‘After independence, cattle colony sounds strange’
Alhaji Aliyu Tershaku is the coordinator of Livestock Guards, the security outfit charged with the implementation of Benue State’s Anti-Open Grazing Law, which was accused by security agencies of arming its operatives with AK-47 guns. In this interview with JOSEPH WANTU, he said none of his men was arrested with weapons as he insisted that the outfit is not a militia group.
The military recently paraded a group with weapons, which allegedly linked their operations to your outfit.
Thank you very much. You see, in my life I have never, ever involved myself in any criminal offence, my background is clean and clear. Go to the DSS, the Police headquarters and DIA, they know my story. About the issue of militia, I want to say in clear terms that I have never associated myself with any organisation not recognised by the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, and I am not a militia commander.
In 2013 when Benue State witnessed serious crisis about Fulani herdsmen invasion during which many people were killed and property worth billions of naira destroyed, Benue and Nassarawa governments were looking for a lasting solution to contain the situation, then the governors of the two states called a meeting at the Government House in Makurdi to strategize ways of ending the crisis. It was at that meeting that the Civilian Joint Task Force was formed and the chairman of the Miyetti Allah with its national chairman, Dirowa and the DIG of Police then, Mike Zuokumor, were also present.
During the meeting, the Miyetti-Allah and governments of the two states brought their youths including Agatu youths where I was appointed to coordinate the activities of the JTF organisation. When I took the challenge, there was relative peace between the two states and after one year, I and my second-in-command, Alhaji Manga Useni, complained to the national chairman of Miyetti Allah about the welfare situation. We were been paid N10, 000 each as stipend. That was during former governor, Gabriel Suswam’s administration.
So, when Governor Ortom came in, Suswam handed the organisation to him to help security agents to tackle the security challenges confronting the two states and that is how we came to work under Governor Ortom. When the House of Assembly passed the Anti Open Grazing Law, some Fulani people were not happy. They started saying that the law was promulgated to chase Fulani herdsmen away from Benue state, but that is not true at all.
I want people to know that Benue people voted overwhelmingly for President Muhammadu Buhari knowing fully well that he is a Fulani man. Even though the former Senate President, David Mark and Suswam were in PDP, the people voted against the party to demonstrate the people’s love for APC and Buhari.
But some members of your group were alleged to have been arrested with guns.
They are not my members and I don’t even know or see them. Who took them there? It was a planned thing aimed at blackmailing and denting my reputation. I heard they were arrested on Benue/Taraba border. But I know that most of the security agencies have hands in it and I am challenging them (security agencies) that they are not intelligent officers. One of them said that the governor gave me arms to give to civilian youths. He also alleged that some people were trained, but I asked, trained by whom, when and where?
I want to tell you that as Coordinator of the CJTF, which was later disbanded when Livestock Guards was formed, my men and I have not been trained to carry weapons. I have been moving with police and since those boys were arrested, I have never received any call from any security quarters or the Federal Government to find out my involvement or whether I carry arms. But, if the officer who raised that false alarm about the governor arming militia is an intelligent officer, he would have carried out discreet investigation into the matter to know where the arms came from.
How many members do you have in the Livestock Guards?
We have 2,500 members and eight of them were killed by herdsmen in their homes and were among the 73 persons buried. The whole allegation is a set up against the Benue State government and me. If the security operatives are saying that Governor Ortom has trained 6, 000 militia, it is all lies, it’s not true. Do you know what 6, 000 armed people would look like? It’s not a small number it is like a battalion of at least ten and if it were true then I will fold my hands with ten battalions and allow my members to be killed like that and there will be no reaction? How can that be possible? No, it’s not true. We believe in the Anti Open Grazing Law and it will be sustained.
The old Civilian Joint Task Force (CJTF) was disbanded. What we have now is the Livestock Guards and the law is guiding its operations.
Is the CJTF still in existence in Nassarawa State?
When the one in Benue was changed to Livestock Guards, they were not disbanded because most of their cattle were here, so were using them as indigenous Fulani. That is why some of the vehicles the Benue State government gave to the organisation to facilitate its operations were given to the Fulani in Nassarawa too because it was a joint operation. The Anti Open Grazin Law will bring lasting peace as it does not seek to drive anybody away from the state. I also have cattle and I have ranched them.
How do you look at the issue of cattle colonies proposed by the Federal Government?
I don’t understand what they mean by cattle colonies until they explain it to me, but I don’t think the people will accept the idea. May be the government is trying to enslave the people. More than 60 years ago, we were decolonized from the British government and bringing it now, is a strange thing, it sounds strange and until they explain to us what it mean, we are still confused.
Are the Livestock Guards permitted to possess firearms?
You know the issue of firearms is a very dangerous thing. We are not allowed to carry firearms. That is why you see me with the Civil Defence officers who are permitted to do so to protect me, and that is why Fulani herdsmen killed my men and we had nothing to do.
Since your men were killed, have some of them come to you to back out?
None for now because this is our state and they are committed to doing even more. That is why I am also not afraid no matter what people say about me. I feel more strengthened and comfortable with myself. I will be very glad and happy if I am killed protecting my people.
What do you think the Federal Government should do to end these clashes?
A law is in place, the state has the right to enact such laws to bring about peace. So the Federal Government should embrace the law and allow it take its course. Anybody that has contrary opinion or view or wish to challenge the law is free to go to court, not through violence. I told you that the Miyetti Allah are against this government right from the beginning and they want to be causing to ensure that the aim for which the law was promulgated is defeated.
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