Anti-open grazing law has come to stay —Ihagh, Tiv president general

In this Interview with JOHNSON BABAJIDE, the President General of Mdzough U Tiv Worldwide, retired Comptroller of Prison Iorbee Ihagh says Tivs are not ready to concede their ancestral land. Excepts:


WHY has the conflict over herders’ activities persisted in Benue State?

It has persisted because the Fulani want to forcefully take the Benue valley and we say no. It is not possible because the land belongs to us and we shall continue to defend it and nobody will touch our land. We are not against any Fulani man but against the armed Fulani herdsmen. Everybody is free to stay in this state and you must obey the law of the state. It is the duty of the state to enact a law that is suitable for its citizens, which the present administration of Governor Samuel Ortom has done. In fact, the law was made by the people and due process was followed and the governor assented to it.

For instance, you will remember that some time ago,  Zamfara State enacted the Sharia law and those, who could not comply with the law, left and no one insisted that it must be repealed. So, the anti open grazing law was made to for everyone. While the law stipulates that there is no open grazing, it is also against those who rustle cattle. In essence, both farmers and herders are protected by the law.

But those who are against the law have ulterior motives, which is mainly to forcefully claim the Benue land. Remember that the law came to be because of the constant crisis between farmers and herdsmen. So, at the time the law was signed into law, there was opposition to it and many people thought that the problem (farmers/herders’ clashes) was Benue alone. But now, the problem has spread to all parts of the country, particularly in South-West, South-East and South-South, even in North-Central and the Far North.

And the agenda of these people, the Fulani, is to take over Nigeria; they have been saying this. But I’m telling them that that will not be possible. Let me correct one impression that the Middle Belt is part of the North. I’m telling you today that that is not so. The Middle Belt is not North. I am not a northerner. So, if anyone wants to live in Benue, he is free but not those who will cause problem for us. We have no AK-47 but they have. So, any attempt to say you want to take our land from us, we will fight it with the last drop of our blood. We will fight them as we did before.


When was that?

In 1804, they know it.


Does the current trend of events suggest the implementation of the anti-open grazing law is fraught with problems?

What I want you to know is that the Federal Government is not happy about the law but it is not their duty to enact law for the state. It is the duty of the state to enact law for its citizens and we are very comfortable with it. Every other tribe is happy with it; the Yoruba, Igbo and others are living peacefully, including the Hausa. The only people frowning are the herdsmen; that’s why I mentioned earlier that Zamfara State came up with Sharia and other states in the north followed suit and there was no problem, so that is why at times, we wonder what is the interest of the Federal Government in this matter. Remember that our major occupation in Benue is farming and we farm to feed the whole nation; that is why the state’s slogan is Food basket of the Nation.

Imagine you having 2,000 tubers of yam and herdsmen feed their cows with it! How will you feel? So, we are not against anybody; any person can come and stay in Benue as long as you are ready to obey the law of the state. We have nothing against  Fulani people but laws are made to be obeyed. In advanced countries, you don’t see livestock like fowl, goat, sheep or cow in an open place in the 21st century. Your business should not affect mine and mine not affect yours; that is what we are saying. We are not saying anything different from that.

But in any guise, some people come to say they want to take over our land, we will not allow that and I know God is always on our side. God was on our side in 1804 and He is still on our side.


But some of the Fulani organisations said that the law was enacted purposely to drive the Fulani people out of Benue?

That is not true. Governor Ortom has cattle but he ranches the cows. I too have cows in my village and I ranch them. The law is not against anybody. We don’t have problem with the Igbo, Yoruba, Hausa and the law-abiding Fulani. We only have problem only with the armed Fulani militias because most of these people came from neighbouring countries like Niger, Chad and other parts to cause trouble. And we read that they brought them for a purpose and were promised lots of things. They brought them the first time and second time they brought them. Here in Benue, the Yoruba are comfortable. We are not part of North, so they (Yoruba) can stay and do their business. They are living cordially in Benue, just like the Tivs are living very well in Yoruba land.

Recently, I traveled to Osun State and paid a courtesy call on the Ooni of Ife and he told me that the Tivs in Yoruba land are doing very well; that he has no problem with them at all; that they are law-abiding. So, whoever is law-abiding is welcome in Benue but those individuals  causing trouble, we will not allow them


With the governor coming under frightening attacks from suspected  gunmen, what are the immediate and far-reaching implications for the ordinary people of Benue State, food security and national stability and peace?

First of all, let me ask you, how many governors are into farming like Ortom? For a governor to leave his comfort home and go to farm shows that he is a real farmer and for number one citizen of the state to be attacked, it was planned. We got the information at their meeting that they were going to strike. They didn’t hide it, so if a whole governor could be attacked like that, what is the fate of the ordinary people of the state? It means we are not free; no one is free. But I blame the Federal Government because with the security agents, they ought to have the intelligence report of their plan. In my ward in Kwande Local Government area, the whole place has been deserted for the past seven years. These so-called herders have taken over the place, brandishing AK-47 without the authorities taking necessary action. Instead, if they see a Tiv man with knife to slice cassava, they will arrest him. So, it is a conspiracy against the Tiv people and we will not allow that. Therefore, if a governor could be attacked like that, it means we cannot sleep with our two eyes closed. Nobody is safe in Benue State. So, the President should immediately send the herdsmen militias out of the state. Invariably, if a governor could be attacked in the farm, it means farmers will be afraid to go to their farm for fear of been attacked and that is an invitation to famine.


What will you suggest as the solution to the prevalent security situation in Benue State and why?

Not only in Benue but across the country, I suggest that the international community should intervene because the Nigerian government is not able to solve the problem, including the Boko Haram issue. Kidnapping is on the increase because those behind it see it as a lucrative business since government, instead of tackling it, they prefer to pay ransom. Another problem is the killing of innocent people, which is becoming a daily occurrence. Anytime citizens are killed or kidnapped, the government will come out to say they are on top of the situation but the next day, the same thing happens and in worse dimensions.


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