The Sultan of Sokoto, Alhaji Mohammad Sa'ad Abubakar III, yesterday, indicted the federal government and security agencies over the killings of farmers by Fulani herdsmen across the country, including Benue and Taraba states.
He also exonerated Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association of Nigeria, MACBAN, of any culpability in the recent killings of farmers in some parts of the country by suspected Fulani herdsmen.
The Sultan spoke on a day hundreds of Benue indigenes stormed the National Assembly, Abuja, protesting against federal government's proposed cattle colony.
This is even as Benue State governor, Samuel Ortom, yesterday, dismissed insinuations that the state government had 6,000 armed militia, just as suspected herdsmen also, yesterday, killed a pregnant woman in Ekiti, barely 24 hours after Governor Ayo Fayose had a meeting with MACBAN, farmers and local hunters in the state.
Failure of FG, security agencies
Speaking at the General Assembly of Interfaith Dialogue Forum for Peace, IDFP, in Abuja, Sultan Abubakar III, expressed shock that the federal government and security agencies had done nothing about herdsmen bearing arms in the country, despite the series of attacks they had launched against communities in different parts of the country.
Noting that MACBAN had no control over any Fulani man, Sultan Abubakar, who attributed the massacre of innocent lives to the handiwork of some criminal elements, charged the Federal Government and security agencies to urgently fish out perpetrators of the heinous crime and prosecute them.
He asked: "How is it possible for Fulani to attack settlements or communities to carry out killings of innocent people, destroy property and disappear without trace?
Sultan Abubakar said Miyetti Allah was formed over 32 years ago to cater for the welfare and advance the growth of Fulani business.
He said that any Fulani man carrying arms and ammunition was not a member of the Miyetti Allah, explaining that the group which is now under his leadership as Grand Patron, was never a criminal group.
Miyetti Allah not criminal group
Sultan Abubakar, who berated those calling for proscription of the group, challenged them to as well call for proscription of other Socio-ethnic organisations such as Afenifere, Ohanaeze Ndigbo and Arewa Consultative Forum, among others.
He said: "Miyetti Allah doesn't control any Fulani man. Calling for proscription of Miyetti Allah is equivalent to calling for the proscription of other ethnic organisations like Afenifere, ACF, Ohanaeze and others.
"It was formed 32 years ago and these crises were not there. I am the patron and we have never asked Fulani herdsman to kill anybody.
"Any Fulani man caught killing is a criminal and should be treated as such. What are the security agencies doing? If they have failed, they should accept that they have failed.
"What is going on is not an ethnic problem; it's not a religious problem, it's an economic problem."
On the way out, the Sultan, who advocated dialogue, said: "What we need is to sit down and dialogue. As religious leaders, we have to be very careful what we say, because it carries weight; our followers listen to us very seriously.
"We must believe in one another, trust and love ourselves because that is what our two major religions advocate. We must continue to speak with one voice. We should not be labeling everybody a criminal because his brother is a criminal.
"People are saying, label Miyetti Allah a terrorist group. No, we are not terrorists and can't join terrorism."
The killings in Benue
On the situation in Benue State, he recalled: "This thing didn't start today. In the past eight years, I have been to Benue many times to discuss this issue.
"We had met for hours and reached agreements, yet nothing has been implemented. Why? The former governors of Benue are still alive and they know all these.
"Even the present governor of Benue State, Samuel Ortom, had written to me to come again with my peace mission, but we had not had the opportunity before this round of crisis.
"We must come to the bottom of this issue. How come these Fulani men are carrying guns without the security men knowing?
"I keep on repeating it, things are not okay, but they are not as bad as they are made to look, especially in the social media. Let's go round and speak to one another, not just staying in our comfort zones."
Religious leaders deceive people a lot -- CAN president
In his address, the President, Christian Association of Nigeria, CAN, Dr. Samson Ayokunle, accused some religious leaders of being insincere while commenting on the issue of killing of innocent people in the country.
Ayokunle, who was represented by the Bishop of Yola, Bishop Stephen Manza, said: "As religious leaders, we need to condemn evil in this country. We're seated here today as religious leaders, but how sincere are we in what we say?
"Christians at all levels believe in peace. This is time for us to speak with one voice. But my concern is whether we are sincere in what we are doing.
"We religious leaders, we deceive people a lot. We say one thing when we have another thing in mind. Our tribal and religious affiliations have overshadowed our Nigerianness.
"The problem is that we keep mute once a person is killed if he is not a member of our faith. Another thing is that we identify with people of our faith, even when the person is doing the wrong thing. We all know that President Muhammadu Buhari is not handling the security situation in the country well but certain persons are not talking, may be because he is a Muslim. And when Jonathan was there, some Christian leaders kept quiet because he's a Christian."
On his part, the Archbishop of Abuja Catholic Dioceses, John Cardinal Onaiyekan, however, assured Nigerians that the problem of insecurity threatening the soul of the nation was surmountable if Nigerians build trust among themselves.
He said: "Nothing happening in this country now that is beyond us, it is within our hands. But just like the Bishop of Yola has said, we need sincerity.
"We shouldn't be praying for peace, when in the real sense, we are the ones causing crises everywhere. Talking for peace will give peace if there is truth. So, we must learn to build trust, trusting one another. We must join hands to do what is right."
Benue indigenes protest at NASS
Meanwhile, hundreds of Benue indigenes, yesterday, took their protest against federal government's proposed cattle colony to the National Assembly.
Dressed in black attires and wielding different placards, the protesters lamented the killings suspected to have been carried out by herdsmen and rejected the idea of establishing cattle colonies by the federal government.
The protesters were predominantly the Tiv, Idoma, Igede and other ethnic nationalities in Benue State. Their major grudge was the fact that President Buhari refused to visit Benue after the massacre.
At press time last night, pockets of the protesters were still seen lurking around the NASS main entry point, with no one coming out to address them.
Recall that Benue State caucus of the House of Representatives, sensing danger of this magnitude, had last November in a briefing, begged the Federal Government to quickly set up mobile units to monitor red spots in the state.
Spokesman of the caucus, John Dyegh, APC, pleaded and threatened that if the trend continued, Benue people might have to defend their territory.
Benue Police arrest 90 persons over Makurdi riot
Meanwhile, Benue State Police Command said, yesterday, it has arrested 90 persons for their role in the riot that broke out in Makurdi town over the killings in Guma and Logo local government areas of the state by suspected herdsmen.
In a statement released, yesterday, in Makurdi by the command's Public Relations Officer, Assistant Superintendent, ASP, Moses Yamu, the command said efforts were on to ensure the arrest of all the arrowheads of the riot.
The statement read: "Benue State Commissioner of Police, Bashir Makama, wishes to bring to the notice of the general public that security had been beefed up in the state, especially around the identified flashpoints in Wadata, Ankpa Ward and Modern Market areas of Makurdi, the state capital.
"There are vehicular patrols and pin down points, including stop and search in all the nooks and crannies of the state to ensure that the normalcy restored is maintained.
"The commissioner appeals for calm while advising the general public to be mindful of rumour mongers and mischief makers who are common criminals looking for opportunities to loot people's property.
"Massive arrests of those miscreants, who were out causing unrest, have been made, while frantic effort is ongoing to arrest some who were identified to be spearheads of the unrest. A total of 90 persons are in police custody and would be charged to court as soon as possible."
Suspected herdsmen strike in Ekiti, kill pregnant woman
Also, barely 24 hours after Governor Ayo Fayose had a peace meeting with Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association, farmers and local hunters in the state, suspected herdsmen invaded Orin-Ekiti yesterday, killing a pregnant woman and unleashing injuries on several others.
The deceased, a Tiv woman, was hacked to death by those in the farm settlement located in Orin-Ekiti in Ido/Osi Local Government Area of Ekiti State, referred to as "Bororo herdsmen."
An indigene of the town, who is a former Chairman of Ido/Osi Local Government, Prince Sanmi Olubummo, confirmed the incident in a telephone conversation.
Olubummo disclosed that another victim of the attack was receiving treatment in a hospital.
He said: "The incident happened inside the Orin Farm Settlement. Nobody knows what led to the crisis in the early hours of Thursday (yesterday) but our people said the Bororo herdsmen killed the pregnant woman."
Olubummo told newsmen that policemen from Ido-Ekiti Divisional Headquarters visited the scene of the killing, saying the situation was calm.
Reacting to the killing, Governor Ayo Fayose warned that his government would not tolerate any act of criminality.
He also assured people living in the state full security of life and property.
Speaking through his Chief Press Secretary, Idowu Adelusi, Governor Fayose said: "Criminality in whatever guise will not be condoned in the state. Ekiti wants peace and anybody or group planning to disrupt the peace will face the full wrath of the law."
Osinbajo heads nine-man committee on clashes
Meanwhile, the Vice President, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo, is to lead a nine-man committee to investigate and find lasting solution to the incessant clashes between farmers and Fulani herdsmen.
The decision was taken at the monthly National Economic Council, NEC, meeting presided over by the Vice President.
Briefing State House correspondents after the meeting, the Governor of Kano State, Ibrahim Ganduje, flanked by the Ebonyi State governor, David Umahi, said the mandate of the committee included fishing out those behind the constant clashes and ensure they faced the full wrath of the law.
Ganduje said: "On the farmers and herdsmen crisis, council constituted a working group to collaborate with the federal government in addressing the issues of impunity regarding killings and violence.
"The committee, consisting of nine governors, under the chairmanship of the Vice President, will work in accordance with commensurate commitment to ensure that all perpetrators of violence are brought to book.
"The committee consists of governors of Zamfara, Kaduna, Adamawa, Benue, Taraba, Edo, Plateau, Ebonyi and Oyo states. The committee has started its meeting right after this NEC meeting."
He said the Minister of Finance reported to council that the balance in Excess Crude Account, ECA as at January 15, 2018 stood at $2,317 billion, Stabilisation account, N9,730 billion, while the Natural Resources Development Fund was N115,108 billion.
European Parliament to Buhari: Protect your people
Similarly, the European Parliament has adopted a resolution calling on President Buhari's administration to defend its citizens from terrorism and address the root causes of the violence by ensuring equal rights for all citizens and non-discriminatory legislation.
The EU Parliament resolution (2018/2513(RSP), sponsored by 102 Members of European Parliament, MEPs in the 17-point joint resolution, expressed concern about increasing inter-ethnic conflicts between herdsmen and farmers in the Middle Belt, which it claimed had increased the security challenges in the country.
The EU parliament further noted that the New Year day killings in Omoku, Rivers State, underlined the worrying situation of people of faith in the country.
The resolution said Christians and Muslims have increasingly been targeted in indiscriminate killings across the country.
The resolution read in part: "EU Parliament is deeply concerned by the increasing interethnic conflicts between pastoralists and farmers in the Middle Belt region which have increased the security challenges already facing Nigeria, and regrets the lack of real progress in addressing these issues;
"Strongly condemns the increase in violence against Christians and Muslims in Nigeria, including the targeting of religious institutions and worshippers, such as the recent killing of at least 48 Christians in villages across Plateau State and the bombing of a mosque in Mubi, northeast Nigeria, in which at least 50 people died;
"Calls on President Buhari and the Nigerian government to increase their efforts to bring the violence to an end, defend Nigerians' right to worship freely and protect the rights of all their citizens more rigorously, in line with the country's laws and Constitution; extends its condolences to the families of all the victims of the ongoing violence;
"Recalls, in addition, that until the 1970s, the coexistence of herdsmen and farmers was peaceful and regrets that the current violence, which concerns access to land and has been exacerbated by the disappearance of effective mediation schemes, is being depicted as a religious conflict, which oversimplifies the issue;
"Urges the government to focus on upholding human rights and dignity in all policies to ensure peaceful coexistence among citizens irrespective of their religion, beliefs and political affiliations;
"Urges the Nigerian government to negotiate a national policy framework that would protect the interests of both farmers and herders and calls on international partners to increase investment in preventing and resolving inter-communal conflicts between cattle pastoralists and farmers by supporting cooperation through shared economic and natural resource management initiatives;
"Deplores the ongoing violence and attacks in northern Nigeria, whose targets have been Christian communities; notes that Boko Haram has attacked Muslim, Christian and other faiths indiscriminately;
"Notes that the Nigerian military has recaptured territory from Boko Haram and arrested some of its members, but that the Government's non-military efforts to stop Boko Haram remain nascent;
"Urges the Buhari Government to defend its citizens from terrorism, but insists that such actions must be conducted in full accordance with respect for human rights and the rule of law; commends the progress made by the Buhari Government on the security challenges facing Nigeria and in addressing corruption; offers its support in achieving this objective and in seeking to sever the link between corrupt practices and terrorism.
"We do not have 6,000 armed militia in Benue - Gov. Ortom
In a similar development, Governor Samuel Samuel Ortom of Benue State has denied allegation that his state was harboring 6,000 militia to fight herdsmen.
He said: "We started the implementation of the open grazing prohibition law on November 1, 2017 and it went on well here and people who flouted the law are already facing prosecution.
"Those who were not herdsmen that went after the cattle of herdsmen are currently being prosecuted. I know that three youths are currently in remand and are being prosecuted for rustling and for killing a herdsmen and other associated crimes.
"They are facing trial at the moment. On the other hand, about 18 herdsmen are also remanded and are facing trial for violating the law.
"So this shows that we are law abiding people and we will always seek to do the right thing. That is what l always tell my people to do. That is why when people brought the issue and allegation of armed militia in Benue I didn't give it any attention.
"You are all witnesses and saw that when I came in, I disarmed those militia gangs we had here and those weapons we recovered from them were publicly destroyed.
"Moreover if I have armed 6,000 militia as being alleged, don't you think I would have sent and kept them in my own council ward in Guma local government where no herdsman would come and take and kill my people in cold blood?"