Leaders of the Tiv nation on Thursday accused the army of allegedly providing cover for armed herdsmen to take over the land naturally given to them by God.
They also expressed displeasure over the operation of a military exercise code-named “Cat Race” launched in the state by the Chief of Army Staff (COAS) to restore peace in Benue State communities following attacks by armed Fulani herdsmen.
President of the Mzough U Tiv (MUT), Chief Edward Ujege, in a statement issued to the media in Makurdi, expressed reservations over the emerging trends of the military operation which he said has made the people be apprehensive about the real mission of troops deployed to the state.
Chief Ujege disclosed that since the flag off of the exercise, the military has been circulating pamphlets through its Department of Civil-Military Affairs, Army Headquarters which “confirmed that the military had come to provide cover for armed Fulani herdsmen to take over the land of the people.”
The translation on the pamphlets, Chief Ujege emphasized, portrayed a purported dialogue between the Fulani herdsmen and Benue farmers on their alleged resolution to shift grounds one both farming and cattle grazing activities in the state.
Part of the translation of the pamphlets reads:
Tiv farmer: I’m your brother and a farmer; my farm produce is just as important as your cattle.
Fulani herder: I will no longer destroy your farm produce and 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.
Ujege said it was clear from the flyer that the military has acknowledged that the Fulani herdsmen are responsible for the large-scale massacre and massive destruction in of farm crops in the state.
He regretted that instead of addressing issues of justice, reparation and compensation, the federal government is compelling people of the state to accommodate the perpetrators of the heinous atrocities.
“Moreover, there is no 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 coexist in peace. The military is not only silent on the law but has encouraged open grazing with all its concomitant consequences. This silence on the law points to the fact that they are not in its support and are not ready to ensure its enforcement”.
But the Deputy Director, Army Public Relations, 707 Special Forces Brigade, Major Olabisi Olalekan Ayeni, in a swift reaction, countered the position of the Tiv leader saying “Operation Cat-race is not in support of any group”.
The Army spokesman, Major Ayeni said the role of the army in the crisis is to ensure the return of enduring peace in sacked communities and safe return of the Internally Displaced Persons, IDPs.
“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 a Fulani herdsman yesterday and two others that wanted to attack Governor Ortom’s farm in Guma and with all these successes 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.
“However in the course of the military exercise if we find a violent herdsman that want to kill or displace any person in Benue State, we get him arrested and that is why we arrested two people two weeks ago, and arrested another one 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 and deal with him according to the law”, said Major Ayeni.