[INTERVIEW] Why we took Benue governor, Ortom to International Criminal Court – Miyetti Allah

By Oluwatobi Enitan and Fatunbi Olayinka

The ICIR in an exclusive interview with the National Secretary of Miyetti Allah Kautal Hore, Saleh Alhassan, expressed displeasure with Governor Samuel Ortom, over attacks, accusations, and misconceptions against Fulani pastoralists.

The ICIR: Give us an insight into ranching

Saleh Alhassan: Ranching is a form of livestock production where animals are kept in a restricted area, and feeds are provided for the animals. So, it is an intensive livestock production which is highly cost intensive. But remains the best form of modernised livestock development that every livestock producer would want. But the challenge is that it is a very expensive process. It needs capital outlay, and that is why it has not gotten the required buy-in by ordinary pastoralists that we have who are being targeted for anti-open grazing laws.

The ICIR: With the controversies surrounding ranching over the years and the ban on open grazing, how has Miyetti Allah as an Association taken this?

Saleh Alhassan: Well, we have had a running battle with governors that want to introduce this emergency policy that we see as, if not managed, will destroy our livelihood completely, that’s we, the pastoralists.

So, we feel it is the greatest challenge we have faced since after the rinderpest disease that broke out in the late 70s, because, if today you wake up, you say we cannot rear our animals in the open fields, then, automatically you are out to destroy our means of livelihood completely because it is virtually impossible to adopt ranching as a message, by those Governors that are promoting it by our people, because it is highly expensive. 

If you look at the land tenure system we have in the country where land is vested in the hands of the State Governors, and before you can get approval for 5 hectares of land, a State Governor has to sign, if you look at the land use act. So it becomes virtually impossible to implement this ranching, and the way the proponents are promoting it, it is not meant to bring about peace, that’s why we are opposed to it fundamentally, not that we don’t want ranching as a form of livestock production. No.

If you even look at the developed countries, I have been privileged to go to some countries, particularly East Africa, where they do a lot of Livestock, and the US. I went to Atlanta, Georgia, and we visited some so-called ranching in quote. What they have there is open fields that have common resources, and they are managed by private Government, that is, in the US . 

But if you go to East Africa, for example, what they have is an institutionalised land use management where the land is divided into three; we have the range land, agricultural land, we have the open field for Livestock. So what they do is when the farmers harvest their crops, the residue is now open to the livestock producers to either pay or buy to graze on them. At the peak of dry season, the rangelands are open for the Livestock to move in. So that is the kind of integrated farming system they practice there. So that’s why in East Africa they don’t have this problem. The only problem they have is cattle rustling which they are using prey security measures to tackle.


So, coming down to Nigeria, predominantly in the northern part of the country, we have grazing reserves created right from the first Republic, and most of those grazing site have been dilapidated. They have not been developed, some have been encroached on, and they are no longer sustainable for even the Livestock within those areas. 

If the Federal Government have actually developed those grazing reserves through the livestock development department of the Ministry of Agriculture, we have. I am sure most of these movements you see southwards may not even take place. But those grazing reserves are not developed. 

So I think this anti-grazing law they are still a problem. If you look at it, a law is supposed to bring peace, development, and order, among communities living in the society. If you have a law that now tends to destroy the means of livelihood of a segment of a community and create a lot of attrition, a lot of bad feelings, and a lot of crisis, then you see that law becomes a negative law. 

…When we saw the Federal Government come up with the National Livestock Transformation Plan, which is an elaborate policy framework that will address the challenges in the entire livestock value chain that will take over a period of time, starting from mapping out existing grazing reserves, developing them, and then doing pilot ranching, also introducing new breeds of Livestock, investing in the values chain, creating awareness, then we said this is a route to go. But some Governors, for political expediency, now prefer to go onto the legislative aspect of it, probably to score cheap political goals, and show their people they are some macho kind of leadership which has not brought the needed results.

The ICIR: Your association has taken Governor Ortom to the International Criminal Court over ‘injustice’. He recently launched a Community Volunteers Guard, according to Governor Ortom, the security outfit seeks to fight against ‘Fulani Terrorists’ what is your reaction to this?

Saleh Alhassan: Unfortunately, in a State like Benue State, where you have intellectuals, a very well-educated population, they ended up with a Governor like his Excellency, Samuel Ortom. The Governor fits into a perfect description of a vagabond in power because no adjective can explain the behaviour of Governor Ortom towards the pastoralists in this country. 

He has taken it upon himself to destroy the Fulani nation by destroying the economy of the pastoralists. He has taken it upon themselves to be a champion for a nebulous cause that only he can explain—the so-called phantom fulanisation, which does not exist. But because of the poor education of Governor Ortom, he has bought into that kind of propaganda narrative that there’s a Fulanisation agenda, and he has swallowed that he has taken it upon himself to be the arrowhead of fighting an imaginary Fulanisation agenda that does not exist. So he has gone far beyond his bounds in handling this herdsmen/farmer conflict.

He has turned it into an ethnic dispute between the Tiv nation and the Fulanis. Not only in Nigeria but the entire West African sub-region, because of the way he has gone about this in the last seven years, Governor Ortom has launched an un-relented assault, on the livelihood of pastoralists in Nigeria, particularly within the Nassarawa/Benue border communities states. 

The Taraba/Benue border community and the Cross River/ Benue border community states. We have lost thousands of cattle’s rolling into millions, because of the activities of Governor Ortom and his livestock guards. He created a militia that goes by the name of livestock guards. What you just saw recently is just a rebranding. They have been there, their only business is to go and steal Cattles belonging to herders in Nassarawa border communities, in Taraba/Benue border communities, and now take those Cattles right into the heart of Makurdi, put them in an enclosure and begin to auction them under very harsh conditions that herders cannot even afford. 

He has auctioned more than 90% of the Cattles he has seized, not necessarily from Benue State. If you say Livestock have encroached, it is assumed they have entered a farmland. But in the case of Governor Ortom and his terrorist squads going by the name livestock guards, they have been seizing Cattles from innocent poor herders, small holder herders, who are Nigerians and nobody has come to their aid.

You seize an entire herd belonging to a household to go and auction it. That is the only thing they have as a means of livelihood, and you now seize it completely. You are the Governor of the State and the Chief Security Officer; you are supposed to be taking care of all the citizens in your domain, assuming even those Cattles you’ve seized in Benue state, if they trespass on any land, you have a law that makes provision for ranching, you have refused to allocate the land for ranching. 

Even the pilot ranching you said you would put in place, you have not put a single hectare of it, and you are expelling citizens of a country from where they have been domiciled. That is not enough. You pursue them too, seize their Livestock, arrest the Cattles and their children, and throw them into the dungeon. Is that how a governor should behave in this civilised period? We have taken him to the Nigerian courts and had to approach the International court. 

Just Because Ortom is a sitting Governor, he has money to hire retinues of lawyers and SANs to frustrate our cases in Nigeria here. He has never allowed a single case we have filed into the Nigerian court to be mentioned. At every sitting, they will come up with another issue to join the matter to frustrate the court of justice. It is not that we have lost faith in the Nigerian judicial system. But Ortom, a sitting governor with huge resources within his disposal, has done everything possible to frustrate us to get justice in Nigeria, and that is why we feel we have to approach the International Criminal Court, because he has violated our fundamental human rights as human beings.

Saleh Alhassan
National Secretary of Mietti Allah Kautal Hore, Saleh Alhassan

He has violated the African Charter and all the African society. He has violated all the known laws that are supposed to protect humanity. He has seized our people livelihood, he is consolidating on that trajectory of very wicked policy he has put in place, so The only civilised way to do is to approach the International Criminal Court to seek for justice otherwise you have anarchy and another reason why he is rebranding his livestock Guards, you see, if you look at the indices of Governance across the country, performance by State Governors, I am sure Benue State will be the least in terms of evidence of dividend of Democracy. So failure is staring Ortom in his face. 

Now we are approaching elections, he creates another diversion for the citizens of Benue State to think that there is one imaginary enemy that wants to take over their land and influence the citizens’ voting.

Hence, we see it as purely a political gimmick, and we hope that the citizens of Benue must realise that Governor Ortom and his party have not only failed the people of Benue State, he has been a disaster to what is called the middle belt course.

The ICIR: Aside from illegal mining, banditry has been tied to the activities of herders. Is this worrisome?

Saleh Alhassan: You see, when you look at the crisis of insecurity generally in the country, the variations are little from one region to the other, like in the case of the North West, the epic centre of the conflict of Zamfara State. In 2014, I was a member of the security committee instituted by the then Inspector General of Police. 

We visited nine States, including Zamfara State, where we spent a whole week investigating the causes and the drivers of the conflict in Zamfara State, and we came up with solutions for the Government which were not implemented. 

You see, what you have in the North West is a conflict between vigilantes who are predominantly from the farming communities and the herders that were allowed to fester, the Government, particularly in Zamfara State then, created a vigilante purely from the farming Communities, and the vigilantes started molesting the herders in that State. Seizing their Cattles arresting their youths, executing them, and out of that kind of situation, the Fulani now created their own Vigilantes, which were termed as Bandits to counter the farmers’ activities Vigilantes created, and that’s how conflict ensued. That is what led to what you see as banditry now in the North West, it is purely the herder farmers conflict that was not managed and because of the political economy of conflicts in Nigeria, State Governors and State actors now see the conflict as avenues to now siphoned resources of their State and even to misuse security votes. 

The ICIR: Sheik Gumi’s allegation is that Ansaru Terrorists and other terror groups are recruiting herders as foot soldiers paying them 50,000 Naira. Are you aware?

Saleh Alhassan: We hold Sheikh Gumi in high respect because he is courageous, speaks truth to power, and has dared to go into the forest. But I think we have to correct one misconception. If you say herders, the first thing that should come to your mind is that he should have herds of cattle, that is what makes him a herder, he should be moving with his herds of cattle, but when you have armed groups, in the forest, defining them as herders I think it is wrong, it is a wrong nomenclature, and worse is even given them an ethnic colouration, calling them Fulani herders, and I think that is a wrong narrative, it is a wrong description. 

So if you have armed groups that have turned this conflict into economic activity, it has become a criminal economic enterprise, then they can recruit anybody. So if you are in the North West, who are the predominant youths in the North West? I’m sure they are either Hausa’s or Fulani’s other tribes, so if the Ansaru Islamic insurgents are now going for recruits, where will they go to? They will look for communities facing injustice and youths that governance does not capture. They will go to ungoverned spaces. So naturally, their recruitment centres will be where you have this kind of discontent, I have a feeling about the state, so if there is failure of the State to give leadership to ensure that there is authority, then you have all manner of Groups now exercising their own pseudo authority. 

So yes, Sheikh Gumi may not be wrong; the only thing we may correct is him saying they are recruiting herders. No, they are recruiting criminal gangs that have carried arms that are in the forest; that is the correct thing, but it is all the responsibility of the Government. If you fail to address security issues before they escalate, they will have different forms of manifestations, and that is what we are facing now.

The ICIR: How would you assess Buhari’s Administration in the last seven years?

Saleh Alhassan: President Muhammadu Buhari has done his best. I tell my colleagues that after Sir Ahmadu Bello, the Premiere of the Northern Region, I think the North has not produced a personality that is interested in the country’s development and sustainable development like President Muhammadu Buhari. You see, I happen to consult for the rice farmers, and I know about the President’s passion for developing the agricultural sector.

“President Muhammadu Buhari, Nigeria will miss him after he leaves, not minding the current security challenges”.

You see by the time you look at the investment in infrastructure. Sustainable infrastructure, when all these rail lines come on stream, they have addressed 80 per cent of the transportation challenges we have in this country, which will now affect commercial activities and will also improve a lot of economic activities in the country. 

The ICIR: The current political atmosphere, with candidates like Peter Obi, Atiku Abubakar, Bola Tinubu and Rabiu Kwankwanso, among others, who do you think would do better?

Saleh Alhassan: Well, as a leader of pastoralists organisations, the first thing we look at is their policy on livestock development, what do you have in stock for us, and we have analysed all the aspirants we have seen where their vision is, in terms of livestock development, in terms of addressing the farmers-herders conflict. 

Some aspirants do not have any policy for us. So automatically, they do not even feature.

The ICIR: Fulani herders are seen in a negative light. Any steps taken to address this? 

Saleh Alhassan: You see, the Fulani herder is a very peaceful citizen of this country, and the good thing is that we are not a minority. We are in nineteen African countries. We just hosted an International Conference to discuss a policy dialogue on the future of Fulani pastoralists, and we have a cultural event to it.

We had delegates from the nineteen African countries; we had important dignitaries address our gatherings, including the Chairman of Air Peace, a good friend, and mentor, Barrister Allen Onyema, who on his own sponsored my trip and that of our youths to the United States to go and learn non-violent conflict reconciliation.

I am a non-violent actor. That is why we do not promote violence. That’s why we go to court, discuss, and engage people we feel have offended us. 

For the Fulani in this country, they have offended us. We have paid the price. Removing history from our Schools, Secondary schools, and Universities has done a great disservice to the younger generation. Fulani like sir Ahmadu Bello, the Sardauna of Sokoto, was instrumental to the independence of this country. 

We have produced Presidents in this country. The Late President Shehu Shagari was a Fulani man, and the Late President Yar’adua was a Fulani man. 

The greatest Islamic scholars we have in this country are Fulani men. Go to Universities in the North, the intellectuals, the Professors there, without any contradiction, 80 per cent of them are Fulanis.

This is our country, the country of our great-grandfathers, the land of sir Usman Danfodio, so anything happening is just normal challenges, and the Fulani Nations across the West African sub-region have faced so much turbulence in many countries. Suppose you check their history in Mali, Guinea, and Central Africa, where conflict is focused on between the Fulani and other tribes. In that case, it is not new to us, and that is why when we see Ortom making noise, we laugh at him because he is myopic and limited. If you look at the Fulanis, we are in Ghana. Only the Fulani race can have up to four presidents at a time in the African continent perfectly well. 

Today, we are in charge of the United Nations. The President, Professor Bande is a Fulani man, the Deputy Secretary Amina is a Fulani woman, the just led Barkindo who was OPEC Secretary General, he is a Fulani man ,so what do you have, the director of operations of NASA American Space Station. So the greatest scholar we have in the African continent are Fulanis. We have created so many empires.

The first Executive Secretary of the African Union (AU) is a Fulani man. So we are not in any way feeling threatened by anyone. We have contributed and are still contributing to the development of this country. 

We will continue to support peaceful initiatives and will encourage the Government that would succeed President Muhammadu Buhari to address the challenges in the livestock sector and grow the economy. 

It would be a source of addressing this poverty we have among young people. A very good industry would create jobs, create employment, and create wealth for the country, not for poorly educated people to begin to advance a course of Fulanization that does not exist. That is pure propaganda. It is not true that these herders you see around are Islamisation. They are just normal Muslims. In fact, most of them are being converted to Christianity by missionaries. 

I know these because I also grew up under the care of a Reverend Father. I went to a mission school, and I studied the Bible, so as it is now, I still maintain friendships with most of my classmates, where 99% of them are Christians. They are all professionals today. I am an Engineer, I work, I offer consultancy services, what I do for the herders, my Fulani people is me giving back to the society. 

I am currently doing my PhD in Environmental Resources Management. So when we shout and say what they are doing to the herders, they are doing it for personal benefits, because we see there is danger, if you will destroy the economy of 17 million pastoralists. Where do you put them with the level of unemployment we have in the country, the joblessness we have, you destroy a whole industry.

If you go to the Southern part of the country, anywhere, you have a Northern settlement it is centred around the Cattle business. Who are the primary producers of cattle, they are the Fulani. All the Kara’s, all the Sabo’s you have, they are centred around the cattle business so when you destroy the cattle economy, you create a fertile ground for jihadists to have a recruitment centre. So it is not surprising if you see increasing activities of the jihadist in the Northwestern part of the country because they have allowed the bad economic policy to destroy livestock production, send our young people into joblessness and, poverty and drugs. They become fertile ground for recruitment, so as long they are not rearing cows again, they are not herders; they are either bandits or terrorists.

The ICIR: Your comment on the Owo Attack 

Saleh Alhassan: Governor Akeredolu of Ondo State, came out, without getting a security report to accuse the Fulani of perpetrating that heinous crime. I wrote on Social Media to say that the attack may likely be connected with drug business. My friend castigated me. Now I have been vindicated, now they have caught the criminals who killed the people in Owo church, and none of them is a Fulani. 

Saleh Alhassan
National Secretary of Mietti Allah Kautal Hore, Saleh Alhassan

I expect the Governor to come out and apologise and compensate the Fulani families that were attacked because of that incident. But the narrative is always to destroy and castigate the herders, despite all this evidence, just like in Benue. Like the massacre in the East, when drug Lords came from outside and killed people in the church, like the killing of reverend fathers, those who killed the Reverend Fathers have been arrested. They are Tivs and are in jail. Governor Ortom came out and said they were Fulanis, and the story died down like that. So you see, If the people listening do not act, those that are faced with the problem would be forced to act, and we do not want a situation whereby the citizens would completely lose faith in the authority of the State to manage the State, and they resort to self-help. 

All these vigilantes the States Governors are creating are not helping the country. What they are trying to show is that there is a lack of confidence in the authority of the State to maintain law and order, so you now begin to create your own small -army.

If the Fulanis decide, they will create their vigilantes, which our organisation has started working on and launched their activities. Do you know how many millions we will have? It is not thousands, and we have them in millions. Will that go well for the country?

When you have non-state actors carrying arms, all the Volunteers Governor Ortom has recruited who profile them who know their real background, and some may be hardened criminals. You come and dress them in Khaki uniforms and begin to hand over weapons to them, that they are the ones to secure the State. We laugh at Ortom as he may be running from his shadow. After he lives power, he thinks those vigilantes will be his personal security. I assure you that he will be arrested and taken to the Hague. We will make sure that happens because he has committed a lot of violent crimes against Fulani herders, he has caused the death of many of them in his dungeon. Are you supposed to detain somebody for more than 48 hours? If he does not have a council, you go to the legal head council and charge him to court. But Ortom has kept many of them there. He has the audacity to go to the media and say that he has jailed them and locked them up in detentions. Does that make him a Governor? Does he think that reduced the Fulani nation? He has destroyed the good relationship that existed between the TIV and the Fulanis, and we have a culture of playing together; we call it “Munchi”. 

Because there is this story that our grand-parent left our cows with them to migrate when they came back they did not see the cows, they asked them where is our cows they say ‘Munchi’ meaning they have eaten the cows, so we call them “Munchi”. Ortom wants to destroy that good relationship by force, because he is either poorly educated because he doesn’t understand the history, or he is being mischievous, being used by his aides. 

Some of them are Professors, I know one in ABU Zaria in Anthropology Department; he is one of Ortoms advisers. He is the one that is creating all the stories along Benue Valley that the Fulani are attempting to take over. They are the ones selling that narrative to him just to collect money. 

Lawyers surrounding him are giving him wrong advice and also to be siphoning money from the security votes he is putting aside. We have done a lot of research about Governor Ortom. In fact, I am reading this book called “The rise of minority politics in Nigeria “just to understand the psychology pushing Ortom to behave the way he is because, between the Fulani and TIV, they are like cousins. 

So Ortom is doing everything possible, Ortom wants to be the Joseph Tarka of the middle belt, but he doesn’t have the credentials of Joseph Tarka. Ortom wants to be the leader of the so-called Middle-Belt. Ortom has not delivered democracy diviident to his people, he is not an exemplary leader that anyone can follow. Now he has turned himself to Governor Wike’s Boy. Every day, he is in Port Harcourt to receive lectures. 

He has turned into a laughing stock. We are laughing at him, and the good thing is that we still have a very good relationship with eminent TIV people. And we are working with them to see that Benue State is rescued from this mis-governance. So Ortom should prepare himself very well, we will meet. If he thinks he can frustrate us in Local courts here because he has money and SANs. Every time they want to mention our case, they will come with a new entrance, saying, ‘we want to join the matter,’ and then the matter will be adjourned until they succeed in compromising the process. The first case we have now, they dismissed it on technical grounds. They did not even mention it. 

A case that had to do with fundamental human right, just examine if this law is in conflict with our constitution. You say citizens cannot move freely. Citizens cannot do their livelihood, and we just wanted an interpretation. He did not allow that case. We have appealed it, and we are hoping that the appeal court will listen to us.


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