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PLATEAU MASSACRE: Our story, by Miyetti Allah

•We now have a lead on killings – Istifanus Dung Gyan, lawmaker representing attacked villages
•MACABAN responding to pressure – Afenifere spokesperson

By Olalekan Bilesanmi

Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association, MACBAN’s National Secretary, Baba Othman Ngelzarma, has insisted that his group has nothing to do with last week’s massacre in Plateau State’ villages which claimed more than 100 lives. Nzelzarma’s position came against the backdrop of the claim by the MACABAN Chairman (North Central Zone), Danladi Ciroma, who said the killings were in retaliation for the rustling of 300 cows in the attacked communities. Ngelzarma spoke on a day Hon. Istifanus Dung Gyan, representing Markin Ladi/Riyon Federal Constituency, Plateau State, and specifically the villages where the massacre took place, said a lead may have been provided on the killings.   Mr Yinka Odumakin, Afenifere spokesperson, on his part, described the MACABAN’s National Secretary’s statement as responding to pressure from Nigerians. Excerpts from interviews:

What do you make of the statement by your Zonal Chairman in the North Central that the latest killings in Plateau were retaliatory for the rustling of cows?

Ngelzarma: The statement made by our Zonal Chairman is not our position. He was not mandated in any way to represent the national body of the association. To that extent, we consider that as his personal opinion because that is not the position of Miyetti Allah. Up till now, we have not made public our position. Before we release a position on an issue as sensitive as this one, we have to call a meeting of the executive council, discuss, analyse and get inputs from our branch in Plateau State before telling the world our position.

You are saying it is a matter of hierarchy now but if that is the statement he made which you described as his personal opinion, is it not possible that it reflects the mind-set of the followers?

Not in anyway. Before he speaks, he has to carry along the state branch. When did he make the statement? The day after the crisis! At the said time, the state branch had not been given time to analyse the issues surrounding the massacre. So we don’t how he jumped to make this nasty, horrible statement. This is not the position of the association. The only people who are authorised to speak on issues of this nature to the public are the National President, my humble self as the National Secretary and the Public Relations Officer of the association after clearance by the EXCO. Look at how many were killed in this carnage. We do not support this type of thing. We don’t condone it. It is condemnable. We condemn it in all ramifications. We know the good work the governor is doing and sympathise with him. He has invested a lot in peace in three years. He has almost succeeded in bringing peace. See how the Fulani and the Berom are working together in the mining fields, in business before this crisis. The crisis is taking us back to where we started building peace.

While you attribute this to personal opinion, the reality of the matter is that those who carried out the latest killings appeared like those who have been wreaking havoc in Plateau in recent times. In view of that, what is your response to those who say that Mr Danladi Ciroma should be invited by the DSS to tell what he might know on Plateau at the moment?

Security agencies have a responsibility and they have a way of doing their work. All our hopes are on the security agencies to end the killings in the country because, as I always say, our members are also affected considering what took place in so many places, from Demboro down to Kasa. Look at what happened to our members in these places. They have been suffering; they have been losing their lives, property. In Benue, for example, farmers are put in internally displaced persons camps, taken out of their comfort zone because of this crisis. Herdsmen are relocating, losing their cows and their lives; nobody is a winner in this crisis. The only solution is for security agencies to be up and doing in trying to bring the perpetrators of these killings to justice.

The last time we discussed on this platform was about a month ago and the issue had to do with Benue State. I recall asking you about the carnage attributed to Miyetti Allah making inflammatory statements that they will not accept anti-grazing law and that they will make the state ungovernable. You disowned the statements. This new statement comes out now and you say it is the personal opinion of your Zonal Chairman who made it. At what point does your organisation begin to think about this trending notion that there is a sinister motive somewhere?

There is no way we will take responsibility because our association is a non-violent, non-political association established to cater for the welfare of herdsmen in the country. My attention was even drawn to an article this morning in a newspaper where somebody was speaking about bloodbath and legitimization of terrorism, and condemned MACABAN. I want to make it categorically clear that MACABAN, Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association, is entirely different from Miyetti Allah Cultural Association. The governor of Benue is having problem with Miyetti Allah Cultural Association, not MACABAN. MACABAN is not faceless. MACABAN has an office in Abuja. MACABAN is a legitimate body. MACABAN has respected traditional rulers as members, Board of Trustees’ members. So this statement coming from an individual who does not have authority to represent this association in anyway…is unfortunate.

But he is the Chairman of the association in the zone.

Yes, but he has his own responsibilities. By making him the Chairman does not give him a blank cheque to represent the association in an unauthorised manner. Those who are supposed to represent MACABAN at the state level are the state Chairman, Secretary and the PRO on matters affecting their states, they are mandated to interface with the media and tell the world the perspectives affecting the association in their states. When it comes to the nation, the national will still get inputs from the states. When we have necessary information with pictures; that is when we have the authority to go to the media, because of the fear of statements that may backfire. So we have to have something we can hold on to before we face the media and say the position of the association. We don’t operate in a vacuum; we operate based on laid down processes; that is how the association was established. This guy has no mandate to represent this association on a matter of this type or any matter for that matter.

We know there are differences between herders and local youths in Plateau. Have you had the opportunity to speak with your members since this crisis started? What is their perspective because what we hear is that some Plateau youths brandishing weapons have been killing cows, stealing cows? Does that tally with what you have been hearing from your followers?

When things like this happen, the state branches find out and report to the appropriate security agencies and government. Having done that, they send a copy of the report to us. But while security agencies are working on these things, we don’t go public. We allow the security agencies to do their work and come to a conclusion because they ought to know about the genesis and how this crisis came to the level it is today. And Miyetti Allah in Plateau has been working closely with the government of the state to achieve the peace that we had before this massacre. Even this one (massacre) that took place, I spoke with the state branch. I told them to give us a report.

He (MACABAN National Secretary) has disowned the statement by the Chairman of the North Central Zone of Miyetti Allah, saying he had no authority to speak on the association’s behalf. How do you internalize that?

Odumakin: Well, this is the first time I am hearing from him condoling with those who died. That shows human feelings and emotions, but I think they have to do more than this. Last night, a gentleman came online with me, he worked with me when I headed General Buhari’s media campaign in 2011, and he was saying that Miyetti Allah never makes statements. Now he has come out to say the person who made the statement, a Zonal Chairman, has no authority to speak for them. This is not the first time. When we had problems in Benue State, all kinds of statement were credited to Miyetti Allah, ‘Blood will flow’, ‘We want to take over Benue’. What are they (MACABAN) doing to the man that made the statement? It is a good thing they are responding to pressure from the public because we cannot continue like this.

What should they do to this man who made the statement?

They should rally round security agencies and investigate him. He knows more about this mess. Until that is done, they cannot disown what he has said because he is their official.

This is not the first time they would disown statements from their association.

In a country where justice is not done, the hearts of men are bound to do iniquities. The reason people can get away with this kind of statement is because they know that there is no justice in the land. For the past three years, thousands of people have been killed. How many people are in court today? And government is trying to divert attention from those doing the killings, saying politicians are the ones doing it. And you have not arrested them.

We have seen pictures of protesters marching to the Government House in Jos to make their feelings known. What can you tell us about what is being done, first of all, identifying the cause of this massacre?

Istifanus Dung Gyan:This is the constituency I am representing at the National Assembly. I want to say that the issue at stake is the issue of land grabbing. I say so because these attacks have been sustained over the past ten years. And during the ten-year-period, village after village have been over run. People are displaced, people are massively killed. And their land is taken over and occupied by herdsmen. The latest attack is in furtherance of the same land grabbing agenda. Four villages have already been added to the 45 villages over run and under forceful occupation. It is simply a game to ensure that a cattle colony is carved out, land is set aside for cattle grazing and that has led to this holocaust, this ethnic cleansing, these mass killings we are witnessing in my constituency. It is very unfortunate, condemnable. I want to thank the international community and all Nigerians that have reasoned as one people to condemn this act of man’s inhumanity to man. It is indeed a very harrowing experience that over 200 people will be killed in cold blood without any resistance by the state security apparatus.

I am not sure if you are aware of it. The Chairman of the North Central Zone of Miyeti Allah issued a statement describing the attack as retaliatory, saying it is a result of cattle rustling that happened in the area but we have the National Secretary of Miyeti Allah who said the Zonal Chair had no authority to speak on the group’s behalf. Could you tell us how the people responded to the previous statement and the new position from Miyetti Allah?

We now have a lead on the killings, the Zonal Chair having owned up. He is the one now to be called by security agencies. He ought to have been arrested and, by now, in custody to tell the nation how the massacre of hundreds of people took place in the constituency.

Your people have lived peacefully with these herdsmen all this while. How did it get to this and what is the solution?

We need to get rid of all sorts of criminals and terrorists; we have to confront this thing headlong. That was how Boko Haram started. It was treated with kid gloves until it became a monster out to consume the nation. Now, we are challenged by another set of terrorists in the name of killer herdsmen and the Nigerian state is still treating them with kid gloves.

Earlier you said this is a land grabbing thing. How about the traditional institution? You said this has been going on for a long time. What is the role of the traditional institution to curb this trend?

I want to say that all theories that have to do with conflict resolutions have been experimented in Plateau, but the issue is that they will not honour peace, they will not honour dialogue because that will defeat   the agenda of land grabbing   and annexation. About three of my traditional rulers have been killed. Three are living in exile. Of recent, two of them had to escape from their palaces. So the traditional institution is not left out of the massacre. Nobody, whether traditional or church, is left out. In the latest attack, all the churches in affected communities were destroyed. So I don’t know what other experiment we need other than to enforce the law and order and ensure that the Nigerian state takes responsibility because the primary constitutional responsibility of government is to safeguard law and order and this is what needs to be done. The Nigerian state must rise up to its constitutional responsibility to ensure that this thing is arrested in my constituency otherwise a whole ethnic group will be cleansed away from Nigeria.

Let me bring Mr Ngelzarma to respond to your statements. He said the impression they have is that this is about land grabbing or how do you explain, according to him, that those communities that have been attacked are still being occupied by herdsmen?

Ngelzarma: I don’t agree with this issue about land grabbing. If you can remember vividly, the crisis in Plateau did not start as farmers/herdsmen crisis. It started more than 17 years ago as a religious crisis, then it became farmers /herdsmen crisis. The lawmaker has spoken my mind in so many ways in respect of law and order. This is what we are calling for. Raising the issue of land grabbing, land grabbing from whom and by whom? I would like to make some clarifications again; it appears to me as if most of the people out there don’t differentiate between MACABAN and Miyetti Allah Cultural Association. They are two different registered associations. Our own association has been in existence for almost 30 years, it was registered on the 12th of February 1986. We are not a political or violent association. That is why today we have respected traditional rulers as Chairmen and Board of Trustees’ members. Another clarification; let the whole world know that Miyeti Allah is not the only pastoralist association in Nigeria. There are other pastoralist associations in Nigeria and not all Fulani are members of MACABAN. We have our members; some other cattle rearers have their own groups. We don’t speak for the entire pastoralists. We are never a terrorist organisation. That is why we have our headquarters in Abuja; that is why we have offices in all the 36 states of the federation including the FCT. In fact, that is why we have elected representatives in all the 36 states.

Right there in Jos, are your people able to differentiate between these groups when this kind of thing happens?

Istifanus Dung Gyan: You have communities that have hosted herdsmen. And these communities have coexisted peacefully over time but when the agenda of land grabbing came, the very host communities that have accommodated the herdsmen became the first victims of ethnic cleansing. How do you grab the land? You have to cleanse the people from it before you can grab the land under occupation, he needs to know this. Even under the curfew the state government imposed, another set of villages was attacked, set ablaze, people killed. Yesterday, I had to go round over ten IDP camps to administer relief. Barikin land is already taken over. I just launched the Bring Back our Land, TBBOL, movement.   We are placing a demand on the nation, on government to bring back our land. Our land has to be restored. Our peoples’ economy has been crippled. There is malicious destruction of farmlands. The locals used to have cows, but the cows were rustled by the same people, cattle rustlers.

You interact very well in the Middle-Belt. How do you get hold of this, identify the challenge and then bring up a solution?

Odumakin: The MACABAN Secretary spoke about different groups. If he says his group is not the one carrying out these killings, it still boils down to the question of injustice. What are the security agencies doing to get this other group he is talking about to account for their actions? I could not eat looking at those images. I think the time has come, and I want to beg the media, we should stop this wrong narrative of farmers/herders clashes. These are no clashes. It is a group perpetrating terror. We must address nationhood. A multi-ethnic society can only run on the basis of federalism. This military arrangement does not serve our purpose and that is why I must make this fundamental point. We have been calling for ranches. Now the federal government is coming with its own idea which the people have rejected; you now want to acquire land and bring the problem you have in Plateau to every part of Nigeria, we don’t want that. Anybody that wants to do a ranch in Lagos, go to the state secretariat, pay and get land.

What would you consider the solution to these killings?

Istifanus Dung Gyan: I think the Nigerian state must take responsibility and declare the killer herdsmen as terrorists. If that is not done, the killings will stop. Secondly, justice must be done. All the displaced communities must be brought back to their communities under occupation. They told us they have arrested the killers. We must see those that have owned up to it arrested and prosecuted. The next thing is that there must be professionalism on the part of security agencies because there have been cases of collusion. And the international community and all Nigerians must mount pressure on government to ensure that these killer herdsmen that have been rated as the 4th killer group globally as a terrorist organization are confronted head long. Until this is done, we are not very sure that these killings will stop because these people are determined to grab our land by force and take it over.

Odumakin: The Nigerian state must rise to the occasion to show that we have a government in the land. The first thing, as the lawmaker said, law and order must be enforced across board. Once you treat these people with kid gloves, this thing will continue…but, more importantly, the president said a few days ago that those who are talking about restructuring have personal agenda. There is no personal agenda, it is a national agenda. This thing (killings) cannot continue. We must address the structure of this country. The police should be arresting these criminals but the IG, remember he said one time that those who are doing this are not Nigerians. Reorganisation of the security agencies as proposed by government is a right step in the right direction. But beyond that, there are structural issues that we have to deal with as a nation. So when we say let us restructure Nigeria, we are not just speaking big grammar, these are the practical terms we are talking about. A few days ago, the governor of Zamfara resigned as chief security officer and preferred to be governor because he has no control of the agencies to enforce security in his state.

  • Interviews first aired on Channels Television

 

 


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