Colony, route or RUGA, Fulani will not be allowed to take our land —Ujege, Benue leader
President-General of the three socio cultural groups in Benue State, Mdzough U Tiv, Ochetoha K Idoma and Om’Ngede, Chief Edward Ujege, in this interview with JOHSON BABAJIDE, said that there is no way Fulani will be allowed to take over Benue land.
THE Federal Government has suspended the controversial RUGA settlement policy. What is your take on this?
I wish the Federal Government is sincere with the suspension of RUGA, but I am yet to believe that it has been suspended. It may be a plot to come out with another thing aiming at the same goal. You know they started with cattle route, cattle colony and later, RUGA settlement; they are going to come back in another form with the same concept.
Why is it that Benue is at the forefront of the opposition?
We have a law that the whole of Benue State sat down and looked at as the best, which is in consonance with world best practices; that is ranching. And we came up with the Prohibition of Open Grazing Law 2017. The House of Assembly has the authority to make laws for the people. So, if the Federal Government refuses to obey that law, it will be unfortunate. If the Federal Government, which is supposed to obey and uphold the constitution, will now turn around to violate it, then, so be it.
How do you see it that the proponents of RUGA settlement said it was similar to ranching?
That is not possible; they can’t be similar. RUGA settlement is forceful acquisition of land from the owners, while ranches are a private business concept where you apply for land, get it and manage the animals.
What danger do RUGA settlement, cattle colony and others portend for the state?
The danger inherent in these are; one, they are going to take over our land and we will resist that, because we have farmers. Second, they would become land owners, where they would now introduce their own concepts of emirship and the religion they practice. This is the same thing they did in Southern Zaria, Zango Kataf and in Yorubaland; they imposed their own concept of religion. The way they used to do it is that they come in as visitors and before you know it, they take over the land. So, for us, we will continue to maintain our identity and ways of life.
There is this report that the Federal Government may move out the military to pave way for herdsmen invasion, because of the opposition. How do you handle that?
I will not be surprised if that is in the pipeline, because it might be part of the gimmicks of the Federal Government and Miyetti Allah. But the deployment of soldiers is to protect lives and property, which is constitutional. Our appeal to soldiers is to continue in the professional way they are known for.
There is this unconfirmed report that your group may be going to court to challenge the Federal Government on the RUGA. Is it true?
It is true. We have gone to court challenging the Federal Government over violation of our law, killing and maiming of our people. Many people have been killed.
So, we are claiming N72 trillion from the Federal Government and Miyetti Allah for the damage they have wreaked in Benue. Our group, Mdzough U Tiv, is challenging the Federal Government. We have several of these cases; about three already, in court and we will pursue them to the end. The court is the only place we can go for interpretation of law, especially when the Federal Government is violating the law of the state and Miyetti Allah are coming in the night into our land to kill us. As a result, we have about 500,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs) without care from the Federal Government.
If Miyetti Allah or the Federal Government wants to go to court too, let them go. Our case is clear. We are going to defeat them. Benue people do not look for problem; it is the Federal Government and Miyetti Allah that are making sure we don’t exist. The constitution stipulates the right of individuals to own properties.
Parts of our demands in the cases already in court are to demand from the Federal Government why there is no single project of the Federal Government in Benue State in the past four years. The only major project is the RUGA settlement they wanted to do. All our roads are bad; they cannot maintain them.
Only recently, many people were killed along Otukpo – Aliade – Makurdi road. This is because of poor condition of the road; no dam constructed. Electricity is not there. There is just nothing about Federal Government in the state.
There is this belief that Benue people do not want Fulani at all….?
Not like that. If you go to Europe; even South Africa and Egypt here, you will not see cows roaming the streets. They ranch the animals. Does it mean it is for the hatred of any tribe? I don’t know whether you have been to London. Did you see cows on the road? That is civilization; but here, we are living in the Stone Age. There is nothing like ethnic hatred there. It is the policy of those governments we are saying should be emulated in Nigeria.
What the anti-open grazing law is saying is that if you want to ranch your animals, you apply for the land and it will be processed and given to you. Has anyone applied and was not granted? That is when you can say something else.
The indigenous Fulani of Benue are saying that if the state does not want RUGA settlement, they should be allowed to own land, since they were born here. How about that?
Are you saying because you are born here, you want to take my land? Or can you go to my village, Ugaavan, and say because you are a citizen, you want to take my land? For instance, in Makurdi, here you want to build a house, will you just go there and say ‘I am a citizen’ and take land? It is not done like that.
People own land by various processes; either by inheritance or applying to state government and being given. We are not sending anybody away from Benue. You are a citizen; yes, we accept you, but follow the rules of acquiring a land.
Even in my village, I acquired a parcel of land and processed it properly to build a school. Yet, some people still dragged me to court, despite having my Certificate of Occupancy (CofO). How then would a Fulani man go to my village and say he wants land without due process? It is not hatred; we don’t hate them.
Penultimate week, Presidency claimed that the Federal Government gazette land in all the 36 states. Was Benue land also gazette?
Not to my knowledge. The Federal Government has not gazette land. The question you should ask is ‘when did they acquire it; when did they visit the state to acquire land; where is the plan? There is nothing like that to my knowledge. I have been around for some time. I had, in 1972; that was during Benue/Plateau days, worked in Benue and became General Manager, Water Corporation. I worked at Red Port Authority and as a director of highway. And I know a little about this better than these people talking. No land was gazette in Benue. If they go, fake and bring it, we will tell them. You acquire land the way it is being done. You cannot go to Kano and say ‘I see this land and I am taking it.’ No; you acquire it the normal way. I lived in Kano, Kaduna and Abuja. I have a plot in Abuja and I know how I bought it.
Was there grazing route in Benue, because some people said that the Air Force base area was a route?
Even if there was a path for them in those days, who gave them the route? They were moving round Benue. So, every piece of land is their own? They go into people’s farms and homes; that is what they are claiming anyway. They said they were here before us, whereas Geology and Anthropology have proved them wrong. They had never been here. What happened is that they were moving from North towards South when they were arrested here in Benue at Ushongo hills. We defeated them then. We are still going to defeat them now, without arms. God that made us to defeat them that time is there. We will defeat them again.
In all, how do you think this constant attack between Fulani herdsmen and farmers can be addressed frontally?
Simple, very simple and if they had done it, there wouldn’t have been these talks. What the Federal Government needs to do is to obey the anti-open grazing law. Let them visit other states and discuss the way forward with them and come up with what is suitable for the states. But here in Benue, the way forward is the anti-open grazing law.
Population keeps on increasing. We cannot say what was obtainable 50 years ago is what should be now. For instance, Tse Agabaragba, my village, used to be in the bush; all these wild animals like elephant were there when I was born around 1947 or 48. But now, population has changed and we have to change. It is not possible that we remain the way we were years ago. Everything now is competitive. Business has changed. Few years ago, telephone was meant for big people, unless you go to NITEL to make calls. But now, the world is in our palms. As things are changing, Nigeria has to change.
And if I were to be part of the Buhari-led government, I will advise him to focus on issues that will better the lives of the people. Our educational system, health and technology which are capable of driving the economy and improve the lot of the people, including the Miyetti Allah, should be faced. Focus on the economy and encourage homemade goods, instead of this Miyetti Allah agenda.