What in your view is the cause of the killings by herdsmen in recent times?
First, let me say that the attacks and killings have nothing to do with the anti-open grazing law enacted by the Benue State Government. The job of the state House of Assembly is to make laws because the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria empowers it to do so.
So, if you are Yoruba, Igbo, Hausa or whatever tribe you may be and you want to live in Benue State,you must obey and abide by the laws of the state. You cannot just come from anywhere and say you don’t want that law. It is completely absurd for somebody outside Benue to say ‘no, we don’t want that law’ and for them to determine what kind of law we should have in our own state.
Having said that, killings were carried out by Fulani herdsmen before the law was enacted. The herdsmen killed people in Zamfara, Kano, Kaduna, Adamawa, Abia, Rivers and other states (before the anti-open grazing law). None of the states enacted the law prohibiting open grazing before the herders killed their people.
The point here is that the people, who are killing now, have an agenda and they are being sponsored by faceless people and the worst thing is that nobody is being apprehended.
Why do you think the police are not arresting them?
Those who were arrested by the state government agents while committing criminal acts in broad daylight and handed over to the police have all been released quietly, but Tiv men, carrying Dane guns licensed by local government authorities, are being arrested and paraded by the police as members of a militia.
What is their mode of operation?
They usually come out at night when people are asleep and attack them. They also slaughter their victims. They adopt the guerrilla warfare style. Imagine yourself sleeping at night and somebody attacks you and starts slaughtering your children, wives and relatives and they escape without traces.
How can you then describe those people as Fulani herdsmen?
Those who are killing us have no cattle at all. The police, who have statutory responsibility to find out the identities of those faceless people, are not ready to do so, and I am not surprised because the police know them but they are under instruction not to find and arrest them. We in Benue State are totally convinced that the police know those who are killing our people and they know the agenda. The police have been bought over to do their bidding; that’s all.
Do you then support the recent statement by the Department of State Services that those carrying out the killings are foreigners?
If the DSS says the herdsmen are foreigners, why are they referring to them as ‘Fulani herdsmen’? Why is the Miyetti Allah Kautal Hore group angry about the law? Is the law in Benue State provoking foreigners to attack us? If our attackers are foreigners, why is the government not securing our borders?
There are security personnel at the borders. Are they saying that they prefer to protect the foreigners and their cows than the people who are the legitimate owners of their lands in Benue State? We will not agree with the DSS on that statement. If they are foreigners, why is the Miyetti Allah complaining? Is Miyetti Allah speaking on behalf of the Fulani herdsmen or they are speaking on behalf of the foreigners? The people (Miyetti Allah) think that we are fools and that we don’t understand what they were saying. We are very intelligent, hence we cannot reason the way they think.
Do you have an idea of the number of attacks on Benue State so far?
They have attacked Tiv and the Agatu more than 50 times.
What do you think is their agenda?
The leaders of our nation should find out if they are not responsible for the attacks and tell us why a foreigner should come and attack bona fide citizens of Nigeria. We have lived with the Fulani for so long and we never experienced this type of fight with them.
Why should foreigners leave their countries and come all the way to attack people in Benue? A policeman will see them with AK-47 and will not arrest them because they know they are Fulani, but if you are Tiv, Benue, Yoruba or Igbo, they will arrest you. That means that they have an agenda. If they can open the borders and allow foreigners to flock into the country to kill in Benue State, then there is an agenda.
Are you not worried that traditional rulers are not playing any role to bring peace among the herdsmen and farmers?
The Sultan of Sokoto, who is the patron of Miyetti Allah, has been speaking and he spoke in favour of Miyetti Allah. The Emir of Kano also spoke in favour of Fulani herdsmen. What did they say and what would you want me to say?
Do you expect the said monarchs to speak in favour of the Fulani or to condemn their act?
It is not right for you to know that somebody’s life is being destroyed and you fail to condemn it; everybody knows that it is not right. If my people should go to another region and they start killing people there, as a traditional ruler here, l will first ask my people why they should go there to kill.
Here in Benue State, especially in Tiv land, our greatest friends are the Fulani. The Fulani came and met the Tiv people here in this valley right from Taraba State. When they came, they would leave their wives and children under our care to graze their cows elsewhere, and sometimes, they stayed for months. Their families were with us and we looked after them.
Why do you think the Fulani are attacking your people now?
I can trace the cause to religion and politics. In 1804, when the Jihad broke out, it was the Tiv that stopped the war from spreading to the South and East and that’s why you will hardly see a Tiv man, who is a Muslim. It is only a few of us and we don’t have emirs. A Tiv is a democrat and a republican. We had a relationship with them but we didn’t want them to lord it over us; so, we stopped them at Ushongo Hill and because Fulani don’t forget and forgive easily, that thing is paining them to date.
If we didn’t stop them, the whole of Igboland would have become Muslim territory, but from the other axis, Fulani penetrated. That’s why you have emirs in some of North-Central Nigeria.
Another thing the Fulani hold against us is that during the First Republic, the Tiv, led by the late Joseph Tarka, formed an alliance with the Yoruba. We aligned ourselves with the Action Group, instead of being with the Northern Peoples Congress, which was a Hausa/Fulani party.
Lest I forget, the Fulani were not happy with the (Gideon) Orkar’s (foiled) coup, which exposed all their plans. Since then, they have been nursing all these attacks on the Tiv nation. The Fulani were not happy because we were a force to be reckoned with as a minority in the North.
A force in terms of population or military might?
We have a population of more than six million people scattered across Benue, Taraba, Plateau, Nasarawa, Abuja, and so on. When you talk about the Middle Belt, which tribe has such population in the Middle Belt like the Tiv? And that is why we championed the Middle Belt Congress, which later came into Tiv land in the 60s.
Why did you follow the Action Congress led by the late Chief Obafemi Awolowo?
When Awo (Obafemi Awolowo) came to us, he asked what the Tiv people in Nigeria wanted and we said we didn’t want anything other than to allow Hausa/Fulani go as a separate nation. After our alliance with the AG ended, we later went into alliance with the National Council of Nigeria and the Cameroons, an Igbo party, with (Nnamdi) Azikiwe as leader. It was in the Second Republic that the late Joseph Tarka, in his own wisdom, thought that for us to benefit from Nigeria properly, we must align ourselves with the North and he brought us all back to the National Party of Nigeria.
What was your experience under the NPN?
Former President (Shehu) Shagari treated us very well but when our son, the erstwhile governor of the state, Gabriel Suswam, pulled out of the Northern Governors Forum, it angered them the more. They said if they didn’t check us, we would spoil their agenda. They are cheating us and they are not giving us our proper share as Nigerians.
You have still not told us the Fulani agenda
Part of their agenda is to stop recruiting Tiv people into the army, navy, air force, customs and all paramilitary agencies.
We went back to our farms when they started marginalising us but they still hired people to attack and kill us.
As a traditional ruler, have you received a report of how many people have been killed or attacked in your domain?
Logo Local Government Area is part of my domain, where several people have been killed and property worth billions of naira destroyed. You remember during the last regime, l was a member of the peace committee under General Atom Kpera and that committee was to bring Fulani and Tiv people together and we went to all these areas. We went to Makurdi, Guma, Gwer, Gwer West and Logo and these places share borders with Nasarawa. Because Nasarawa people are afraid of Fulani, they harbour them. That is why they usually come from Nasarawa to attack our people. Now, we have to be afraid of all those Hausa/Fulani engaging in menial jobs. The Fulani, who are moving with their cattle, did not kill us. What they did was to hire foreign herdsmen to come and kill us. Now, Makurdi is vulnerable to their attacks because of the river, and you know that some of these Hausa, who are into menial jobs like nail cutting, hawking water and selling fruits, could be dangerous.
As a traditional ruler, what efforts are you making to save your people since you no longer trust the police?
First, we have been talking to our people not to go to Nasarawa and other areas where there are Fulani. We also told them that if anyone attacks them, they should defend themselves. They should no longer allow themselves and their families to be killed like chickens