My Benue intervention for peace, not politics — Onyema

The Chairman of Air Peace, Chief Allen Onyema, has refuted insinuations that he intervened in the herders-farmers’ crisis in Benue State because of his alleged political ambition.

The philanthropist, who recently airlifted many stranded Nigerians from South Africa, noted that the action was driven by his love for peaceful coexistence in the country.

He also denied reports that the National Secretary of Miyetti Allah Kautal Hore, Alhaji Alhassan Saleh, apologised for the killings in Benue during a peace meeting he organised.

Allen spoke on Sunday during a telephone interview with one of our correspondents.

The Air peace boss had on Saturday facilitated a meeting between the Miyetti Allah and the Benue State Government.

At the meeting, which was attended by top dignitaries of the state government, including Governor Samuel Ortom, Onyema had asked the two warring parties to embrace peace.

Saleh had apologised for all that happened, while Ortom had said he was only interested in defending the people of the state.

Onyema told WE4WE REPORTS that although the meeting was successful, he was surprised at reports that the Miyetti Allah’s secretary apologised for the killings in the state.

He said, “Saleh Alhassan, who is the leader of the Miyetti Allah, never admitted to the killings. He never said they were the ones that killed anybody. What he said was that, ‘we are here to make peace with the state.’

“On Saturday, I had called him because I knew his group had been having a running battle with the state government. I felt there should be peace in the country.

“The stadium was full and I started by preaching peace to the people of Benue. I told them that somebody was in their midst who they might not want to see before now. I said their governor was peaceful and the man was peaceful. I said he was Salleh Alhassan of Miyetti Allah and there was silence.

“I said anything of peace pleases God and today, both sides must forgive each other for whatever it was; rightly or wrongly, they must apologise to each other and hold hands.

“So, he did not apologise for killings, which he did not say he did. What he said was, ‘if we had wronged anybody in this conflict, we are sorry.’ The government’s side also said the same thing.”

Onyema explained that the Fulani race was a victim of stigmatisation, adding that the “average Nigerian goes through the same problem” outside the country.

“As a Nigerian, you are a scammer, a thief, a drug pusher, everything evil in the eyes of the outside world. That is what we call stigma. You don’t know the number of Nigerians that are being punished for what they did not do, just because they are Nigerians.

“The same stigma is what the Fulani of this country are suffering now. I am not excusing killings and the Fulani herdsmen. But the truth is that the Fulani race is suffering from stigma. Once you tell anybody you are a Fulani man, everybody starts looking at you as if you are evil,” he added.

He denied claims that his action was based on his interest in running for a political office.

Onyema noted that since he was nine years old he had been settling disputes, adding that his calling was peace and love for mankind.

“It hurts me; sometimes I want to back out from doing good works because of this kind of allegation. It seems some people are getting jittery because of what I’m doing. They should not be jittery.

“The person inputting politics into what I am doing should go back to my childhood and upbringing. I love humanity and that was how we were brought up in my family. And that is why I am using Air Peace to show Nigerians the way things should be. In Air Peace, we don’t have ethnicity, but mankind.

“Which political ambition? I am just doing God’s calling. That is the way I am created. They should leave me alone, they should not kill me because I am doing good works for my country,” he added.

Also, Alhassan denied apologising over the killings in Benue.

He told one of our correspondents on the phone that he was misquoted over the statement he made at a wedding reception in honour of the governor’s sister at the IBB Square, Makurdi.

“When it was time for the governor to talk, he (governor) asked me to talk first before he would talk, so I can only sympathise with the governor and the people and how can I apologise for what we did not do, we maintain our position that we are not responsible for the killings?

“I did not represent the organisation at the event; my people had called me and I explained the scenario to them. I cannot sell my organisation. My presence in Makurdi shows that we are not hidden and we do not have anything against the people,” he added.

In a related development, the National Leader of Fulani Nationality in Benue State, Alhaji Garus Gololo, described as absurd for any Fulani group or groups to apologise to Ortom over the Fulani herdsmen/farmers’ crisis that resulted in wanton destruction of properties and killings.

Gololo, who stated this during an interview with The PUNCH in Makurdi, the Benue State capital, insisted that there was no basis for any apology because no Fulani nationality group including the Miyetti Allah Kautal Hore and the Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association of Nigeria as well as others, was a killer group, and could not have claimed responsibility for any killing.