“I was really surprised to hear the allegation levelled against me that I masterminded the killings of my Benue people.”
Rose Ejembi, Makurdi
Coordinator of the recently disbanded Benue State Livestock Guards and Senior Special Assistant to Governor Samuel Ortom on Special Security, Alhaji Aliyu Tershaku who was arrested sometimes in April, this year by a joint team of Nigerian security for his alleged involvement in the Benue killings bares his mind on his arrest and detention for seven months, blaming the state government for masterminding his arrest and detention.
You are the coordinator of the Benue State Livestock Guards. But you were arrested in connection with the killings in the state. What actually prompted your arrest?
I am also Commander, Civilian Joint Task Force which was later turned to Livestock Guards in Benue State. I was really surprised to hear the allegation levelled against me that I masterminded the killings of my Benue people. Surprised because when I was arrested, I thought it was as a result of the allegations levelled against me by the Fulani. But when I was taking to Abuja where I was detained, I started hearing that I was arrested in connection with Fulani herdsmen killings of my people, the Tiv indigenes and other Benue indigenes. So, it’s a very surprising thing to me to hear that.
In 2013, I was in Bauchi State after I left Plateau State in the heat of the crisis. While in Bauchi, I got a call from former DIG, Mike Zukomu that I should come to Benue State for a security meeting. That was how I came and he took me to former governor, Suswam. That security meeting was between Nasarawa and Benue. The traditional rulers from both states as well as the national body of Miyetti Allah under the leadership of the present chairman, Alhaji Kirowa were also present at that meeting with the former DIG and the two governors. They delegated some youths comprising of Fulani herdsmen and Tiv youths as well as other indigenous youths from Benue and Nasarawa and then appointed me as the commander of the civilian joint task force for peace and reconciliation. Already there was an elders committee in place headed by the Ter Makurdi while Ardo Lawani from Nasarawa State was the vice Chairman. Kaaka from Nasarawa was secretary while late Akuraga was assistant secretary to that committee. Some of the committee members were Dave Iorhemba, former speaker of Benue Assembly, John Tondo, former Lands and Survey Commissioner, the Tor Sankera, Chief Abu King Shuluwa was also a member. President and Secretary of Mzough U Tiv as well as some Ardos among others were members too. So, based on this our job for peace and reconciliation when we go in we used to come and submit our reports through this elders committee under Ter Makurdi. We did this job well and luckily we succeeded in bringing peace back to Benue and Nasarawa states.
But before the 2015 elections, there was this crisis between the Tivs in Buruku, Katsina-Ala, and Ukum versus Shitile. So, I told the former governor that while we are mak- ing peace with the Fulani and there is a crisis among the Tivs, we should merge the committees together. It was from there that the former governor delegated a committee under the leadership of Timothy Suswam his senior brother who went to all the local governments under Zones A and B and brought the youths from the traditional rulers and handed them over to me and we continued making peace. It is very funny to me when people say I was involved in the Benue killings because when I saw the crisis between Tiv and Tiv and then between Fulani and Tiv in Benue, all I did was to wade in to make sure that we can bring about peace and calm to Benue State. And in doing this I succeeded in getting over 40 AK47 arms from criminals both from Tiv and Fulani militias. For instance, there was a time the divisional police headquarters in Logo local government area of Benue State was attacked and the attackers went away with police arms and ammunition. My boys and I were able to recover 19 AK47 for the police and then handed over the criminals to the police at that time. That was during the time of CP Yakadi. When Ortom came in as governor, he took over the civilian joint task force from his predecessor, Suswam. We continued doing our job and the state government was paying us. But we started having problems as soon as the anti-open grazing law came into being. I advised the state government that there was need for the state to take it as the governor saw it because there are indigenous Fulani in Benue who should also be considered. When the law came into effect, we were working with both the Tiv and the indigenous Fulani to ensure peace in the state. I don’t know how after all my efforts to ensure peace between Fulani and Tiv, they would say that I am involved in the killings of Benue indigenes.
Don’t forget that the Fulani had also petitioned the Nigerian Army in February this year when some nine people were arrested in Tarkum in Taraba State who they said were members of the Benue Livestock Guards. They accused me of being sponsored by the government of Benue State to give arms to Tiv militia to attack Fulani. I had to call the Commanding Officer in Tarkum to ask why he made that kind of false allegation against me. If the Army and Fulani are saying that I am giving arms to Tiv militias to attack Fulani, why would the Benue people now make another allegation against me that I am also collaborating with Fulani to attack the Tiv people? Which of these allegations are we going to believe? But luckily, on my arrest, all the investigations made by the Nigerian Army Intelligence where I was, for four months before I was transferred to the DSS, show that no evidence was found against me. As I usually say, in my 54 years sojourn on planet earth so far, I have never had any criminal offense record and I have never been remanded anywhere not to talk of jail for one day. I am a business man. I have a private hospital as well as other businesses that I am doing. As Commander of Civilian Joint Task Force, I had four armed men with me 24 hours of the day. We were always working hand in hand with all the security agencies and that is why I am very surprised to hear that kind of allegation levelled against me.
From the Nigerian Army Intelligence, I was taken to the DSS to continue with their own investigation but when they found nothing against me, I was granted administrative bail.
What was your experience like while serving as the coordinator of the Livestock Guards in Benue State?
Before I became the Livestock Guards coordinator, Benue was already on fire because
some people were using those boys for their politics. They saw how I handled those boys very carefully and seriously and I wouldn’t permit them to commit any offence. That was why they are trying to rope me in to confuse people so that I will be sacked and they can continue with their ‘black’ business. If not, why would a security adviser to the governor who should be happy to see me out of detention without any evidence against me be saying Benue is under threat because of my release. All I want to say is that they are only levelling these allegations against me to edge me out so that they can have their way during the forthcoming general elections. Now, I am using this opportunity to let the whole world know that I am innocent of all these allegations. If anybody has any single information that can prove that I am a criminal, let that person come out with it.
What is your own view about the anti-open grazing law?
Well, I’m not the governor because my own job is to build peace. But what I know is that there is no law that is 99 percent. Every law is 100 percent. You can’t make a law that is 80 percent and you feel you have made a law. Where are the private ranches that the governor promised to build? If you arrest the cattle where will you put them? This was what I told the governor that he would find it difficult to implement this law without private ranches. He had promised that five hectares of land be fenced with police post, water, grass and other essential amenities would be built as private ranches in all the local government areas of the state before the implementation of the law. So, my own duty is to guide the live stocks and not to go and arrest them. Arresting live stocks and their owners is the jobs of the Nigerian security not mine.
Just recently, the governor while addressing the press said he had been vindicated by your release especially as there was no evidence against you. What do you have to say to that?
The governor is just playing politics with the matter. As the number one security officer in the state, I am his appointee and I can’t be arrested without his knowledge neither can I be released without his knowledge. If he said he didn’t know why I was arrested or why I was released, then why is he there as a governor?
How and where were you arrested?
I was arrested at the office of the Security Adviser. He called me that the governor gave us an assignment. When I got to his office, I asked where we were going and he said I should wait. Within 15 minutes, security men drawn from all the security agencies in the state surrounded the office and I was arrested. All my documents, my check books and everything in my office were ransacked. The security adviser then went ahead and appointed some criminals as commanders of livestock guards to replace me because they are using them. The person that was named as the commander has a record in Kuje Prison and Makurdi Medium Prison. Go to state CID or SARS, you will see his name there. Also his second in command is an ex-convict. Livestock Guards recruited from Zone C were recruited by the deputy governor. You recruited and brought them to me, now you are saying there are bad eggs among them. How do you bring bad eggs to me? You bring armed robbers to me and asked me to take care of them. If people see me with the armed robbers what name will they call me? I am automatically an armed robber. And who made me to be an armed robber? It’s you. So, what is your defence on that?