Rose Ejembi, Makurdi
The Tiv Socio cultural group, Mzough U Tiv, has expressed displeasure over what it tagged, ‘emerging trends of the military exercise tagged Exercise Ayem Akpatuma’ which was flagged off, in Benue State, on Tuesday.
The group alleged that the military exercise in Benue State was to provide cover for herdsmen to take over Benue land.
This was even as the military has insisted that as a federal agency saddled with the responsibility of protecting lives of all Nigerians as well as protect the territorial integrity of Nigeria, exercise Ayem Akpatuma, is in Benue to achieve that aim.
President General of Mzough U Tiv, Engr. Edward Ujege told newsmen, on Thursday, that a pamphlet which had a picture of a farmer and a herder conversing being circulated by the Nigerian Army during the flag-off of the Exercise in Guma Local Government Area of the state, had defined the real intention of the military in the state.
“We wish to express our profound displeasure at the emerging trends of the military operation tagged Ayem a kpatema. The general public may recall our initial apprehension about the real mission of troops deployed to Benue State. True to our predictions, the flag-off of the exercise yesterday confirmed our fears.
“A pamphlet circulated by the Nigerian Army has defined the real intention of the military in Benue State. The pamphlet confirmed that the military had come to provide cover for armed Fulani herdsmen to take over our land.”
Ujege, who maintained that the message in the flyer, which was issued by the Department of Civil Military Affairs, Army Headquarters, underscores basic assumptions and erroneous impressions that the military has acknowledged that the Fulani herdsmen are responsible for the large scale massacre and massive destruction in our land.
“Yet, without addressing issues of justice, reparation and compensation, they are compelling Benue people to accommodate the perpetrators of the heinous atrocities.
“Moreover, there is no reference to the Open Grazing Prohibition and Establishment of Ranches law 2017, which addresses the fundamental issues of making both the farmers and the herders to coexist in peace.
“The military is not only silent on the law, but has encouraged open grazing with all its concomitant consequences. This silence on the law points to the fact that they are not in its support and are not ready to ensure its enforcement. The military has also assumed very wrongly that Benue people are responsible for cattle rustling which is not the case as rustling can only be undertaken by professionals in cattle rearing.
“The publication of the pamphlet in the Tiv language gives the impression that the Tiv are the target of the exercise, whereas the herdsmen attacks cut across the entire Benue State which is multi ethnic. This profiling of the Tiv people is also unacceptable. If the military are to be relevant in the state, they must assist in chasing away the invaders and restoring peace which can only be possible through the enforcement of the anti open grazing law,” he said.
But reacting to the allegations, Deputy Director, Army Public Relations, 707 Special Forces Brigade, Major Olabisi Ayeni, said the Army is a federal agency that is saddled with the responsibility of protecting lives of all Nigerians as well as protect the territorial integrity of Nigeria.
Acording to the Army spokesman, “All that the army is doing here is to ensure that no Benue resident is killed or displaced from their homes. We want to ensure peaceful coexistence among the herders and farmers. We are not saying the Fulani herdsmen should not obey the anti-open grazing law enacted by the Benue State Government.”
Ayeni who noted that the military is neither for or against any group said, “we have assured that it will not fail in the assignment of ensuring peace in the crisis torn areas so that the Benue people can return back to their homes soon.
“Let me inform you that we have arrested some Fulani herdsmen that wanted to attack Governor Ortom’s farm in Guma and with all these successes, you should know that Operation Ayem AKpatuma is not in support of any group and is not in the pursuit or criticising any group.
“Our role is to make sure that Benue State is peaceful and one of the ways we are going about it is for the herders to know that either a Tiv man or an Idoma man or an Igede man is a Nigerian like him and a herder who is not violent now is their brother.
“However in the course of the military exercise if we find a violent herdsman that want to kill or displace any person in Benue State, we get him arrested and that is why we arrested some herdsmen for preventing the Tiv people from living peacefully in their own environment.
“So the way and manner we go in achieving a peaceful environment in Benue State especially in Guma, Logo and Katsina-Ala local government areas is by using this psychological method to test these people that we are friends, don’t fight or pursue the other because we are one family. However, if you see anyone who want to kill you, report and we will get that person arrested,” said Ayeni.