…We’ll fight whoever harms our son with our last blood
By Peter Duru, Makurdi
Chief Iorbee Ihagh is the President General of Mzough U Tiv, MUT, and Chairman, Association of Benue Socio-Cultural Organisations, ABSCO. In this interview, he speaks on the recent assassination attempt on Governor Samuel Ortom by suspected herdsmen and Miyetti Allah’s call for the repeal of Benue anti-grazing law among other related issues.
From the information at your disposal, who could possibly be behind the assassination attempt on Governor Ortom?
It is obvious. It is the Fulani militia. The leader of Miyetti Allah openly declared their hatred for him. And I have been calling on the Police authorities to arrest him. He has not been arrested.
They come out openly to say they can do whatever they want. They often say that Nigeria belongs to them. When they started the killings in Benue, Nigerians thought it was going to end in Benue but it is everywhere now. A lot of people are being killed almost every day and nobody says anything. In America, if you kill one person, America can go to war. But here, they will kill scores. The authorities will tell you it is only 10. Government will come out to shamelessly say they are on top of the situation. The next day, the same thing happens. I blame the federal government because it controls the soldiers, the police and other security agents. Do you know that herdsmen are always seen with AK47 and nobody says anything? If you go to my Ward in Moon, Kwande Local Government Area, you will not find the owners of the community. Do you know why? The Fulani went there and destroyed the community, killed a lot of people and burnt our houses. My three houses were burnt. All the churches, all the schools and all the health centers were burnt. Nobody has said anything about it.
I think there is an agenda because the Fulani we had before were not like the ones making trouble. They were brought in twice into the country. The first batch of 2,000 was brought in before the election and the second batch of about 4,000 were brought in later and kept in Kaduna. They are the ones causing trouble in the country.
I do not know why Buhari is building a railway to Niger Republic when there is no functional railway line from the East to Benue and Plateau states. You can imagine. That is why I keep saying there is an agenda. In all these, Buhari says nothing.
I feel there is an agenda by this government and if nothing is done about it, it is going to be terrible. The 2023 election they are talking about might not take place. Maybe by then, Nigeria won’t be in existence considering the way we are going.
The earlier President Buhari solves this problem, the better. As the President of this country, you are not the President of one ethnic group. We should be talking about how Nigeria would move forward. Remember that America had predicted that Nigeria would be divided and if we are not careful.
How did Benue people receive the news of the attack on Governor Ortom?
I felt so bad about it. That attack was a conspiracy against the entire 12 million Tiv-speaking people in this country. How can the Chief Executive of a state be subjected to that kind of humiliation?
If they had killed Ortom, who would be free in Benue State? If Governor Ortom can be attacked, you and I are not free. And they had said it before in Adamawa State that Ortom is their problem. I saw the video clip where they said Ortom is their problem. They claimed that Governor Ortom had instigated all the states in Nigeria against them. How can that be? Are they not the architect of their problem? They are causing trouble in Igboland, in Yorubaland and everywhere they live. If you live in any state, you just have to obey the law of the state.
Now, the northerners are saying the Yoruba should vacate their place. Benue is not a northern state. The Yoruba can stay here, the Igbo, and anybody can stay in Benue State so long as you do the right thing.
I recall that not long ago I went to the West and I met the Ooni of Ife, he told me that the almost 250,000 Tiv people living in his domain are peace-loving people. You cannot find any Tiv man carrying an AK47 in any part of the country. But if you go to my Council Ward in Moon, you will see Fulani moving about freely with an AK47. Even soldiers that come from Wukari or Takum will see them and do not say anything. I strongly feel there is an agenda.
Apart from your condemnation of the attack are his kinsmen doing anything to forestall future occurrence?
They had a meeting and they all condemned the attack. I feel that every one of them felt bad about it and I am waiting to see what they are going to do. It is too early to say anything now.
Are you satisfied with the steps taken by the federal government in addition to its condemnation of the act?
I am waiting to see what happens because most times when things of that nature happen, government comes out with bogus statements and nothing happens.
I recall that not too long ago when the Justice Minister came out to talk of having a commission for herdsmen. My question is: why do you need a commission for herdsmen? A Tiv man would have about 20,000 tubers of yam and herdsmen would burn them for their cow to eat. In that circumstance, who do you think needs a commission more? The herder or the farmer? And for those advocating that herders should carry an AK47, my question is between the two who needs an AK47 more?
While on my farm, you besiege my land to kill me and destroy my farm. I ought to be supported to own weapons to protect myself and my family. It is logical.
Do you know that we can no longer go to our farms? If you go there they will just kill you. They have killed so many people on their farms just like that, both women and men including children. The implication is that our people are afraid of going to the farm to cultivate food and cash crops.
What that means is that there is going to be food shortage and hunger in the country. We are the ones feeding Nigeria and we can no longer engage in farming. Government does not care about it.
A Fulani group has claimed responsibility for the attack on Governor Ortom, they even threatened the governor, are you surprised?
I am not surprised because they are speaking the minds of whoever sent them. That is why I was not happy when the President said the matter should be investigated and the Inspector General of Police ,IGP, said he has sent an Assistant Inspector General of Police to investigate it. Investigate what?
People have owned up and claimed responsibility for the attack. The leader of Miyetti Allah is there, why has he not been arrested? Herdsmen are known all over the world as terrorists. The World Terrorism Index was clear on that. And this government is refusing to accept that because of their vested interest. What was the crime of the Indigenous People of Biafra, IPoB that compelled this government to declare it as a terrorist organisation? They did nothing, but they are refusing to declare these herdsmen as terrorists.
The service chiefs have a lot of work to do. I am waiting to see what they would do. We are waiting to see their response to what happened to Governor Ortom.
But they must know that we do not have guns but we will use our last blood against whoever attempts to or kills our governor. They must bear that in mind. It will be just like what happened in 1804. We didn’t fight with guns. We are children of God. God protects us every time.
Why do you think Ortom has become a target?
He became a target because he is the first governor to speak out against open grazing in this country. The Fulani who practice open grazing and are refusing the modern method of animal husbandry are saying Ortom is their enemy because he mobilized the entire country to embrace ranching and detest open grazing. For that reason, they vowed to get him wherever he is. That is why they are saying he is the cause of their problem. They hate him because of the Open Grazing Prohibition and Ranches Establishment Bill of 2017 that he signed into law. They fail to realize that the law was the collective desire of all Benue people. We wanted the law and he gave it to us. What is his sin?
The law is the people’s law and whoever succeeds Governor Ortom will uphold the law. He will not do anything outside what has been done. Benue people will certainly not elect anybody who kicks against the law. And if we support you to emerge victoriously you thereafter try to play with the law, the people will move against you. That is our position in Benue.
We are insisting that armed militia herdsmen should stay away from our state or be moved out of our state because we cannot accommodate our killers. It is not done anywhere in the world. They are not allowing us to engage in farming. They are destroying our houses, properties, farmland and also killing us. We can only live with the peaceful ones and those prepared to ranch their livestock.
Amid the attack on Governor Ortom, Miyetti Allah has again called for the repeal of Benue grazing law. What do you make of that?
They are wasting their time. They will have to kill everybody in Benue State to have the law repealed. In the North, you have the sharia law and if you are in a state that has that law, you either adhere strictly to the law or you move out in order not to contravene its provisions. The same thing applies to the Benue grazing law. It is either you conform to its provisions or you quietly leave.
For anyone to ask us to repeal the law is a huge joke. You can only achieve that after killing everybody in Benue State. We will rather all die than repeal the Benue grazing law.
One wonders why Benue state is an attraction for Miyetti Allah?
Well, maybe because Benue is the state that normally gives them problems. Recall that during the Jihad of 1804, it was the Benue people that stopped them. If Benue people had not stopped them, they would have attacked the Igbo in the South- East. They would have conquered the entire South if not for our heroic feat. They said Nigeria belongs to them and they can occupy anywhere without questions from anybody.
Ortom said the attackers were suspected herdsmen, but a section of the public is also saying that searchlight should also be beamed on the indigenous militia group like late Gana’s gang.
Do you subscribe to that?
I do not agree with that at all. When you talk about Gana, you talk more about the Sankera axis. That is Katsina-Ala, Logo and Ukum Local Government Areas. They don’t go outside that axis.
Interestingly, the attack happened three days after they warned Governor Ortom at their meeting in Adamawa State. Everyone heard about it and the assailants have also owned up that they were responsible for the attack. I am saying the leader of Miyetti Allah should be arrested immediately and their organisations declared as terrorist groups. Nigerian government should declare armed herdsmen as terrorists to restore the confidence of the majority of Nigerians.
You were elected as the President-General of MUT a year ago. In the course of carrying out your responsibilities, what has been your major challenge?
The biggest problem I inherited on assumption of office on March 7, 2020, is that of herdsmen. Herdsmen want to take over our land, the Benue valley and the entire state said no.
The three major tribes in the state stood up and unanimously kicked against it. You will recall that the bill was legitimately passed by the House of Assembly and duly signed by the governor of Benue State in the presence of all stakeholders in the state.
We opted for the Open Grazing Prohibition Law because we are farmers and this is the 21st century. We are only saying that while you do your business, it should not adversely affect mine and mine shouldn’t affect yours. That was what we meant by that law. That should not be a reason for the crisis.
Moreover, a lot of people have gone overseas and while there they did not see a cow, a chicken, goat, or roam the streets. Benue produces a lot of food to feed the country. Regrettably, we cannot even go to our farms because of threats by armed herders. You all saw that Governor Ortom was almost killed last Saturday on his farm by militia herdsmen. If the Chief Security Officer of the state was almost killed, you can imagine what the ordinary citizens are going through. I also want to build bridges of unity and friendship across the various tribes in the country like the Ohanaeze Ndi Igbo, Afenifere, Arewa and others.
I want peace and development because without peace there can be no development.