The Southern and Middle Belt Leaders Forum (SMBLF), yesterday, said that it would boycott a roundtable conference on national security holding today in Minna, Niger State.
The SMBLF, which is a coalition of socio-cultural organizations in Southern Nigeria and the Middle Belt – Afenifere, Ohanaeze Ndigbo, Pan Niger Delta Forum (PANDEF), and Middle Belt Forum (MBF) – expressed reservations about the inclusion of the Miyetti Allah in the mix.
Members of the Forum declared that they can’t discuss security issue with Miyetti Allah, the umbrella body of the Fulani herdsmen.
The conference, which is being spearheaded by a former Head of State, Gen. Abdulsalami Abubakar, is expected to have in attendance the Chief of Defence Staff, all the heads of national security institutions and notable Nigerians.
Also invited to the high level security roundtable are the mainstream socio-cultural organisations in Nigeria, such as the PANDEF, Afenifere, Ohanaeze Ndigbo, MBF, Northern Elders Forum (NEF) and Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF).
In addition to the above organizations, the conveners have also extended invitations to the Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association and Gan Allah Fulani Development Association.
The SMBLF particularly took exception to the categorisation of Miyetti Allah as one of the socio-cultural organisations, describing such move as an insult.
In a letter to Gen. Abubakar, convener of the meeting, the SMBLF said that they had made preparations to enable them attend the parley, but had to shelve their plans as soon as they realised that the organisers had equated them with a group of cattle traders whose activities in recent times, had become a threat to the livelihood and survival of many ethnic nationalities in Nigeria.
The letter read in parts: “We individually received your invitation to the above event holding in Minna between 29 and 30 July, 2019.
“We thank you for your interest in the affairs of our country which made us to accept your invitation in good faith.
“It was in the thick of our preparations for the journey that fuller details of the roundtable came to our attention, some aspect of which has necessitated this last minute communication with you.
“We observed that the roundtable will have in attendance all the National Security Heads, Chief of Defence Staff and notable Nigerians, underscoring the high level of the consultations. We, however, noticed further that in your category of socio-cultural organisations invited, you listed the following: PANDEF, Afenifere, Ohanaeze, Middle Belt Forum, Arewa Consultative Forum and Northern Elders Forum. We were comfortable up to that point until we saw the following: Gan Allah Fulani Development Association and Miyetti Allah.
“While we do not know the members of the first group, the lumping of Miyetti Allah, a trade association for cattle herders and whose members have been accused of various violations of rights, including life, across the country sends worrying signal to us.
“It falls into the categorisation of our respected socio-cultural platforms with Miyetti Allah by Presidential Spokesman, Garba Shehu.
“We consider the above a grave insult on our bodies and our coming to a roundtable with the group would mean acquiescence to the narrative that put us in the same bracket with those wielding illegal AK-47 all over the country and inflicting terror on fellow citizens.
“Even if the above was not the case with Miyetti Allah, bringing a trade group like them in the same vehicle with the ethnic nationalities and socio-cultural organisations would not have been appropriate as there are organisations of their category for fishermen, farmers, spare parts dealers and poultry owners among others across Nigeria who are not invited.
“Towards this end, we decline participation in the roundtable as scheduled without prejudice to your peace-building effort which is appreciated. We equally regret any inconvenience our decision may cause you as we know the efforts that go into putting events such as this together. Rest assured of our cooperation in all efforts and dialogues to make Nigeria peaceful, secure and forward moving provided they are organised in a way that does not subtract from our dignity and value.”
The letter was endorsed by the Leader of PANDEF, Chief Edwin Clark; one of the leaders of Afenifere, Chief Ayo Adebanjo; President General of Ohanaeze Ndigbo, Chief John Nwodo and Dr. Pogu Bitrus, President of the Middle Belt Forum.