The Chairman of the Northern Elders Forum, Paul Unongo, has accused former Vice President Atiku Abubakar of being the chief financier and most influential member of the Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association of Nigeria, the apex body of Fulani herdsmen in Nigeria.
He, therefore, called on Atiku, who is a prince of the Tiv Court, to caution the herdsmen, who have been slaughtering hundreds of people in the country.
Unongo said this during an interview with one of Punch’s correspondents on Friday.
The NEF Chairman said, “I am aware that the most powerful person in Miyetti Allah is Alhaji Atiku Abubakar,who wants to be the next president. If they are fighting for power and Atiku wants to create problems for Buhari, I don’t know. There are so many possibilities.
“The most powerful person who finances the Miyetti Allah is Abubakar Atiku and he is a prince of the Tiv Court. The Tiv gave him a traditional title, meaning ‘the biggest shade of the Tiv people’.
“This implies that the Tiv people should be able to run to Atiku who will protect them.
This is the man who heads Miyetti Allah and is the greatest financier of this organisation.
He has more cattle than anybody in Miyetti Allah.
“It is an establishment of the big people, a very rich group of Nigerians and they pack small boys to take their cattle all over the place and then buy all these arms to give herdsmen to go and kill people, and the government is doing nothing!”
When asked if he was sure that Atiku was the most influential member of the Miyetti Allah, Unongo said the former Vice President told him personally that he was an influential member of the association.
He added, “I know, I got my facts partially from him regarding Miyetti Allah when I used to talk to him.”
When our correspondent asked Unongo if he had met with the former Vice President recently over the issue, the NEF boss said it was very difficult to see him.
He said, “Have you tried to see a ‘big man’ before? I don’t like to wait at people’s doors. If you’re in government, yes, but when you’re not in government, it shouldn’t be so hard to see you.
Atiku is my younger brother and he should come to me.
“Anytime you go to his place, the people around him think you are there to collect money that they are sharing. So, I decided that I would not disgrace the NEF. I am not belittling him, but he is no longer in power and I deserve some respect.”
Unongo also berated the President Muhammadu Buhari-led Federal Government for treating the Fulani herdsmen crisis with kid gloves.
He said he had been warning the President for nearly three years about the crisis but that the President’s “insensitive” advisers had been deceiving him into thinking the matter was a small one.
The NEF chairman said that many of the President’s aides had been preventing him from seeing the President and telling him the truth about the issue.
Unongo, who is both Tiv and Fulani, said, “The President is not happy about what is happening, but his insensitive advisers have deceived him into thinking this is not a serious issue, which they keep saying they can handle, but it has now festered to a level where it is difficult to take care of.”
The NEF chairman said it was unfortunate that despite the several threats made by the Fulani herdsmen after the antiopen grazing law came into effect, the government failed to take action.
He said, “Miyetti Allah threatened and said upon the implementation of the law, they would attack in January violently and force the withdrawal of the law. I don’t understand. It didn’t make sense at the time, but it means that perhaps the Miyetti Allah wanted to prove to the people and the government of Benue State that when they make a promise, they keep to it.”
Benue and Ekiti states had both enacted anti-open grazing laws to check the activities of herdsmen, while Ondo, Cross River, Ebonyi and Akwa Ibom states have also moved to have anti-open grazing laws to check the activities of the nomadic pastoralists.
However, the former Vice President said that although he is a Fulani, he was not a member of the Miyetti Allah.
Atiku stated this in his reaction to the allegations levelled against him by Unongo.
Speaking through his media aide, Mr. Paul Ibe, in Abuja on Friday, the former Vice President also said it was wrong to describe him as the chief financier of the Miyetti Allah.
He said, “It is very disheartening that in this period of intense grief in Benue State, Chief Paul Unongo would choose to level these desperately sad and false allegations against Atiku Abubakar, whom he erroneously described as the chief financier of MACBAN.
“Yes, Waziri Atiku Abubakar is a Fulani and is proud to be one as he has never hidden that fact. However, the Waziri is a thoroughly detribalized Nigerian who would never favour one ethnic group over another.
“Last year, during the massive flood in Benue State, which affected over 100,000 families, Waziri Atiku Abubakar, who holds the Tiv traditional title of Zege Mule U Tiv, donated cash to the Benue State Government for the care of the victims.
“This is befitting for a man whose Tiv traditional title means ‘the biggest shade of the Tiv people’.
“It is strange that Chief Paul Unongo chose to neglect that act of love and care from the Waziri Adamawa to the people of Benue. Not only did the Zege Mule U Tiv make a financial donation, he also called on the Federal Government to do more to assist the flood-ravaged communities.
“Let it be known that though Waziri Adamawa is Fulani, he is not a member of Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association of Nigeria nor has he ever been a member. He has also never discussed about that group with Chief Paul Unongo.
“Furthermore, His Excellency, Atiku Abubakar, enjoins that a thorough investigation be made into the killings in Benue, and that anyone found culpable be made to bear the full weight of the law.
“Having said that, it has not escaped our notice that Chief Paul Unongo is the Chairman, Governing Board of Nigerian Educational Research and Development Council, a position he was appointed to in April of last year.
“Understandably, Chief Unongo would be very grateful to those who gave him such a position and may feel it is his duty to attack and sully those in their bad books.
“If that is the case, it would be a very sad day when a supposed elder chooses to make mileage of the sufferings of the people of Benue State, who have had to endure the impunity of these killings for far too long.
“Waziri Atiku Abubakar prays for the souls of the departed and as a traditional title holder of Tiv land, he assures the entire people of Benue (including the Idoma and Igede) that he would do everything in his power to bring justice, relief and compensation their way; so help him God.”