By Shola Oyeyipo in Abuja
Leading socio-cultural organisations in the southern and middle belt regions under the umbrella of Southern and Middle Belt Leaders Forum (SMBLF) have declined participation in a proposed roundtable on national issues and security proposed by a former head of state and convener, National Peace Committee, Gen. Abdusalami Abubakar (rtd).
The leaders of the various socio-cultural groups in a letter jointly signed by Chief E.K Clark (leader, Pan Niger Delta Forum, PANDEF), Chief Ayo Adebanjo (Afenifere chieftain), Chief John Nwodo (leader, Ohaneze Ndigbo) and Dr. Pogu Bitrus (leader, Middle Belt Leaders’ Forum), rejected participating on the ground that the Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association of Nigeria was categorised among social-cultural groups in the dialogue billed to hold between July 29 and 30, 2019.
The group, which said it was already making arrangements to participate in the event, said it had a rethink when it observed that the association for cattle breeder, which has been blamed for killings across the country was coming to the round table at par with renowned groups such as PANDEF, Afenifere, Ohaneze, Middle Belt Leaders Forum, Arewa Consultative Forum ans Northern Elders Forum.
Part of the content of the letter dated Sunday, July 28, 2019 reads: “We individually received your invitation to the above event holding in Minna between 29th – 30th 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 dialogue.
“We however noticed further that in your category of Socio-cultural organisations invited, you listed the following: PANDEF, Afenifere, Ohaneze, Middle Belt Leaders 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 Cattle Breeders Association of Nigeria.
“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 were not the case with Miyetti Allah, it would have been inappropriate to put nationality organisations in the same vehicle with this trade group as there are organisations for fishermen, farmers, poultry owners and spare parts dealers across the country like such who are not invited
“Towards this end, we decline participation in the roundtable as scheduled without prejudice to your peace-building activities.
“We also regret any inconvenience our decision may have caused you as we know
the efforts that go into planning an event like this.”
Appreciating Abdusalami’s efforts at guaranteeing peaceful co-habitation among Nigerians, the leaders assured him of their 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.”