By Anayo Okoli, Regional Editor, South-East; Dapo Akinrefon, Peter Duru & Davies Iheamnachor
The comments of the Secretary-General of Arewa Consultative Forum, ACF, Mukhtar Aliyu, on Wednesday in Kaduna that Southerners were provoking the North to spark crisis in the country yesterday drew the ire of regional groups in the south.
The regional ethnic groups include the Yoruba socio-political organisation, Afenifere, its counterparts in the South-East and South-South, Ohanaeze Ndigbo and the Pan-Niger Delta Forum, PANDEF, respectively.
Speaking at the opening of ACF’s National Executive Council, NEC, meeting in Kaduna on Wednesday, Aliyu had said: ‘’The North is sick. We have Boko Haram, we have banditry, we have kidnapping, we have rustling, attacks on northerners in the south where many lost their property and investments.
“Above all, the southerners are doing so to spark reactions from us so that the country will go up in flames but we are saying no. We are being confronted with agitations for separation and dissolution of the state, demands for Biafra, Oduduwa as well as restructuring.’’
But responding to this yesterday, Afenifere in a statement by the National Publicity Secretary, Comrade Jare Ajayi, expressed reservations over the statement credited to the ACF Secretary-General, Mr. Muktar Aliyu.
He said: “Afenifere reckons more with the view expressed in the communiqué that was issued after the ACF meeting in Kaduna and read by the Forum’s National Chairman, Chief Audu Ogbeh.
‘’In the communiqué, Ogbeh expressed the readiness of the North through Arewa Consultative Forum to meet with their counterparts in other parts of the country, with a view to finding lasting solutions to the lingering problems in Nigeria.
‘ACF scribe contradicts Audu Ogbe’
“Besides countering the ACF claim that the north has 75 per cent of the total land mass in Nigeria, it is regrettable that the view expressed by ACF Secretary General alleging provocation by the south contradicted the position of its chairman as stated in the communiqué.
“Ordinarily, it is a statement that should be ignored but for the fact that it came from a person holding the position of Secretary-General and for the allegation that cows are being rustled in the south.
“For one, it is the actions of the bandits among the Fulani, who are from the north, that are provocative and not that of the people of the south. Secondly, southerners are not herders. So they cannot rustle cows from Fulani herders.
“Afenifere is ready to meet with their counterparts from other parts of the country, including ACF, but such a meeting must be conducted with sincerity and a genuine desire to move our country forward.”
‘Frivolous, baseless allegations’
Reacting to the statement credited to Arewa Consultative Forum, Ohanaeze Ndigbo through its Public Relations Officer, Chief Alex Ogbonnia, dismissed as frivolous and baseless.
Ohanaeze said pointedly that the murderous herdsmen with their destructive activities are the major source of conflict in the country.
He said: “The statement of the ACF Secretary-General is not comprehensible. How did all these start? It was the herdsmen from the north that started coming to the south to graze their cattle. In the process, they started destroying people’s farms, with their cattle feeding on farmers’ crops and destroying their farms.
‘’Then, the herdsmen started raping our wives, our daughters, killing the farmers, kidnapping people for ransom and doing other things.
“You know about killing of southerners in the north from time immemorial when they would be killed and brought back in trailer loads to the south.
“Now, you know about Uzo-Uwani killings by herdsmen, Ebonyi killings by herdsmen, Nombo killings by herdsmen.
“Go to the south west, you know about kidnappings and killings by herdsmen in different parts of Yorubaland. You remember a prominent Yoruba leader whose daughter was killed by herdsmen in Ondo?
“Now, you are aware of how foreign mercenaries and criminal herdsmen bearing AK-47 occupied our forests and launch killings from time to time.
“So, what did the south do now? Should southerners continue to fold their arms and watch herdsmen wreak havoc on their farms and their people? So what is ACF saying?
“It is the north that is provoking the south to provoke crisis. It is the other way round. ACF should check their statements. Who is provoking who?
“It is because of the Fulani herdsmen that our boys set up ESN, the South West set up Amotekun and South East also set up EbubeAgu.
“It is immoral for the ACF to say the South is provoking the North, which means they have no sympathy for all these killings.”
South only seeking egalitarian nation, not war— PANDEF
In its reaction, the Pan Niger Delta Forum, PANDEF, said the interest of the South is to ensure the country becomes an egalitarian nation where everyone was treated equally.
The National Publicity Secretary of PANDEF, Ken Robinson, described as unfortunate the claim by ACF Secretary-General that the south was trying to trigger war in the nation.
Robinson maintained that the northern leaders were inconsistent with their view about the nation, regretting that ACF was shielding the misdeed of the criminal elements from the north.
He said: “It is unfortunate the ACF is not consistent. A few days ago, I heard they said they were trying to reach out for dialogue and then one of the officers is saying the Southerners are trying to trigger war, how?
“We are insisting that some wrongs and attitude that are not acceptable should stop. What the south is asking for is that we have to be a country, let’s be a country.
“Let’s be a country where everybody is treated as citizen of the nation. Not a situation where some people are super citizens and others lesser citizens, that is the attitude we see everyday.
“People who carry guns, invade farms and destroy livelihoods molest women, kill people, are treated as super humans, and then the Southerners are saying no and resisting that kind of attitude and the North begins to brand Southerners as people who threaten people for war.
“No one is afraid of war. If that is what they want, let it be so. All we are saying is that Nigeria is no longer a country as it is.
“There is so much injustice and discrimination. The Buhari administration has worsened the whole thing. This is glaring in appointments and project executions and all of that.
“Let there be a change in attitude, that is all we are saying. Let us have an egalitarian nation where everybody will be treated equally.
“That is a very irresponsible statement. We are patriots; that is what we are. We have contributed so much for the development and sustenance the country.
“Nobody will build his house and want to destroy it, but if you think that I will build a house and you would want me to leave it and become a tenant in the house that I built , you are the one looking for war.”
Statement by ACF unfortunate, regrettable— MBF
Also reacting, the Middle Belt Forum, MBF, described as regrettable and unfortunate the allegation by the Arewa Consultative Forum, ACF, secretary-general that the people of the south were attacking the northerners to instigate crisis in the country.
National President of MBF, Dr. Bitrus Pogu, said: “I said it is unfortunate because the people who are supposed to lie low in this whole saga are supposed to be the people from the far North, given that they have been so favoured in the skewed appointments of the presents administration.
“Now for them to make such a statement is unfortunate because they are supposed to be the ones that would work towards calming frayed nerves so that the country would enjoy some respite, unless they are enjoying the confusion that is going on and the killings.
“So such a statement is unfortunate because who are the people perpetrating the killings? Who are the Boko Haram, the herdsmen militia? Who are the bandits?
“They are all from the north or people who came under the cover of the north, even though several of them are foreigners.
“How many people have the southerners killed? So such a statement is uncalled for, unfortunate and only meant to trigger unnecessary repercussion because today’s Nigeria is not the same with the Nigeria of 1966 where some people will gang up and start killing others and get away with it.
“Today’s world is different. Let them better guard their choice of words and statements so that Nigeria can mend these wounds. And also mend the fractures that we have here and there, so that nerves will calm down.
‘’’We will be able to have peace and accommodation in this country. I believe the north needs to play that role more than any other part, rather than instigating crisis.”
ACF is not making sense —ADF
Reacting through it spokesman, Abia Onyike, the Alaigbo Development Foundation ADF, said: “It is unfortunate for ACF to accuse the South of provoking the North and setting the country aflame. That is a wild allegation.
“The present crises of insecurity started in Northern Nigeria because of the political intolerance and intemperate utterances of some Northern leaders, including those who stoke the embers of religious tension.
“Then Fulani Herdsmen armed with AK 47 rifles began an orchestrated campaign of genocide against the people of the Middle Belt and Southern Nigeria. I think the South has been on the receiving end of these Northern extremists and ethnic irridentists.
“The violence in the South was exported to the South from the North in order to show that the incumbent President, Muhammad Buhari is a Fulani Northerner and that the South must be submerged and politically decimated.
“When the South puts up resistance against the herdsmen and terrorists, the Federal Government gets offended but when they murder Southerners, the Presidency looks the other way. So ACF is not making sense. They are taking Southerners for a ride.”