SPEECH PRESENTED DURING THE MAFO (MOVEMENT AGAINST FULANI OCCUPATION) MEGA PEACEFUL PROTEST AGAINST BENUE KILLINGS ON APRIL 13, 2016
Ladies and Gentlemen,
We are gathered here today as people that share a common pain and predicament under the auspices of MAFO.
MAFO is an acronym for Movement Against Fulani Occupation. It is a peaceful a coalition of Benue indigenes at home and in diaspora from all ethnicities and works of life, who seek to reverse the current situation of senseless killings, ransacking of villages and displacement of communities from their ancestral lands by Fulani herdsmen and their cattle.
Within the last three years, Fulani Herdsmen have carried out over 50 (fifty) major attacks on Benue communities the most prominent of them taking place in 15 out of 23 Local Government Areas (LGAs) of Benue State namely, Agatu, Gwer East, Gwer West, Makurdi, Guma, Tarka, Buruku, Katsina Ala, Logo, Ukum, Kwande, Oju, Obi and Konshisha.
The attacks have completely overwhelmed the communities in these areas which are now desolate and devastated as they have suffered wanton destruction of their properties and lives including: burning down and general destruction of houses and homes, sundry household items, farms, crops, economic trees, vehicles, machineries, food stuffs, schools etc. Over 1000 people have been killed; hundreds of thousands displaced and living in deplorable make shift camps and properties worth billions of naira destroyed in their communities by these ravaging Fulani Herdsmen this year alone. All of these in the name of gaining and maintaining access for their cattle to graze. Human lives are being wasted to keep cows and goats alive.
It is for these and many acts of man’s inhumanity to man, including the raping of young girls and butchering of pregnant women and children that we rise to say, enough is enough.
1. Even though we recognise the right of fellow Nigerians to live freely anywhere within the boundaries of our sovereignty, we understand that this right is conferred on humans and not animals and also does not permit either people nor animals to trespass on landed property belonging to other members of the society.
Therefore, attempts to place the lives of cattle and other lower animals at par or higher value than those of humans is a breach of constitutional rights, likewise unauthorised trespass into people’s property. We hereby demand an immediate vacation of cattle that are occupying our ancestral lands all over the state.
2. The lackadaisical attitude of government in tackling this issue is condemnable. Response from security operatives have been skewed, poor, belated and at best very late. Consequently, the wanton killing, destruction of properties and occupation of communities, have continued unabated.
We make bold to say that the locations of Fulani Herdsmen that carry on these attacks are well known to the Police and the Nigerian Army and other security agencies but they have refused to accost them and prevent further attacks on their communities but have rather given seeming tacit approval to the large concentration of these Fulani militia in neighbouring communities particularly Nasarawa State which allows passage routes and has created safe havens for attackers of Benue Communities at the border especially coastal areas.
For example, on or about the 2nd day of January, 2016, the Benue State Police Commissioner, Paul Yakadi, said after unsuccessfully attempting a tour of Agatu Local Government Area that over 5,000 cows accompanied by armed Fulani herdsmen were occupying part of Agatu Local Government Area of the state. Yet the the Federal Government has failed and/or willfully neglected to apprehend these criminals.
The failure of the Federal Government to offer protection to innocent citizens is in violation of the sundry Human Rights as enshrined in Articles 3 4, 6, 16, 23, 24 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights. Consequently, we have filed a law suit against the Federal Government and other relevant authorities at the ECOWAS court in this regard and hope to follow it to a logical conclusion.
3. Suffice to also state categorical clear that we are opposed to the government’s plans to establish grazing reserves as a panacea to the security nuisance constituted by Fulani herdsmen. There are no grazing reserves in Benue State, we only have farmlands!
Creating grazing reserves to cater for the pastoral needs of Fulani herdsmen across the country is tantamount to forcefully taking land from indigenous farmers as lands are not sufficiently available for such projects. Therefore, anyone who intends to impose this pre-colonial concoction should be rest assured that it will be met with the strongest possible (lawful) resistance.
We will resist today, tomorrow and forever any attempts of establishing a square inch of grazing routes or reserve in Benue State. We don’t have any room for those here, neither do we place equal premium on man and beast as the Federal Government seem to be doing.
Rather, we demand a legislation by the Benue State House of Assembly that will abolish the free grazing of livestock, especially cattle within the boundaries of the state. This law, if passed, will encourage cattle owners, both indigenous and non-indigenous, to seek modern ways of doing cattle business by the use of ranches according to global best practices.
We acknowledge the efforts of the Benue State Government in this regard as pronounced by Governor Samuel Ortom during his visit to victims of attacks in Agatu, Logo and Tarka local governments, and urge lawmakers in the state assembly to work assiduously to bring this idea into fruition. In the same vein, we appeal to faith-based organisations, development partners, local and international donor agencies, non-governmental organisations, civil societies, public-spirited individuals and all other stakeholders and well-meaning Benue indigenes to support this move as a permanent solution to regaining control and enthroning peace over our lands.
4. We also demand the total disarmament of Fulani herdsmen through the amnesty programme of the Benue State Government as endorsed by the Federal Government of Nigeria as a matter of urgency. This we hope will ensure equity in the capacities of farmers and herders, and if the “carrot” period of mercy is over, we would love to see security agencies wield the big punitive “stick” on the perpetrators of terror in our lands – the Fulani herdsmen.
5. We demand 24 hours’ military surveillance of communities in the affected local government area and others that are prone to attacks to forestall further attacks and give displaced persons the confidence to return home. The State and Federal Government are therefore to work tirelessly in ensuring the reconstruction of ravaged communities and resettlement of Internally displaced persons.
As part of our campaign, we have chosen to shun the consumption of cow meat (boycott beef) and hereby urge all concerned Benue indigenes and beyond to do likewise. As long as cattle continue to be the bone of contention and decoy for Fulani marauders to invade, kill, destroy, occupy and graze cattle on farmlands in Benue communities, we will not consume their beef and its by-products in protest to the blood-letting in our land.
Cattle business is a multi-billion Naira empire, next only to crude oil in Nigeria. Our continuous patronage of beef enhances the economy which funds the purchase of ammunition and hiring of machineries that perpetrate the vicious cycle of invasion, killing, destruction, occupation to allow cattle graze on our farmlands, after which they are sold as meat to us. It only makes common sense that we reject this manipulation and insult in our collective personalities by boycotting beef. We will rather seek alternative sources of dietary protein which abound in our localities eg. fish, goat meat, pork etc.
Lastly, we sympathize with families who have lost loved ones in the carnage and restate our commitment to continue bringing succour to Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) all over the state. We will not relent in our struggle until Fulani herdsmen and their cattle are put in their rightful place in the society, tucked far away from peaceful human existence and community life in Benue state.
We also want to thank those who have risen up to the challenge by donating relief materials to victims of attacks and our displaced brothers and sisters. This effort is highly appreciated. However, we call on you to join this movement as we believe it will rally the needed support to put an end to this anomaly.
MUST READ: Full text of speech delivered by MAFO during the peaceful protest against Benue killings
Reviewed by Link Naija