*Northern elders’ call sectional, divisive, unfortunate —Middle Belt Forum
*Nobody‘ll lose sleep if they decide to return – Afenifere
*NEF’s position shameful, disappointing — Agbekoya
*Get off your high horse, PANDEF tells Northern elders
*Northern elders’ll set Nigeria on fire with divisive utterances— Mbazulike Amechi
*No ethnic group should lord it over others— Gbajabiamila
By Emma Amaize, Anayo Okoli, Dapo Akinrefon, Peter Duru, Johnbosco Agbakwuru & Chimaobi Nwaiwu
Regional groups in the country, yesterday, took on one of their northern counterparts, the Northern Elders Forum, for calling on President Muhammadu Buhari to protect Fulani herdsmen in the south against attacks, saying the call was not only divisive and unfortunate but also shameful and disappointing.
The groups include Yoruba socio-political organisation, Afenifere, Middle Belt Forum, the Pan-Niger Delta Forum, PANDEF, and Agbekoya Farmers Society of Nigeria in the South West.
Although Ohanaeze Ndigbo could not be reached for comments, elder statesman and First Republic Minister of Aviation, Mbazulike Amechi, also expressed angst about the northern elders call.
The Northern Elders Forum had Tuesday in a statement signed by its Director, Publicity and Advocacy, Dr. Hakeem Baba-Ahmed, also asked the herders to return to the north, if they no longer felt safe in the south.
Its statement had read: “Northern Elders Forum is deeply worried by reports of ejections under threat and attacks on Fulani herders, families and communities in some states of the south.
“The Forum calls on President Muhammadu Buhari and state governors to take immediate and decisive steps to protect law-biding members of Fulani communities from killers and criminals who apparently believe that Fulani have no rights in Nigeria.
“It demands the immediate arrest and prosecution of persons who are attacking herdsmen and setting the country on a very dangerous path.’’
Middle Belt Forum
But replying the northern elders yesterday in a statement signed by its national president, Dr. Bitrus Pogu in Makurdi, the Middle Belt Forum said it was sectional, divisive and unfortunate for the Northern elders to call on President Buhari to protect Fulanis in the southern part of the country.
He urged the elders to properly advise the President on the need for the country to embrace ranching as panacea for the lingering farmers/herders conflict.
The statement read: “I do not agree with them because to me, that statement is sectional. They are supposed to act as Nigerians. The Fulani herders or marauders have been killing in the Middle Belt, it switched to the North West and now it has gone to the southern part of the country.
“At least in the South, they are getting a good response to the attacks for the first time. When they were killing us in the Middle Belt, they did not respond, the northern elders didn’t even say anything. They didn’t mind, they only started talking when they were killing their brothers in the North West.
“Even at that, they did not ask President Buhari to do anything. They were only complaining about the general security situation. Now it is the South West and they are calling on the President to protect the Fulani.
“I think it is divisive and unfortunate. They are supposed to tell the President that it is high time he addressed the issue of conflict brought about by the Fulani.
“Why the herdsmen all the time? And many of these Fulani are not even Nigerians. Why are they being protected and Northern elders are calling on the President to protect them.
“Rather, what I would have liked to hear from them is to say that the issue of conflicts between Fulani and other Nigerians should be halted by changing their historic attitude of open grazing and restricting them to ranches which is the modern practice in animal husbandry.
“So, rather than being sectional, they should look at the issue of why these people have been attacking Nigerians and that the President should address that issue and not for them to call for the protection of herdsmen.
“Some of them have even gone as far as saying the Fulani should come back to the North. By saying that, they also imply that southerners should go back to the south, that is not right.
“Nigeria is for everybody, and what we want is for them to ask Mr. President to address this thing once and for all. The modern practice of animal husbandry is ranching and nothing more.
“If the Fulani start ranching, they will not destroy people’s farms and they will not ask their brothers to go and attack people and they will also not organize to kidnap people. It is as simple as that.’’
Reacting, the pan-Yoruba socio-political organization, Afenifere, lampooned the northern elders over their remarks, saying nobody will lose sleep if herdsmen decide to return to the north.
Afenifere’s National Publicity Secretary, Yinka Odumakin, said: “Buhari has no issue protecting southerners who are being persecuted on their land. He should spread all his wings to protect the Fulani persecutors. Nobody will lose sleep if the killers decide to return to Futa Jalon.”
On its part, the guild of farmers from South-West, Agbekoya Farmers Society of Nigeria, blasted the Northern leaders over their utterances, describing the call by the northern elders as shameful and disappointing.
Speaking after the emergency meeting of the National Executive Council and the Iwarefa-in-Council of Agbekoya, its President-General, Chief Kamorudeen Okikiola, bemoaned the utterances of the Northern leaders claiming that the entire land of Nigeria belongs to the Fulani race.
Chief Okikiola also said the call by some Northern leaders to herdsmen to come back home, if they were forcibly ejected from the South, was shameful and disappointing.
He said rather than address the menace of herdsmen, bandits and kidnappers perpetrating all manner of criminality, the northern elders were making unguarded hate speeches.
Okikiola said: “Southerners and the Yoruba people in South-West have been living with Fulani herdsmen for many years without any problem but the sudden change in the events and circumstances, especially the issues of destruction of farm products by cattle, kidnapping and killing of farmers and innocent citizens by armed Fulani herdsmen and bandits brought about a twist and turn in the relationship between southerners and the Fulani.
‘’Northern leaders should address the issues of herdsmen carrying firearms and other weapons, kidnapping and collection of ransom, raping and killing of innocent people in villages.
‘’Yoruba people are always ready to live with other tribes but not with criminals. Agbekoya calls on the Northern leaders to find positive and lasting solutions to the problems of herdsmen, bandits, and kidnappers who are killing innocent people all over the South, rather than asking them to come back home.”
Similarly, the Pan-Niger Delta Forum, PANDEF, the mouthpiece of monarchs, leaders and stakeholders of the coastal states of Niger Delta, declared as presumptuous the call by the Northern Elders Forum on President Muhammadu Buhari and governors of the 36 states to protect Fulani communities in the South.
PANDEF urged state governors, particularly of southern regions and the people not to be perturbed by the tirades of those it described as self-conceited people.”
In a statement signed by its National Publicity Secretary, Ken Robinson, the group said: “PANDEF implores the Northern elders and their surrogates to get off the high-horse. And the sooner, the better for the country, and all of us. Nigeria belongs to all of us, no section owns the country more than the other, we are equal stakeholders.”
‘’Where was the Northern Elders Forum when arm-wielding herdsmen were killing, harassing innocent citizens, and raping women in their farms?
“Northern elders did not realize then that they were setting the country on a dangerous path. Miyetti Allah members have been arrogantly conducting themselves like “landlords” of Nigeria without any demonstration.
“It is now that southern governors have begun taking appropriate steps to safeguard lives and livelihoods of their people that Northern elders have found their voice in defense of the herdsmen.
“It is a pity that in a heterogeneous country like Nigeria, one ethnic group would make itself a content of crisis. For goodness’ sake, cattle rearing is a private business, let those involved establish ranches, instead of taking over lands and terrorizing communities.
“The killings, kidnappings, and other criminal activities being perpetrated by herdsmen will not be allowed to continue.
“While PANDEF would denounce any attack on innocent citizens by any group in any part of the country, it is important to emphasize that the prohibition of open grazing and movement of cattle, as well as the ejection orders to groups who have been illegally and forcibly occupying forests, are pertinent and indisputable.’’
Also lending his voice to the issue, elderstatesman and prominent Igbo leader, Chief Mbazulike Amechi, cautioned President Buhari not to allow Nigeria disintegrate under his watch, in view of the various divisive tendencies currently rocking Nigeria and being promoted by the herdsmen and their sponsors.
Amechi, one of the founding fathers of Nigeria and 1st Republic Aviation Minister, reminded President Buhari that successive governments in Nigeria had come and gone but the country did not witness all the divisive tendencies currently bedeviling it today.
He warned him to beware of Fulani leaders, else they will derail his government.
Mbazulike, who was reacting to the call by Northern Elders Forum on President Mohammadu Buhari to protect herdsmen in the South, urged the President not to allow selfish Nigerian elders derail his government and destroy the country handed over to him undivided.
He said: “It is very clear to everybody that the upsurge, the killings or assumption of power and weapons by the herdsmen started during this regime; it was not there during former President Olusegun Obasanjo’s regime; it was not there in late Umaru Y’Adua regime, it was not there during Goodluck Jonathan’s regime; it all started during the present Buhari’s regime, so let Nigerians count their teeth with their tongue.
“Has any of these people moving around with those weapons been arrested and prosecuted? So let people not misunderstand themselves.
“Nigerians should count their teeth with their tongues for them to know what is happening. Nigeria is finished under this administration; there is nothing like Nigeria again, what you have is a country where cows are valued more than human beings and citizens of the country.
“I do not know what is happening in this country, I don’t know; I don’t know, but only God will provide solution. But the question is if people are tired of belonging in Nigeria, you cannot say they must continue to belong in Nigeria against their wish and force them to belong, yet you want to treat them as slaves.
‘’Okay, if they want to go, why not allow them to go? Why not allow them to hold the plebiscite and decide for themselves through the majority, whether they will stay or not.
“So all I can say now is let us watch the reaction of Buhari to that call by the NEF; let us see if they alone own this country or if Buhari is President of only the Fulani and their herdsmen; let us watch and see how a President will be singling out an ethnic group for protection while others watch him.
“Yes, Northern elders have called on Buhari to protect herdsmen in the South, let us see what will be his reaction. As I have always said, it is really not the herdsmen that are carrying the weapons, no true herdsman will leave his 20 or 30 herds of cattle and go to a village to kidnap.
‘’The truth is that criminals with arms are moving into the herdsmen fold to commit crime and the herdsmen are allowing them to do that and the government is not interested in finding out what those criminals are doing among the herdsmen.
“The Federal Government is not interested in finding out what those criminals are doing, hiding under the cover and shade of herdsmen; they are only talking about protecting herdsmen. Who is protecting the people and villagers they are invading and sacking on daily basis.
‘’They are the ones killing people and some selfish Nigerians looking for favour from the president are asking him to protect them. Who will then protect the South which they are invading, killing people and sacking them from their communities?
“The people of the South should find a way of protecting themselves. I have continued to say it like many other Nigerians that the issue of Fulani herdsmen and their leaders will destroy the country.
“This is not how to run a country, they are running Nigeria as if it belongs only to Fulani. Administrations had come and gone, we never saw the kind of things happening under this administration. Why must this administration be exceptional.
‘’We only hear about herdsmen and cattle and cows, this is no more a country and this is not how to run a country. This is not the country I helped to found and I am so ashamed and disappointed with what is happening in Nigeria under this administration.’’
On Ndigbo response
Chief Amechi, however regretted that in the face of all the humiliations, Ndigbo has nobody to speak for them, noting that the new Ohaneze Ndigbo leadership had turned dumb.
“I am surprise that a lot of things that concern the existence of Ndigbo are happening, yet the new Ohaneze Ndigbo leadership is keeping quiet. They are not saying anything and Ndigbo are suffering and being humiliated on a daily basis.
‘’I am pleading with the leadership of Ohaneze Ndigbo to sit up and defend the Igbo, I am not satisfied with the way they are reacting to issues of security of Igbo people.
“Do we still have Ohanaeze Ndigbo or what we have now is Ohanaeze Ndi Isoko, or Ohanaeze Ndi Funtua? Why are they keeping quiet while Ndigbo are going through all kinds of dehumanizing treatment under the present regime.
“The question is, are there no more leadership in Igbo land? Igbo do not have leadership again after Nwodo; if not why is Ohanaeze Ndigbo not responding when such calls are made by Northern Elders Forum.
“There was killing of people and burning of their houses and shops in Orlu by the Army and Police, did Ohaneze Ndigbo’s leadership talk? It was more painful that Orlu is his senatorial zone and that of Imo State governor, yet nothing happened there, the people were not protected,” the nonagenarian lamented.
Meanwhile, speaker of the House of Representatives, Femi Gbajabiamila, yesterday said no particular ethnic group in the country should claim superiority or lord it over others.
Gbajabiamila, who stated this while speaking with State House correspondents after meeting behind closed doors with President Muhammadu Buhari at the Presidential Villa, Abuja, said: “Everybody just have to come to the table and discuss and come to amicable resolution which I’m sure we will.
“I don’t think any ethnic group should lord it over any other ethic group, the south west should not lord it over the north, the north should not lord it over the south. We should respect each other’s trade, geographical space, history, culture and more importantly, the issue crime, murder all those things should be completely jettisoned.
“But more importantly, we all have to sit on the table and discuss this matter and look for the way forward. I think everybody is willing to do that.
“From the National Assembly, solutions will come from talking. I believe that now that we are about to start work on Tuesday, I know these issues will come up and adequate and proper legislation that will address the issue frontally, would be put in place in the best interest of the country.’’
The speaker said his discussion with the President was on the state of the nation, adding that it was a fruitful and an interesting discussion.
Commenting on the appointment of new service chiefs, he said: “The appointment of new service chiefs is what everybody has been clamoring for, the House, Senate, the public, and the president took his time and he studied the situation very well and did it at the right time he thought he should do it and we are in support of what he has done.”
On the expected support from the National Assembly to the service chiefs, he assured that everything that will be needed to ensure that the country was safe would be provided.
“The National Assembly will not in any way put hurdles before the service chiefs. We will provide a working environment suitable for them, to enable them to discharge their responsibilities very efficiently.”