President General of the Tiv socio-cultural organization known as Mzough U Tiv, Edward Ujege has said that dialogue remains the only solution to all the violent crises across the country. Among several issues, the former Director of Federal Highways said that any attempt to repeal the Benue anti-open grazing law would be met with stiff opposition from the people.
Benue has had its own fair share of violent crises occasioned by the Fulani invasion, communal clashes and other crimes. This development has left so many people in IDP camps till date. What do you think is the way out from this quagmire?
The way out is continued dialogue. We must be diplomatic about what we are saying. We know this anti open grazing law was done in the best interest of everybody. Because the population is heavy now, the land is still the same and we could allow our animals such as chickens, pigs and cows to roam around. It was in the best interest of everybody including Miyetti Allah to evaluate what was in the table. There was public hearing when the law was to be enacted and Miyetti Allah should have made their own feelings available. They were informed and invited and I remember that they spoke. Thereafter, they just went back and said they would not accept the law because maybe, they have somebody behind them. The constitution has allowed us to make local laws for the betterment of human beings. So, I believe that we should maintain the peace.
Why have the Benue IDPs not been able to return to their ancestral homes?
Security. There are still challenges in those places. So many of them have tried to go back even to the farm in those places but the herdsmen are still attacking them.
In some quarters, there is this belief that the Benue Anti Open Grazing Law as enacted by the state is anti Fulani. Can you honestly say that the law is not anti-Fulani?
I will say categorically that it’s not anti-Fulani because it’s about all livestock and in Benue State, pig and poultry are the main animals we are dealing with. There’s no word in that law that says cows. It says livestock include piggery, poultry and the others. We have our own specie of cows in Benue State too.
You would recall that some months back, the Miyetti Allah were asking the Federal Government to prevail on the Benue State government to repeal the state’s anti open grazing law. Should that happen, what would be your reaction?
They even took the state to court and Mzough U Tiv was joined in the suit and we won at the lower court. Now they have gone to court of Appeal and we are standing on our rights. As to your question about whether the Federal Government can yield to the request of Miyetti Allah to repeal the anti open grazing law, I want to ask you who repeals a law? It’s the House of Assembly and the Benue State House of assembly will definitely not repeal this law. If the Federal Government, the Court of Appeal or Supreme Court reverses this law, the people of Benue will implement it.
What efforts are the Tiv people putting in place to ensure the amicable resolution of the Tiv/Jukun crisis which has rocked Taraba State with its attendant loss of lives and property?
The truth is that we are doing our best in whatever form that we can do and the best is dialogue. We have been trying to dialogue with Taraba State. I attended a meeting in Wukari recently and we had press releases. Wherever possible, we will talk to our own people on this side. But I believe the basic issue that needs to be addressed for a long lasting peace to prevail is that some of the Tiv people in Taraba State have been living there for many generations. And there was a traditional council reform and they were not allowed any traditional post in the Wukari traditional council. Even when people come to settle here in Benue, they are allowed to choose their own leaders. It depends on what scale they are. So, when you have a majority of the people and you don’t want them to be enrolled into the traditional council to any extent or are not allowed to participate within the constitution as to vie for House of Assembly, chairman of local government, House of Representatives or Senate, you are taking away the rights of the people from them. And I believe that Taraba State has to rethink this thing for lasting solution. We have not called for anybody to go against the law and take arms and so forth but we have to look at the truth. Because even in the traditional council, somebody there that speaks the language with Aku Uka, when things happen, he can delegate such person to go and find peace within his own people. In the House of assembly, if there is anybody there who is speaking, he speaks for the people. A good majority of the people do not have that and to me, I have to call a spade a spade. I cannot live in any country where I don’t have a right. You go to America now and you’re living in America. After sometime, you become a citizen. And when you become a citizen, you’re allowed to vote. Even if you’re not a citizen, you’re still given the opportunity to stay for a particular number of years and then you are given the right to vote in UK or America and the rest of them. And we are copying these countries. So, you cannot live in a place without any rights at all.
Not long ago, former President Olusegun Obasanjo was saying that Nigeria was tending towards disintegration and was trying to advise President Buhari. In your own opinion, do you think Nigeria has really reached the point of disintegration as some of these leaders claim?
That warning is apt and proper and its in place. And we appeal to President Buhari to listen to it. You know, Boko Haram didn’t start with a war. It started as skirmishes by disgruntled people in a village and it spread to what it is today. For us to wait until war comes before us will be unfortunate. There is a lot of kidnapping, a lot of militancy and most of these as far as we understand, are being done by herdsmen probably of Fulani stock. They kidnap people; there is killing, murder and all these kinds of things throughout the country. We have more of that now than before Buhari’s regime. Therefore, he has to listen to advice given in good faith. The worst event is that since we have been crying out about the Benue pogrom, nobody from Miyetti Allah has been arrested or prosecuted. Not one to my own knowledge. If you know of any person, let me know. These people think they are above the law
. But why is that when complaints are being made about Miyetti Allah, not one person is arrested?
But why does it seem that successive political leaders in this country have still not learnt lessons from our past experiences on how to tackle some of these issues?
It’s the quality of leadership. Every other person looks at the leader. Even if you smile, they smile along with you and if you cry, they do the same. And the background of the leader is very important. You must be a person who is open-minded, who is friendly, who is a friend to all, who is a lover of peace and unity. For instance, I grew up during the time of Ahmadu Bello and I was from a village in Aliade in Gwer West Local Government of Benue State. There were only three government colleges and he availed me of education. I went to Government College, Keffi. And he used to come to school and play with us and whatever you talk about Ahmadu Bello, I am one person that would defend him. But are our present leaders like that? Most of them are grabbing money and looking for power and so on, so forth. So, their background is quite different. So, it’s the quality of leadership.
And the background of everybody matters. That is the reason why if you look at the constitution we are copying from America, you would see that you cannot be president of America when they are questioning your qualification. But in Nigeria here, they question the qualification of governors, Chairmen, presidents and so on. You do what you can to bring peace, unity, progress, socio-economic dividends of democracy to the people and then you leave and somebody takes over.
Recently, the Senate and some eminent Nigerians were calling for a security summit as a way of tackling the issue of insecurity that has been plaguing this country. In your own opinion, do you think a security summit is what we need at this time?
Definitely, anything that will bring peace especially when you have dialogue, is the best way forward. Even when you go to war, you end up in the dialogue table. And any forum that will bring an end to all the violent insurgencies and crises is welcome. I have been involved in quite a number of fora and the best thing that we are doing is that we are asking ourselves how do we bring peace to bear not only in our land but wherever it is possible. We don’t want what is happening in Kaduna, Plateau, Kogi, South East, South West, South South because any such fracas tells on the economy and wellbeing of everybody. Now, it’s difficult to travel from Abuja to Kaduna and Kano, Zamfara and so forth. You don’t want to hear what is happening in Zamfara.
What will be the fate of the Middle Belt if Nigeria disintegrates?
I don’t believe that Nigeria will disintegrate. Something will always happen that will bring us all together. Even government lasts only four years. Somebody will come and make a change. I don’t want even to dream that Nigeria will one day disintegrate. It’s not in the equation and so, nobody should think that way.
If you are to set an agenda for the Ortom administration, what will it be?
The agenda is that it should continue to do and put in place programmes that will improve the wellbeing of the people and maintain the peace. He has done very well by bringing this anti open grazing law and being the governor of the people; he has gone to the grassroots. We appeal to him to continue and if possible, source revenue that will enable him to do more in terms of infrastructure.