•Make case for arrest, trial of herdsmen leaders
•Insist on restructuring Nigeria; 73 killed in Benue buried
•We’ll raise one-million-man army to defend Benue – Unongo
Enugu —Politicians, traditional rulers and other stakeholders from the South South, South West, Middle Belt and South East, yesterday, urged the Federal Government to declare Miyetti Allah a terrorist organisation.
They also called for the restructuring of the country along regional lines to ensure growth and development of the country, and accused President Muhammadu Buhari of spearheading the anti-restructuring posture.
This came on a day the 73 persons killed by Fulani herdsmen in Benue State on New Year day were buried in Makurdi, with elder statesman, Paul Unongo declaring that the people of the state would raise a million-man army to defend themselves, if the federal government failed to defend the people from marauding herdsmen.
This is even as Governor Simeon Lalong of Plateau State, said yesterday that if the Governor Samuel Ortom of Benue State had heeded his advice not to enact the anti-open grazing law, the recent genocide carried out in five communities in the state by suspected herdsmen would not have occurred.
The leaders warned that if the country was not restructured before the 2019 general elections, Nigeria might be heading for disintegration.
They spoke at a ceremony marking beginning of the relationship among the Yoruba, Igbo and the Middle Belt in the country.
“We hereby ask the Federal Government to proscribe Miyetti Allah and declare the group and members terrorists. Anything outside restructuring is insincerity,” the leaders said.
They also observed a minute silence for General Aguiyi Ironsi, Col Francis Fajuyi and the 73 persons, including two Igbo men, who were killed by Fulani herdsmen in Benue.
The theme of the meeting was “Handshake Across The Niger: A celebration of Igbo/ Yoruba Friendship Beyond Brotherhood; An Nzuko Umunna Initiative.”
The roll call
Among those who spoke on the occasion were Governor Ayo Fayose of Ekiti State; President General of Ohanaeze Ndigbo, Chief Nnia Nwodo; Yoruba leaders such as Chiefs Olu Falae, Ayo Adebanjo and Prof Banji Akintoye; former governors of Plateau and Ondo states, Jonah Jang and Dr Olusegun Mimiko respectively as well as the Deputy Senate President, Senator Ike Ekweremadu, who was represented by Senator Enyinnaya Abaribe.
Others in attendance included former Minister of Aviation, Chief Femi Fani-Kayode; former governor of Anambra State, Dr Chukwuemeka Ezeife; Admiral Ndubisi Kanu (retd), Chief Sonibare, Sen Kofo Bucknor-Akerele, Fola Doherty, Chief Kentebe, Amb Eddie Onuoha, Chief D. Douglas, representative of Ooni of Ife, Oba Adedapo; former Secretary of defunct OMPADEC, Albert Nnamani; representative of Niger Delta leader, Edwin Clark- former Military Governor Ewang; Deputy Governor of Imo State, Chief Eze Madumere, representing Gov. Rochas Okorocha; Vice Chancellor of the Godfrey Okoye University, Enugu, Rev Fr Prof Anieke; Ohanaeze Chairman in Enugu State, Chief Alex Ogbonna; Sen Mao Ohuabunwa, former Deputy Governor of Ebonyi State, Prof Chigozie Ogbu; Sen Chris Anyanwu, Jimi Akintoye, Chief Ifeanyi Ubah and ace Musician, Onyeka Onwenu, who sang her popular – ‘One Love’ track which the dignitaries danced to.
Prof Banji Akintoye said late Chief Obafemi Awolowo told him to work for Yoruba/ Igbo unity in 1984, shortly after he was released from detention.
The leaders accused President Buhari of allegedly turning a blind eye to the killing and maiming of Nigerians in Benue, Plateau, Kwara, and Kaduna states as well as other parts of the country, while unarmed members of the Indigenous People of Biafra, IPOB, were allegedly killed by soldiers for organising peaceful demonstrations.
Chief Fani- Kayode, who represented both Governor Fayose and Gani Adams said President Buhari would not restructure the country unless he was pushed to do so, and urged Nigerians not to always expect that they would do things that were politically correct if they wished to achieve their aim.
“In this country, we have those regarded as slaves and the vassals. The sufferings of the people of the South East is something we should all be ashamed of in this country.
‘’The Igbo lost over one million children during the civil war. They killed 300 military officers of Igbo extraction in one night and killed Aguiyi Ironsi and Col Francis Fajuiyi same day.
“They killed over 100,000 pregnant Igbo women. They killed Chief M.K.O Abiola for insisting on his mandate…,” he said.
Jonah Jang said the 1999 Constitution now in use in the country was written by the military and called for a new people’s constitution for Nigerians.
Highlights of the occasion included joint photographs by Yoruba and Igbo leaders, with both the General Aguiyi Ironsi and Col Francis Fajuyi families to cement the friendships of Igbo/ Yoruba and the Middle Belt.
However, Pro-Biafra members made up of mostly elderly women, cautioned against the demand for restructuring, saying they wanted a separate country, having been tired of Nigeria’s wobbles and injustices.
Their voices rented the venue, overshadowing that of Ohaenaze Ndigbo’s president, Chief Nnia Nwodo , who was making his remarks.
Chairman of the Local Organising Committee, Chief Ifeanyi Ubah, had a hectic time calming the agitators but announced that the pro-Biafra members would be given time to express their anger against last year’s Operation Python Dance.
The full text of the communique signed by President of Ohanaeze Ndigbo, Chuief Nnia Nwodo, and Chief Ayo Adebanjo for Yoruba socio-cultural and political organisation, Afenifere, read: ‘’After today’s (yesterday) meeting of all strata of persons of Igbo and Yoruba origins in Enugu, the erstwhile capital of Eastern Nigeria, the conferees, comprising leaders of the South West (SW), South East (SE), the South South (SS) the Middle Belt (MB) made several observations and resolved as follows:
‘’Noted the immense strength of Igbo-Yoruba close affinities of kinship and brotherhood, shared origins and cultural/ethical values, a common world view and inherent love of freedom and justice;
“Noted that the Hand Shake Across the Niger (HSAN), anchored on the heroism of Major General J.T.U. Aguiyi Ironsi and Lt. Col. Adekunle Fajuyi, though long overdue, has finally burst the myth of Igbo-Yoruba irreconcilable differences and spiteful rivalry, thus, providing new impetus for resurgence of the same bold, patriotic and nationalist solidarity of the two ethnic groups from the 1930s to the 1950s that earned independence for Nigeria in 1960;
‘’Noted that in a long history of close relations and association, the Igbo and Yoruba have no recorded instances of violence against each other’s ethnic group, such as inter-ethnic mass killings and destruction and/or seizure of property; that instead, they have lived, worked and prospered together, accommodating and respecting their differences;
‘’Expressed awareness that grievances generated by past errors on both sides can no longer justify or sustain dissension between the two groups whose solidarity and mutual collaboration have the capacity to dramatically change the fortunes of Nigeria, thereby also, changing the fates of the African continent and the black race;
‘’Noted that the HS (Handshake) has brought about a new dawn of irreversible amity in the horizon of Igbo-Yoruba relations, that they have today declared time-up for, and permanently buried, the hatchet of distrust and spiteful rivalry, leading to a credible tipping-point of optimism and opportunity in realizing the destiny of Nigeria as a start-up nation-state that can achieve great things.
Decisions and Commitments
As a consequence of the fore-going, the conferees arrived at the following decisions and commitments:
‘’Decided to collaborate closely to create mutually beneficial opportunities, build a strong alliance to advance their ever growing mutual interests, while striving together to meet the common responsibilities of building a united, coherent and prosperous nation – state of free peoples, freely relating to one another across the dividing lines of tribe, religion, region and politics;
“Declared unflinching support for a truly federal union of Nigeria that is democratic, stable, secure, peaceful, just and fair to all its citizens.
‘’Committed to work in close partnership and through peaceful means to restructure Nigeria, reducing and restricting the duties of the federal government to only matters of national import on the exclusive list, while granting the federating units the right to take full responsibility for local, developmental and residual matters.
‘’This will lead to healthy competition and cooperation among the federating units, in place of the present dysfunctional arrangement that merely superintends over the sharing and consuming of rents, and holds some states and zones down for others to play the elusive game of catch-up;
“Committed to insistence therefore, on peaceful devolution of powers, fiscal federalism, land/resource ownership/control, reforming component structural and systemic institutions to radically reduce the escalating cost of governance;
‘’Committed to working tirelessly towards joining the economically-performing nations – China, India, Brazil, Israel, Singapore, South Korea, Malaysia and Thailand etc. – not as a dependent state, but a competitive producer and exporter of knowledge-based goods and services;
‘’Committed to immediate implementation of pro-federalism recommendations of the 2014 National Conference, in particular those affecting the efficiency of governance.
The way forward.
‘’We believe that the fore-going measures will reposition Nigeria to reach credible nationhood, attain its full potential and respect in the community of nations, thereby enabling us to effectively lead the campaign for the political and economic renaissance of Africa and the black race – the very goals for which the Zik of Africa and the sage Chief Awolowo and a host of other founding nationalists lived and sacrificed so much. The conferees of the HS have therefore:
‘’i] Decided that today’s Hand Shake (HS) is not a one off event, but only the first of a progressive and continuous re-socialization project that will, in short order, reach out to embrace other compatriots in the South South (SS), Middle Belt [MB], North Central (NC) North East (NE) and North West (NW) zones of the country;
‘’ii] Decided therefore, to establish a standing Joint Action Committee to drive this process, and to continually articulate fresh ideas and strategies to sustain the current zeal and momentum of mutual understanding and collaborative actions aimed at resuscitating Nigeria politically and economically in order to position her to earn her rightful place among the contending nations in the world.
‘’The composition and mandate of the Joint Committee and its sub-committees, along with the full report of today’s Hand Shake, will be posted in due course.’’
73 persons get mass burial in Benue
Also, yesterday, the 73 persons killed by suspected herdsmen in Guma and Logo local government areas of Benue State on New Year day were buried in Makurdi, with a warning from Wanaregh Paul Unongo that the people of the state would raise a one-million-man army to defend themselves if the federal government failed to defend the people from marauding herdsmen.
The former Minister of Steel, who spoke at the funeral service held for the victims in Makurdi said: “If the people we voted for cannot defend us, we will teach our people how to defend themselves.
“We cannot accept anybody coming to our state to kill our children, our wives and rape our children. We will not allow it again.
“I serve a notice to the leaders of this country and we are saying enough is enough, if the government cannot defend us in two weeks, we can raise our army to defend us. We are not going to allow this to happen again in our land and watch helplessly.”
Also, Governor Ortom reiterated his call for the arrest of the leadership of Miyetti Allah Kautal Hore for their complicity in the killings.
Ortom said: “If those responsible for this heinous and dastardly killing of our people are allowed to walk free, it then means some people are above the law.
“If the law is not respected and enforced, anarchy will set in and we all know what that means, that is why we are urging the federal government to do the needful in this matter.”
Ortom, who took his reading from the book of Roman 12:19, urged the people to refrain from reprisal attacks, assuring that God would revenge the death of the deceased.
Gen. Lawrence Onoja, retd, said: “What we see happening in Benue State today is a genocidal conspiracy hatched in the highest places against Benue State.
I’m ready to command one-million-man army in Benue —Onoja
“I align myself with the proposal by Elder Unongo, if we get to the position of raising an army I don’t mind commanding that army so long as Benue State is protected.
“I, therefore, urge the federal government to come to Benue and replicate the ‘Operation Python Dance’ that was introduced in the South East to address the herdsmen killings in our state.’’
On his part, former Governor George Akume lamented that the sanctity of human life was being violated by herdsmen and nothing was being done by the federal government to stem the tide.
He maintained that those responsible for the killings in Benue were terrorists and should be treated as such by the federal government.
The paramount ruler of Tiv tribe, His Majesty Professor James Ayatse, called for an end to the killings in the state, warning that the people would no longer watch while invaders gruesomely murder their loved ones.
On his part, the United Nations Country Coordinator in Nigeria, Dr. Martins Ejidike, called on the federal government to ensure that the killings were investigated and the masterminds brought to Justice.
Dr. Ejidike said: “The victims have been deprived of the most fundamental of human right which is the right to life and it is regrettable.”
The country coordinator assured that the world body would muster resources to provide assistance to the over 60,000 persons displaced as a result of the crisis.
In his funeral oration, the Bishop of Gboko Catholic Diocese, Most Reverend Williams Avenya, lamented that the victims suffered gruesome murder due to the failure of the federal government to provide adequate security for the helpless.
“We must caution that this culture of impunity in our land must be brought to an end, because Benue had been under siege for a very long time; I pray that the death of these heroes will bring peace to the land.
“But I must state that the lack of ability of the government to protect the citizens casts doubt on whether we have a government in the country at all.”
I warned Ortom against anti open grazing law
Meanwhile, Governor Simon Lalong of Plateau State has said the recent killings in Benue State would not have occurred had his colleague in Benue State, Samuel Ortom, heeded his advice not to enact the anti-open grazing law.
He also said he welcomed the Federal Government’s proposal of establishing colonies in states to curtail the unnecessary conflicts between farmers and herdsmen.
The governor disclosed this in an interview with State House correspondents after meeting with President Muhammadu Buhari at the Presidential Villa, Abuja.
Commenting on the massacre of over 73 people and destruction of property allegedly by the Fulani herdsmen and why he did not advise his colleague, Governor Ortom, on the inherent danger in the law, Lalong said he cautioned Ortom against it.
He said: “To be honest with you I did. I told the governor of Benue when he was doing the law, I said look, why don’t you tread softly, just be careful, take other steps before you start implementation.
“But you see, states are different. His own concepts are different and for us on the Plateau, is different. I said I will not do the law before implementation. I have not developed the ranching areas so I cannot go and say I put a law to stop who? If I stop the people, what is the alternative.
“So I said do consultations to allow the people understand and buy into the concepts.”
Why Plateau can’t implement anti open grazing law
“I can’t implement anti-grazing law. There are levels of implementation which will require government’s intervention, provision of ranches and when you are talking of ranching, it is a component of agriculture business, you will also require subsidy.
“Subsidy must come from federal and state governments and by the time we develop it and put every structure on ground, then we can bring laws to regulate the implementation. So, I don’t want to jump one step before the other.”
On n his understanding of the Federal Government’s proposed establishment of cattle colonies, Lalong said they meant the same thing, only that one was bigger in size.
He said: “For me, any time I hear anything about agriculture, I don’t jump into conclusions, I go and study it. Yesterday (Wednesday) I was at the federal ministry with my agricultural team, commissioner and others, we spent almost five hours because I said they must convince me and explain to me what colony is so that when I go back just like I did with ranching, I will go and tell my people that this is the concept. When I had the briefing with them, I was convinced about colony.
“They said the difference between colony and ranches is that one is bigger than the other. You get a very big field, you get investors, demarcate the area, somebody will ranch bees, somebody will ranch goats, somebody will ranch cattle but government will develop the place, put grasses, water and anybody who is coming in must pay.
“You cannot go and force any land, it is voluntary land that government has. For me in Plateau, we have two large areas already, that is the concept.
“So, they are saying they are going to visit the place as part of the solution to farmers/herdsmen clashes in my state.
“When Plateau wanted anti-grazing law and I asked against who and they said against a particular tribe. And I said, tell me, who in Plateau is not into open grazing. Seventeen local governments, we are all into open grazing.
“It’s either you are grazing cattle, goat, sheep, or even chicken because the law will protect and restrict the movement of all these animals; there are general livestock. If you are talking of this thing, we will take a holistic approach in preparing for implementation.
“When you do that with a lot of consultation like we have done in Plateau… when I got back I heard the Fulani are moving from state to state sensitizing their people on the need to embrace ranching.”
On the insinuations that providing colony was a way of pampering the herdsmen, he said: “Let me tell you, nobody said ranching is only for Fulani herdsmen. Like I said in Plateau, ranching is everybody’s business. Many youths, thousands of graduates have registered and ready to go into that business. It is everybody’s business.
“We must help the federal government to find ways of addressing issues because agriculture is not just agriculture now, it is now a means of diversification.
“If you have to diversify, it is serious business for everyone, it’s not for a tribe. So, I said if we have to encourage people to go into ranching, I will not use the word anti.”