By Dapo Akinrefon
LAGOS—THE Southern and Middle Belt Leaders Forum, SMBLF, yesterday, declined an invitation by former Head of State, Gen. Abdulsalami Abubakar (retd) on a roundtable on national issues and security scheduled to hold in Minna, Niger State.“
The leaders declined the invitation over the inclusion of Miyetti Allah to the roundtable describing it as “a grave insult” to them.“This was contained in a letter titled: Re: Roundtable on National Issues and Security and signed by Chief E.K Clark (PANDEF leader), Chief Ayo Adebanjo (Afenifere leader), Chief John Nwodo (President, Ohanaeze) and Dr. Pogu Bitrus (President, Middle Belt Forum).
The statement reads: “We individually received your invitation to the above event holding in Minna between 29 and 30 July 2019. We thank you for your interest in the affairs of our country which made us accept your invitation in good faith.
“It was in the thick of our preparations for the journey that fuller details of the roundtable came to our attention, some aspect of which has necessitated this last-minute communication with you.“
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“We observed that the roundtable will have in attendance all the National Security Heads, Chief of Defence Staff and notable Nigerians, underscoring the high level of the consultations.
“We, however, noticed further that in your category of Socio-cultural organisations invited, you listed the following: PANDEF, Afenifere, Ohanaeze, Middle Belt Forum, Arewa Consultative Forum, Northern Leaders Forum, and Northern Elders Forum. We were comfortable up to that point until we saw the following: Gan Allah Fulani Development Association, and Miyetti Allah.
“While we do not know the members of the first group, the lumping of Miyetti Allah, a trade association for cattle herders and whose members have been accused of various violations of rights, including life, across the country sends a worrying signal to us.
“It falls into the categorisation of our respected socio-cultural platforms with Miyetti Allah by Presidential Spokesman, Garba Shehu.
“We consider the above a grave insult on our bodies and our coming to a roundtable with the group would mean acquiescence to the narrative that put us in the same bracket with those wielding illegal AK-47 all over the country and inflicting terror on fellow citizens.
“Even if the above was not the case with Miyetti Allah, bringing a trade group like them in the same vehicle with the nationalities organisations would not have been appropriate as there are organisations of their category for fishermen, farmers, spare parts dealers, and poultry owners among others across Nigeria who are not invited. Towards this end, we decline participation in the roundtable as scheduled without prejudice to your peace-building effort which is appreciated.
“We regret any inconvenience our decision may cause you as we know the efforts that go into putting events such as this together.
“Rest assured of our cooperation in all efforts and dialogues to make Nigeria peaceful, secure and forward-moving provided they are organised in a way that does not subtract from our dignity and value. Once again, we appreciate all your efforts.”