By The Punch
The Chairman of the Northern Elders Forum, Paul Unongo, has accused former Vice President Atiku Abubakar of being the chief financier and most influential member of the Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association of Nigeria, the apex body of Fulani herdsmen in Nigeria.
He, therefore, called on Atiku, who is a prince of the Tiv Court, to caution the herdsmen, who have been slaughtering hundreds of people in the country.
Unongo said this during an interview with one of our correspondents on Friday.
The NEF Chairman said, “I am aware that the most powerful person in Miyetti Allah is Alhaji Atiku Abubakar,who wants to be the next president. If they are fighting for power and Atiku wants to create problems for Buhari, I don’t know. There are so many possibilities.
“The most powerful person who finances the Miyetti Allah is Abubakar Atiku and he is a prince of the Tiv Court. The Tiv gave him a traditional title, meaning ‘the biggest shade of the Tiv people’.
“This implies that the Tiv people should be able to run to Atiku who will protect them.
This is the man who heads Miyetti Allah and is the greatest financier of this organisation.
He has more cattle than anybody in Miyetti Allah.
“It is an establishment of the big people, a very rich group of Nigerians and they pack small boys to take their cattle all over the place and then buy all these arms to give herdsmen to go and kill people, and the government is doing nothing!”
When asked if he was sure that Atiku was the most influential member of the Miyetti Allah, Unongo said the former Vice President told him personally that he was an influential member of the association.
He added, “I know, I got my facts partially from him regarding Miyetti Allah when I used to talk to him.”
When our correspondent asked Unongo if he had met with the former Vice President recently over the issue, the NEF boss said it was very difficult to see him.
He said, “Have you tried to see a ‘big man’ before? I don’t like to wait at people’s doors. If you’re in government, yes, but when you’re not in government, it shouldn’t be so hard to see you.
Atiku is my younger brother and he should come to me.
“Anytime you go to his place, the people around him think you are there to collect money that they are sharing. So, I decided that I would not disgrace the NEF. I am not belittling him, but he is no longer in power and I deserve some respect.”
Unongo also berated the President Muhammadu Buhari-led Federal Government for treating the Fulani herdsmen crisis with kid gloves.
He said he had been warning the President for nearly three years about the crisis but that the President’s “insensitive” advisers had been deceiving him into thinking the matter was a small one.
The NEF chairman said that many of the President’s aides had been preventing him from seeing the President and telling him the truth about the issue.
Unongo, who is both Tiv and Fulani, said, “The President is not happy about what is happening, but his insensitive advisers have deceived him into thinking this is not a serious issue, which they keep saying they can handle, but it has now festered to a level where it is difficult to take care of.”
The NEF chairman said it was unfortunate that despite the several threats made by the Fulani herdsmen after the anti open grazing law came into effect, the government failed to take action.
He said, “Miyetti Allah threatened and said upon the implementation of the law, they would attack in January violently and force the withdrawal of the law. I don’t understand. It didn’t make sense at the time, but it means that perhaps the Miyetti Allah wanted to prove to the people and the government of Benue State that when they make a promise, they keep to it.”
Benue and Ekiti states had both enacted anti-open grazing laws to check the activities of herdsmen, while Ondo, Cross River, Ebonyi and Akwa Ibom states have also moved to have anti-open grazing laws to check the activities of the nomadic pastoralists.
However, the former Vice President said that although he is a Fulani, he was not a member of the Miyetti Allah.
Atiku stated this in his reaction to the allegations levelled against him by Unongo.
Speaking through his media aide, Mr. Paul Ibe, in Abuja on Friday, the former Vice President also said it was wrong to describe him as the chief financier of the Miyetti Allah.
He said, “It is very disheartening that in this period of intense grief in Benue State, Chief Paul Unongo would choose to level these desperately sad and false allegations against Atiku Abubakar, whom he erroneously described as the chief financier of MACBAN.
“Yes, Waziri Atiku Abubakar is a Fulani and is proud to be one as he has never hidden that fact. However, the Waziri is a thoroughly detribalized Nigerian who would never favour one ethnic group over another.
“Last year, during the massive flood in Benue State, which affected over 100,000 families, Waziri Atiku Abubakar, who holds the Tiv traditional title of Zege Mule U Tiv, donated cash to the Benue State Government for the care of the victims.
“This is befitting for a man whose Tiv traditional title means ‘the biggest shade of the Tiv people’.
“It is strange that Chief Paul Unongo chose to neglect that act of love and care from the Waziri Adamawa to the people of Benue. Not only did the Zege Mule U Tiv make a financial donation, he also called on the Federal Government to do more to assist the flood-ravaged communities.
“Let it be known that though Waziri Adamawa is Fulani, he is not a member of Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association of Nigeria nor has he ever been a member. He has also never discussed about that group with Chief Paul Unongo.
“Furthermore, His Excellency, Atiku Abubakar, enjoins that a thorough investigation be made into the killings in Benue, and that anyone found culpable be made to bear the full weight of the law.
“Having said that, it has not escaped our notice that Chief Paul Unongo is the Chairman, Governing Board of Nigerian Educational Research and Development Council, a position he was appointed to in April of last year.
“Understandably, Chief Unongo would be very grateful to those who gave him such a position and may feel it is his duty to attack and sully those in their bad books.
“If that is the case, it would be a very sad day when a supposed elder chooses to make mileage of the sufferings of the people of Benue State, who have had to endure the impunity of these killings for far too long.
“Waziri Atiku Abubakar prays for the souls of the departed and as a traditional title holder of Tiv land, he assures the entire people of Benue (including the Idoma and Igede) that he would do everything in his power to bring justice, relief and compensation their way; so help him God.”
Buhari meets IGP over Benue, Rivers, Kaduna killings
Meanwhile, President Buhari on Friday met with the Inspector-General of Police, Ibrahim Idris, over the security situation across the country, particularly the killings recorded in Benue, Rivers and Kaduna states.
At the end of the meeting held in the Presidential Villa, Abuja, Idris told State House correspondents that the meeting centred on how to effectively secure the country.
He said the President had given him a directive to tighten up the nation’s security.
“Every time we meet with the President, he gives a charge.
He said that we should go and ensure that we tighten up the security,” Idris said.
At least, 20 persons were killed in attacks on Benue communities by suspected Fulani herdsmen after they invaded some parts of the Guma and Logo local government areas of the state on New Year’s Day.
The attacks, which spilled over to Tuesday, came on the heels of the implementation of the anti-open grazing law,
which the Fulani herdsmen considered detrimental to their means of livelihood.
Benue killings: Court remands seven Fulani herdsmen
A Makurdi Chief Magistrates’ Court, presided by Justice Isaac Ajim, on Friday, however, remanded seven Fulani herdsmen for open grazing and criminal conspiracy.
The herders were also accused of causing grievous hurt, culpable homicide and mischief by fire.
Meanwhile, Ortom on Friday said that he was not afraid of the series of threats to his life by those against the implementation of the Open Grazing Prohibition and Ranches Establishment Law in the state.
Ortom stated this at the Government House in Makurdi, during a condolence visit to him by the Nigerian Bar Association, Makurdi branch.
The governor said that the law was enacted in good faith.
He said, “Since the introduction of the anti-open grazing law, there have been series of threat to my life, but I am committed to protect the people who gave me their mandate. So, I am not moved by those threats.
“Benue people must remain steadfast till impunity is defeated in Nigeria. No amount of sacrifice is too big in the struggle to end the genocide being perpetrated by Fulani herdsmen in parts of Benue State.
“It is time Benue’s sons and daughters put away political differences and unite to speak with one voice against invasion and occupation of their land, which has left many people dead and properties worth billions of naira destroyed.”
Earlier, the NBA Chairman, Makurdi branch, Mr. Emmanuel Agbakor, criticized the “total lack of concern exhibited by President Buhari regarding the killings in Benue State.”
Stating that over 40,000 persons had been displaced in the state as a result of Monday’s killings, the Executive Secretary, Benue State Emergency Management Agency, Mr. Emmanuel Shior, said the agency had opened four camps for the displaced persons in the affected areas.
“As we speak, over 40,000 persons have so far been displaced as a result of the attacks on our people in Guma and Logo local government areas,” Shior said in a report by the News Agency of Nigeria.
“The government has decided to open four camps, three in Guma Local Government Area and one in Logo Local Government Area. The camps in Guma are in Daudu, Gbajimba and Agasha, while the one in Logo is in Ugba.”
Similarly, more than 12,000 persons have been displaced in Awe Local Government Area of Nasarawa State following the recent attacks by suspected herdsmen in some border communities between Benue and Nasarawa states.
The Nasarawa State Deputy Governor, Mr. Silas Agara, who led some top government functionaries and heads of security agencies to assess the current situation on the ground on behalf of Governor Umaru Tanko Al-Makura, said on Friday that there were Internally Displaced Persons’ camps in Awe and one other in the Keana Local Government Area of the state.
Treat herdsmen as terrorists, PFN, CAN tell FG
As a result of the latest killings by Fulani herdsmen in Benue State, the Pentecostal Fellowship of Nigeria has asked the FederalGovernment to treat herdsmen as terrorists.
The PFN President, Dr. Felix Omobude, in a statement on Friday in Benin, Edo State, decried the incessant massacre of innocent lives by the herdsmen, asking Buhari to match his words with action by ensuring that the perpetrators did not escape justice.
He said, “The PFN calls on the Federal Government to wake up to its responsibility and treat these herdsmen as terrorists and fight them in the same zeal they fought Boko Haram and bring them to justice immediately.
“The PFN is greatly disturbed by the constant killing of Nigerians by the rampaging herdsmen and urged the Federal Government to tackle the nagging problem decisively by bringing the perpetrators of these dastardly acts to justice.”
Omobude also called on the security agencies to wake up to their primary duty of protecting the lives and property of Nigerians, and urged both the state and local governments to desist from paying lip service to the atrocities committed by herdsmen.
Similarly, the Christian Association of Nigeria, in a statement by its President, Revd. Supo Ayokunle, said there was the need for the Federal Government to act decisively on the Fulani herdsmen crisis before it would become a national war.
‘We will mobilise youths in Yorubaland against herdsmen’
Meanwhile, the President of the Yoruba Socio-cultural Association, Mr. Hameed Olalekan, said the group would be forced to mobilise youths in the South-West to defend themselves against the Fulani herdsmen.