Senior Special Assistant to Nigeria’s President Muhammadu Buhari on Media and Publicity, Garba Shehu, has dragged the Afenifere and the Ohanaeze socio-cultural groups into the country’s killers’cult. He is likening them to the Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association of Nigeria. The Shehu outburst has sparked off a storm.
For the Buhari spokesperson, the herders group should not be criminalised because they are in the same league with Afenifere and Ohanaeze Ndigbo. Shehu, a former Atiku Abubakar loyalist turned Buharist, was speaking as a guest on Channels Television’s Sunrise Daily on Tuesday, where he also urged Nigerians not to politicise the deal between the Buhari administration and the leadership of the herders to buy a ceasefire for the bleeding country.
Let’s look at the groups briefly one by one. The Afenifere for instance, was formed as a socio-cultural organisation for the Yoruba people who predominantly occupy Western Nigeria, with the late Chief Abraham Adesanya as its leader and the late Chief Bola Ige as deputy leader. Other founding members were Pa Onasanya, Chief Reuben Fasoranti, Adegbonmire, Okurounmu Femi, Ganiyu Dawodu, Olanihun Ajayi, Olu Falae, Adebayo Adefarati, Alhaji Adeyemo and Ayo Adebanjo. When the Alliance for Democracy political party was formed in 1998, it took the Afenifere agenda as its official manifesto.
The Ohanaeze Ndigbo is an apex socio-cultural group of the Igbo people of Eastern Nigeria. The group represents all Igbo communities within and outside Nigeria. The Igbo people by census, represent one of the three largest ethnic groups in Nigeria. Though the group is not a political party, part of its main objectives is to foster unity among the ethnic group in order to allow them better representation within the political scenario of Nigeria.
The Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association of Nigeria (MACBAN) is said to be a loose partisan advocacy group centered on promoting the welfare of Fulani pastoralists in Nigeria. The organisation was founded in the early 1970s with headquarters in Kaduna. It became operational in 1979 and gained wider acceptance as an advocacy group in 1987.
It represents the interest of some 100,000 semi-nomads and nomads in the country. Its major goal is to be the umbrella organisation of Fulani herdsmen within the country. Their activities involve liaising with the government on behalf of pastoralists, land use rights, nomadic education and conflict resolution between pastoralists and farmers. They also support protecting and increasing grazing reserves for cattle breeders in the country.
But, the increasing incidence of farmer-herder conflicts and cattle rustling since 2011 has brought the previously unknown group into wider consciousness.
Unlike the Afenifere and the Ohanaeze, the herders are notorious for bloodletting and destruction of farms. Their killing spree bares semblance to that of the Boko Haram. Just on Wednesday, local residents of Murbai, Kisbap, Sembe, and Yawai – Abbare villages of Ardo-Kola and Jalingo Local Government Areas in Taraba State reported that 11 people were killed and scores injured when armed Fulani gunmen invaded their villages. The villages are said to be located on the outskirts of Jalingo the state capital.
One of the residents, Cyprian Kamai, according to The Punch, said the trouble started four days previously at Yawai village when a Fulani herdsman invaded the farm of one of the locals and in an attempt to stop his cows the herdsman stabbed him with a matchet. According to him, efforts by the community leaders to address the issue failed as the Fulani herdsmen mobilised and attacked Murbai, Kisbap and other villages leaving several people dead.
Kamai who said hundreds of the displaced persons were taking refuge in Kona village and Nunkai Primary School in Jalingo called on security agencies to deploy officers in the area. Those displaced need humanitarian assistance and I want to call on the government to provide relief materials to the IDPs.”
Mrs. Rebecca Awoshiri told the newspaper correspondent at Nukkai IDP Camp that five people were killed at Murbai while six were killed at Sembe village. But the Police Public Relations Officer in the state, David Misal, a Deputy Superintendent of Police (DSP) who confirmed the attack said six people were killed and scores displaced in the attacks which began on Monday.
“One person was killed on Monday when the crisis started and yesterday five more corpses were recovered. We have already deployed enough security personnel in the area and as we speak, the Deputy Commissioner of Police in charge of Operations, Faleye Olaleye, is on the ground with the personnel to ensure the restoration of peace in the area,” he said.
Taraba State Chairman of Miyetti Allah, Mohammed Sahabi told the newspaper that he was just coming into Jalingo from a journey and will speak on the issue when he receives a briefing from the Jalingo Local Government Chairman of the association.
Since Afenifere and Ohanaeze have no terrorist tendencies, they are not taking it kindly with Shehu for likening them to the herders. They have accordingly berated the Buharist for what they perceived as wrong labeling. They are insisting that it is wrong to compare them with Miyetti Allah
Shehu in his outing defended the meeting between the acting Inspector-General of Police, Mohammed Adamu, and the leadership of the Miyetti Allah, claiming that his principal’s administration needed the cooperation of Miyetti Allah to help in tackling weapons proliferation as the security situation in the country worsened.
While Ohanaeze said it was in the same pedestal with the Arewa Consultative Forum, Afenifere on other hand described the comparison as unfortunate and unfair. The police had come under fire recently for holding a meeting with the herders and urging them to assist in curbing the insecurity in the country.
Ohanaeze Ndigbo said there was no justification for comparing the Igbo organisation with Miyetti Allah. The organisation’s spokesman, Uche Achi-Okpaga, said it was bad for the presidential spokesman to compare a regional organisation committed to the unity of its people with “a group of criminals’’, adding that Ohanaeze could only be compared with the Arewa Consultative Forum in the North, Afenifere in the South-West and other regional organisations.
‘’There is no justification for such comparison. It is a bad comparison. If he is comparing Miyetti Allah with Ohanaeze, then what is Arewa Consultative Forum compared to? Ohanaeze is a regional body that is promoting the unity of the Igbo; so also is Afenifere to the Yoruba and the ACF to northerners. We also have the Middle Belt Forum in the North-Central and PANDEF for the South-South.
‘’You can never put Ohanaeze and Miyetti Allah on the same pedestal. Even at that, Miyetti Allah members are herdsmen who are tormenting Nigerians and you are hobnobbing with them, what are you telling Nigerians? These people are invading villages, killing people, and you are telling us that they are on the same page with Ohanaeze. There is no justification for that.
‘’This is an organisation that the Global Terrorist Index has described as the world’s fourth deadly terrorist organisation. Where is the money the government has agreed to give them coming from? From which sub-head will it come? Does the President have the power to just give out money to any organisation that comes to negotiate with him? These people are just negotiating with criminals. We are in a state of lawlessness’’, he said.
Afenifere’s spokesman, Yinka Odumakin, said the Yoruba group could not be likened to the Miyetti Allah which he said was responsible for killings and bloodshed across the country, arguing that the Federal Government’s decision to meet with the Miyetti Allah leadership over the rising violence and criminality across the country highlighted the type of people that made up the group.
‘’We are surprised that the spokesperson (Shehu) was talking like someone under the influence of drugs. In Afenifere, we don’t kill, we don’t abduct people. How can you compare us to a group of people who have been killing in Enugu, Benue, Ogun and other states?
‘’Why did the government meet Miyetti Allah as part of plans to stop banditry and kidnapping in the country? Why didn’t they meet Afenifere? We reject that categorisation. For anyone to compare us to a group of Fulani herdsmen which had been described by the global terror index as the fourth deadliest terrorist group in the world is most unfair and very unfortunate’’, he said.
It seems, the current Nigerian government has a double standard in dealing with the interest of ethnic nationalities. The comparison by Shehu tends to justify the herders’ terrorism. Afterall, Afenifere and Ohanaeze have been terrorising the government with their undying agitation for restructuring. Restructuring does not appear to be in the best interest of the herders. What is paramount to them is grazing colonies for an eventual emergence of emirate councils across the country.
Strangely, terrorism is being redefined in Nigeria. Within the emergency current, we can now understand the logic behind the smiles of the crocodile, and the security funds cash cow in the North-East!