After weeks of inexplicable silence in the killings in parts of northern Nigeria, the Northern Elders Forum (NEF) has finally spoken up against the menace of rampaging herdsmen.
However, it would appear the original target of the elders in their statement was one of their own, Chief Paul Unongo, who recently pointed accusing fingers in the direction of former Vice President Atiku Abubakar as one of the brains behind herdsmen.
Atiku’s Media Office had Friday berated Unongo for his comments, which it said lacked basis, and appeared induced by a political office he was occupying in the present administration.
But Saturday the NEF further rebuked Unongo for the accusation against Atiku while calling on government to check the menace of Fulani herdsmen.
The statement by NEF Deputy Chairman, Alhaji Sani Zangon Daura, reads in full:
“The attention of the Northern Elders Forum has been drawn to yet another report of partisan statement made by its leader, Chief Paul Unongo directed against the former Vice President Atiku Abubakar.
“The Forum regrets to have to publicly disown yet another controversy by Unongo in this recent times.
“While Chief Unongo reserves the right to hold and express personal views against any issue, he however does not have the right to drag the entire Forum into unnecessary controversies at will.
“We therefore advice that if Chief Unongo has any grudges against any personality or group, he should vent them in his personal capacity and not use the platform of the Forum.
“Again we are not aware that President Muhammadu Buhari has refused to heed our advice on this matter as there was never any such advice contrary to Unongo’s claim in the report.
“It is on record that since inception six years ago, the Forum has never been this controversial in its approach to issues and never committed itself on anything without finding solid grounds.
“But since the transition that followed the death of its founder and pioneer leader, the Danmasanin Kano, Alhaji Maitama Sule, it has unnecessarily been dragged from on controversy to another.
“Without blaming any person or group, the Northern Elders Forum hereby condemns the unnecessary killings in Kaduna, Plateau, Benue and Kogi states and indeed other parts of the north and the country generally.
“We call on government to urgently act against such wanton lawlessness by identifying the perpetrators and dealing with them in the same way other disturbances in the Northeast and other parts of the country are being dealt with.”
The NEF Chairman, Unongo, said Friday, “I am aware that the most powerful person in Miyetti Allah is Alhaji Atiku Abubakar,who wants to be the next president. If they are fighting for power and Atiku wants to create problems for Buhari, I don’t know. There are so many possibilities.
“The most powerful person who finances the Miyetti Allah is Abubakar Atiku and he is a prince of the Tiv Court. The Tiv gave him a traditional title, meaning ‘the biggest shade of the Tiv people’.
“This implies that the Tiv people should be able to run to Atiku who will protect them.
“This is the man who heads Miyetti Allah and is the greatest financier of this organisation.
“He has more cattle than anybody in Miyetti Allah.
“It is an establishment of the big people, a very rich group of Nigerians and they pack small boys to take their cattle all over the place and then buy all these arms to give herdsmen to go and kill people, and the government is doing nothing!”
In response, Atiku replied Unongo through his media adviser, Mazi Paul Ibe. He said:
“It is very disheartening that in this period of intense grief in Benue State, Chief Paul Unongo would choose to level these desperately sad and false allegations on the person of Atiku Abubakar whom he erroneously described as the chief financier of Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association of Nigeria.
“Yes, Waziri Atiku Abubakar is a Fulani and proud to be one and has never hidden that fact. However, the Waziri is a thoroughly detribalized Nigerian that would never favour one ethnic group over another.
“Last year during the massive flood in Benue State which affected over 100,000 families, Waziri Atiku Abubakar, who holds the Tiv traditional title of Zege Mule U Tiv, donated cash to the Benue State Government for the care of the victims.
“This is fitting for a man whose Tiv traditional title means ‘the biggest shade of the Tiv people’.
“It is strange that Chief Paul Unongo chose to neglect that act of love and care from the Waziri Adamawa to the people of Benue. Not only did the Zege Mule U Tiv make a financial donation, he also called on the Federal Government to do more to assist the flood ravaged communities.
“Let it be known that though Waziri Adamawa is a Fulani, he is not a member of Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association of Nigeria nor has he ever been a member. He has also never discussed about that group with Chief Paul Unongo.
“Furthermore, His Excellency, Atiku Abubakar enjoins that a thorough investigation be made into the killings in Benue, and that anyone found culpable be made to bear the full weight of the law.
“Having said that, it has not escaped our notice that Chief Paul Unongo is the Chairman, Governing Board of Nigerian Educational Research and Development Council (NERDC), a position he was appointed to in April of last year.
“Understandably, Chief Unongo would be very grateful to those who gave him such a position and may feel it is his duty to attack and sully those in their bad books.
“If that is the case, it would be a very sad day when a supposed elder chooses to make mileage of the sufferings of the people of Benue State who have had to endure the impunity of these killings for far too long.
“Waziri Atiku Abubakar prays for the souls of the departed and as a traditional title holder of Tiv land he assures the entire people of Benue (including the Idoma and Igede) that he would do everything in his power to bring justice, relief and compensation their way, so help him God.”