Benue killings: Arrest of militia members pre-planned by military —Aliyu Tershaku, coordinator, Livestock Guards

Aliyu Tershaku is the Benue State coordinator of the Livestock Guards, which transformed from the Civilian Joint Task Force (CJTF), to enforce the anti-open grazing law in the state. In this interview by BABAJIDE JOHNSON, he denied the claim by the military authority that he supplied arms to the nine militias who were arrested on the Benue/Taraba states border in the aftermath of the recent killings in the state and who were said to have confessed that they were sponsored by Benue State government.


Some people, alleged to be members of a militia group, were arrested on the Benue/Taraba border in connection with the recent killings in Benue. The military authority linked the group to the Benue State government and further alleged that you are the one supplying arms to them…?

You see, in my life I have never involved myself in any criminal offence. My background is clean. Go to the Department of State Service (DSS), the Force 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 the Federal Republic of Nigeria and I am not a militia commander.

The story is this: In 2013 when Benue State witnessed a serious crisis brought about by the Fulani herdsmen invasion during which many people were killed and property worth billions of naira destroyed, Benue and Nassarawa states were looking for a lasting solution to contain the situation. Then, the governors of the two states called a meeting at the Government House in Makurdi to strategize on ways of ending the crisis. It was at that meeting that the Civilian Joint Task Force (CJTF) was formed and the chairman of the Miyetti Allah with its national chairman, Dirowa and the Deputy Inspector General of Police then, Mike Zuokumor, were also present.

During the meeting, the Miyetti-Allah and the government of the two states brought their youths, including Agatu youths, where I was appointed to coordinate the activities of the CJTF 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, explained to the national chairman of Miyetti Allah about the situation. We were being paid N10, 000 each as stipends. That was during former Governor Gabriel Suswam›s administration.

So when Governor Samuel Ortom came in, Suswam handed the organisation to him to help tackle the security challenge confronting the state and that is how we came to work under Governor Ortom. So, some Fulani people were not happy when the anti-open grazing law which people of the state asked Ortom to put in place to check the incessant clashes between herdsmen and farmers as well as killing and destruction of farmlands by Fulani herdsmen was passed by the state House of Assembly.

I want you to know that Benue people voted overwhelmingly for President Muhammadu Buhari, knowing very well that he was a Fulani man. Even though the former Senate President, David Mark and Suswam were in the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), yet the people voted against the party to demonstrate their love for the party in power today, the All Progressives Congress (APC). So if people are saying that the anti-open grazing law was promulgated to chase Fulani herdsmen away from Benue State, it is not true at all.

On the arrest of some members of a militia group on Benue/Taraba border, I know that before now, most of the security agencies have hands in it and I am challenging them that they are not intelligent officers. One of them, Colonel Gambari from Taraba State, has alleged that the governor gave me arms to give to civilian youths. He also alleged that some people were trained, but the question I want to ask him is, who trained whom?


Are you saying that those arrested by the military in Taraba are not members of your organisation?

They are not my members and I don’t even know them. Who took them there? It was a planned thing aimed at denting my reputation. I want to tell you that, as the commander of the CJTF, which was later changed to Livestock Guards, I and my men 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 the military or any security agency, not even from the Federal Government, to find out my involvement or whether I carry arms. If that officer who raised that false alarm about arming militia in the state is an intelligence officer, he would have carried out silent investigations into the matter to know where the arms came from.


What about your alleged links with the Boko Haram group?

Let  me tell you, when the anti-open grazing law was signed by Governor Ortom, the national chairman of the Miyetti-Allah Kuatal Hore who was the campaign director to former President Goodluck Jonathan was not happy. He knew well that Benue State voted massively for Buhari to support them in whatever circumstances they found themselves. He was the one kicking against the law and directing Fulani militia to cause crisis in order to fulfill his hidden agenda against the people of the state. That was why he was calling me a Boko Haram member, but which I am not. Go and find out my story from the DSS. They will tell you who I am and what I do.


What is the number of the members of the Livestock Guards and how many were killed during the herdsmen attack which left 73 people dead?

We have 2, 500 members. Eight of them were killed and if the security operatives are saying that Governor Ortom has trained 6, 000 militia, it is all lies; it is not true. Do you know what 6, 000 armed people would look like? It is not a small number: it is like at least, 10 battalions. If it were true, would I then fold my hands with 10 battalions and allow my members to be killed like that and there will be no reaction? How can that be possible? No it›s not true. We believe in the anti-open grazing law and it will be sustained.


You earlier said that the CJTF was created both in Nasarawa and Benue states. Now with your group transforming to Livestock Guards in Benue, does the CJTF still exist in Nassarawa State?

When the one in Benue was changed to Lifestock Guards as a result of the anti-open grazing law, the group was not disbanded because most of their cattle were here (Benue). So, we are using them as indigenous Fulanis. That is why the vehicles the Benue State government gave to the organisation to facilitate their operations, some were given to the Fulanis in Nassarawa too because it was a joint operation. We looked at this law as that which will bring lasting peace and it does not seek to drive anybody away from the state. I also have cattle and I have a ranch for them.


What is your view on the issue of cattle colonies proposed by the Federal Government?

I don’t understand what they mean by cattle colonies, but I don’t think the people will accept the idea. May be the government is trying to enslave the people. More than 60 years ago, we were decolonised from the British government and bringing it now, is a strange thing. It sounds strange and, until they explain to us what it means, we are still confused.


Are members of the Livestock Guards permitted to carry firearms?

You know the issue of firearms is a very dangerous thing. We are not allowed to carry firearms and that is why you see me with officers of the Nigerian Security Civil Defence Corps who are permitted to carry firearms to protect me. And that is why my men were killed by Fulani herdsmen and we were helpless and we cannot do anything to defend ourselves.


With the killings still going on in Benue State, do you see the Miyetti-Allah suppressing and overpowering your organisation?

I told you that members of the Miyetti Allah Kuatal Hore are against this government, right from the beginning. So, like I said earlier, they are after causing trouble in the state to ensure that the aim for which the law was promulgated is defeated.


With the killing of your men, how many of them have come out to renounce their membership of the Livestock Guards?

None for now because this is our state and my members 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 these violent clashes?

A law is in place, the state government 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 to take its course. Anybody that has contrary opinion or view or wishes to challenge the law is free to go to court, but certainly not through violence.

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