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The attention of the people of Benue state hereby represented by the Mdzough U Tiv (MUT), the Idoma National Forum and the Omi Ny’Igede, the principal umbrella socio-cultural organizations of the Tiv, Idoma and Igede Nations, has been drawn to the incendiary press conference held by the leadership of the Fulani Cattle Breeders Association –Miyetti Allah Kautal Hore and published in the Nation Newspaper of Wednesday 31st May 2017.
The press conference, from all intents and purposes, was not only inciting and bellicose but full of half truths and ahistorical; intended to aggravate the already challenging security situation in Benue State and Nigeria as a whole.
The assertion by the group that the Fulanis were the original inhabitants of the Benue valley is absolutely ridiculous, preposterous and complete falsehood. There is neither historical, archeological nor anthropological evidence to indicate that the Fulanis ever inhabited the Benue Valley at any time before the advent of the Tiv people or any of the other ethnic groups of Benue State. What is a veritable and verifiable historical fact is that the forces of the 1804 Islamic Jihad led by the Fulani cleric, Usman Dan Fodio, were overwhelmingly defeated at the Ushongo Hills in Tivland.
That explains why Islam could not be imposed on the Benue people nor Emirs appointed to rule Benue as was the case elsewhere in Nigeria.
Therefore the recent claim by Miyetti Allah KautalHore that they were in the Benue Valley before any of the existing ethnic nationalities is not only ridiculous, it is a tissue of lies concocted from the pit of hell to support a desperate and diabolical claim on our ancestral lands. Knowing who the Fulani are and their penchant for changing historical narratives to benefit their designs, we are not surprised. They have severally attempted to hoist a post Jihad narrative of Northern Nigerian identity that seeks to conscript Northern minorities into a monolithic North in which they would be a mere footstool for the caliphate.
For the avoidance of doubt, the Fulani claim of having settled in the Benue Valley before the Tiv or any of the other ethnic nationalities is a lie for several reasons:
- For instance, Archaeological evidence in the Benue Valley going back to the Early Iron Age at the site of IndyerMbakuv (Tse Dura) excavated and dated by the Late Professor Bassey Andah of the University of Ibadan, Ibadan to 2,300BC shows definite affinities with the Tiv.
- Additional Archaeological evidence from the Nok site of Katsina Ala also has affinities with other contemporary groups in the Middle Benue Valley including the Tiv.
- Linguistic, Genetic and Historical evidence indicate that the Tiv were part of the ancestral Bantu stock in the Nigerian Cameroonian border well before the Fulani dispersal from the FutaJalon highlands.
The Fulani attempt to change the narrative at this belated time confirms our suspicion that their interest in the Benue Valley is more than the grass they seek for their cattle.
The attempt is a devious strategy to secure usufructuary rights to our ancestral lands to be able to exploit the political and religious opportunities that come with such rights. We challenge the Fulani to tell the world where and when the Tiv specifically displaced them in order to settle in the Benue Valley. If they cannot do this, they should in the alternative tell the world where their ancestral lands exist in the Benue Valley so that they can quietly move and establish ranches for their livestock. Their desperate and bloody push for grazing rights across the country for the Fulani of the ‘whole world’ has adverse implications for national security, planning, health and stability. The ECOWAS Protocol on Free Movement of Persons within the Sub-region does not include the indiscriminate movement of livestock across national boundaries nor does it include the indiscriminate movement of armed gangs masquerading as herdsmen.
The coming of Fulani herdsmen into the Benue valley is a recent development; indeed a post-independence phenomenon occasioned by the climate change- driven desert encroachment and the drying up of the waters of the Lake Chad.
Their visits were seasonal and aimed at pasturing their cattle during the dry season. The ECOWAS Protocol which allows free movement of the peoples of the West African Sub-region does not in any way allow for wanton destruction of lives, economic livelihood of a people, farm lands, property and engagement in heinous criminal activities. Both municipal and international law guarantee the inalienable rights of a people to life, ownership of property, engagement in meaningful economic activities to ensure their survival as long as such rights do not infringe on the freedom of others.
The Fulanis had had a cordial relationship with our people overtime. Now that they have resorted to criminal violation of the rights of the people, clearly indicates that they have overstayed their welcome.
It must be emphasized that the Fulanis cannot claim to be struggling with the Tiv people specifically or any other of the ethnic nationalities in Benue State over natural resources; which obviously refers to our land. It is axiomatic that the Fulanis are not indigenous to Benue State and thus cannot lay claim to our resources legally or culturally. If this is an attempt by the Fulanis to annex and occupy our land, we are ready to resist this aggression with all the legitimate means that we can mobilize.We inherited this land from our forefathers and we shall protect it for our children and generations yet to be born.
The Fulanis might be indigenous to several states in the far Northern parts of Nigeria and thus may have customary rights to land in those respective states. They may also have the legal rights and freedom to acquire land for ranching in any part of the country, but the Benue people will therefore resist all attempts by Fulanis to annex and occupy our territory.
Let it be emphasized here that, we the Benue people take a very strong exception to the characterization of the Anti-Open Grazing Law by the leadership of the Mayetti Allah Kautal Hore as “wicked, obnoxious and repressive” which is meant to criminalize the means of survival of the Fulani people and as the “most wicked act any government can do to” them and their economic interest, as most preposterous, conspiratorial and confrontational.
The process of enacting this law followed all due procedures. The Bill was read several times on the floor of the Benue State House of Assembly; there was a call for memoranda from the public and then public hearings. Consequently all pertinent views and interests were collated before the Bill was eventually passed.
The “Open Grazing Prohibition Establishment Law 2017” was enacted by elected representatives of the people, the Benue State House of Assembly in exercise of her powers as provided for by section 4 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (as amended). Part 2 of the second schedule to the Constitution reinforces that the House of Assembly may make laws for the State with respect to industrial, commercial and agricultural development of the State.”
The feeling of the leadership of the Fulani herdsmen that the Law was targeted to jeopardize their interest is unfortunate, unfounded and baseless. The main objective of this Law is to bring to an end the wanton destruction of innocent lives of the Benue people in their hundreds and thousands, the monumental and callous pillage of farms and farm produce worth billions of Naira, the unfathomable humanitarian crises and the attendant social devastation of our society occasioned by the displacement of millions of our people. The consequences of these on the development of Benue State are unimaginable and will linger on for several decades.
Let it be stated clearly here that the Law was therefore not aimed at undermining the economic or social interest of the Fulanis or any other ethnic nationality in Nigeria. Consequently the provision in the Law for the establishment of ranches is to forestall the continued devastation of the Benue land and to conform to global best-practices for the management of livestock, which is also in the interest of cattle herdsmen.
With regards to ownership of Benue Lands and the natural resources therein, the preamble to the land Use Act which is also a Constitutional provision vests all land compromised in the territory of each State (except land vested in the federal government or its agencies) solely in the Governor of the State, who would hold such Land in trust for the people and would henceforth be responsible for allocation of land in all urban areas to individuals resident in the state and to organizations for residential, agriculture, commercial and other purposes while similar powers will with respect to non-urban areas are conferred on Local Governments.
Section 1 of the Act, further provides that all land comprised in the territory of each State in the Federation are hereby vested in the Governor of the State and such shall be held in trust and administered for the use and common benefit of all Nigerians in accordance with the provisions of the Act.
A combined reading of the above Constitutional provisions revealed in clear terms that the State Governor is responsible for allocation of land in all urban areas to individuals resident in the State and organizations for residential, agricultural, commercial and other purposes while similar powers are conferred on Local Governments with respect to non-urban areas. The Benue State Anti-Grazing Law is therefore Legal and valid.
The Mdzough U Tiv, the Idoma National Forum and the Omi Ny’Igede strongly feel that the Anti-Open Grazing Law is the most civilized and best lasting solution that will resolve this perennial problem between our farmers and Fulani herdsmen which has unleashed the worst humanitarian crisis ever witnessed in the life of our society and Benue State in general.
While we concede and acknowledge the right of the Miyetti Allah Kautal Hore to legally challenge the Anti-Open Grazing Law, we are most perturbed by their call for total rejection of this Law especially their avowed position to mobilize all herdsmen in the country to resist the Law.
The bellicosity of this declaration cannot be lost to any discerning mind. Our position is informed by the publication in the Vanguard News paper of Thursday June 1st 2017 at page 5 in which we quote “In 2014 the Global Terrorism Index ranked herdsmen as the fourth deadliest group in the world after Boko Haram, ISIS and Al-shabab.” This current declaration is a clear cut manifestation of war tendencies by the herdsmen against our peace-loving people of Benue State.
The Mdzough U Tiv, the Idoma National Forum and the Omi Ny’Igede strongly call on the Ag. President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria,Prof.Yemi Osibanjo, to immediately order the arrest of the President of Miyetti Allah, Abdullahi Bello and the Secretary, Saleh Alhassan and charge them for inciting the herdsmen against the Benue people. If Federal Government feels reluctant and unwilling to do this, we are taking the herdsmen to court.
If this is not done urgently any breakdown of law and order and further destruction of lives and property by the Fulani herdsmen will be blamed on the Federal Government for not living up to its constitutional responsibility.
We also call on our representatives in the National Assembly to rise up to the occasion and mobilize national support for the Benue people in order to forestall the impending genocide and annexation of our God-given land by the Fulani herdsmen.
In conclusion, the Mdzough U Tiv, the Idoma National Forum and the Omi Ny’Igede wish to express their strong appreciation of the proactive position of the Governor of Benue State, His Excellency, Samuel Ortom; the Speaker of the Benue State House of Assembly, Rt. Hon. Terkimbi Ikyange, all members of the State House of Assembly and all those who contributed in various ways to facilitate the passage of the Law. Their names will forever be in the book of heroes when the history of this country is written for bravely standing up to protect the lives and properties of their people when those who were given the responsibility seemed to have shied away.
We wish to place on record our untrammeled and solid support for the Government of Benue State over the enactment of this Law and assure her that we shall do everything within our powers to see its successful implementation.
The Mdzough U Tiv, the Idoma National Forum and the Omi Ny’Igede hereby invite all Benue sons and daughters, all social cultural organizations across the country, their friends and well-wishers, (both at home and in the Diaspora) to mobilize and harness all possible support and resources to ensure that this Law is implemented in order to safeguard the lives and property of the Benue people, and also to avert possible genocide against our people by the Miyetti Allah Kautal Hore.
Chief Engr. Edward Ujege, FNSE,MFR
(Zege Mule U KOnshisha)
President-General , Mdzough U Tiv
Barr. Amali Adoya Amali
President General, Idoma National Forum
Chief. Ode Enyi
President General, Omi Ny’Igede