By Peter Duru, Makurdi
While the entire world continues to raise concerns over the killings carried out in parts of Benue State by suspected militant herdsmen, indications have emerged that an end to the killings may not be in sight.
Events of the last few weeks may have shown that the outburst of emotions and outrage that had trailed the killings may not change the course of the groups the government and people of Benue State had fingered in the butchery that had become an almost daily occurrence.
This fear was expressed by tribal leaders in the state under the aegis of the Mdzough U Tiv, Idoma National Forum and Omi Ny’Igede, at the end of an emergency meeting held in Makurdi. The meeting was chaired by the President General of Mdzough U Tiv, Chief Edward.
The tribal leaders said they were worried over a communiqué jointly issued by several groups of pastoralists who met in Kaduna.
The pastoralists meeting was said to have had in attendance the representatives of Miyetti Allah Kautal Hore Fulani Socio- cultural Association; Tabital Pulaaku Nigeria Chapter; Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association of Nigeria (MACBAN); Mobgal Fulbe Development Association; Gam Allah Fulani Development Association; Fulani Title Holders Association; Pastoral Resolve (PARE), and Jonde Jam Fulani Youth Association.
The Benue tribal leaders picked holes in the communiqué of the pastoralists’ said meeting, saying it conveyed a message by the different herdsmen groups to sustain attacks and bloodbath in Benue communities.
The tribal leaders’ grouse is with a part of the communiqué, as published in newspapers, which read, “We (pastoralists) totally reject the repressive and oppressive ‘Anti-open Grazing Law’ of Benue State as it is fundamentally going against our culture, economic interest and constitutional rights and we will deploy all the necessary legal means as enshrined in our constitution to challenge it.
“We are appealing to His Excellency, President Muhammadu Buhari to call Governor Samuel Ortom to order as his actions are a fundamental threat to peaceful coexistence and food security in Nigeria.”
Ujege, who spoke on behalf of the tribal leaders, stated that the position of the pastoralists and their leaders was clear and unambiguous in their justification of the wanton killings and destruction of property in Benue since the beginning of the year after they had, through several press conferences, threatened to resist the Open Grazing Prohibition Law in the state which came into effect last November 1.
“We wish to point out that the leaders of Miyetti Allah cannot and should not continue to use the enactment of the Anti-open Grazing Law in Benue as an excuse to justify the killing of defenceless farmers and other members of the society in Benue”, the spokesperson for the tribal leaders said.
“The killings by Fulani herdsmen in Nigeria are not restricted to Benue where anti-open grazing law has been enacted. The herdsmen killings cut across Nasarawa, Taraba, Adamawa, Kogi, Plateau, Kaduna, Edo, Ondo, Enugu and other states where the law does not exist.
“It must also be noted that the killings in Benue, particularly, started as far back as 2010 before the anti-open grazing law was enacted Benue State House of Assembly late last year.
“We maintain that it is sheer mischief for the leaders of Miyetti Allah to ask President Muhammadu Buhari to call Governor Samuel Ortom to order, because the anti-open grazing law was not made by Ortom.
“The grazing law was a product of the people of Benue through their democratically elected representatives as a last resort in their futile efforts to find peace and ensure security of lives and property in the state.
“It is unfortunate that the leaders of Myetti Allah have deliberately chosen to use Ortom as a scapegoat in their ethnic cleansing agenda in Benue. For, as his public service record would show, Ortom is an extremely peaceful and God-fearing governor who is only doing the will of his people”.
‘Law does not stultify culture’
The tribal leaders pointed out that the Benue anti-open grazing law does not stultify the culture, movement or economic interests of any person or group of persons, including members of the Miyetti Allah Kautal Hore Fulani Association. “That is, why up till now, a good number of herders, including Fulani, Hausa and other groups with good intentions, still reside peacefully in Benue”, Ujege stated.
“The Benue State law for the prohibition of anti-open grazing and establishment of ranches has, indeed, been justified by the National Economic Council (NEC), chaired by Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, which endorsed ranching and directed that there should be no more open grazing of cattle in Benue, Plateau, Nasarawa, Kaduna and Taraba states.
“The Buhari administration’s failure to declare the killer Fulani herdsmen as terrorists and prosecute the Miyetti Allah Kautal Hore Fulani Socio-Cultural Association that has allegedly incited genocide and ethnic cleansing of Benue people, particularly the Tiv race, has given us cause for concern.
“This is because of the fact that they had invited all herdsmen from around West and Central Africa to converge on Benue State and vowed to use all means available to visit mayhem on Benue people.
“This open threat, we believe, has led to the killing of 73 persons in Guma and Logo local government areas of Benue on January 2, 2018 and the subsequent murder of two Catholic priests and 17 worshipers at Mbalom parish in Gwer East local government area of the state last month.”
The tribal leaders maintained that despite the presence of security personnel in parts of the state, marauders have continued to unleash mayhem on Benue communities.
“Let it be known that the killings are still on-going, at an average of two persons per day, although most of these killings are not being reported”, Ujege said.
“We categorically state that the position of the Miyetti Allah Kautal Hore Fulani Association, as contained in their communiqué after an emergency meeting in Kaduna, clearly constitutes the height of lawlessness, impunity and terrorism, which must not be condoned by the Federal Government of Nigeria.
“The same Constitution of Nigeria they are quoting also provides that every state in the country has the right to enact laws for the good governance of her people. Miyetti Allah has no right whatsoever to threaten the implementation of the anti-open grazing and provision of ranches law in Benue.
“We must not forget nor shy away from expressing our fears about the impression being created, latent or apparent, that the Miyetti Allah has become the mouth piece of the Federal Government.
“How else do we explain the body language of the government through statements by its highly placed officials including the Chief of Army Staff, Inspector-General of Police, Minister of Defence, and even, President Muhammadu Buhari himself, in the face of the herdsmen killings in Benue?
“We and indeed, other concerned Nigerians, are yet to come to terms with the Inspector-General’s false and misleading assertion that the killings in Benue were as a result of communal clashes.
“What about the declaration, by the Defence Minister, that the anti-open grazing law in Benue was the cause of the Fulani killings? Why would the Chief of Army Staff advice Governor Ortom to review the anti-open grazing law to make for harmonious living by the various groups in the state?
“Then President Buhari told the world during his recent visit to America that those responsible for the killings in the Benue and other parts of the Middle Belt were Libyans who were armed by the late Gadhafi?
“We also wish to renew our demand for the arrest and prosecution of the leadership of the National President of Miyetti Allah Kautal Fulani Socio-Cultural Association, Alhaji Abdullahi Bello Bodejor, the Secretary, Engr Saleh Alhassan and Garus Gololo, for threatening to resist the implementation of the anti-open grazing law in the state.”
‘Operation Whirl Stroke’
The tribal leaders also appealed to the security operatives of the recently launched military spike operation in the state code named ‘Operation Whirl Stroke’ to execute the task of restoring normalcy to the troubled communities of the state with a view to creating a conducive environment in such communities to enable the over 200,000 displaced persons in the state to return to their ancestral homes.
“It is only when that is done and the people are able to go back to their farms in order to avert a looming crisis in the state and our children are able to return to school, that we will score the operation high and also justify their presence in the state,” Ujege said.
They insisted that the call and agitation by several sections of the country for the restructuring of the Nigeria shouldn’t be swept under the carpet by the present administration in view of the security challenge facing the country.
Speaking on the bill sent to the National Assembly by the Federal Government to regulate water resources in the country, the tribal leaders cautioned against the move, saying it endangers the peace and unity of the country.