Herders’ bombing: MACBAN may take military to ICC, says leader

The President of Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association of Nigeria, Baba Ngelzarma, speaks with SOLOMON ODENIYI on the incessant accidental airstrikes on his members and the determination of the association to secure justice on the latest incident in Nasarawa State

Has MCABAN carried out an investigation to know what truly happened in Nasarawa?

I was on a fact-finding mission to Doma on Monday. We invited all the victims’ families to come around, and it was through that mission that we were able to get firsthand information about what happened.

What did you find out?

From our findings, we discovered that the cows of our members were impounded by the Benue State Livestock Guards on the premise that they were involved in open grazing. Those cows were then taken to Makurdi. The state government insisted they must pay a fine of N50,000 per cow each day, and after one week if the fine was not paid, the government would auction those cows. Because of the short deadline they were given, many of them went to borrow money at high interest rates. A total of N27m was paid to the government of Benue State by those who had the means to secure a loan.

The Guard, after releasing the cows to them, insisted that the cow not be taken away on foot. They hired vehicles to convey the cows to their various destinations. The first vehicle that was about to cross the border between Benue and Nasarawa was the one that was attacked by a drone.

Another unfortunate thing was that some of the herders’ relatives were at the border to welcome and help in offloading the cows. It was in the process of offloading that they were bombed. 47 people were killed, and 62 were injured. Some of the cows are still with the Benue State Guards and are dying. These herders lost money, lives, and livestock.

Since the incident happened over a week ago, neither the military nor the Benue State or federal governments have consoled the victims. How are your members taking this?

Surprisingly, no commensuration message has been sent to the victims’ families, especially from the Nigerian Air Force, which we suspected of carrying out the air strike that killed our members and their families.

The Nigerian Air Force has been silent since the incident, why are you suspecting them?

Who else could have handled aircraft and drones if not the Nigerian Air Force? And coupled with the fact that we have had similar incidents before, which were done by the Air Force, all these have made us believe this was done by them.

On November 27, 2022, there was an attack on the Obi Local Government Area in Nasarawa.

In that incident, their fighter jet killed cows and some pastoralists.

On November 8, some pastoralists and their cows were also bombed in the Keana Local Government Area in Nasarawa.

Before these two attacks, there was an attack between the borders of Benue and Taraba States in which many innocent herders were killed.

When you hear us speak, we do so, on behalf of our members. All these pastoralists who were killed were innocent people going about their lawful business. So, if the Nasarawa incident is not from the Air Force, then it must be from the Nigerian Army; if it is not from them, we are sure it was from the military.

Since you are sure the bombs were from the military, what effort has the association made to ensure this isn’t swept under the rug?

We have reported our findings from our visit to Doma to the Chief of Defence Staff, General Lucky Irabor, and we have demanded an immediate investigation into the matter so that the culprits can be fished out for prosecution. We also requested to know the fate of the families who had lost their fortune and their loved ones to the incidents. There is one of our members who borrowed N6 million to pay fines; all his cows were killed, and not only that, but nine of his children were lost to the attack. What will be the fate of this person? Apart from this, we need to know why this attack and others have been happening to us.

What is the situation like among your members in the area?

We must appreciate the Nasarawa State governor, who has identified with our members. He has met with our members in the state, pacified them, and discouraged them from any form of reprisal. The Sultan of Sokoto, who is our Chairman, Board of Trustees, has sent them a message urging them to shun any form of retaliation and allow the law to take its course. We have done this in order to calm them down. They have shown respect for the governor and the Sultan by remaining calm.

You appear to be upset with the law passed by the Benue State government; are you implying that the law played a role in what happened?

The law is meant to bring peace and harmony to the people. A law that does not do that should not be called one. The one in place in Benue is a monster. The law benefits no one, not only the pastoralists but also the Benue natives. The governor has turned the law into a means to generate revenue at the expense of the peace and harmony of the people.

In Benue alone, we have lost over 200,000 cows to the anti-open grazing law, with over N400m being paid as fines to the state government. We have receipts to back up this claim. There are also several cases of extortion by the guards. They demand money apart from the fines paid, which they do not give receipts for.

Also, if they seize 100 cows, they will release 70, and when we ask for the rest, they will say they have died or have gone missing.

The whole cause of this is the implementation of the anti-open grazing law. The law clearly prohibits open grazing in the state and makes provisions for the establishment of ranches. What has happened in Benue is that the prohibition commenced before the establishment of ranches.

As I speak to you, there is no ranch in the state. I believe the governor’s cows graze openly because he has herds of cows. The law is a selective law created against Nigerian pastoralists. When the law was about to be implemented, the governor of the state said it would create a win-win situation for the herders and farmers, but that is not the true state of things.

Pastoralists are being chased out of the state, they have lost fortunes; they have also lost their lives; and some have been sent out of business because of the number of fines they pay. We had already lost over 3 million cows due to rustling and kidnappings. We have been victims of kidnapping too, and this happens to our members daily. Today, people must have been kidnapped, and now we have a situation where our members are being bombed with obnoxious laws. All these have badly impacted our business. We demand that the law be abolished and the guards be disbanded. They have brought more pain to the people; they are a bunch of cattle rustlers. The president should call him to order. Other state governors who passed similar laws have relaxed them.

But why have your members not deployed modern means to rear their cows?

They have not been trained in modernised animal husbandry. All they know is to move in search of food and water for their cows. This is what they saw their forefathers do. There has been no attempt by the government to help modernise their trade or give them the knowledge needed to transform them.

Today, when we have some special breeds weighing about 600 kilogrammes or more of meat and producing 30 to 50 litres of milk per cow every day, our pastoralists are still living in the past, with our cows producing at most five litres of milk per day.

But many believe the cattle business is a private one, and they see no sense in the government creating ranches and others for you. What do you make of this?

Well, it is a private business because they own it. Road transport workers are doing private business. The same is true for airline operators. But why is it that the government builds roads and airports rather than the operators or individuals who use them? We have also had a situation where foreign investors who come to this country are given incentives. Why?

So, if a foreigner is entitled to incentives, why should we not be given one? It will be unfair to ask pastoralists to cater to their needs because they are running a private business. Many people’s sentiments are to blame for the impending genocide against pastoralists.

Why did you call this genocide?

What other name can you give it? How would you explain the barbarism that took place in Nasarawa? It is nothing but genocide. Those people were killed without reason; what do you call that? What happened in Nasarawa is a crime against humanity and animals. Animals also have their rights. Coupled with the fact that nobody has said a word or claimed responsibility, they’re all behaving as if nothing has happened.

Don’t you think your men who died in Nasarawa are referred to as “collateral damage,” and do you think advocating for an apology or admission would discourage the military?

Nobody has explained anything to us from their end; how do you want us to know? We will not want them to see us as being against them or discouraging them, we are not. We are grateful for the good they have done and the restoration of peace in some parts of the country. We know what the security agencies have done and are doing. We will never do things that would discourage them, but human lives are valuable, and we know they have lost their men trying to protect us.

Notwithstanding, there has to be some caution to avoid innocent lives being lost. In a situation where it has become rampant, as it has in ours, where we had three incidents in just one month against the pastoralists, can that be a mistake? The most surprising thing is that there are similarities between the incidents.

One would assume that they are calculated and deliberate attacks. If the military can take responsibility and explain what led to this, we as law-abiding citizens will accept whatever they tell us because of the sacrifice they are making.

Apart from this, they will have to assist those whose loved ones were killed. Have we asked for too much? When the other attacks happened, did we complain? No, we did not want it to look as if we were out to discourage the security agencies from doing their work.

What is the next line of action for the group should the military fail to own up to this?

This has become a collective issue for all pastoralist associations in the country. As for Miyetti Allah, we will ensure we exhaust all legal means available. We can sue, protest peacefully, or drag them to the International Criminal Court. We will give them time to also conduct their investigation and tell us their findings. In the meantime, we have been approaching agencies and well-meaning individuals to assist in providing for the victims’ families. But never will we allow this to be swept under the carpet. Never!

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