LET THERE BE PEACE : A PRESS STATEMENT BY CATHOLIC BISHOPS IN BENUE ON TIV/FULANI CRISIS

Posted: March 13, 2014 in Opinion, press releases/ News letter, Uncategorized
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A PRESS CONFERENCE BY THE CATHOLIC BISHOPS OF MAKURDI, OTUKPO, KATSINA-ALA AND GBOKO CATHOLIC DIOCESES, ON 12TH MARCH, 2014, IN ABUJA.

THEME: LET THERE BE PEACE

Preamble:-

As responsible and concerned citizens and spiritual leaders, we the Catholic Bishops of Makurdi, Otukpo, Gboko and Katsina-Ala Dioceses met and deliberated at length on the socio-economic and religious lives of our fellow citizens, brothers and sisters. Most worrisome among other issues discussed was the protracted conflict between the Fulani pastoralists and the Tiv, Idoma and Agatu farmers in some parts of Benue State. After careful deliberations we make the following statement:-

General Concern

We have observed that the co-existence of pastoralists and farmers has always been problematic when not properly handled. This is seen at the international scene in countries of West Africa like Chad, Cameroon, Central Africa Republic and the Sudan. In Nigeria, this crisis has affected such States like Katsina, Plateau, Benue, Taraba, Kogi, Kwara, Nasarrawa, Adamawa, Gombe, Kebbi, Zamfara and Sokoto in the North; Oyo and Ogun States in the South-West; Abia in the South-East and Delta and Edo States in the South-South. This problem is indeed widespread.

From 2010 to date, Benue State in particular has witnessed endless conflicts between Fulani Pastoralists and Tiv, Idoma and Agatu Farmers. Some instances include:

i. 21st June 2010 – crisis started at Anchiha, Mbasombo Council Ward of Gwer Local Government Area.

ii. February 8th and 9th 2011 – Ityoatee/Gbanger and Tongov Council Wards of Gwer-West Local Government Area.

iii. April 20th 2011 – crisis engulfed Yogbo area of Guma Local Government Area.

iv. From 2012 to date there has been more sustained and continuous crisis in parts of Guma, Makurdi, Gwer, Gwer-West, and recently, in Agatu Local Government Areas of Benue State.

Following from these developments and from the intense cases of disquiet especially in Nassarawa State in the past couple of weeks, it would seem that there is a bigger agenda at play. What this is exactly needs to be explored.

Possible causes

i. Farming Activities: Benue state is reputed to be the food basket of the nation because over 70% of the Benue population is engaged in arable farming with few rearing livestock. Families depend on food and revenue earned from crop production for their livelihood. Expectedly, the massive traditional farming activities in Benue State are very often disrupted by the activities of Fulani Pastoralists and hence crisis leading to massive destruction of lives and property.

ii. Unemployment/Poverty: Most youths in the villages have no gainful employment and consequently no stable source of income. They become available for nefarious activities like stealing cows from the Fulani herdsmen.

iii. Activities of Cattle Rearers: Benue State lies along major international stock routes that run through the North-East and North-Central to the South-East. This records very high population of Pastoralists during the seasonal North-South annual migration. In the past, these cattle populations merely passed through Benue state. Recently, however, many Pastoralists do not proceed beyond the state, they settle in order to use the waters of River Benue and its tributaries and the palatable vegetation in the fadama throughout the season (November – March). Consequently, several permanent and semi-permanent Fulani settlements have emerged in many parts of the state. This development is the source of friction between cattle rearers and farmers during the cropping season. Besides, the migrating cattle sometimes trespass on farm crops and tamper with rural sources of portable water thereby igniting conflicts between farmers and herdsmen.

Effects

i. Collapse of Farming/Economic Activities: Because people have deserted their homes, no farming activities are carried out in the affected areas. This portends great danger of famine which is already affecting the people. Normal economic activities; businesses, markets, have folded up in the affected areas. The attendant impoverishment can best be imagined.

ii. Deteriorating Health Conditions: It has become impossible to access medical outlets in the affected areas. And many who have fled their homes barely have any resources to take care of their medical conditions especially pregnant women, children and the aged.

iii. Education: The educational activities in the affected areas have been totally disrupted since all schools in these areas have been deserted. This means that a whole generation is being denied a future.

iv. Total Disruption of Religious Activities: Religious activities in these areas have equally been completely disrupted as there are either no people in the affected areas or those available are too scared to carry out regular religious programs. In some places, worshiping places have been destroyed.

v. Temporary forfeiture of ancestral home lands by the fleeing residents: The populations of the affected areas have been nearly totally depleted. There are reports that some of these lands have already been effectively occupied by the invaders.

vi. Massive Internally Displacement of Persons: The constant invasion of these places by the Fulani has made it impossible for the people to settle. There are large populations of the displaced who must make a living. Crime is subsequently on the increase.

vii. Unimaginable loss of lives and property. The death toll from this crisis can only be imagined. No one can account for the exact number of lives and property lost on account of this protracted crisis. This has also created a general sense of insecurity in the affected areas. People are no longer able to live their normal lives and carry out their regular activities for fear of being attacked.

viii. Encroachment on the traditional shrines: We bemoan also the unkind encroachment on the traditional shrines which is equally an act of disrespect to the adherence of their traditional religion.

ix. Rate of criminality: The Government should take responsibility for criminals who have infiltrated our community with their criminal activity and would use any means to perpetrate their criminal acts.

Recommendations

1. Monitoring of the Influx of Cattle Rearers into Benue State: The Fulani leadership and leadership of Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association of Nigeria (MACBAN) should always notify traditional rulers of the host community, law enforcement agencies, and governments of the arrival of additional migrant cattle rearers joining them.

2. Checking the Activities of Traditional Rulers: Pastoralists are sometimes misled by some community leaders to pay for grazing land in their domains. There is the need to sensitize nomads to understand the traditional landholding and ownership systems of the host communities. In Tiv land, for example, village and community leaders have no absolute rights to sell or lease land, which belongs to individuals for grazing. No sooner is such grazing right sold and bought than the rightful land owners raise violent objections. It is hoped that traditional rulers who once engaged in these corrupt practices will desist from them and allow peace to reign between farmers and cattle rearers in their domains.

3. Checking the Activities of Security Agents: The location of Police Stations or Posts on our borders is inevitable. The security agents are bestowed with the mandate to enforce law and order whenever and wherever disturbances occur. In doing so, they are dealing with communities with different value systems and ways of life. Security agents must not compromise themselves by the tricks either of communities or pastorarists. When this compromise of responsibility and betrayal occurs, the conflicting parties are likely to take laws into their hands.

4. Call for prayer: We call on all Christian faithful, men and women of goodwill in our State and beyond to embark on intensive prayer and fasting to seek Divine Intervention. There is need for a change of heart from all who are involved in this situation so that there may be peace.

Issues Needing National Review

1. International Protocols
Nigeria has signed a number of international protocols including that on child protection and child labour. The constant use of children in driving cattle around the country smacks this in the face. Why has it taken us so long a time to rectify and ensure that children, even of cattle rearing Fulanis, have good education in stable schools instead of driving cattle?

2. Processes of Rearing Cattle in Countries around the World.
We can improve on the processes of rearing cattle in our country as other countries have done. Is it not possible for us to provide feeding for cattle, keeping them in ranches and reserves and improving on them rather than roaming the length and breadth of our country as from antiquity?

3. Effective transportation of cattle from the points of origin in the North to marketing centres elsewhere.
It is common knowledge that movement of cattle from the North to marketing centres elsewhere especially in the South creates the contact between communities enroute to the marketing centres. Has Nigeria not reached the point where these cattle can be effectively transported to these marketing centres?

4. Inter-State Stock Route.
Not raising a polemic, one wonders whether the construction of the so called inter-state stock routes was ever discussed with the communities involved and the implications of these routes sufficiently reviewed? One also wonders if the cattle rearers have ever sufficiently understood the use of these routes.

5. Cultural Disparity in Life Style.
It must be deeply appreciated that the cultural life-style of the cattle rearer and the traditional farmer are totally in disparity. While the cattle rearer lives on his animals, the farmer lives on his farm. Without effective and sufficient controls, these two communities cannot live together in harmony.

6. Ecological Concern. 
Without going into the details of this concern, it should be obvious today to all that the creeping desert is a direct result of uncoordinated human activities. Traditional methods of cattle rearing as undertaken in our land do contribute to this. It stands to reason therefore that with our rapidly expanding populations, new methods of cattle rearing should be evolved in Nigeria.

7. Effective Security/Policing. 
Where this crisis occurs one does not find sufficient security agents. The protection of life and property is the responsibility of the government. We request the government of this land to ensure the security of all in its jurisdiction.

Conclusion
We commend the efforts of all concerned sons and daughters of Benue State and Nigeria at large who have made and are making efforts to end this crisis. We also thank all who have come to the aid of the affected and internally displaced people. May God bless each one of you.

We call on all those who have stood on the fence while the crisis has been raging to take responsibility for peace and security. Those who have in any way fuelled the crisis should be aware of facing the judgement seat of God. And those using gullible youths and illiterate villagers or pastoralists as pawns to promote their agenda must not forget that he who puts a block on the way of the blind cannot escape the wrath of the Lord.

The Catholic Church and the Government have, over the years, collaborated effectively in the areas of education, health, social services and the moral moulding of the citizenry. The present situation of insecurity and blatant destruction of lives and property in some parts of our state calls for prompt, effective and decisive action on the part of all. We hope that our collective efforts will help end this crisis.

We call on the elite of our community to join in the struggle to bring about peace in our land and to take responsibility for seeking ways of expanding on the dialogue promoted by the Church and State.

We call on the leadership of the Fulani community in Benue State to actively engage genuinely and openly in the course of dialogue to bring this unhealthy situation to an end.

May Our Lady of Perpetual Help, the Mother of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Mother of peace intercede for us now and always.

We call on the President and the Governor of Benue State, Chief security officers to take responsibility of security in Benue State.

In the name of God, let there be peace.

Thank you.

1. Most Rev. Athanasius A. Usuh
Catholic Bishop of Makurdi Diocese

2. Most Rev. Michael Apochi
Catholic Bishop of Otukpo Diocese

3. Most Rev. William A. Avenya
Catholic Bishop of Gboko Diocese

4. Most Rev. Peter I. Adoboh
Catholic Bishop of Katsina-Ala Diocese

Rev. Fr. Isaac DUGU 
Chancellor, Catholic Diocese of Gboko

 

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