• No land for cattle colony, Benue leaders insist
• CAN berates FG, police over silence on killings by herdsmen in Taraba
Omololu Ogunmade in Abuja and Wole Ayodele in Jalingo
President Muhammadu Buhari Monday in Abuja appealed to the Governor of Benue State, Dr. Samuel Ortom, to accommodate his fellow countrymen, promising that all perpetrators of violence in the state would be made to face the wrath of the law.
“I ask you in the name of God to accommodate your countrymen. You can also be assured that I am just as worried, and concerned with the situation,’’ the president was quoted to have said in a statement by his media and publicity adviser, Mr. Femi Adesina, after a meeting with visibly angry leaders of thought from the state, led by the governor.
To quench the anger of his visitors over the recent killings by suspected herdsmen in two local governments of the state, Buhari reportedly added: “Your Excellency, the governor, and all the leaders here, I am appealing to you to try to restrain your people. I assure you that the Police, the Department of State Security and other security agencies had been directed to ensure that all those behind the mayhem get punished.”
Following the incessant killing of farmers by herdsmen across several local governments, the state government in May last year promulgated the Open Grazing Prohibition and Establishment of Ranches Law. It outlaws open grazing in the state and compels livestock breeders, including cattle to ranch them.
Fulani cattle rearers massed in the Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association determined that the law was made to exclude them from the state and opposed it, vowing to frustrate its implementation.
Their agitations against the law that took effect in November last year persisted culminating in the New Year day massacre of 73 people in Logo and Guma Local Government Areas.
A horrified nation carpeted the president for his initial silence even as the security agencies were hugely criticised not only for its failure to prevent the occurrence but also for its sluggish response to the bloodbath.
Buhari responded by ordering the Inspector General of Police (IG) Ibrahim Idris to relocate to Benue to contain the violence. Monday’s meeting with Benue leaders was a further step by the president to control the damage the mayhem had done to the federal government’s image.
According to the statement, Buhari said all those involved in the conflict that culminated in the loss of many lives would not escape justice, including any illegally armed militia in the state.
It also said the president commiserated with all victims of the attacks and families who lost their loved ones and property in the incidents, promising that the government would strive to ameliorate their situation.
Buhari disclosed that relevant agencies had been directed to start catering for their humanitarian needs.
Adesina said the president also told the delegation that his administration had already begun the process of finding a lasting solution to the persistent conflicts between herders and communities around the country, stating that IG Idris had been directed to relocate to the state and ensure security of lives and property.
He urged all Benue indigenes to trust the security agencies and report all cases of suspicious movements in the state.
Furthermore, the statement said Ortom told the meeting that the federal government’s intervention in the crisis would reduce the prevailing tension in the state.
“We will leave here to rebuild confidence in our people,” he said.
The Tor-Tiv, Prof. James Ayatse, was, however, said to have lamented that his entire domain had been thrown into mourning due to the incessant attacks, and implored Buhari “to put an end to the gruesome situation”.
According to Adesina, present at the meeting were Benue State Deputy Governor, Mr. Benson Abounu; former Senate president, Senator David Mark; former Benue State governor, Senator George Akume; and Senator Barnabas Gemade.
Others include Senator John Waku, Gen. Lawrence Onoja (rtd), Brig. Gen. John Atom Kpera (rtd), former Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Mr. Michael Aondoakaa; Speaker of Benue State House of Assembly, Terkimbir Kyambe; and other members of the National and State Assembly from the state.
No Land for Cattle Colony, Benue Leaders Insist
But the Benue leaders, according to Ortom, told the president in clear terms that while they were willing to accommodate their fellow countrymen, they had no luxury of land for cattle colony.
They restated their call for the arrest and prosecution of herdsmen who killed 73 persons in the state recently, saying no one must be seen to be above the law.
Briefing journalists at the end of the meeting, Ortom who recalled his earlier comment during his last visit to the Villa that he was yet to understand the meaning of the concept of cattle colony being proposed by the federal government, added that he had eventually been educated on the matter Monday by the Minister of Agriculture, Chief Audu Ogbeh.
According to him, whereas the government requires 10,000 hectares of land for the take-off of cattle colony in the state, the idea is totally impracticable in Benue State because such luxury of land for such project is not available in the state.
He disclosed that the total land size currently available in Benue State is 5,000 hectares, which he said was far below the requirements for the implementation of the concept.
The governor said the leaders made a strong appeal to the president in the meeting to ensure the arrest of perpetrators of the heinous crimes, noting that the assailants have continued to issue threats of further killings in the state.
According to him, the delegation believes in the leadership of the president and hence, wants him to ensure that the perpetrators are caught by the long arms of the law. He further disclosed that the president in his response vowed to leave no room for impunity.
Furthermore, he said, the president renewed his directive to the IG to arrest and prosecute those behind the killings, pointing out: “We cannot allow lawlessness.”
While insisting that there is no going back on the implementation of anti-open grazing law, Ortom said the law makes provisions for the security of both the herdsmen and farmers as he explained that even if there are still “pockets of issues” in some places such as Makurdi Local Government, relative calm has returned to most places of the state.
Asked if issues over the letters he sent to the presidency ahead of the attacks came up in the meeting, the governor, who said the delegation was in the State House to thank Buhari for all the measures he put in place to put the situation under control, maintained that there was no need bringing up the issue again.
Ortom also dismissed the allegation that he armed some militants to engage in killings in the state as diversionary, saying if the allegation was true, such blatant killings would have been avoided particularly in his own local government because there would have been adequate security.
He described the allegation as false and a move meant to turn the fact from reality.
Ortom also corrected the belief by journalists that Monday’s meeting was called by the president, disclosing instead, that the meeting was convened at the instance of Benue leaders whom he said formally requested to meet the president over the killings.
According to him, if letters were not responded to, he had been speaking with the president on the telephone and he had been responding positively well.
Osinbajo Denies Receiving Violence Alert from Ortom
But in a swift reaction to media reports that Ortom sent letters to the president and Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo, notifying them of plots by herdsmen to attack the state without any response, Osinbajo in a statement by his spokesman, Mr. Laolu Akande, said there was no mention of imminent attacks in Ortom’s letter that he received.
Akande said the vice-president was shocked by the report credited to Ortom that both the president and vice-president were acquainted with information on plots of inhuman killings by herdsmen in Logo and Guma Local Government areas on January 1, 2018.
The statement which explained that neither Ortom nor the federal government was aware of any plot to attack any of the 23 local government areas of Benue State, explained that the only letter Osinbajo received from the governor as the then acting president, was dated June 7, 2017, and only intimated him with the objection of herdsmen to the anti-grazing law.
It added that the herdsmen under the aegis of Miyetti Allah, had earlier written a letter to him complaining about provisions of the law and he consequently met with the governor over the matter and also put the security agencies on alert to avert any violence.
It stated: “Although the Vice President, Prof. Osinbajo, does not believe that the governor could ever have said so, it will be a terrible falsehood to suggest that the VP was ever informed by the governor or anyone else of the imminence of the killing of citizens of our country in those or any other local governments in Benue State.
“Governor Ortom wrote to the Vice President, then Acting President, on 7th June 2017 protesting a newspaper publication where the leadership of Miyetti Allah was reported to have stated that it was opposed to the Open Grazing Prohibition Law of the state and that they would mobilise to resist the law.
“The Miyetti Allah had written to the Vice President on the 5th of June 2017 on the same law protesting several sections of the law. The governor went on to say that the leadership of Miyetti Allah should be arrested because they used words such as ‘wicked, obnoxious and repressive,’ to describe the law and because these were ‘utterances that are capable of undermining the peace…,’ the Vice President subsequently met with the Governor, discussed the matter and the security situation in the State and then ordered law enforcement agencies to be on the alert to prevent any attacks or violence. This was in June 2017.
“In the said letter written by the Governor, there was no mention of any threat to any specific one of the 23 local governments of Benue State, so the best the law enforcement agencies could do even then was to await information or intelligence of an imminent attack. None came.
“Since then, the VP has held several meetings with the Benue State Governor, including a visit to the State on the 6th of September, last year at the behest of Mr. President during the tragic floods in the state last year. At all such meetings, the Vice President discussed the security situation of the State with the Governor.
“Following that, the then Acting President convened a major national security retreat which was attended by all state governors, service chiefs and heads of security agencies. The retreat featured very detailed discussions on the herdsmen/ farmers’ clashes.
“To the best of our knowledge, neither Governor Ortom nor the Federal Government was aware of the imminence of the cowardly attack on Logo and Guma on the 1st of January, and therefore any suggestion that the President or the Vice President ignored the State Governor’s warning is both absolutely false and certainly misleading.”
CAN Berates FG, Police
Meanwhile, the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) has condemned the federal government and the police authorities for their silence over renewed killings in Taraba State by Fulani herdsmen.
The Taraba State chapter of the association in Jalingo, in a statement on Monday, expressed worry over what it termed ‘conspiracy of silence’ by the federal government and the police over the killing of over 80 people across four local government areas of the state.
Its Chairman, Rev. Ben Ubeh, said those killed in Lau, Wukari, Donga and Gassol Local Government areas were peasant Christian farmers.
Besides the dead, CAN stated that dozens of others were receiving treatment at the Federal Medical Centre and the state Specialist Hospital, both in Jalingo, adding that over 10,000 others rendered homeless were in IDP camps at Abare, Kunini and Jalingo as well as other villages.
The group said: “The leadership of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), Taraba State, and the entire body of Christ in the state are worried over the renewed killings of innocent peasant Christian farmers in the state without provocation and the conspiracy of silence by the federal government and the police authorities.
“Last week, over 60 people were killed across several communities in Lau, 11 others were killed in Wukari, 3 in Donga and 6 in Gassol local government areas. There are more than 10, 000 IDPs at various camps in Jalingo, Abare, Kunini and other villages, while dozens of others are receiving treatment at the Specialist and Federal Medical Centre in Jalingo.”
CAN also wondered why only 12 persons were confirmed dead in Lau by the police even when no fewer than 61 persons were buried after the attack on the communities just as it demands an explanation from the federal government on why it maintained a golden silence on the killings on Monday.
It stated: “What does the police want to achieve by playing down the number of those killed? Are they doing it to please their paymaster, the federal government? Does the life of ordinary Nigerians not worth being protected by the federal government? This is why we smell a conspiracy between the police and the federal government over the recent killings in the state”.