Gentlemen of the press, we thank you for honouring our invitation to this press conference. We therefore welcome you all.
We shall go straight to the point.
You are all aware of the recent unprovoked attacks by the Fulani militia, masquerading as herdsmen, which commenced on the New Year day simultaneously in communities in Guma and Logo Local Government Areas of Benue State. These brutal attacks have continued, in several other communities in other Local Government Areas of Nasarawa and Taraba States. You may wish to recall that the Fulani have been literally at war with other nationalities in virtually all the six geopolitical zones. In Benue State alone, there have been 49 attacks on communities by Fulani militia in the past 5 years leading to thousands of deaths, destruction of homesteads, schools and farms as well as the displacement of several hundreds of thousands of people. Property and farm produce worth over 95 billion Naira have been destroyed and revenues running into several millions lost.
2. The recent attacks commenced in the late hours of the New Year day and by the dawn of 2nd January 2018. The attacks have escalated and are still going on. So far, the destruction has affected several communities in Guma and Logo Local Government Areas of the State. Though more than 70 Nigerians killed including children, old men and women were given state mass burial on 11th January, 2018, several other dead bodies have continued to be recovered from the bushes of Guma and Logo and are been buried without fanfare. Scores of others are missing. Over 60,000 people have been registered in Camps as Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs), their homes destroyed and their farm produce burnt or pillaged. These displaced people are scattered over 5 camps in both Guma and Logo Local Government Areas. Even with Government intervention, the Fulani militia is still camped comfortably within Benue borders and many of the displaced people cannot still go back to their villages. The National Vice President of MACBAN, Husaini Yusuf Bosso has openly warned that more blood will flow in Benue except the anti-open grazing law is abrogated. The National Secretary of Miyetti Allah Kautal Hore, Saleh Hassan has also rejected the anti-open grazing law in Benue and justified these brutal attacks.
3. The Fulani argue that they are pastoralists whose culture of livestock production tied to open grazing is not only rational but also efficient and unchangeable. Following the Uthman Danfodio Jihad of 1804, the Fulani who had foisted themselves on parts of Northern Nigeria in the name of Islam created grazing reserves in parts of the Caliphate for their Bororo kith and kin in the West African sub region. The British ‘formalized’ these reserves during the Colonial period and no attempts were made to restrict their use to Fulani of the country. This emboldened the Fulani to get the Northern Regional Government to enact the Grazing Reserve Law of 1965.
They have staked wrong historical claims to parts of the Benue Valley and changed the narrative to reflect their interest in the natural resources of the valley. In their warped reasoning, the Benue basin and its resources belong to the Federal Government thus; giving them unhindered access to graze their livestock in the valley.
4.The country and the world ought to know that pastoralism, as a way of life is obsolete and no longer sustainable given the social and political evolutions that have created the modern state with fixed and recognisable boundaries. In 1804, when the Fulani foisted themselves over the Hausa states in the name of religion, their intelligentsia rejected nomadic life for the palaces and courts of the Hausa states. We must go back to history to understand the Fulani push to take over the country. Originally from Futa Jallon in Guinea, the Fulani in spite of their education, wealth and numbers have never been in control of Guinea. Though they constitute about 40% of Guinea, the Malinke and the Susu who do not want to be enslaved have never allowed them to rule. Nigeria has become their second best ‘homeland’ following the success of Othman Danfodio and the fact that post independent Nigeria has produced several Fulani leaders including Muhammadu Buhari. The Nigerian template where they have several emirates that are predominantly peopled by non Muslims has emboldened them to see Nigeria as their home where the ‘Fulani of the whole world’ have rights to settle and graze their cattle in every state and on every farmland with impunity.
5. For the records, grazing reserves and stock routes are a skewed colonial infrastructure conceived to privilege the Fulani over and above other groups in the country. Increased population, urban and rural development, the Land Use Act and environmental conditions make it impossible to go back to these dormant grazing reserves including their use by the ‘Fulani of the whole world’. In 1960, Nigeria had 0.51 hectares of arable land per citizen. This figure has been shrinking with rising population and at current population estimates, will shrink to 0.17 hectares by 2020; and it is estimated to shrink to 0.08 hectares per citizen by 2050. Grazing reserves are also a distortion that could create distinct territories and sovereignties within the country. They are windows to secure usufructuary rights to other lands in order to exploit the political opportunities such rights may convey. The Kachia reserve (established in 1963) has been turned into a strategic enclave of the Kachichera Fulani. They are today demanding a Ladduga chiefdom based on their occupation of the reserve.
6. The point must also be made that the Fulani are not indigenous to the Benue Valley. There is abundant historical and archaeological evidence attesting to this and if they insist, they must show us their ancestral lands in the Benue Valley. No Nigerian should also be deceived; the Fulani practice of pastoralism is beyond the subsistence level. Fulani pastoralism is a multi billion naira international business. Shadowy figures behind the Pastoral Resolve (PARE), a Kaduna based NGO were reportedly scouting for ₦5 billion to establish pilot grazing reserves in Adamawa, Bauchi, Benue, Kogi and Nasarawa States after the Fulani abandoned gazetted reserves in Zamfara, Sokoto, Katsina, Kano, Jigawa and Borno States.
7. The sophisticated arms carried by Fulani militia and their trans-border capabilities and turnover as the main providers of beef in Nigeria puts the pastoral business on a scale that is beyond subsistence. Cattle breeding must be seen as a private business that ought to be properly regulated within Nigerian borders to yield higher returns in the country. Cattle breeders must also be appropriately taxed to contribute to the national and state IGR where cattle will be ranched.
8. While appreciating Section 41(1) of the Nigerian constitution and other provisions that guarantee free movement of citizens and inter-state commerce, it is important to note that pastoralism as a private business has implication for security, public health and the environment. Fulani herdsmen do not only carry sophisticated illegal arms, they herd and breed livestock that transmit zoonotic diseases. Their indiscriminate grazing also undermines local ecologies. The attempts to regulate pastoralism as a private business is justifiable since it will be irresponsible for any Government to allow free movement of people and livestock when such movement undermines security, public heath and the environment.
9. The international community and other good people of Nigeria are invited to note that while the President has thought it fit to deploy Special Forces to the forests of Zamfara, to quell cattle rustling, he has been silent on the indiscriminate killings by herdsmen across the country. Is it because he is Fulani and has spearheaded Fulani nomadic interests in the past? Is it because the Emir of Kano, Lamido of Adamawa and the Sultan of Sokoto are patrons of Fulani herdsmen? Nigerians may wish to recollect that, it was Muhammadu Buhari who took charge of the Petroleum Trust Fund (PTF), during the Abacha years and perfected plans to rehabilitate grazing reserves that had been dormant in the country. Obviously Mr. President is not bold enough to break his unholy silence over the Fulani wars and is certainly not faithful to the letters of the Oath of Allegiance and Oath of Office he took as contained in the 7th Schedule of the Nigeria Constitution. He has also cleverly turned the entire security architecture of the Nigerian State into the hands of his Fulani kith and kin. The President’s duplicity and silence on this matter has not only emboldened Fulani militia leaders who have continued to relentlessly attack other Nigerians, it has betrayed our good will, trust and confidence in his presidency.
10. If being classified as “North” will always mean Benue people and other nationalities of the Middle-Belt will continue to be marginalised, victimised and enslaved in Northern Nigeria we can no longer accept to be “North”. We cannot allow our ancestral lands as recently ideated by the Federal Government through Chief Audu Ogbeh, to be colonised and turned into Fulani enclaves, we will not repeat the mistake of the Hausa States.
11. The Federal Government through its agencies especially the Federal Ministry of Agriculture has also perfected equivocal language on the matter. One day, they are importing exotic grasses from Brazil for Fulani herdsmen, the next day, they are resuscitating grazing reserves for Fulani herdsmen, and most recently, they are talking of cattle colonies in each state of the Federation for Fulani herdsmen. In the past when the Minister of Agriculture (Chief Audu Ogbeh) and the Police were compelled to speak on the Fulani wars, they alluded to the fact that the Fulani militias in the forefront of these wars were not Nigerians but mercenaries from other West African countries. On the most recent Benue killings, the Inspector General of Police (IGP) has reduced the atrocities to communal clashes even though non of the Benue communities attacked before and now share common borders with the Fulani who have continued to attack from outside the state. The Federal Government is projecting a twisted value system in which more premium is being placed on livestock than the citizen. This unprofessional and strange response of the IGP coupled with the fact that more than one week since the President directed the him to relocate to Benue and arrest the perpetrators, he is yet to effect any arrest of the people who threatened and attacked the state. He has also refused to relocate to Benue as directed by the President. This certainly brings to question the IGP’s competence and complicity.
12. The world must also know that, all of the Fulani attacks on Benue communities in Guma, Logo, Makurdi, Gwer West and Agatu are launched directly from Nasarawa State especially from the Doma and Awe axes. In the past, the Governor of Nasarawa State Alhaji Tanko Al-Makura has explained away the presence of Fulani militia in his state by alluding to them as ‘international hunters’. He has also encouraged the Fulani to burn and settle on Tiv ancestral lands in different parts of Doma Local Government Area. His recent ranting against, Governor Samuel Ortom of Benue State is an expression of guilt for shielding Fulani militia and providing them safe bases in Doma and Awe where they have continued to launch attacks on Benue. If some of these militia elements are from outside the country, it means that they come into Nigeria with the help of other people in the Northern latitudes, and Governor Tanko Al-Makura is just the end of the chain in the conspiracy against Benue people.
13. The TPG is of the opinion that cattle and crops are private agricultural resources, which all Nigerians have interest in. While it is in everyone’s interest that the country has a sustainable crop production system as well as a sustainable livestock production system, both systems must be allowed to thrive as private businesses in an environment that is mutual and not adversarial. The moment these interests are articulated in adversarial ways, we are bound to have only winners or losers. It is our position that the Benue State Government has chosen a win-win path by enacting the Anti-Open Grazing Law. To tame the tide of violence and impunity, the State has deliberately elected to regulate livestock production within its boundaries. The State had determined rightly that the country’s current population; shrinking arable land, global warming, and desert encroachment makes indiscriminate open grazing irresponsible and unsustainable. We are also mindful of the need to contain the incessant Fulani militia attacks on unarmed and defenceless women, children, and farmers, which have led to untold loss of lives and property. It has been determined that between 2013-2016 alone, Fulani herdsmen had killed 1,878 men, women and children in cold blood from 12 Local Government Areas of the State. Another 750 were seriously wounded while 200 were missing. Over 99,427 households were affected in Benue and property worth billions of naira destroyed through a brutal earth-scorch strategy.
14. In Taraba, more than 1,159 men, women and children were killed in 7 Local Government Areas (Bali, Donga, Gashaka, Gassol, Ibi, Takum and Wukari) during the same period. More than 24,562 people were displaced and 171 Christian places of worship were destroyed in addition to whole settlements and farm produce. In Nasarawa State where the Tiv and Agatu are indigenes and reside in large numbers, over 4,000 men, women and children were killed in the past 5 years in Keana, Doma, Awe, Obi and Lafia Local Government Areas. Over 100,000 have been displaced and their ancestral lands in Doma, Awe and Lafia annexed and occupied. Cumulative losses to the country as a result of Fulani herdsmen criminal activities is estimated in excesses of $14 billion while states directly affected by Fulani terrorism have lost on average about 47% of their Internally Generated Revenues.
It was an attempt to extricate Benue from these challenges that the Government consulted widely and decided on the Anti-Open Grazing Law. This law is Benue’s solution to the lawlessness and criminal impunity of Fulani herdsmen. It is designed to protect both the farmer and the herdsman (not necessarily Fulani, by protecting his cattle from rustlers) who would agree to ranch his livestock. It is good practice, known in countries of Africa, Europe and the Americas and the only solution to the Nigerian livestock challenge.
15. As law abiding people, we shall continue to tow the line of Governor Samuel Ortom not to take laws into our hands. We are also appealing to our people that, as provocative as these brutal attacks are, they should never contemplate taking laws into their hands. But we want the world to know our plight, and if they intervene in time, our people may be saved. If no intervention comes, we will have no choice but to resort to self-defense since we can no longer tolerate the ethnic cleansing of our people through incessant attacks and their slaughter in their sleep on their ancestral lands. We cannot share our ancestral space with the ‘Fulani of the whole world’. In passing, the current generation of Fulani nomadic children must thank Governor Samuel Ortom for liberating them through the Anti–Open Grazing Law. They should ask: How many children of the Patrons of herdsmen, Emirs, Fulani politicians and technocrats are herding cows with them in the bush. They should ask: How many children of the Sultan, Emirs, Fulani politicians and technocrats are fighting in the bush as Fulani militia. Nigeria must guard against opening up the country to the ‘Fulani of the whole world’. There is no land to contain them and no responsible modern state will accept the high nonsense of the Fulani.
16. In conclusion:
We commend Governor Samuel Ortom for his resolute stand and constitutional measures he has taken to protect Benue people and secure our boundaries. We commend him for the enactment of the Anti-Open Grazing Law and taking measures that will bring peace to the state.
We commend His Majesty the Tor Tiv and Chairman of the Benue State Council of Chiefs, Orcivirigh Prof. James O. I. Ayatse, for standing up against the genocide and ethnic cleansing of Benue people.
We commend the National Assembly and other socio-cultural groups including Afenifere, Ohaneze Ndigbo, Middle-Belt Forum and the South-South for their alliance and solidarity with the people of the state. We commend them for condemning the Fulani genocide and ethnic cleansing of our people. We welcome their invitation to stand with us and consider our injury as their own.
We commend Wantaregh Paul Iorpuu Unongo for resigning as Convener and Chair of the Northern Elders’ Forum (NEF). This resignation is good riddance to bad rubbish!
We commend the Media for their continued bold and impartial reportage of the genocide and ethnic cleansing of nationalities in Benue, Adamawa, Plateau, Taraba, Kaduna and Nassarawa States;
We call on the Federal Government to accept the global best practice of ranching as done by Governor Samuel Ortom; as the panacea for peace between crop farmers and pastoralists;
We call on the international community to intervene urgently and put pressure on President Muhammadu Buhari to stop the senseless killings of Nigerian citizens by Fulani herdsmen;
We call on President Buhari and the Nigerian Government to align with the Global Terror Index and designate Fulani herdsmen as a global terror group; and proscribe both MACBAN and Miyetti-Allah Kautal Hore as terrorist organisations;
We call on the immediate removal of the Inspector General of Police (IGP) from office, for incompetence, complicity and open partisanship with Fulani herdsmen;
We call on the Nigerian security agencies, especially the Nigeria Police to arrest and prosecute leaders of MACBAN and Miyetti-Allah Kautal Hore and stop the infiltration of herdsmen into the country from outside;
We call on the National Assembly to ensure the reorganisation of the security architecture of the country to reflect the federal character provision in the statutes.
We call for the establishment of a Middle Belt Development Commission (MBDC) and adequate compensation for lost lives and property in the Benue Valley;
We call on Chief Audu Ogbeh, a prominent Benue son not to allow himself to be used in the continued attacks, killings, genocide and ethnic cleansing of our people;
We strongly support calls for the country’s restructuring including the establishment of State Police and will work with other groups to ensure the restructuring agenda is achieved as soon as possible;
We call on Governor Samuel Ortom to continue to stand firm and request ALL citizens of Benue State to close ranks and rise above partisanship as we jointly confront the Fulani agenda. Our generation and indeed ALL Nigerians have no other country to call their own and cannot allow herdsmen to destroy our nation.
Thank you and God bless.