Governor Samuel Ortom will allow the law take its course after the Nigerian Army arrested one of his aides for allegedly masterminding recent killings in Benue State, his top adviser has told PREMIUM TIMES.
Aliyu Teshaku, head of Benue Livestock Guards, was arrested on Friday by the the Army’s 707 Special Forces Brigade in Makurdi on suspicion of his involvement in some of the deadly attacks recorded across the state since January 1.
The Army said Mr Teshaku was a Boko Haram suspect and his arrest had input from the police and the State Security Service (SSS).
Some of the allegations include his alleged involvement in the attack on a Catholic Church on Tuesday in which at least 15 worshipers were killed, including two Catholic priests.
But some Benue activists are seeing his arrest as a persecution for his fierce opposition to herdsmen activities in the state.
Leaders of Miyetti Allah have repeatedly called for Mr Teshaku’s arrest, accusing him of enforcing the anti-open grazing law and leading a militia allegedly raised by the governor.
While announcing the arrest, Olabisi Ayeni, spokesperson for the Nigerian Army in Makurdi, said security agents moved in in time to prevent attacks that were being hatched by Mr Teshaku and his cohorts in Bauchi, Borno and Yobe and Nasarawa States.
The Army described him as Aminu Yaminu (a.k.a.: Tashaku), but PREMIUM TIMES findings revealed that the suspect’s name is Aliyu Teshaku.
He was once detained at the Force Headquarters in June 2011 when he turned himself in after being declared wanted as a Boko Haram suspect. But he was later released by the Defence Intelligence Agency (DIA), then headed by Babagana Monguno, now the National Security Adviser, in September 2011.
The police said they released Mr Teshaku to the DIA in the spirit of inter-agency cooperation after the agency requested for him.
Mr Teshaku, however, denied the allegations in an interview with PREMIUM TIMES in March, saying the DIA released him because there was no evidence to establish his connection to Boko Haram.
The arrest is seen by some Benue officials as a setback for the Ortom administration’s efforts against the activities of herdsmen in the state.
Mr Teshaku became the head of Civilian Joint Task Force tasked with checking herdsmen attacks in Benue and Nasarawa States in 2013. But his group later changed its name to Benue Livestock Guards following the introduction of anti-open grazing law in Benue State last year.
The Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association in Benue State has long accused Mr Teshaku of terrorising herdsmen and other Benue residents of Hausa or Fulani origin.
Following the January 1 killings of over 100 people in Logo and Guma Local Government Areas of Benue, Mr Teshaku was accused of being the head of a militia allegedly raised by Mr Ortom.
In January, Nigerian soldiers arrested nine suspected killer herdsmen on the Benue border with Taraba State. They accused Mr Teshaku of providing arms to the suspects.
But in an interview with the Nigerian Tribune shortly after the allegations, Mr Teshaku accused the military of trying to frame him. He also said the military was carrying out the agenda of Miyetti Allah which remained vehemently opposed to the anti-open grazing law.
He added that Benue Livestock Guards had about 2,500 members and eight of them were killed in the January 1 attack in Guma because they were not armed.
Mr Ortom also denied the allegations of raising any militia, saying the Nigerian security agencies should rise to their duty and end killings of his people. He inherited Mr Teshaku’s group from former Governor Gabriel Suswam and kept it in place because of continued attacks by suspected herdsmen.
‘No foul play’
Paul Hembah, security adviser to Mr Ortom, said no ulterior motive was suspected on the part of federal government, even though he acknowledged the longstanding opposition of Miyetti Allah to Mr Teshaku.
“The governor has said he will not support any criminality from anyone, no matter who the person may be,” Mr Hembah, a retired colonel, told PREMIUM TIMES by telephone Saturday morning. “The governor will not interfere in his arrest or his release.”
“The governor is working to end the killings so if anyone is caught, the law should take its cause,” he added.
“We don’t suspect any foul play. We don’t think the federal government or the army is doing this to persecute him. But he would be arraigned in court and I am sure the security agency will bring out any evidence they have against him,” he said.
He indicated that the Benue Livestock Guards would not be disbanded as a result of the arrest.
“Naturally, someone else would be appointed to replace him because the Benue Livestock Guards would not be disbanded,” he said.
On why the governor did not take action despite all allegations against Mr Teshaku, Mr Hembah said Mr Ortom found it was inappropriate to act based on allegations in the media rather than established wrongdoing.
In the view of David Ogbole, a Pentecostal preacher and head of the Movement against Fulani Occupation in Benue State, Mr Teshaku is being arrested for constituting a major threat to the Miyetti Allah agenda in the state.
Mr Ogbole told PREMIUM TIMES that Mr Teshaku’s group had done more to check killings and anti-open grazing in the state than the security agencies.
“When the ‘Exercise Ayem Akpatuma’ soldiers were first deployed here in February, the first action they took was to arrest eight members of the Livestock Guards,” Mr Ogbole said by telephone Saturday morning.
The pastor acknowledged that Mr Teshaku has a controversial history, but said he had since repented and his latest actions have been to the service of his people on Benue.
“It is okay for the government to extract his nuisance value and he has been protecting the people of Benue from killers,” he said. “This is what the Nigerian security agencies could not do.”
Mr Ogbole said herdsmen activities have gotten worse since military launched its exercise, saying soldiers and policemen have no directive to go after killers.
“Hundreds of villages have now been taken over by herdsmen whose cows are barrelling towards farmlands and eating yams and cassava,” Mr Ogbole said. “This is because the killers had cleared the villages by killing people and sending hundreds of thousands others into the IDP camps.”
“The Nigerian people should know that the military did not arrest the actual militia but only carrying out the agenda of Miyetti Allah who had long demanded the arrest of a man who has been working to protect Benue people from invaders,” the pastor added. “They should go after the killers in their hideouts, not someone who poses a threat to the actual killers.”
Mr Ogbole also condemned the military for obscuring Mr Teshaku to fool the public, saying the failure to identify him as the head of Benue Livestock Guards was calculated to deceive the public.
Mr Ayeni did not respond to PREMIUM TIMES’ requests for clarification about why Mr Teshaku was identified as Aminu Yaminu in a press statement even though official documents and long time news reports about him showed his real name is Aliyu Teshaku.
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