Damilola Oyedele in Abuja
The hearing by the House of Representatives Committee on Police Affairs into the incessant clashes between herdsmen and farmers in Benue State was wednesday stalled due to the absence of the Minister of Interior, Lt-Gen. Abdulrahman Dambazzau (rtd), Inspector General of Police (IG), Mr. Solomon Arase, and representatives of other security agencies.
Dambazzau, Arase, officials of the Department of State Services (DSS) and the Nigerian Army were absent despite invitations to the hearing on the clashes, which have assumed a frightening dimension since the beginning of 2016.
Representatives of herdsmen association were also absent.
The committee, headed by Hon. Jika Dauda (Bauchi APC) was forced to adjourn as it only had in attendance officials of the civil defence corps and Tiv socio-cultural association, Mdzough U Tiv (MUT).
Although Jika seemed willing to continue the hearing after MUT made its presentation, several members of the committee however insisted that it would be futile to go ahead without Arase as the chief security officer of the nation.
Hon. Nkeiruka Onyejeocha (Abia PDP) noted that the discourse was too critical with its attendant consequence of threat to peace, security and properties in the state.
A visibly upset Onyejeocha interrupted the presentation of the President General of MUT, Chief Edward Ujege.
“The IG and Minister of Interior have to be here so, together, we can discuss how to proceed as a country. Fundamental issues are being raised. We have pictures of people who were not just gruesomely murdered, but butchered and we are perplexed that these actually happened,” she said.
Other lawmakers also insisted Dambazzau and Arase must personally attend the hearings and not send representatives who might not be able to adequately respond to the issues.
Jika announced the postponement of the hearing to Thursday after consultation with members of the committee.
He directed Dambazzau, Arase, and representatives of the herdsmen to attend the hearing.
Earlier, before the adjournment, the Tiv group disclosed its suspicion that some sort of chemical weapons might have been deployed by the herdsmen in some of its attacks on villages in Benue.
“Chemical weapons were suspected to have been used by Fulani herdsmen that killed several indigenes of Guma, Gwer West and Logo local government areas. The affected persons died without any bullet or machete wounds and were found to be foaming in the mouth. The unused canisters of the suspected chemical weapons were also found ,” Ujege said adding that while the conflict has been on for a long time, it became worse in 2011.
“Before 2014, there used to be less than 50,000 herds, (in the 11 affected LGAs) but from 2014, there has been about one million, and the number continues to increase,” he said
Citing figures from the Benue state, Ujege said 883 persons were killed in 2014 with 23324 displaced and properties worth N31.4 billion destroyed.
101 persons were murdered in Buruku, Logo and Tarka LGA in 2015 with 6650 displaced and properties worth N8.3 billion displaced.
Ujege appealed to the committee to investigate allegations of complicity by the military in the rampage by the herdsmen.
He also rejected any plan to create grazing routes for the herdsmen calling on government of tackle desertification in the North.
“The cattle herdsmen go about with are not government cattle, so tax payers money should not be used to establish ranches for the Fulani. Those who have cattle/livestock must find the funds to buy land where they can afford and establish ranches for heir livestock,” he said.
The group presented gory pictures of murdered citizens to the committee.