The Tiv socio-cultural group, Mzough U Tiv has expressed fears over the motive behind the publication and circulation of a pamphlet by the Nigerian Army which portrayed Tiv as cattle rustlers.
The pamphlet, which originated from the Civil Military Affairs Department, Army Headquarters and published in Tiv has a conversation between a Tiv farmer and Fulani herdsmen translated as:
“Fulani herder: I will no longer destroy your farm produce and no longer kill your people. You are my brother, we should live in peace.
Tiv farmer: I too will no longer rustle or kill your cattle. You are my brother, let us live in peace.”
Circulation of the pamphlet started barely two days after the Nigerian Army commenced exercise Ayem A Kpatuma, Cat Race which is targeted at ending attacks on farmers in Benue state and other North-Central states.
Tukur Buratai, Chief of Army Staff during the flag off of Ayem A Kpatuma at Gbajimba, in Guma local government of Benue state said the army were in the state to carry out an exercise that will help officers and soldiers understand the basics that is required for internal security operations which include ambushes, military patrol, including civil military activities that they will carry out as well as other programs that would help the military interact with the community members that would help us understand each other.
“The exercise will help in familiarising the troop with the challenges of internal security that is jointly conducted with other services of the arm forces as well as other security agencies especially the police DSS and other paramilitary organizations,” Buratai noted.
But in a swift reaction to the contents of the pamphlet, Edward Ujege, President General Mdzough u Tiv decried the erroneous portrayer of Benue farmers as cattle rustlers as it portends danger for the state.
Ujege in a press statement in Makurdi faulted the military for assuming very wrongly that Benue farmers were responsible for cattle rustling as portray in their distributed flyers.
“How can the Army portray innocent farmers who were killed in their sleep and farms as cattle rustlers, is that what they are in the state for? local crop farmers have no capability of rustling cattle, rustling can only be undertaken by professionals who are in cattle rearing,” he stated.
Ujege said it was clear from the flyers distributed that the military has acknowledged that the Fulani herdsmen were responsible for the large scale massacre and massive destruction in Benue.
He expressed worry that instead of addressing issues of justice, reparation and compensation, it seems the army was compelling Benue people to accommodate the perpetrators of the heinous atrocities in the state.
Ujege also noted that the military did not also see it necessary to make reference to the Open Grazing Prohibition and Establishment of Ranches Law 2017, which addresses the fundamental issues of making both the farmers and the herders to coexist in peace.
“The military is not only silent on the law, but from the look of things are rather encouraging open grazing with all its concomitant consequences which has further points to the fact that they are not in its support and are not ready to ensure the enforcement of the law.
“True to our predictions, the flag off of the exercise yesterday confirmed our fears. A pamphlet circulated by the Nigerian Army has defined the real intention of the military in Benue state.
“The pamphlet in Tiv Language confirmed that the military had come to provide cover for armed Fulani herdsmen to take over our land,” Ujege maintained.
He described as unacceptable the profiling of the Tiv people, insisting that the publication of the pamphlet in the Tiv language gave the impression that the Tiv were the target of the exercise, whereas the herdsmen attacks cut across the entire Benue which is multi ethnic state.
He described the conversation as unacceptable. The President General of Mdzough U Tiv said, if the military were to be relevant in the state, they must assist in chasing away the invaders and restoring peace which could only be possible through the enforcement of the anti open grazing law.
The Nigeria Army reacting through the Deputy Director, Army Public Relations 707 Special Forces Brigade Olabisi Ayeni the Nigerian Army is a federal government agency saddled with the responsibility of protecting the lives and property of Nigerians as well as protect the territorial integrity of Nigeria.
According to Ayeni, “All that the army needs to do here is to ensure that no Benue resident is killed or displaced from their homes, that is all we are doing. We want to ensure peaceful coexistence among the herders and farmers. We are not saying the Fulani herdsmen should not obey the anti open grazing law enacted by the Benue State government.
“Let me inform you that we had arrested some Fulani herdsmen that wanted to attack Governor Ortom’s farm in Guma and with all these success you should know that Operation Ayem A. Kpatuma is not in support of any group and is not in the pursuit or criticising any group.
“Our role is to make sure that Benue State is peaceful and one of the ways we are going about it is for the herders to know that either a Tiv man or an Idoma man or Igede man is a Nigerian like him and a herder who is not violent now is their brother,” the Army Spokesman added.
He said, however in the course of the military exercise if we found a violent herdsman that want to kill or displace any person in Benue State, we will get him arrested and that is why we arrested some herdsmen for preventing the Tiv people from been peaceful in their own environment.
“So the way and manner we go in achieving a peaceful environment in Benue State especially in Guma and Logo local government areas of the state and Katsina-Ala local government is by using this psychological method to test these people that we are friends, don’t fight or pursue the other because we are one family. But however, if you saw anyone who want to kill you, report and we will get that person arrested,” he assured.