‘Benue livestock guards not trained to carry arms’
Alhaji Aliyu Tershaku, Coordinator of the Benue State Livestock Guards, charged with assisting the Police and other security agencies to ensure peaceful and smooth implementation of the anti-open grazing law, spoke to JOSEPH WANTU in Makurdi, denying insinuations that members of his group were arrested by the Army with arms in a neighbouring state, insisting that his group is not a militias group and members not permitted to bear arms.
The military recently arrested and paraded a militia group, which it said during interrogation, linked their existence and training to you. What is your take on this?
You see, in my life I have never 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 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, governor of the state and his Nasarawa State counterpart, in seeking lasting solution to contain the situation, held a meeting at the Government House in Makurdi to strategise 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, Kuatal Hore, 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 over 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 Samuel Ortom came in as governor, Suswam handed the organisation to him to help security agents tackle the challenge confronting the two states, and that is how we came to work under Ortom.So, when the anti-open grazing law, which people of the state asked Ortom to put in place to check incessant clashes between herdsmen and farmers, was passed by the state House of Assembly, some Fulani people were not happy, saying it was promulgated to chase Fulani herdsmen away from the 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 was a Fulani man. Even though the former senate president, David Mark, and Suswam were in PDP, yet the people voted against the party to demonstrate the people’s love for APC and Buhari.On the arrest of some militia group on Benue/Taraba boarder, I know that before now, 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, Col. Gambari from Taraba State alleged that the governor gave me arms to give to civilian youths and that some people were trained. But I asked, trained by who, when and where?As Coordinator of the CJTF, which was later disbanded and Livestock Guards 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 in the state were an intelligent officer, he would have carried out silent investigation into the matter to know where the arms came from.Again, when Ortom signed the anti-open grazing Bill into law, Hore, who was a campaign director to former President Goodluck Jonathan, was not happy. He knew well that Benue voted massively for Buhari to support them in whatever circumstances they find themselves and he was the one kicking against the law and directing Fulani militia to the state to cause crisis to fulfill his hidden agenda against the people of the state. That was why he was calling me a Boko Haram member, which I am not. Go and find out my story from the DSS, they will tell you who I am better and what I do.
Are you saying the nine persons arrested in Taraba are not livestock guard?
They are not my members and I don’t even know or have seen them. Who took them there? It was a planned thing aimed at blackmailing and denting my reputation.
How many members do you have?
We have 2, 500 members and eight of them were killed in the herdsmen attack in their homes and were among the 73 persons buried.It is a set up against the Benue State Government and me. If the security operatives are saying that Ortom has trained 6, 000 militia, it is all lies. Do you know what 6, 000 armed people would look like? It is not a small number; it is like a battalion of at least 10 and if it were true, I will fold my hands with 10 battalions and allow my members to be killed like that without any reaction? How can that be possible?We believe in the anti-open grazing law and it will be sustained.
But the Civilian Joint Task Force still exists in Nasarawa State?
When the one in Benue was changed to Livestock Guards, they did not disbanded the CJTF in Nasarawa, because most of their cattle were here and they were using them as indigenous Fulanis. That is why some of the vehicles given to the organisation to facilitate its operations by the Benue State government were given to the Fulanis in Nasarawa too, because it was a joint operation.
But you also have cattle, so how do you see this anti-open grazing law?
I see it as one that 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.
What do you make of 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. Maybe the government is trying to enslave the people. Over 60 years ago, we were decolonised from the British government and bringing anything colonies now is a strange thing. It sounds strange and until they explain to us what it means, we are still confused.
Are the Livestock Guards permitted to possess firearms?
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 couldn’t defend ourselves.
With the killings still going on in the state, do you see the Miyetti-Allah suppressing your organisation?
I told you that the Miyetti Allah and Hore are against this government right from the beginning, so they are after causing trouble in the state to ensure that the aim for which the law was promulgated is defeated.
Since your men were killed, have any of the remaining ones 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 the clashes?
A law is in place, as the state has the right to enact such laws to bring about peace in the state. 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.
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