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Benue Governor Fingers Politicians Opening Door to Invasion from Niger Republic

Cattle-herding coalition charges Alia and former governor reneged on agreements

By Mike Odeh James

(Kaduna) The embattled governor of Benue State, Rev. Father Hyacinth Alia, has raised the alarm that natives of his state have gone to the Niger Republic to invite terrorists affiliated with the Fulani ethnicity to create crisis in Benue and to “bring down his administration.”

Alia, who spoke through his spokesman on Sunday, February 18, 2024, was quoted in the Leadership Newspaper as saying that subversive migrants from other states should go back to where they came from.

“I am quite saddened to speak about what some fellow Benue citizens are doing. What they are planting, planning, and executing is not in favor of the state,” Alia, a former priest, said through his spokesman.

“The security report has revealed that some Benue indigenes have gone out of their ways to invite herdsmen all the way from the Niger Republic to troop into Benue State. All in the name of bringing down his administration, and this is unacceptable, but the security agents are doing their work,” Alia was quoted as saying by Leadership news.

Alia was speaking on the heels of deadly Fulani attacks on Agatu and Otukpo counties since December, which have left six hundred indigenous people dead. These attacks, which started in December 2023, have continued unabated.

Barrister Solomon Dalyop, head of the Berom Moulders Association in Plateau State, has made parallel claims against terrorist invaders taking over large swaths of Plateau State during the last 5 years.  

Politicians from all divides responsible

Reacting to Governor Alia’s assertion, David Onyilokwu Idah, Director, Special Representative, and Envoy, Africa Region Headquarters, International Human Rights Commission, IHRC, Nairobi, Kenya, said in an exclusive chat with Truthnigeria that Alia was telling the truth. However, he noted politicians from Benue, including former Gov. Ortom, and Alia himself, are guilty of inviting Fulanis to the Benue Valley.

David Onyilokwu Idah, Director, Special Representative, and Envoy, Africa Region Headquarters, International Human Rights Commission, IHRC, Nairobi, Kenya. Photo courtesy of David Idah.
David Onyilokwu Idah, Director, Special Representative, and Envoy, Africa Region Headquarters, International Human Rights Commission, IHRC, Nairobi, Kenya. Photo courtesy of David Idah.

He added that once you invite a friendly and seemingly non-violent Fulani, the dangerous ones are ready to come afterwards.

 “Governor Alia is right, no doubt. When politicians from Benue, especially governorship candidates, are contesting for office, they do everything possible and everything negative to get to power. That includes inviting Fulani who are not Indigenous to come and help them,” Idah said.

 “In that process, the Fulanis would make demands such as lands for grazing, lands to settle on, and political appointments. Furthermore, these agreements, which are secret, are guaranteed by the Fulanis, who are at the federal level,” Idah added.

“When Alia assumed office, the Fulani Ethnic Nationality (FUNAM) sent him an open letter that stated that the Governor respected the agreement entered between them and Alia before the election.

‘If you recall, in April 2023, Rev. Alia, who was then declared Governor of Benue State, went to Abuja, met with the then President, Muhammadu Buhari, and pledged his alliance.

Benue Gov. Samuel Ortum at a media interview in Washington, D.C. Sept. 5. 2022. Photo by Douglas Burton
Benue Gov. Samuel Ortum at a media interview in Washington, D.C. Sept. 5. 2022. Photo by Douglas Burton

During Alia’s visit, the Governor-Elect distanced himself from the policies of Governor Samuel Ortom and asserted that Fulanis who left Benue due to Samuel Ortom’s policies would be allowed back to Benue,” according to Idah.

The incident Idah was referring to was highlighted in the Punch Newspaper on April 5, 2023, when Governor-Elect Alia was asked how he intends to handle terrorist attacks on Benue, and his reply was:

“We are very friendly people, and over the ages, we’ve lived with all cultures and different people. And so, if some mishap had happened in the last eight years, thank God the eight years have expired,” Alia was quoted as saying. Some readers who spoke to TruthNigeria interpreted his remarks as an apology for missteps by the previous governor.

When asked about the anti-grazing law, he said, “The Benue State Assembly is also a knowledgeable assembly. So, the 10th Assembly is going to work for the people and do the work of the people.”

However, Jeremiah Alhassan, the President of the Agatu Movement for Peace and Development, explains that Governor Alia’s assertion may have stemmed from security reports that may have implicated certain politicians.

“Immediately, the Governor assumed office, sacked all the county bosses in Benue, and installed sole administrators as chiefs in the 23 counties of Benue.

“Some of those sacked have mounted a series of legal challenges to have them recalled back to office but were unsuccessful. Alia may have been referring to them.

“Don’t forget, most of the cattle owners are also politicians who are not Fulanis but who hired Fulanis to help them rear their cattle. These cattle owners go to Zamfara and the Niger Republic to get those that would help safeguard their livestock.

Former President of the Committee on Defense of Democracy (CD), Abdul Bako Usman. Courtesy of Bako Usman.
Former President of the Committee on Defense of Democracy (CD), Abdul Bako Usman. Courtesy of Bako Usman.

The former President of the Committee on Defense of Democracy (CD), Abdul Bako Usman, also told TruthNigeria that political office holders have hobnobbed with violent criminals who could be foreigners or indigenes of the state.

“Jerry Terwase Gana was a notorious bandit, who was trained by terrorists; he was from Benue, and he operated during the administration of former Governor Samuel Ortom,” according to Usman.

“He was offered amnesty by the former governor but was killed by the Nigerian military. Furthermore, the former governor had also worked closely with Fulanis before he became governor. Once he was made governor, he appointed one of the Fulanis as a special adviser in his cabinet.

That man would later become a thorn in Ortom’s path,” Usman said.

“In 2017, after a brutal massacre in Agatu land where more than 6,000 indigenes of Agatu were killed by terrorist herdsmen, the then Governor of the State, Samuel Ortom, attempted to impose on us foreign fulanis when he asked us to go and live in peace with the indigenous fulanis .

“We rejected his appeal, but one thing is certain, Benue State politicians such as Ortom, Alia and others go to seek for help from Fulanis but then, it backfires .

The request by Truthnigeria to get Governor Alia’s media aide to clarify and speak further on his assertion or claims by many Benue indigenes that the Governor himself had been accused of hobnobbing with Fulanis was not successful.

Fulani Terrorist Group Asks Alia to Respect Their Agreement

Just before the organization of violence in Benue State started again, a Fulani group called the Fulani Ethnic Nationality Movement (FUNAM) wrote an open letter to Governor Alia on June 26 warning him to respect the terms of the agreement he had entered into with Fulanis before he became the governor of Benue State.

The group warned of serious consequences if the Rev. Father-turned-politician responded unfavorably to their letter.

Their letter was published on NewsFlow.com, and many major newspapers partly reprinted it.

“Governor Ala’s statement is a violation of the understanding we had with him, which convinced us and other groups of pastoralists to mobilize resources for his election,” FUNAM wrote.

“In case Governor Alia has forgotten, we want to remind him of the consequences of his actions. This is the same way we warned Governor Ortom against daring us, but he remained stubborn until we showed him what we were capable of doing.

“We agreed to support Alia, because he promised that he would allow our members who Ortom chased into Nasarawa and other states to return to Benue,” according to FUNAM.

According to Idah, the same group called FUNAM threatened to assassinate former Governor Ortom, and they almost succeeded.

“Up until now, Governor Alia has not refuted their allegations or denied meeting with them.

“Suffice to say Alia is a victim of his own political ambition, Idah said.

Mike Odeh James reports on terrorism and conflict for TruthNigeria from Kaduna.

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