The Southern and Middle Belt Leaders Forum (SMBLF) has condemned a statement credited to the Chairman of the Northern Elders Forum (NEF), Prof Ango Abdullahi, in which he asked Fulani herders to quit southern Nigeria.
The SMBLF, in a statement signed by elder statesman, Edwin Clark; President General, Ohaneze Ndi-Igbo, Nnia Nwodo; Afenifere Leader, Pa Ayo Adebanjo, and President General, Middle Belt Forum, Dr Pogu Bitrus, also urged President Muhammadu Buhari to put a stop to the “divisive actions” of Abdullahi and his youths because “it will be very dangerous for us to return to circumstances that created the civil war.”
In the statement titled, “Nigeria’s crisis and Northern Elders Forum descent to the fray,” the Southern and Middle Belt Leaders Forum said it was deeply worried that Nigeria was sliding dangerously to the edge of the precipice with no clear signal of the authority in the land doing anything concrete to arrest the drift.
The statement partly read, “We must make the following observations at this critical juncture: The spate of criminalities in the country in the form of raping of women, kidnaps for ransom and killings of innocent people have reached a frightening proportion with the latest being the killing of Funke Olakunrin (Nee Fasoranti) last Friday.
“We pray for comfort for the Fasoranti family and all families who are mourning dear ones across the country due to the unhinged activities of these bandits.
“We are saddened that at a time for national sober reflection on the tragedy befalling our country, the Coalition of Northern Groups has chosen to further inflame passion by making reckless and unguarded statements on the state of affairs. It is more depressing that the Northern Elders Forum (NEF) has chosen to join the youths who issued a 30-day ultimatum to southerners to accept RUGA or face unpleasant consequences in their provocative action.
“We are shocked that Prof Ango Abdullahi, who is a co-Chairman of the Nigerian Leaders and Elders Forum, could join the call on Fulani Cattle Rearers to quit the South with all its implications without first consulting his colleagues on the forum. As an Elder, he should know that this type of call preceded the last civil war Nigeria fought in case the exuberant youth are not aware.
“The SMBLF started working with the NEF when it (NEF), under the leadership of Prof. Ango Abdullahi, invited all the leaders from the Southern and Middle Belt to a meeting at the NICON Luxury Hotel on 18th July 2018. The meeting was attended by eminent personalities, politicians and professionals from all over Nigeria, including representatives from all the northern states.
“In that meeting, we took a decision on the spate of killing, kidnapping and rape going on the country, perpetrated by criminals. the Communiqué of that meeting was published in the media, and the Federal Government reacted negatively to it.
“The list of all the attendees of that meeting is available at any time. Since then, we have held, at least, three of such meetings at the various place all working towards peace and unity of the Country.
“Another reason for the group’s meeting is to search for a credible candidate for the then forthcoming presidential election. We all agreed to interview all the presidential aspirants, and after interacting with several of them, the group endorsed Alhaji Atiku Abubakar.
“Eventually, the group agreed to support Alhaji Atiku Abubakar as the Presidential candidate, because we noted that of all the candidates we interviewed, he appeared to us to be the person who can unify the country.”
The SMBLF said it would have expected an elder of the status of Abdullahi to show concern for human life by sending a condolence to the bereaved at a time like this before getting into grievances that his group may have.
The group said what people had been rallying against is the terrorism which some Fulani militias who pose as herdsmen have inflicted on Middle Belt and Southern communities and which they have even openly admitted in some cases.
It added, “We expect peace-loving and rational Fulanis to join in the condemnations of these criminal elements and the enforcement of the law against them. This would have shown they believe in the unity of this country and its cohesion. But taking any attack against these people as condemning all Fulanis unwittingly gives the impression that they endorse the activities of these elements.
“The Southern and Middle Belt communities have not said fellow Nigerians from the North cannot do business in their areas. This is why we endorsed ranching for cattle business and that those who are interested should purchase land from the states and be ready to live under the laws of the states. What we are opposed to is creating Federal Cattle Territories in States in the name of RUGA.
“We call on leaders to embrace responsible conduct in this season in Nigeria so as not to give the impression that they are war-thirsty. We want to re-emphasis that at no time did the governors and leaders of Southern Nigeria object or declared war against the Northern Fulani herdsmen who have lived with us for many years. As I speak and write, there are a large number of them, living in and around my village, and doing their legitimate business. What we are against is the Fulani herders who are armed with AK47 and other weapons and ammunition, killing, raping, destroying and causing mayhem.
“Even President Muhammadu Buhari has himself admitted that the Fulanis who carry these arms are not the legitimate herders, but those from other countries and these are the ones the RUGA settlement is being planned for, and we say no to it, and will resist it. Prof Ango Abdullahi should not think that the North can do it alone.
“The Northern youths, under the leadership of Prof. Ango Abdullahi, had about two years ago, given a 30-day ultimatum for Igbo to leave the North. And now, again, under his leadership, the NEF has called on the Fulanis in the southern parts of the country to return to the north. This spells doom. We strongly call on President Muhammadu Buhari to put a stop to the divisive actions of Prof. Ango Abdullahi and his youths because it will be very dangerous for us to return to circumstances that created the Civil War which took place in this country from 1967 to 1970 whereby many Nigerians lost their lives and property.
“The nation is yet to recover fully from that incident. Finally, we appeal to the international community not to watch arms akimbo the dangerous events that are playing out in Nigeria. It is cheaper to facilitate a peaceful resolution of the contradictions that have been deliberately orchestrated in the country as it would be more expensive for them to handle an implosion in Nigeria.”