring people together and through which young people show talents and strength.
We also have the bull game staged by the Fulani and butchers. You know the Fulani and butchers are friends because the Fulani keep the cows and sell them to butchers who slaughter them and sell the meat to people for food.
So, every year, such game is done twice. I have seen such game in Texas, United States. Nigerian people from Keffi promote that game.
Fulani as 'Red Men of Nigeria'
I read a book written by a colonial master in which he referred to the people of Keffi, particularly the Fulani, as the Red Men of Nigeria. So, a book was written specifically about us and I was surprised that I never saw that book before. But when I became the Emir, I had access to it. It is a 300-page book, written by Captain J. R. Wilson-Haffenden and published by Oxford Academy London on January 1, 1931.
Bull game, which is one of the games associated with us by colonial masters, is a game that has to do with the bull (cows). And it may interest you to know that most of us, when you go to our houses, you will see us sleeping around our cows. If you go to my house in the GRA, you will see cows. Mostly when I sleep and I don't hear cows (moo), I may not feel complete (laughs).
These cultural activities hold us together and promote unity and love among us. Particularly, the local boxing promotes inter-marriage. Sometimes it is done at the city centre and also done from village to village. And champions oftentimes leave with new wives. So it is sign of unity.
How do you describe the impression being created about the Fulani people of Nigeria?
First and foremost, most people see us, the Fulani, as people that don't know about the past and about what they do. So, when they see a Fulani man, they want to cheat him. Two, many people believe it is the Fulani that bring conflict in the society or attack people. It is not true.
Mostly, bandits, those involved in kidnapping and stealing of cows, are the people causing problem in this country. But, unfortunately, Fulani people are castigated and tagged as trouble makers and bad people. That impression must change.
But why don't they come out to say "we are not what you call us"?
They don't talk because they don't have the means of speaking out (media) which is at the disposal of those who are painting them in bad light. And because of this, they cannot speak out about the wrongs being perpetrated against them. Whenever something bad happens, therefore, those who are out to paint them bad say it is Fulani.
For example, they will say "Suspected Fulani people and bandits". There were conflicts in Benue, Plateau and other parts of the country. You will not hear them say "Suspected Tiv people and bandits" or "Suspected Berom people and bandits" but only what you will hear is Fulani. Why linking Fulani with everything negative?
So, it is just unfortunate and I believe that, with time, people will realize the truth. And the truth has started coming out because, on several occasions, when arrests are made, you now see they are not Fulani.
Unfortunately, those who mischievously cause problems for Fulani would not turn round to correct themselves when those responsible for insecurity in Nigeria are exposed. They would rather retreat to come out with another crisis and still find a way to hang it on the Fulani. This is not how we can develop as a nation. We need love, mutual understanding, respect and economic cooperation to keep us going as one nation of great people.
That is the way to go, not for one tribe or religion to pick another and wrongfully castigate it to be hanged. It is a big problem and it is a major factor that led us to where we are until this government came and is now tackling that to its root.
Let's talk about the economic activities of the people of Keffi. What is the economy like?
The economy of our people is, first and foremost, trading in farm produce. Second, they engage in farming activities. You know most of us are peasant farmers. People come from far North to buy our farm produce. Across the country, a research was conducted and it was discovered that if you grow maize in Keffi and grow maize in Enugu, Benin or other parts of the country, the taste of maize that will be harvested in Keffi will be different from the one grown in Benin. And the quality of the maize is also different because, according to the research, the soil texture of the North-Central, particularly Nasarawa and Benue states, is the best in the country.
If you plant yam in Keffi and yam in Benin or Delta, if you taste both yams after harvest, you will find that, that of Keffi is sweeter because of the soil texture, and that, that of Benin is a little bit salty also because of the soil texture.
So, people come to buy our crops. Mostly, before they go down South or somewhere else to buy crops, they come to the North-Central to buy. It is when there is no longer crop in the North-Central that they go somewhere else to buy.
Even amid the conflict in the North-Central, because the nutrient in the grass of the North-Central is greater than the nutrient in the grass in other parts of Nigeria, everybody still comes here to graze.
It is now that researchers begin to realize why there is a lot of Fulani in the North-Central and also herdsmen/farmers' related conflicts in the zone.
Farmers are struggling for land with herders, not necessarily Fulani, because some people also have cows but are not Fulani. So, they are always struggling for grazing area while farmers also struggle for farmland.
The government of President Muhammadu Buhari, like in other ECOWAS countries where farm/grazing related conflicts exist, has made efforts to put ranching in place. But even some Fulani leaders fear whether herders would even accept the ranching idea, just as some people outside the economic arena of farm/grazing kick against the idea. Do you see ranching as the best solution?
Yes. It works in other places. I have seen where ranching has been adopted in other countries. It is only that we need to acquire the land and then prepare it for ranching. Second, we need to consciencitise the Fulani or whoever owns cows.
In fact, when you have ranch where the cows graze and they don't go far distance but are restricted to the ranch location, you find their meat is softer.
I don't get it. Do you mean that when cows do not move far distance, their meat is softer?
Very correct! Their meat is softer when they are confined to the ranch than when they move long distance and doing that makes their meat stronger. Of recent, the military acquired some land for ranching in Keffi and it is because of the belief that it pays.
Okay, between the cow with softer meat and that with stronger meat, which one is better for human consumption, talking about health?
When you eat cow meat that is softer, it is richer than the cow meat that is stronger.
That means ranching is better?
Of course, ranching is better and it is possible to achieve it here. But some of the cow owners don't have enough money to acquire land. That is the problem.
But the impression of the people down South is that government wanted to take their land and give to the Fulani?
Now, let me ask you from what you have said; how many people has government taken away their land and has given it to the Fulani for ranching in Nigeria? How many people? Can you tell me one?
I don't know of any.
(Laughs) Toh! You see, anything that is satanic easily spreads like wildfire.
Is one then correct to say that people should show understanding first in the way they look at issues particularly in this regard when government intervenes?
Of course! You are right. You see, sometimes some people just want to destabilize the community, the state or the whole country. All that you have seen happening is the handiwork of trouble makers because there exist trouble makers who are trouble entrepreneurs. They live on troubles and conflicts.
When you have crises, problems, killings, fights and other unrests, they benefit from them. So they promote the conflicts and it is very unfortunate.
Would you say government has done enough in tackling the conflicts or stopping the promoters of insecurity in the country?
The people in government are doing their best. It is just that the communities are not willing to cooperate. That is it. Government is doing its best truly. There is no doubt about that. They are trying, seriously speaking. But what is happening is too much for government. The people themselves have to play their own roles.
Have you seen anywhere a country is successful without participation by the people? There must be collaboration.
That is where I think the traditional institution has a role to play. What is the attitude of traditional rulers to this aspect of collaboration and participation to ensure security, peace and development?
The unfortunate situation is that we are not even recognized by the Constitution because we don't have functions stipulated in it. That is why there is too much conflict in the land.
So, you mean if the traditional institution is given constitutional power, the peace that government spends heavily on to achieve will be earned on a platter of gold?
Of course, they know it.
Knowing that the political class got their powers from the traditional institution, I do not believe they can just decide to neglect the institution and its vital roles in peace and development just like that?
Of course, not neglect. The thing is just that we are redundant. Just check the 1976 reform; it is not favourable at all. Look at the whole of Keffi, now, they say the Chairman of the Local Government is the Chief Security Officer. Some of them are very young with their youthful exuberance.
And some of them don't even have the wherewithal or technical know-how to handle security situation?
They are there because they are elected.
Any Emir in the North that you see must have been a prince before he becomes Emir. He must have lived with his father to see how he administers and runs the affairs of the Emirate. He grows up in it right from birth.
Now, tell me, whether if it is even a 10-year-old Emir you find, he would not rule better. He will rule better because he must have spent 10 years in the palace learning the ropes to see how things go on.
His Royal Highness is also a farmer, not just a small but a big farmer. What is the secret of your interest in farming?
Anyone who stays in the city, particularly Lagos, and does not move round the country may hardly know that Nigerians can actually produce what they eat, as said by President Buhari. Now, if just one person has what I can see here in your farm, we should not lack food as a people in this country. Ironically, some Nigerians still blame government for banning importation of rice. When you hear that and you remember the contribution of yourself as a single man, how does it sound to you seeing some Nigerians saying imported food must continue when, like the President says, we can produce what we eat in Nigeria?
All those querying the ban on importation because they say we don't have food in Nigeria are lazy people. Nigeria can feed the whole of Africa. It is just a matter of technical support and encouragement for our peasant farmers.
You know in those days we used to have extension services and there were farming competitions too. But all those services are not there today and we have a lot of agriculture officers around who need employment. If they are employed and assigned to work with peasant farmers, production will increase.
Although I have not said that the government people are not doing well, they are doing well. They just need collaboration with the communities.
In essence you are saying that the people should not leave all that is needed to be done to government alone and that government should enlist the cooperation of the people in achieving its set goals particularly in agriculture?
Yes, that is correct. People should not leave everything to government alone. They are the people that brought the government and so they must support the government.
How can you put people in government and then fold your arms saying, "Let them do everything for me"? It is not possible.
When you put somebody in the system, you have to support that person to succeed. If you see it as a challenge because you have elected somebody and he fails, it is not him that fails but you that elected him. When you know that you are going to fold your arms and watch him to fail, you are also a failure.
And if you don't want to be seen as a failure, whenever you put somebody in government, you must support him to succeed because, if his failure is also your failure, you should realize that his success is also going to be your own success because you will be seen as having the ability to put good person in government and only by your support he can achieve that.
Finally, finally... (Laughs)
Yes because I don't want to take much of your time. I must tell you that the level of respect that is accorded to the traditional rulers in the North by their governments and people is a matter of interest to the rest of the country, so much so that, no matter what effort anybody thinks he can make to break the resolve of the northern people to unite behind their traditional leaders, it would never work. Is there anything that is not known to the rest of us about monarchy in northern Nigeria?
You see, one thing that people don't know about the traditional institution is that it is ordained by God.
God has said that we should follow our leaders. He says, "Respect me and respect my prophet and respect those in authority among you". In another place, He says respect your parents and respect your leaders.
Normally, even in the lifestyle of Prophet Muhammad, he was always telling the Ummah who a leader is and that a leader shows direction. The Prophet showed direction to the Muslim world at that time and that direction, up till today, guides the affairs of the Ummah. So, Emirs in the North show direction to their people, although I had never thought of becoming Emir until I came to this throne.
In fact, I was in the United Nations when I lost my father, then sitting Emir of Keffi, His Royal Highness Alhaji Muhammadu Chindo Yamusa II. I was there delivering a paper on renewable energy. I was to come back but, unfortunately, despite all I did my best to attend his funeral, it was not possible because of the nature of our religion; you cannot continue to keep his body because a son was not around. And it took two, three days before I came back.
I was thinking that even if I would be Emir, somebody would be there before me because there was never a situation where the son of an Emir succeeded his father directly or immediately after him. This is the first time it is happening. I thank God for giving me such opportunity and I will do my best because, when your people decided to appoint you and you deny it, then, you are denying your religion.