By Emma Amaize, Dapo Akinrefon & Chris Ochayi
LAGOS — Angry words flowed yesterday as regional socio-political groups yesterday blasted the Northern Elders Forum, NEF, and Coalition of Northern Groups for calling on Fulani herdsmen to leave the southern part of the country and return to the north.
“We are worried about their well-being. If it is true that their safety can no longer be guaranteed, we rather have them back in areas where where their safety is guaranteed.
“The bottom line is that their safety is far more important than staying there. This is a country we all have to keep together but not at the expense of other sections,” NEF leader, Professor Ango Abdullahi, had said at a media briefing in Abuja on Tuesday night.
But the regional groups, including the pan-Yoruba socio-political group, Afenifere, its Igbo counterpart, Ohanaeze Ndigbo, the Pan-Niger Delta Forum, PANDEF, and the Southern and Middle Belt Leaders Forum, described the call as not only irresponsible but also reckless and scandalous.
It’s insensitive— Afenefere
In its reaction, Afenifere’s National Publicity Secretary, Mr. Yinka Odumakin, said: “It smacks of insensitivity and arrogance for people not to betray any emotion over innocent blood being spilled by Fulani militia trooping into our communities under (the guise) of cattle grazing.
“If you ask that herders leave the south, are you giving the same directive to the sleeper cells of terror?
“We see it as a continuation of the irresponsible 30-day ultimatum earlier given by Coalition of Northern Groups, CNG, to southerners to accept Ruga or face the consequences.
“We wait to see what the Presidency will do on this, as it said two days ago that leaders should mind their utterances.
“If nothing happens, it would be clear the warning was for sections of the country and not the entire country.”
NEF’s call divisive — Ohanaeze
Reacting, National Deputy Publicity Secretary of Ohanaeze Ndigbo, said: “The call for herdsmen to leave the south by Northern Elders Forum is divisive and an undue emotional outburst.
“These people cannot claim to speak for the north. Nobody is against peaceful herdsmen but those that kill and maim. When will this sensational outbursts stop? It’s quite embarrassing that each time, we waste time talking about cattle, herdsmen, colony, etc. We should be talking about modern ways of living.
“These extremists who claim to be spokesmen of the North should stop embarrassing the North and Nigeria.”
Nigeria is sliding dangerously—Clark, Adebanjo, Nwodo, Bitrus
Also reacting, the Southern and Middle Belt Leaders Forum, SMBFL, expressed worry that Nigeria was sliding dangerously to the edge of the precipice “with no clear signal of the authority in the land doing anything concrete to arrest the drift.”
The group’s position was contained in a statement signed by Chief E.K Clark Chairman, SMBLF, Chief Ayo Adebanjo (Afenifere), Chief Nnia Nwodo (Ohanaeze Ndi-Igbo) and Dr. Pogu Bitrus (Middle Belt Forum).
Responding to the order by NEF to Fulani herders to leave the Southern parts of the country and return to the North, the leaders said they were shocked that Professor Ango Abdullahi, who is a co-Chairman of the Nigerian Leaders and Elders Forum could “join the call on Fulani Cattle Rearers to quit the South with all its implications without first consulting his colleagues on the forum.”
The statement read: “We must make the following observations at this critical juncture. The spate of criminalities in the country in forms of raping of women, kidnaps for ransom and killings of innocent people have reached a frightening proportion with the latest being the killing of Funke Olakunri (Nee Fasoranti) last Friday.
“We pray for comfort for the Fasoranti family and all families who are mourning dear ones across the country due to the unhinged activities of these criminal bandits.
“We are saddened that at a time for national sober reflection on the tragedy befalling our country, the Coalition of Northern Groups has chosen to further inflame passion by making reckless and unguarded statements on the state of affairs .
“It is more depressing that the Northern Elders Forum, NEF, has chosen to join the youths who issued a 30-day ultimatum to Southerners to accept RUGA or face unpleasant consequences in their provocative action.
“We are shocked that Prof Ango Abdullahi who is a co-Chairman of the Nigerian Leaders and Elders Forum could join the call on Fulani cattle rearers to quit the South with all its implications without first consulting his colleagues on the forum. As an Elder, he should know that this type of call preceded the last civil war Nigeria fought in case the exuberant youth are not aware.
“The SMBLF started working with the NEF when it (NEF) under the leadership of Prof. Ango Abdullahi invited all the Leaders from the Southern and Middle Belt to a meeting at the NICON Luxury Hotel on July 18, 2018.
“The meeting was attended by eminent personalities, politicians and professionals from all over Nigeria, including representatives from all the northern states. In that meeting, we took a decision on the spate of killing, kidnapping and rape going on in the country, perpetrated by criminals.
“The communiqué of that meeting was published in the media, and the Federal Government reacted negatively to it. The list of all the attendees of that meeting is available at any time.
“Since then, we have held, at least, three of such meetings at various places, all working towards peace and unity of the country.
“We ordinarily would have expected an elder of the status of Prof. Ango Abdullahi, to show concern for human life by sending condolences to the bereaved at a time like this before getting into grievances that his group may have. Not seeing such attitude is worrisome.
“The expressed grievance of the criminalization of Fulani as a group is totally misplaced and unfounded. As stated above, the Nigerian Leaders and Elders Forum which Prof Abdullahi belongs to unanimously endorsed Atiku for the last election and still support him till now. Is he not a Fulani man?
“What people have railed against is the terrorism which some Fulani militias who pose as herdsmen have inflicted on Middle Belt and Southern communities and which they have even openly admitted in some cases.
“We expect peace-loving and rational Fulani to join in the condemnations of these criminal elements and the enforcement of the law against them. This would have shown they believe in the unity of this country and its cohesion.
“But taking any attack against these people as condemning all Fulanis unwittingly gives the impression that they endorse the activities of these elements.
“The Southern and Middle Belt communities have not said fellow Nigerians from the North cannot do business in their areas.
“This is why we endorsed ranching for cattle business and that those who are interested should purchase land from the States and be ready to live under the laws of the states. What we are opposed to is creating Federal Cattle Territories in states in the name of Ruga.
“We call on leaders to embrace responsible conducts in this season in Nigeria so as not to give the impression that they are war-thirsty.
“We want to re-emphasis that at no time did the governors and leaders of Southern Nigeria object or declared war against the Northern Fulani herdsmen who have lived with us for many years.
“As I speak and write, there are a large number of them, living in and around my village, and doing their legitimate business. What we are against are the Fulani herders who are armed with AK-47 and other weapons and ammunition, killing, raping, destroying and causing mayhem.
“Even President Muhammadu Buhari has himself admitted that the Fulanis who carry these arms are not the legitimate herders, but those from other countries, and these are the ones the Ruga settlement is being planned for, and we say no to it, and will resist it. Prof Ango Abdullahi should not think that the North can do it alone.
“The Northern youths, under the leadership of Prof. Ango Abdullahi, had about two years ago, given a 30-day ultimatum for Ibos to leave the North. And now, again under his leadership, NEF has called on the Fulani in the Southern parts of the country to return to the North.
“This spells doom. We strongly call on President Muhammadu Buhari to put a stop to the divisive actions of Prof. Ango Abdullahi and his youths because it will be very dangerous for us to return to circumstances that created the civil war which took place in this country from 1967 to 1970, whereby many Nigerians lost their lives and property. The nation is yet to recover fully from that incident.
“Finally, we appeal to the international community not to watch arms akimbo the dangerous events that are playing out in Nigeria. It is cheaper to facilitate a peaceful resolution of the contradictions that have been deliberately orchestrated in the country as it would be more expensive for them to handle an implosion in Nigeria.”
Northern Elders directive thoughtless, shameful — PANDEF
Reacting in a similar manner, the Pan Niger Delta Forum, PANDEF, the mouthpiece of the people of South-South region, described the call by Northern Elders on all herdsmen to vacate the southern part of the country as reckless and scandalous.
National Secretary, Dr. Alfred Mulade, told Vanguard yesterday: “The call by the Northern elders to all herdsmen, and by extension, all northerners to vacate the southern part of the country is irresponsible, hypocritical, unpatriotic and criminal.
“That shows that the northern establishment was behind all the atrocities being perpetrated by the Fulani herdsmen, who have taken delight in the orgy of killing, maiming, raping and kidnapping in the South and Middle Belt of the country.
“Perhaps, what they should have added if they were sincere is that the resources from the south which sustain the entire country, that is, the oil and gas resources from the Niger Delta, should no longer be used to sustain the North any more.
“The Northern Elders should lead a revolution to severe the oil and gas pipelines from the Niger Delta; they should also order all northerners who own oil blocks to relinquish such acquisitions.
“Otherwise, the Federal Government should get these Northern elders arrested for beating drums of war.’’
Herders returning to North’ll avert anarchy—M-Belt Forum
However, the Middle Belt Forum, MBF, applauded the call by the Northern Elders Forum, NEF, on herders in the south to return to their place of origin in the North, saying the call will avert the impending genocide and anarchy in the country.
President of the Middle Belt Forum, Dr. Bitrus Porgu, who spoke with Vanguard, while reacting to the development, said NEF made the call because it knew the scope of atrocities of herdsmen against the South and realized that the outcome will be catastrophic.
He said: “Of course, it is an unfortunate development but what is the genesis of this thing? It is the same North under the aegis of Miyetti Allah, when they were killing people in the Middle Belt region, with impunity and they claimed responsibility because their cows were rustled, which had no proof.
“These thing has continued and it has reached the level it is now. We are close to what former President Olusegun Obasanjo said; genocide, very close to it. If you look at what happened in Rwanda, and then shift over to Burundi, it started in a similar fashion.
“So, they know the history, that is why they are calling back the herders to the North. Because, they also know what happened in 1966. In the North, they called it Awari which means separate. And people were massacred, Igbos were massacred in their numbers on their way to the East.
“So, since they have done it, they know what could happen and that is why they are calling their people back. If they knew, ab initio, that the herdsmen are their people and not the people of the South South, or the people of the South West or the people of the South East or the people of the Middle Belt, then why did they not stop the issue earlier?
“If they knew these are their people, they should have accommodated them and requested that the country provides for them in the North. By now, we wouldn’t have got to where we are.
“So, the issue is, it means what has been happening is deliberate, that is why knowing that the outcome will be catastrophic, they are calling back the herdsmen who they are saying are their own.”
Buhari to Fulani herdsmen: Ignore NEF calls to leave Southern Nigeria
Meantime, President Muhammadu Buhari has enjoined all Nigerians to ignore the recent call by the Northern Elders Forum, NEF, to Fulani herders, asking them to leave the southern part of Nigeria.
President Buhari in a statement signed by his Senior Special Assistant on Media and Publicity, Mallam Garba Shehu in Abuja last night said: “All citizens of Nigeria are free to move and live within any part of the country they please, whether or not they are originally from there.
“In line with our country’s constitution, the government of Nigeria and the administration of President Muhammadu Buhari will protect citizens of Nigeria wherever they find themselves.
“No one has the right to ask anyone or group to depart from any part of the country, whether north, south, east or west.”
The President questioned the intentions of the NEF and the other so-called leaders in delving into issues with unsolicited, ill-intentioned advice.
He said: “They have no one’s authority to make such pronouncements.
“The polarising role of the Northern Elders Forum and all other groups dabbling into issues of security to score cheap political points has for long been a sore point in Nigeria’s body polity.
“They should not be allowed to mislead anyone, least of all the Fulani herders.
“The Buhari administration is fully devoted to finding a lasting solution to the herder-farmer clashes in different parts of Nigeria- one that would be acceptable to all the parties involved.”
The President, therefore, called on all Nigerians to help keep the peace in the country.