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A Response to Fulani Aggression in Tiv Land

Benue State Governor, Gabriel Suswan

By Leonard Karshima Shilgba

My attention has been drawn to a letter sent to President Jonathan by the Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders’ Association of Nigeria (MACBAN) on 24 February, 2014, titled, “MR. PRESIDENT, CALL GOVERNOR SUSWAM TO ORDER NOW BEFORE IT IS TOO LATE.” As much as the title of the letter is threatening enough, the content is much more threatening. The MACBAN made certain constitutional claims as follows:

“The Constitution is very clear under Chapter IV of Fundamental rights, Section 41, sub-section (1), which says, ‘every citizen is entitled to move freely throughout Nigeria and to reside in any part thereof and no citizen of Nigeria shall be expelled from Nigeria or refused  entry thereof or exit therefrom .’ The Constitution also expressly under Section 42, sub-section (1) (a) forbids the imposition of any disabilities or restrictions on any citizens by any executive or administrative action against any citizen of any ‘community, ethnic groups, place of origin, sex, religion or political opinion…’ “

The MACBAN seems to seek to amend the Nigerian Constitution. The rights granted by Section 41(1) are to “every citizen of NIGERIA” (emphasis mine). The MACBAN conveniently excludes NIGERIA. The rights are not granted to citizens of foreign countries such as Chad, Niger, Cameroon, Mali, etc. Accordingly, I call on the government of Benue state to verify the citizenship of all nomadic herdsmen, who have unleashed mayhem on their hosts, and to expel those who cannot prove with documentary evidence that they are citizens of Nigeria by birth, registration or naturalization.

The rights granted in section 41 (1) are not ABSOLUTE. Section 45 (1) of the Nigerian Constitution states as follows:

Nothing in sections 37, 38, 39, 40 and 41 of this Constitution shall invalidate any law that is reasonably justifiable in a democratic society—

In the interest of defence, public safety, public order, public morality or public health; or

For the purpose of protecting the rights and freedom of other persons.

The rights and freedom of nomadic cattlemen cannot invalidate the rights and freedom of other persons in Nigeria who have suffered death, brutality and economic deprivation (loss of crop farms, for example). Accordingly, I urge the Benue state government to enforce available relevant laws and make new germane laws that would take cattle away from our streets and farms that compromise public safety, public order and public health. There should be no discrimination whether the cattle belong to nomadic Fulanis or other groups.

Section 42 (1) states that: “A citizen of Nigeria of a particular community, ethnic group, place of origin, sex, religion or political opinion shall not, by reason only that he is such a person—

Be accorded either expressly by, or in the practical application of, any law in force in Nigeria or any such executive or administrative action, any privilege or advantage that is not accorded to citizens of Nigeria of other communities, ethnic groups, places of origin, sex, religions or political opinions.”

It is very clear that laws such as the proposed bill for establishment of grazing reserves for cattle in all states of Nigeria and FCT, which seek to expropriate lands for the use of an exclusive group of Nigerians, are unconstitutional.  The citizens of Nigeria cannot be driven away from their lands by local chiefs, state governments or the federal government only to give out their lands to the nomadic cattle breeders, even if those citizens would be “compensated”. It does not matter how much a local chief or state government or the federal government would collect from nomadic cattle breeders to give them access to grazing lands. By the way, in Tiv land, no chief owns ancestral lands. Lands are owned by families and individuals. Furthermore, we the Tiv people do not practice kingship by dynasty.

By threatening that they have the right to defend themselves, and even putting the president on notice, the MACBAN has demonstrated an offensive disposition that is highly provocative. And should the president not take steps to rein them in, the Tiv people would also demonstrate that they equally have the right and also the capacity to raise a standing army of thousands of armies from each ward and kindred. But is that the kind of country we want for ourselves, where everyone does what is right in his own eyes? But that will be the necessary consequence if the Nigerian army does not cease to aid attacks on the Tiv nation and the federal government that controls them looks away. Some soldiers from the 93 Division in Takum, Taraba were captured while on an attack mission alongside raiders on Tiv land at Kwande Local Government area. They were handed over to the Benue police command. We wait to find out what soldiers in Taraba came to our state to do. Few days ago, Nigerians soldiers who were on the entourage of Governor Gabriel Suswam as he went for on-site inspection tour of some areas of Tiv land that have come under Fulani attacks, suddenly withdrew and refused to go with him. Soon after, our governor came under attack. We are concerned. We also must advise the governor of Nasarawa state to re-examine his actions if they are not facilitating incessant attacks on Tiv land. But we warn that impunity, unchecked will surely bring Nigeria down as ethnic militia groups shall be raised to defend the turf across Nigeria. A people defended will surely seek self-help.

Recently, the Sultan of Sokoto made a highly inflammatory comment that the Fulanis have been “grazing on their traditional grazing land” in Tiv land. The Tiv people have never ever been conquered by any ethnic group in Africa. Even in the days of the Sardauna Ahmadu Bello, the Tiv people led a revolt against oppression of minorities in the then Northern Region.  We have championed the cause of minorities in the Middle Belt. The Tiv people do not share any contiguous borders with the Fulanis. When and how did the Tiv land become a “traditional grazing land” for the Fulani nomadic cattle breeders? The Sultan, who is the grand patron of the MACBAN made this highly provocative comment before the outrageous letter the group wrote to President Jonathan. We must inform that the Tiv nation is not under the dominion of His Royal Majesty, the Sultan of Sokoto, and we demand an open and unreserved apology from him. Furthermore, since the MACBAN motto is “Read, Rear & Farm”, he should be reminded that taking cows across Nigeria in these modern days of ranching is against their motto if they understand what it means. They must buy land and REAR their cattle on ranch FARMS. This, they can accomplish through sound READING and research. This would provide to Nigerians clean and healthy by-products such as milk, butter and edged packaged meat from their cattle farms. But they would never do this if they have other agendas such as expansionism. But the Tiv people would never permit this.

I conclude with a comment on the recent Northern Leaders meeting in Kano and the resultant Northern Declaration that was read by Wantaregh Paul Unongo. At that meeting, no condemnation was made of the attacks by Fulani nomads on their hosts, the Tiv people. But Hon. Usman Bugaje, with whom we have exchanged mails in the past about building a more perfect union, and whom I had thought was beyond the kind of statements he made at the meeting, said, among other things that, “wherever the Fulani man is seen with a few cows, people rise against them.” He then gave an example of such places as Kaduna. I was scandalized! How dare him! You bring your cows to someone’s ancestral land and destroy his crops and kill him; then you protest innocence and claim the victim? He then said to the applause of the audience, “No state in Nigeria is an oil-producing state.” That is not how to build a nation—living in denial of reality. I want to declare that we the Tiv people are not part of the Kano Declaration even though it was read by a Tiv elder, Paul Unongo, who was there in his personal capacity and did not represent Tiv interest. This is very clear because, for instance, he did not protest the killing of Tiv people by Northerners, represented by the Fulanis, and he did not protest the comments by Hon. Bugaje. The Tiv people are geographically and culturally not Northerners any more than the Hausa man is a South-Easter or Middle Belter. And the Tivs are not tools in the hands of any ethnic group in Nigeria. If they were so in the days of our fathers, they are certainly not in our days. And should unrestrained provocation trigger another civil war, the Tiv people will definitely not be on the side they were on then.

The Tiv forbears did not cede their land to “Nigeria” any more than forebears of other nationalities did. We shall defend our land with all we have got.

Leonard Karshima Shilgba is a SaN (Sad Nationalist) shilgba@yahoo.com



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