Elders drawn from the three major tribes in Benue state have urged President Muhammadu Buhari to declare Fulani herdsmen?s invasion of the state as well as the gruesome massacre of villagers by the armed herders as act of insurgency and label the perpetrators as terrorists to be routed by the military.
They made this call in a communiqu? issued at the end of a unity meeting held in Makurdi and attended by the leaders of Tiv, Idoma and Igede.
The communiqu? was jointly signed by Chief Edward Ujege, President-General of Mdzough U TIV (MUT), Dr. Okopi Momoh, President of Idoma National Forum (INF) and Chief Ode Enyi, President-General of Omi Ny Igede.
They ?observed that these invading Fulani Herdsmen have been allowed to bear sophisticated assault weapons unchallenged which is against all our extant laws. The perpetrators and sponsors of such heinous crimes against humanity must be brought to justice.?
The elders explained that the meeting was necessitated by ?the armed invasion and occupation of their land by Fulani herdsmen and the wanton killing of their people, destruction of homes and farmlands, raping of their wives and daughters in 15 Local Government Areas out of 23 namely, Agatu, Gwer East, Gwer West, Makurdi, Guma, Tarka, Buruku, Katsina Ala, Logo, Ukum, Kwande, Oju, Obi and Konshisha?.
Leaders and elders of Mdzough U Tiv, MUT, Idoma National Forum, INF, and Omi Ny?Igede, also rejected the proposed Town Hall Meeting by the Federal Government, insisting that only an inclusive Judicial Commission of Enquiry can unravel the root cause(s) of the invasion of Benue by Fulani herdsmen and the gruesome massacre of the people by the armed herders.
According to them, ?The delay in setting up the Presidential Investigation Panel promised by the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria is becoming worrisome.
?The proposed Town Hall Meeting by the Federal Government is not only diversionary, but a deliberate ploy to downplay the degree of attention and seriousness that should be accorded the invasion of our land. We wonder why the same Government that promised to set up an investigation committee is now resorting to a mere ruse called ?Town Hall Meeting?.
?We observed that the Town Hall meeting held on the 24th day of March, 2016 in Abuja by 1 Idoma Initiative with the Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association of Nigeria (MACBAN) during which some major decisions were taken as detailed in a communiqu? did not have the mandate of major stakeholders in the crisis?.
While carpeting the federal and state government for being unable to address the menace, the forum noted that the Fulani Herdsmen and Farmers conflict in Benue State, which started over two decades ago, has escalated from mere conflict to an invasion and occupation agenda amounting to terrorism.
They also complained that the Internally Displaced Persons, IDPs camps are poorly managed, and the IDPs are living in very deplorable conditions, with inadequate security arrangement and acute shortage of relief materials, urging that a Victims Support Fund should be established for rebuilding destroyed communities with adequate compensations to families of victims.
?The inability of the President, the nation?s Army and Police Chiefs, and the Governor of Benue State to visit the worst affected communities of Agatu and the other aforementioned where recent mass murder attacks were carried out for on the spot assessment of the level of devastation indicates lack of seriousness deserving of the crisis. This assertion is supported by the careless utterances of Governor Tanko Al-Makura of Nassarawa State that the attacks were mere ?skirmishes? that could not be tagged genocide. This is also demonstrated by the Inspector General of Police, Mr. Solomon Arase who, with neither evidence nor a visit to any affected area, claimed that the reported casualty figure of 300 dead people in the Agatu attack was exaggerated.?
The elders urged the FG to tighten security and put in place measures to protect the country?s porous borders to prevent further continuous and uncontrolled entrance of international criminal elements, herdsmen and arms.
They urged the National Assembly to commence a public hearing on the Fulani herdsmen?s threat to national security without delay while the state lawmakers should enact laws to criminalize open grazing as it directly conflicts with the livelihood of Benue people which is crop farming.
The communiqu? reads, ?Our people are predominantly farmers with fixed land and growing population, we therefore, reject the idea of having open grazing lands and cattle routes on our land to avoid any conflict as we do not have sufficient land for that purpose. Government should encourage those engaged in cattle rearing business to establish private ranches in line with global best practices instead of the open and uncontrolled grazing that frequently results in violent clashes with farmers.
?The Benue State Government should as a matter of urgency constitute an inclusive Judicial Panel of Enquiry for a public hearing on the state of security in Benue State.
?The office of the National Security Adviser should as a matter of urgency address the nation on the state of insecurity in the country particularly as it relates to the activities of Fulani Herdsmen.
?We advise that all relevant government agencies saddled with the responsibilities of home land security begin the process of disarming Fulani Herdsmen across the country to avoid a counter arms buildup by helpless communities in self defense.
?All Herdsmen in Benue State should relocate immediately to allow our farmers go to their farms without fear of being attacked as the farming season approaches in order to avoid severe famine next year.
?Our people and land owners particularly traditional rulers and chiefs should hence forth stop leasing our land for grazing purposes whether on a temporary basis or otherwise.
?Since cattle are at the centre of these dastardly acts and are seen to be superior to our lives, we have resolved to desist from consuming beef or cow milk as an economic sanction and moral responsibility.
?Government should put in place infrastructure in form of good access roads to facilitate easy access of security operatives to these remote areas which are often subject of attack by these marauders.?
The forum called on the International community to rise to their plight by enforcing their fundamental human rights in the face of the incessant invasion of their land and killing and maiming of their people.