â€¢ Benue, Yobe, Zamfara, Rivers on his schedule
â€¢ PDP: Itâ€™s a political gambit, afterthought
â€¢ President urges traditional rulers to end violence, fails to see victims, IDPs
Omololu Ogunmade in Abuja, Wole Ayodele in Jalingo and Victor Ogunje in Ado Ekiti
Months after violence claimed hundreds of lives and property worth millions of naira in some parts of the country, President Muhammadu Buhari Monday finally visited Jalingo, the capital of Taraba State, on the first leg of his scheduled visits to the troubled states of Benue, Yobe, Zamfara and Rivers.
The president has come under heavy criticism for failing to visit the troubled states, with many accusing him of insensitivity to the suffering of the people of the affected areas.
But his visit to Taraba State Monday and the scheduled visits to others appeared not to have swayed his critics, including the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and Governor Ayo Fayose of Ekiti State, who dismissed it as a belated gambit to shore up the presidentâ€™s declining popularity.
The Presidential Adviser for Media and Publicity, Mr. Femi Adesina, had in a statement in Abuja said the president had, after receiving briefings from the delegations that he sent to the affected states, decided to visit them to obtain an on the spot assessment of the situation and commiserate with the victims and their families.
Mondayâ€™s visit to Jalingo however still fell short of expectations as the president only met with the governor, Mr. Darius Ishaku, and stakeholders, including traditional rulers, senators and members of the House of Representatives, and commiserated with them over their enormous losses during the internecine violence that enveloped some parts of the state earlier in the year and as recently as in the last few days.
However, Buhari neither visited the theatre of the crisis in the Mambilla Plateau, nor any of the internally displaced persons’ (IDPs) camps in Jalingo, where the victims were kept, drawing further swipes from the indigenous people of the state, who accused him of showing more concern for the violence in the Mambilla Plateau, where the Fulani were more affected, than other areas of the state that the Fulani were perceived as the aggressors.
The president is scheduled to visit the other troubled states after his return from a state visit to Ghana.
Traditional Rulers Urged to End Clashes
Speaking to stakeholders in Jalingo, the president asked traditional rulers in the state to find a lasting solution to the recurring communal clashes between the Fulani and the indigenous Mambilla residents in Sardauna Local Government Area of the state.
He said the traditional institution rather than the federal or state government was better placed to find a lasting solution to the crisis due to its closeness to the people.
Buhari, who noted that he was in the state to condole and sympathise with the victims of the Mambilla crisis, tasked the traditional rulers to go and sit down with the people to find solutions to the problems, just as he urged them to continue to preach peace.
Justifying his position, the president, who was accompanied on the trip by three ministers â€“ Alhaji Lai Mohammed (Information and Culture), Brig. Gen. Mansur Dan-Ali (Defence) and Senator Aisha Alhassan (Women Affairs) â€“ stressed that he and Ishaku would one day leave office as president and governor but the traditional rulers would remain with the people.
The president said: â€œI am in Taraba State to condole with the victims of the Mambilla crisis and sympathise with them over their losses. The traditional rulers are in a better position to find solutions to the problems.
â€œMyself as president and the governor would leave office, and only the traditional rulers will remain with the people. Therefore, the traditional rulers should go and sit down with the people to find solutions to the problems and continue to preach peace.â€
Buhari further noted that he chose to visit Taraba ahead of other troubled areas because more people were killed on the Mambilla Plateau than in Benue and Zamfara States.
Responding to the presidentâ€™s charge to the traditional rulers to resolve the communal clashes in the state, the Chairman of Taraba State Traditional Council, the Aku Uka of Wukari, Dr. Shekarau Angyo Masa Ibi, said the traditional institution should be strengthened for it to carry out the responsibility.
Also speaking, Ishaku noted that what was happening in the state was criminality, saying those fomenting trouble in the state were not herders but criminals.
He stated that at inception, he met a polarised state and his administration was confronted with the problem of cattle rustling, which he said he had tackled successfully, just as he thanked the president for finding time to visit the state.
Among the stakeholders present at the meeting were the three senators representing the state led by Senator Emmanuel Bwacha, members of the House of Representatives and the Minister of Women Affairs and Social Development, Senator Alhassan.
Over 150 people have lost their lives in the various crises that occurred in different parts of the state particularly in Lau Local Government Area, where 68 persons were killed by Fulani herdsmen in January 2018.
The victims of the Lau crisis, who were killed in the five villages of Donadda, Lavoro, Katibu, Didango and Maku, were given a mass burial on January 10, while 15 others were said to be still missing.
Also on January 27, a farmer was killed on his farm at Gidin Dorowa in Wukari Local Government Area by herdsmen who equally attacked the convoy of the local government chairman who had gone to the scene to assess the situation.
Accusation of Bias
The president, however, came under serious condemnation by the representative of the Yangdan people in Lau Local Government, Dr. Alfred Kobiba, for being silent on the Lau killings.
Speaking to journalists after the meeting with the president, Kobiba noted that he wrote a letter to Ishaku detailing the number of casualties recorded in the crisis as well as those missing and copied same to the president, Director General, Department of State Services (DSS), National Security Adviser (NSA) and the Chief of Staff to the President, but was shocked that the president did not make any comment on Lau but was only interested in Mambilla.
According to him, â€œWhen Fulani herdsmen perpetrated the worst evil in our land in January, I wrote to the governor stating that 68 people were killed and 15 others missing and copied the letter to the president, DG DSS, NSA and Chief of Staff to the President, but we are shocked that the president only talked about Mambilla without saying anything about the killings in Lau.â€
Reacting to the presidential visit, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) described it as an afterthought and a move to further hoodwink the people ahead of the 2019 general election.
In a statement issued by its National Publicity Secretary, Mr. Kola Ologbondiyan, the PDP lamented the eleventh hour decision of the president to pay a condolence visit to the affected states months after tragedy struck.
It said: â€œMany Nigerians have dismissed the planned visits of President Buhari to these states as a cosmetic afterthought. Nigerians have already formed their opinion of him, and rightly so, as a president that has never shown them concern in their time of need.
â€œIt is alarming that Mr. President will consider visiting some of these states months after marauders, insurgents and bandits committed their havoc.
â€œMr. President has been in the country and never thought it necessary to pay a condolence visit to any of these states until Nigerians raised the alarm alleging a manifest indifference on his part.
â€œIt is even more pathetic that in Benue State, President Buhari summoned the leaders of the bereaved people to the Presidential Villa, Abuja, rather than complying with the age-long tradition of Africans by visiting the bereaved.â€
In his reaction, Fayose dismissed Buhariâ€™s visit as an afterthought and an attempt to curry favour for sympathy votes in 2019.
â€œObviously, the president is more concerned about his re-election in 2019, and his visit to those states that he abandoned during their time of trouble is to seek for votes, not to sympathise with the people of the states on their losses,â€ Fayose said.
The governor likened the president to a selfish king who went on making merry while his people were in agony, only to show up when the people had already buried their loved ones who were gruesomely murdered and had got over their anguish and moved on with their lives.
A statement issued Monday by his Special Assistant on Public Communications and New Media, Mr. Lere Olayinka, quoted the governor as saying it was the height of cruelty that the same president, who promised to lead from the front in the fight against Boko Haram, could not visit Dapchi, Yobe State where 110 school girls were abducted by the insurgents, but elected to go on merry making in Kano.
He said: â€œOn January 9 and 12, this year, 88 victims of herdsmen attacks were given a mass burial in Taraba State. Also on January 11, 2018, another 73 persons killed by suspected Fulani herdsmen in Benue State were buried in a mass grave in Makurdi, the state capital.
â€œMeaning that in Taraba and Benue States alone, 161 Nigerians were given mass burials within three days! This never caught the attention of our president. Rather, it was a visit to Nasarawa, a neighbouring state to Benue that was important to him.
â€œTo further demonstrate his lack of compassion for Nigerians, while the entire nation, especially parents of the 110 abducted schoolgirls in Dapchi, Yobe State, were still in anguish, President Buhari went to Kano last Saturday to attend a social function, thus sparking negative reactions from Nigerians.
â€œApparently, it was the negative reactions of Nigerians, especially on the social media and the effects on the presidentâ€™s re-election bid that necessitated his hurried visit to Taraba State today (yesterday), and planned visits to Benue, Zamfara, Yobe and Rivers States.
â€œI am sure the people of Taraba State wonâ€™t be hoodwinked by the presidentâ€™s cosmetic sympathy, show of concern and crocodile tears, which he never bothered to shed when hundreds of indigenes of the state were being killed by suspected herdsmen.â€
While declaring the visits as belated and an afterthought, Fayose added: â€œNigerians can no longer be deceived by a president who never cared for them when they needed him most. Therefore, no amount of hurriedly organised campaign visits will sway the people, who never saw the president to protect them from being killed and console them when they lost their dear ones.â€
Earlier Monday, Adesina had said Buhari would from Monday visit Taraba and subsequently proceed to Benue and other states.
He said the presidentâ€™s scheduled visit was driven by the recent terrorist attacks, criminal activities and communal clashes in some states of the federation, leading to the tragic loss of lives as well as the kidnap of 110 schoolgirls in Dapchi, Yobe State.
Apparently responding to public criticism of the late visit, the presidentâ€™s spokesman said the president had immediately after the tragic incidents, tasked the armed forces and other security agencies to compile comprehensive reports on the various incidents.
According to Adesina, having received and studied the reports, the president deemed it fit to undertake an on-the-spot assessment of the various occurrences and consequently meet and console the communities affected.
Disclosing that the president had been receiving daily briefings over the incidents and was also in constant touch with governors of the affected states, Adesina stated that Buhari equally advised Nigerians to cooperate with the security agencies with a view to nipping the matter in the bud.
He stated: â€œFrom today (yesterday) he (the president) will visit Taraba, and subsequently Benue, Yobe, Rivers and Zamfara States.
â€œPresident Buhari has been receiving daily briefings, and has been in constant touch with the governors, and has been updated with situation reports.
â€œThe president calls on all Nigerians, especially those in the affected areas, to cooperate fully with the security agencies to enable them curb the spate of crimes, bring those responsible to justice and prevent further occurrences.â€
The new year opened on a violent score in Benue and Rivers State as gunmen went berserk, murdering innocent and defenceless souls in their sleep.
In Benue, 73 persons were felled by gunmen suspected to be herdsmen, while scores who were returning from a cross-over church service were cut down.
The killings subsequently spread to Taraba, Zamfara and Kaduna States where latent anger over land between herdsmen and farmers boiled over.
The presidentâ€™s reluctance to visit the troubled states in the face of mounting body count attracted searing criticisms from a scandalised public, with the leading opposition party, the PDP, challenging him to show human compassion by paying courtesy calls on the victims and their families.
Panel Visits Yobe
Meanwhile, the presidential committee set up by the federal government to unravel the circumstances surrounding the abduction of 110 students of Government Girlsâ€™ Science and Technical College, Dapchi, Yobe State, visited the state Moday with the governor, Ibrahim Gaidam, calling for the intensification of aerial surveillance to rescue the abducted Dapchi schoolgirls and enhance the general security of the state.
According to the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN), Gaidam commended the Buhari administration for its committed zeal in fighting the insurgency in the North-east and said the visit by four different delegations sent by the federal government underscored its commitment to rescue the schoolgirls.
The governor also commended the Nigerian Army for acting with dispatch and realigning the checkpoints in Ngelzarma and Damagum to beef up security.
â€œI am optimistic that with the kind of inspiring concern exhibited by the federal government, other patriotic Nigerians and indeed, the international community, we will intensify our efforts until all the girls are found,â€ Gaidam said.
He lauded the efforts of security organisations, which he said, had recorded unprecedented success to the admiration of all.
According to the governor, the police and the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC) have deployed their personnel to schools across the state to build more confidence in parents and the students.
Gaidam solicited for a comprehensive strategy to mop up the remnants of Boko Haram insurgents in the North-east.
The chairman of the committee, Rear Admiral Victor Adedipe, said they were in the state to discuss with stakeholders to uncover the circumstances surrounding the abduction.
He said that the committee had interacted with the Chief of Army Staff, Lt.-Gen. Tukur Buratai, the Theatre Commander of Operation Lafiya Dole and other senior military officers engaged in the operation.
He listed the committeeâ€™s terms of reference to include: to ascertain the circumstances of the abduction; determine the exact number of persons abducted; and confirm presence and disposition of security operatives and communications facilities in Dapchi.
Others are: to suggest to government measures to locate and rescue the students, measures to forestall future occurrence, and recommend any other measures that can assist the government.