The umbrella body of cattle breeders in the country, the Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association, has said the anti-open grazing law in Benue State Government, aimed at regulating cow grazing in the state, must be modified for peace to reign in the state.
The Secretary-General of the association, Usman Ngelzerma, said on Monday that “I like the Benue State governor. He is a peace-loving person but is working on wrong advice. The approach he took is wrong. You cannot change the way of life of a people like the way you turn off a light switch.
“We don’t wish for the crisis to continue but let us give it (the law) another look. We don’t like the killings; we will never condone the killing of people. Give the farmers their rights but consider the pastoralists too.”
Ngelzerma, blamed a faction of the association for issuing threats before the latest attacks in Benue State.
He fingered the Miyetti Allah Kautal Hore, which endorsed the then President Goodluck Jonathan in the build-up to the 2015 election, as being at loggerheads with the Benue State Government.
The secretary-general alleged that the livestock guards, employed by the state government to enforce the anti-open grazing law, were high-handed and were extorting money from the pastoralists.
Ngelzerma claimed that the fighting between the herdsmen and the livestock guards led to the January 1 killings in five communities in the Guma and Logo Local Government Areas of the state in which over 20 persons were murdered.
He said, “The livestock guards have constituted themselves to the police and the court at the same time. They impose penalties on herdsmen, fine them huge sums of money before releasing them. That was the situation before this crisis erupted.
“I was told that shortly before this crisis, the guards went to make some arrests in a particular community and they met stiff resistance from the Fulani because they were already tired of the persistent harassment from the guards, not the police or the DSS, army or constituted authority.
“This was what led to the violence and unnecessary deaths that followed which we do not condone.”
The MACBAN boss urged the National Assembly to quickly pass the Grazing Reserve Bill into law, which will lead to the creation of grazing reserves and ultimately stop herdsmen from encroaching on farmlands.
Meanwhile, the Deputy Inspector-General of Police, Operations, Joshak Habila, has said detectives are zeroing in on the leadership of the Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association of Nigeria over alleged involvement in the Benue killings.
The MACBAN Chairman, Benue State chapter, Garos Gololo, had told the BBC in an interview that the killings were in retaliation for the theft of 1,000 cows by some people in the state.
But the DIG explained that detectives were still gathering information and intelligence at the crime scene, noting that anyone found culpable in the killings would not be spared.
Habila, who said this on Channels TV programme, Sunrise Daily, on Monday, disclosed that the leadership of Miyetti Allah had been invited to write statements, adding that these were being verified.
The DIG, who is supervising the police operation in Benue State, said, “We have engaged them (Miyetti Allah leadership); we have also confronted them with this allegation.
“Don’t forget, they have taken the government of Benue to court, they are in court. We are zeroing in on them, and if there is any piece of information, we shall pick that has to do with them, they would not be spared.”
Asked if the police were probing the claims by the Miyetti Allah, Habila stated that detectives had gathered a lot of intelligence, assuring that they would soon get a lead from the evidence they were analyzing.
He explained that men and equipment had been deployed in the communities and farms in addition to the aerial patrol by surveillance helicopter.
He said, “They (Miyetti Allah) have given their statements and we are verifying. We have been able to gather a lot of intelligence from the communities that were affected and also picked some traces of evidence. I’m sure we are going to get a window, we are going to get a lead; it is never too late.
“But I can assure you that those who would be connected to the killings would not be spared.”
Habila hinted that the attackers did not come with their cattle so that they could easily strike their targets and withdraw, noting that the targeted communities were distant from each other.
He disclosed that the area was also rugged and not easily accessible, adding that the chopper was in constant communication with the ground forces to alert them to movement of suspicious elements in the area.
He stated that he had been having regular meetings with the Benue State Governor, Samuel Ortom, adding that he had provided the necessary logistics for the police.
Habila pointed out that the security forces needed timely information from the communities about suspicious movements of herdsmen so that the police could know the communities that were under threat and go after the perpetrators.
On the allegations by the state government that the police ignored threats by the herdsmen, the DIG, said, “The police are not so stupid to ignore the complaints by His Excellency, and we would not be so stupid to also damn the consequences.
“You will see in a few days, anybody, who is implicated, would be taken in and interrogated and if evidence is found, like the 18 people that are being prosecuted, we would have no hesitation in bringing them to justice.”