The Nigerian Army on Friday arrested the head of Benue Livestock Guards, Alhaji Aliyu Teshaku for allegedly masterminding recent killings in Benue State. Teshaku was arrested on Friday by 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 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.
Recall that leaders of the Miyetti Allah have repeatedly called for 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 time to prevent attacks that were being hatched by Teshaku and his cohorts in Bauchi, Borno and Yobe and Nasarawa States.
The Army described him as Aminu Yaminu (a.k.a.: Tashaku), but 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 him to the DIA in the spirit of inter-agency cooperation after the agency requested for him.
Teshaku, however, denied the allegations in an interview 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 Governor Samuel Ortom administration’s efforts against the activities of herdsmen in the state.
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 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, Teshaku was accused of being the head of a militia allegedly raised by Governor 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 shortly after the allegations, 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.
The governor 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 Teshaku’s group from former Governor Gabriel Suswam and kept it in place because of continued attacks by suspected herdsmen.
Meanwhile, Governor Samuel Ortom has said the Benue State Government will not interfere in the investigations and will allow the law to take its full course.
The special adviser to the governor, Paul Hembah confirmed that no ulterior motive was suspected on the part of federal government, even though he acknowledged the longstanding opposition of Miyetti Allah to 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 newsmen 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.