By Peter Duru, Makurdi
The Benue Youth Forum, BYF, has dismissed the recent threat by Miyetti Allah Kautal Hore, MAKH, a Fulani socio-cultural group to drag Governor Samuel Ortom before the International Criminal Court at The Hague saying it would amount to an exercise in futility.
The Forum however assured MAKH that the crimes armed herders committed against humanity in Benue state and other parts of the country would not go unpunished in due time.
It would be recalled that the National Secretary of MAKH, Alhassan Saleh had in a recent media outing alleged that Governor Ortom seized 25,000 of their cows and arrested 400 of their members without any cause vowing that they would drag the him to the ICC for prosecution.
Addressing the media Monday in Makurdi, the President of BYF, Terrence Kuanum who recalled how armed herders plundered Benue communities, killed over 5,000 Benue indigenes and displaced over two million others after they had in 2017 publicly threatened to resist the Benue grazing law, said their threat to approach the ICC was a smokescreen.
Kuanum said, “while we are not worried over the empty and baseless threats to drag the Governor to the ICC, we are once again concerned that this group that has claimed responsibility for the massacre of Benue people and sacking of communities and creating a humanitarian crisis is reminding us that cows are more important than human lives.
“Even though the Miyetti Allah leadership further contradicted itself by saying in one breath that their members were not in Benue State, and claiming in another that they were being maltreated in the state, thereby making the whole issue confusing and not worthy of much attention, we have to put some records straight.
“It is common knowledge that there is a law prohibiting open grazing in Benue state. When the Open Grazing Prohibition and Ranches Establishment Law of the state was enacted in 2017, the leadership of Miyetti Allah addressed a press conference and threatened to resist the legislation violently.
“The group’s National President, Abdullahi Bodejo and National Secretary, Saleh Alhassan, said they were going to mobilize Fulani herders from across West Africa to invade Benue state and ensure that the law was not enforced, as they said Benue land belonged to them.
“The bill which was assented to by Governor Ortom in May 2017, came into effect on November 1st of the same year. Immediately following the enforcement of the law, the herdsmen intensified attacks on Benue communities, killing hundreds of people, and displacing millions who are still in Internally Displaced Persons, IDP camps.
“The height of it was the massacre of 73 people on the 31st of December, 2017 and 1st January, 2018 in Guma and Logo Local Government Areas of the state.
“Barely 48 hours after the mass burial of the 73 victims of the herdsmen attacks in Benue, the National Vice President of Miyetti Allah Cattle Herders Association, Husaini Yusuf Bosso, warned that more blood will be shed in the state if the law prohibiting open grazing introduced by Governor Ortom was not completely scrapped.
“There were also several threats by a group known as Fulani Nationality Movement, FUNAM to ensure that there was no peace in Benue unless the law banning open grazing was repealed.
“We are all aware that the same Fulani Nationality Movement claimed responsibility for the attempted assassination of Governor Ortom in March 2021 and several other threats on his life by the group and Miyetti Allah.
“That they have resolved to make Benue a killing field as long as the people do not surrender their land for them to occupy is nothing new, except that little or nothing has been done by the Federal Government to tame them, despite repeated calls by Governor Ortom.
“The Ortom administration has persistently told the herdsmen that they are free to acquire land and establish ranches if they wanted to rear cattle in Benue, but they keep insisting that the land belongs to them and there were cattle routes in Benue hence they must keep grazing openly.
“These killer-herdsmen who bear sophisticated weapons and carry out nefarious activities are bent on continually destroying lives and property in our communities and there seems to be little concern from the Federal Government to call them to order.
“Even as we speak, the group that has been identified as one of the most dangerous terrorist organizations in the world is still unleashing terror on the people and has never stopped even for a moment, creating a huge humanitarian crisis in the state after killing over 5,000 people, destroying property worth billions of Naira and displacing about two million people from their ancestral lands.
“Funny enough, these same people who have the blood of innocent women, children and the elderly on their hands are the ones crying blue murder now. But one thing is certain; whichever way we look at the situation, these characters value the lives of animals more than human lives.
“Also in a bid to seek underserved sympathy, the Miyetti Allah said Governor Ortom was “violating the rights of Fulani herders in his state”. How on earth would a people without conscience be pretending to be the victims of atrocities they commit? Who do they think would believe their allegations that their people are being arrested and their cattle seized without reason?
“The group also made a ridiculous attempt at setting the Governor up against the people when it said he was misapplying security votes accruing to the state. That leaves us wondering when the group which has vowed to kill all Benue people and take over their land has become too concerned about the safety of their targets.
“In their attempt to smear the Governor, they falsely accused him of not performing well. It is on record that Governor Ortom has done creditably well in different sectors such as agriculture, education, health and infrastructure.
“The opening of new layouts with township roads in Makurdi, Gboko and Otukpo is an example of the sterling performance of the Governor. Over one thousand primary school projects have been completed while other infrastructure are also being constructed in parts of the state by the Ortom administration. The Governor has also brought several initiatives to boost the agriculture sector and help our farmers to have value on their investments.
“It is also curious that the Miyetti Allah have assumed the role of demanding accountability from Governor Ortom when they know that the humanitarian crisis they have created in the state has thrown up huge economic challenges and financial stress to both the government and the people.
“The BYF therefore wishes to tell the Miyetti Allah that they are embarking on an exercise in futility as their empty threats to seek justice at the ICC would remain what they are – futile efforts.
“We also want them to know that the crimes they have committed against humanity in Benue state and other parts of the country shall not go unpunished.
“They may be enjoying the sympathy and protection of some powerful persons in authority now; but that will not be forever, as they shall be brought to justice sooner or later. As the Governor and the entire Benue people have always reiterated, there is no land for open grazing in the state, so anyone who wants to rear cattle in the area should go through the normal procedure to acquire lands for ranching.
“We do not expect the Miyetti Allah Kautal Hore to pretend not to be aware that the Open Grazing Prohibition and Ranches Establishment Law of the State is not targeted at any group or tribe; but seeks to prevent incessant clashes between farmers and herders.
“The BYF also calls on security agencies to rise to the occasion as threats such as the one made by the Miyetti Allah always come with renewed momentum from the killer-herdsmen as they continue their desperation to kill, main, displace and occupy our lands.
“We demand the arrest and prosecution of the leadership of Miyetti Allah Kautal Hore for the attacks on Benue people. This group has proven time and again that it is responsible for the atrocities that armed herders have committed in Benue State in the last six years. Only their prosecution and punishment can assuage the pains they have inflicted on our people.
“In the meantime, we urge Benue people to shun political differences, and put aside any kind of sentiments to support Governor Samuel Ortom as he stands up to our enemies and follows legal means to protect the state.”