Former Vice President and chieftain of the People’s Democratic Party, Atiku Abubakar, has described as “disheartening” a statement credited to the chairman of the Arewa Elders Forum, Paul Unongo, that he is a sponsor of the Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association of Nigeria.
Mr. Abubakar’s reaction comes amidst outrage over recent killings in Benue State by suspected Fulani herdsmen.
In a statement by his spokesman, Paul Ibe, the former Vice President expressed his disappointment at what he described as Mr. Unongo’s “desperately sad and false allegations” which he said came in this period of intense grief in Benue State.
Mr. Unongo had in an interview with PUNCH Newspaper accused Mr. Abubakar of being the chief financier and most influential member of the Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association of Nigeria, the largest body of Fulani herdsmen in Nigeria.
He reportedly 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 altercation comes a few days after suspected Fulani herdsmen invaded a community in Benue state and killed at least 20 persons, though the police put the figure at 10, over grazing rights.
The former vice president’s statement read: “Yes, Waziri Atiku Abubakar is a Fulani and proud to be one and has never hidden that fact. However, the Waziri is a thoroughly detribalised Nigerian that would never favour one ethnic group over another”.
It added that in 2017 during the massive flood in Benue State which affected over 100,000 families, the vice president, 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 fitting for a man whose Tiv traditional title means ‘the biggest shade of the Tiv people. 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,” the statement said.
The statement also cleared the air on Mr. Abubakar’s membership of the fulani sociocultural association.
“Let it be known that though Waziri Adamawa is a 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.”
The vice president also called on the government to conduct a thorough investigation into the killings in Benue, and that anyone found culpable be made to bear the full weight of the law.
The Fulani herders and farmers have clashed for decades over access to land and resources, particularly in the North-central states.
The Benue State Governor, Samuel Ortom, recently signed the Open Grazing Prohibition Bill 2017, which prescribes a five-year jail term for herdsmen or pastoralists caught engaging in open grazing of animals in the state, into law. This has not gone down well with the herdsmen.