Mrs. Rebecca Apedzan was a former member of the House of Representatives, and for eight years she was a Commissioner in Benue state as well as a former State Secretary of the ruling All Progressives Congress, APC. She is currently the Chairperson, Benue Women’s Forum, BWF. In this interview she spoke on the killings in Benue state and why both the ruling APC and the Peoples Democratic Party should not be allowed to rule Nigeria again.
Since the beginning of the year, Benue has been in the news over ceaseless killings in the state by suspected herdsmen, what do you think was responsible for this?
The truth is that it’s all about land, Fulani herdsmen want to sack us from our land. They have said it before that they wanted the Benue valley which they said was their ancestral land. But how it became their ancestral land we don’t know. Whenever they attacked, they destroyed all the houses, burnt down others so that nobody could stay there which they themselves would then occupy.
How do the stakeholders in Benue intend to checkmate this?
It is complex because the security apparatus is solidly behind them. If we make any move, the soldiers will finish us. What General Theophilus Danjuma said was perfectly correct. Any move we make at the end of the day, that is what is going to happen. We will however rise up to face them rather than sit and fold our hands. There is no single day you wake up and you don’t hear of killings in our state, they have surrounded us and caged us in the middle. All Tiv speaking people have been sent packing from Nasarawa state after many were killed. The Nasarawa issue is slightly political. Our people revealed that Governor Al-Makura was scared that they would not support him in the coming election, therefore they must leave. I have cousins in Nasarawa, they have all been driven away from their ancestral homes in the state and came to Benue. Two of my cousins who were elderly people were killed with their families while houses were burnt and their property carted away. These attackers were mercenaries, just like President Buhari said, but they were being led by indigenous herdsmen and non herdsmen. The plan to take over our land has been on for years. If the attackers came from Libya as the president said, who brought them to Benue state? 2019 is fast approaching, but who are we voting for? When you win, who will you rule over if you kill all of us? If you go to the National Assembly, they are fighting with the Executive, it is all about money, they don’t care about protecting the lives and property of the people. I don’t believe in the APC or the PDP. I can’t see who will rule us in the APC or in the PDP.
Do you think the Federal Government is doing enough to stop these killings?
The Federal Government is doing nothing but rather enjoying what has been happening. Since these killings started the Federal Government has given different versions. The government first said it was a communal conflict even when we are not neighbours to the Fulanis. The attackers would come to our homes in the middle of the night, they would kill, slaughter, run away and disappear into Nasarawa state in Awe local government. I recall that when these people recently killed police personnel at Tungwa in Nasarawa state, the government quickly went there and arrested the masterminds and that was the end, they didn’t conduct any further search. The Police are collecting arms in all the states of the federation, asking people to surrender their arms but they have not gone to Nasarawa to ask the people to surrender their arms. And this is a place where they have sophisticated arms. We had cases here where these people exchange gunfire with soldiers after which they withdrew to Nasarawa state.
The way out is left with President Buhari and of course God. Only Buhari can stop this. He is carrying on as if nothing is happening. Have you heard him talk strongly or make a pronouncement or a very strong statement? Whenever an attack was carried out, he would condole with the people and promise to arrest the culprits. The following day it would happen again. Recently when an attack was carried out in the church he said it was a sacrilege to kill in a place of worship, and that the government would arrest the perpetrators but that was the end. It is quite sad.
Don’t you think the killer herdsmen were trying to revolt against the Open Grazing Prohibition Law of Benue state by embarking on these mass killings?
Mass killings in Benue state started way back in 2010 but was there any law at that time? It was when we had no way out that we resorted to the law. Is there any law in Nasarawa state, why are they killing the Tiv people there? Is there any law in Zamfara, why are they killing people there? Is there any law in Ebonyi, is there any law in Taraba before they started the killings? They are just making an excuse out of the law. We have had Fulanis in the past grazing in this land even since I was a young girl. We have never had this kind of thing before. The land is not growing but population is growing. We cannot share land with cows for God’s sake. The butter we eat is imported, the milk we drink is imported, the conned beef we eat is imported, so, what economic value do we enjoy from it? Cows in Nigeria don’t come out big and healthy because they trek the length and breath of the country to graze, so they cannot produce anything. While a cow that is ranched can produce five litres of milk every morning, the cows we have cannot produce half a litre because of the stress of walking up and down. At the end of the day they will see that ranching is the best way. When you put your cows in one place and feed them they do better. And of course cows do not feed on grass alone, there are other feeds for cows which include rice, corn husks and other stuffs we have here in the country. Moreover is Benue the only state that has grass? They are farming massively in Jigawa, Kebbi and Yobe, their FADAMA is more than what we have in Benue. The Agric Minister is there training rice farmers, but they push down their cows to come and stop us from farming. While they are farming their rice, maize and so many crops up north, we cannot farm and live in peace because of cows that are not from Benue state. If it is water they want, there is plenty of water up north where they have FADAMA. Recently the governor of Kano state asked herdsmen to come to the state assuring them that there was enough land and space that could take millions of cows to graze but they don’t want to go there. What they want is certainly not grass but our land.
The other day a female senator on the floor of the Senate said that we should for goodness sake learn to coexist. Coexist with killers? So they want us to coexist with Gadaffi trained Libyan killers? Another woman in the House of Representatives, stood up saying ‘the way we were trained, the life of a cow is more valuable than that of a human being.’ She said this on the floor of the House of Representatives. Are these people human beings? Do they have blood running in their veins? We have not been eating beef since January. They used to kill several cows everyday at the abattoir in Makurdi and they would sell all of it. Now when they kill about five, they can hardly sell the meat because almost everybody is staying off their beef.
We have stopped eating beef and without it we are surviving. So, they have no economic value, they add nothing, they don’t pay tax because as they’re wandering all over the country who will collect tax from them. What business does government have with them that they must go and build ranches for people who are engaged in their own private business? Cattle rearing is private business, why must the federal government talk of taking tax payers money to create colonies or communities for people doing their private business?
The Federal Government recently came out with a statement that politicians were behind the herders/farmers crisis?
If politicians were behind it, who are the politicians? They make conflicting statements everywhere. If you sell one cow you cannot buy AK47, so how did the militant herdsmen acquire those guns? They own those cows, buy guns, arm the herdsmen and send them down here to unleash terror on us. They know, yes I agree they are politicians from their area. We are pleading and calling on the international community, the United Nations and human rights organizations to intervene in what is happening to us in Benue state. They should not just watch, it is a deliberate action against the Tiv people wherever they are in Taraba, in Nasarawa, in Benue. The Fulanis are in Wadata area of Makurdi town and everywhere, if we are that wicked we would have woken up to carry out reprisal attacks. Their women sell ‘nunu’ at the Wadata market and everyone is watching them because we are peace loving people. So, why are they treating us like this? Are we slaves in our land, that they would kill our women including pregnant ones and our children? What is happening to us in Benue is genocide.Related