By Emeka Mamah, Soni Daniel, Northern Region Editor, Dapo Akinrefon, Gbenga Oke & Peter Duru
•You’re blaming victims instead of the aggressors — Benue govt, Afenifere
•It’s an attempt to clamp down on politicians —Fayose
•Name politicians, states involved —Taraba govt
•They should show us enough proof — Mohammed
LAGOS—Benue, Taraba and Ekiti state governments, yesterday, reacted angrily to claims by Acting Director of Information, Defence Headquarters, Brig Gen. John Agim, that politicians were using thugs as herdsmen to cause attacks on communities across the country.
Same reactions from Yoruba socio-political organisation, Afenifere, its counterpart in the South East, Ohanaeze Ndigbo, and Second Republic lawmaker, Junaid Mohammed, also trailed the claim.
These reactions came as Southern and Middle Belt Leaders Forum, yesterday, called on President Muhammadu Buhari to rejig his security apparatus in order to earn the confidence of all communities in Nigeria, with a view to stopping the killings in the country.
It also drew immediate reactions from Benue, Ekiti and Taraba state governments as well as Yoruba socio-political organisation, Afenifere; Second Republic lawmaker, Junaid Mohammed and apex Igbo Socio-political organisation, Ohanaeze Ndigbo, who all challenged the Defence Headquarters to show proof of the allegation.
Agim had said in an interview granted a national newspaper, weekend, that some politicians were sponsoring thugs as herdsmen to attack communities.
However, against the backdrop of the killings in the country, Southern and Middle Belt Leaders Forum, yesterday, called on President Muhammadu Buhari to rejig his security apparatus in order to earn the confidence of all communities in Nigeria.
The forum also for the second time in a week, reiterated the call of a vote of no confidence in Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, Prof Mahmood Yakubu even as it called for his suspension.
In a communique by Yinka Odumakin (South West), Senator Bassey Henshaw (South South), Prof Chigozie Ogbu (South East) and Dr Isuwa Dogo (Middle Belt), entitled: ‘Our Case against 2019 Elections Preparations, the forum said: “We are equally not comfortable with the impunity and gross lopsidedness of appointments into the security architecture of the country and going into election season.
“What special services have the three main Chiefs (Service Chiefs) rendered to the defence system for the President to keep them in office if not that they may be used for partisan roles? How would all sections of the country have confidence in the security arrangement for elections when 16 out of 17 security heads are from a section of the country?
“We demand that the President should reconstitute the security apparatus so as to earn the confidence of all communities in Nigeria.”
The forum said it lacked confidence in the INEC chairman “whose conduct over the scandal of underage voters in Kano has shown a gross betrayal of public trust.”
Reviewing preparations towards 2019 elections, the forum faulted the INEC chairman’s refusal to investigate the Kano underage voters scandal.
The statement read further: “We demand the immediate release of INEC report on the Kano underage voters scandal.
“Interrogation of the Voters Registry by a Judicial Commission with representatives from international and local elections observers to check cases of underage voters and foreign mercenaries before the 2019 elections. This is very necessary as INEC cannot be a judge in its own cause.
“The probe should also be extended to the fake INEC results centre discovered in Rivers State last year and the printing press responsible which has since been swept under the carpet.
“We also demand the suspension of the current INEC chairman while the investigation is on to prevent intervention with the probe.”
Benue State govt
Reacting to Defence Headquarters’ statement, Special Adviser to Benue State Governor on Media and Publicity, Tahav Agerzua, said: “In case of Benue, on May 30, 2017, Miyetti Allah Kautal Hore held a press conference in Abuja and they said that the crisis in Benue was a struggle for the natural resources of the Benue Valley, that they would mobilize their kith and kin across the world to invade the state, take over the land after eliminating all the inhabitants.
“The governor, the House of Assembly and leaders of the state wrote a petition to the Presidency and all the relevant agencies but nothing was done.
“This people are regarded as sacred cows, so from January this year, that is what they have been doing in Benue State. So it is clear to us that the attacks in the state that started since 2010 are a well organised plan to take over the land of the state.
“The statement by the Defence Headquarters is an attempt to change the narratives of blaming the victims instead of the aggressors. And if you check Fulani history, all the places they are currently occupying now, is it Sokoto, Katsina, Kebbi and the rest were occupied by the local people but they went and took over the land.
“From their antecedents, this is what they had been doing. And I recall vividly that the ‘World Terrorism Index’ has rated herdsmen militia as the fourth most deadly.
“So from the statement of the Defence Ministry, from the Inspector General of Police and the Chief of Army Staff, these people are accomplices. They are supporting the herdsmen in their agenda to conquer and occupy Benue territory.”
Also reacting, Governor Ayodele Fayose of Ekiti State picked holes in the Defence Headquarters’claim, saying it could be an attempt to clamp down on some politicians.
Fayose, who spoke through his Special Assistant on Public Communications and New Media, Mr. Lere Olayinka, said: “What kind of statement is that? Why have they not been able to arrest the thugs? What are they waiting for? They should go after the thugs.
“A lot of stories have been told about these herdsmen. First, they said the herdsmen came from Libya, also, the Minister of Defence said the anti-grazing law was responsible for the killings.
“We should look beyond this statement; it could be an attempt to clamp down on some politicians. Are politicians responsible for the killings in Benue, Taraba and Kaduna states? They should tell us another story.”
In its reaction, Taraba State government challenged the Defence headquarters to name the politicians and the states involved in sponsoring thugs to attack communities under the guise of herdsmen.
Senior Special Assistant on Media and Publicity to the Governor, Mr. Bala Dan Abu, said the accusation was baseless and aimed at diverting public attention from the failure of the military to rein in the ferocious attackers unleashed on some states in the North Central and North East.
Abu said the military was still being haunted by the earlier accusation of bias and covert support they had been giving to herdsmen to attack some communities in the state levelled against them by former Defence Minister, Gen. Theophilus Danjuma, retd.
The spokesman accused the military of being either negligent or biased in their operation and asked for a change.
Abu said, “They are the accused and cannot sit in their judgement. What Gen. Danjuma said is still haunting them and they need to repent from lopsided support to some groups to attack innocent persons and communities in Taraba State.
“If they are serious, let them name those states and politicians arming herdsmen as thugs to attack or set up an independent probe into the attacks. They cannot be a judge in their own case.”
In its reaction, the pan-Yoruba socio-political organisation, Afenifere, faulted the Defence headquarters, saying it was an attempt to change the narratives.
Afenifere’s National Publicity Secretary, Mr. Yinka Odumakin said: “Do they think that we have cow brains? They are planning to change the narratives because killings have been going on for several months now.
:”Meytti Allah has even admitted why there are killings. The Defence Minister at some point said there are killings because grazing routes have been blocked. Because we are moving towards elections, they are changing the narratives and bringing this kind of thought out arrangements, it is too ridiculous to be true.
“If Nigerians allow those who are in power now to come back in 2019, they will lose so many years. All they are doing is to change the narratives and to tell lies.”
The Eastern Consultative Assembly, ECA, has said that the statement by the Defence Headquarters blaming the constant killing of Nigerians across the nation by herdsmen as not only demeaning but ridiculing to both the Presidency and the entire gamut of the security services in the country.
Secretary of ECA, Evangelist Elliot Ugochukwu-Uko, made this known while reacting the statement on the issue by the Defence Headquarters, yesterday.
Ugochukwu-Uko said the killing of Nigerians by herdsmen would have escalated but for the scolding of President Buhari by the American President, Donald Trump, when the latter received the former in audience last month.
“The lies started when Buhari blamed late Muammar Gadaffi of Libya over the killing of people in Taraba, Benue, Kogi, Enugu and Adamawa among others. Buhari said Gadaffi trained and equipped the foreigners who were killing Nigerians across the country on daily basis.
“As at today, the herdsmen have sacked over 7000 Nigerians from their homes.
“Later, the Minister of Defence, like the Inspector General of Police, said it was because of the anti-open grazing law passed by some states Houses of Assembly. Now, the Defence Headquarters has said it is politicians who employ thugs who disguise as herdsmen.
“All these lies are coming and even the herdsmen had accepted responsibility. There are four different answers from officials of this government on one issue and all of them are cheap lies. Otherwise, why would the Defence Headquarters launder the image of herdsmen for them?”
On his part, Second Republic lawmaker, Dr. Junaid Mohammed, said the Defence headquarters should provide Nigerians with proof rather than giving narratives.
Mohammed said: “When the security agencies in this country tell you this kind of stories, there is need to tread carefully. Though I cannot rule out such developments because Nigerian politicians are reckless and irresponsible but the information given so far by the Defence headquarters are not credible enough for us to believe their story. Until I get the proof or evidence, no one should tell me this kind of rubbish.”
Military should bury its head in shame —Ohanaeze
Reacting, Igbo apex body, Ohanaeze Ndigbo, said the military should bury its head in shame for blaming politicians for the menace of herdsmen attacks instead of dealing with the ugly trend squarely.
In a statement in Abakaliki, Eboyin State, by the National Publicity Secretary, Prince Uche Okpagha, it wondered why the military was not matching the herdsmen menace fire for fire.
It said: “It is unfortunate that the Nigerian Military known for its epic gallantry has suddenly become grossly enmeshed in unprofessional act of playing politics with security. Nigerians are not interested in media propaganda. Instead, they are concerned that the military is not matching the herdsmen fire for fire.
“How can the military be telling us that politicians are sponsoring their thugs as herdsmen? That is supposed to be a confidential security matter. Why are they not going for the politicians? How many of the thugs have been arrested either? Perhaps, we should clap for the military on that “good” information.
“Every day, everywhere they are looking for innocent and armless lPOB youths to gun down but the dare devil herdsmen are unleashing unthinkable genocide on Nigerians and the excuse of the Military is that they are being sponsored by politicians. The military should bury its head in shame if it has no answer to the herdsmen menaces.”