• US Govt backs Ortom on ranching
George Okoh in Makurdi and Yekini Jimoh in Lokoja
Barely five days after the killings in Dekina and Omala Local Government Areas, a traditional ruler and 11 other persons have again been reportedly killed and several houses razed in separate attacks by suspected herders of cattle on Agbenema, Aj’Ichekpa, Opada and Iyade villages in Omala Local Government Area of Kogi State.
Those killed included a traditional ruler, the Onu Okenwu Agbenema of Ife, Chief Musa Edigbo, his wife and 10 others by the assailants.
THISDAY reliably gathered that the attacks started on Sunday night and lasted till Monday morning.
During the attacks, the residence of the former vice-chairman of Omala LGA and that of his father were also razed.
It was gathered that the attackers, who were allegedly armed with sophisticated weapons, hid in the bushes around the villages from where they launched the deadly ambush on their targets.
According to the residents, who managed to escape the assault on their communities, the herdsmen set houses ablaze and opened fire on the fleeing inhabitants, slit their throats with machetes, and dismembered their bodies.
The eyewitnesses, who would not want their names in print, told newsmen that the administrator of Omala, Hon. Ibrahim Aboh, escaped the gruesome onslaught by a whisker.
They also alleged that the soldiers who were drafted to curtail the suspected herdsmen’s killings refused to assist the locals repel the assailants.
“We were surprised when we approached the soldiers who were stationed at a guest house at Abejukolo for assistance. They refused to act and used their vehicle to block us from advancing to the troubled spots to help our people.
“It is clear that the aim of the Fulani herdsmen is to kill us and take over our ancestral homes. They have razed Ojuwo Ajomayeigbi, Iyade, Agbenema and Opada villages so that they can use our land for their cattle colonies.
“We want the world to come to our assistance before these Fulani exterminate and inherit our land. We have lost confidence in the security agencies posted to us because from their actions, we believe they have been instructed to adopt a sit and look approach while we are being massacred.
“Right now, a coordinated war is raging simultaneously in most villages in Omala, Dekina and Bassa LGAs. Our people are being killed and houses burnt down, and our women are being raped while many children who ran from the theatre of war are still missing.
“Since the attacks began, we have not gone to the farms and even the markets have closed. Hunger has come to stay on our land. If drastic measures are not taken to quell this mad killings by these herdsmen, food insecurity will take over our land,” the eyewitnesses lamented.
When contacted, the Police Public Relations Officer of the Kogi State Police Command, Mr. William Ayah, said the command was yet to be briefed by the Divisional Police Officer (DPO) on the latest attacks on the Omala communities.
Last Saturday, the state governor, Yahaya Bello, visited the crisis-prone area of Oganenigu where over 35 persons were massacred and houses burnt by the invading Fulani herders last Wednesday.
He promised to make the attack the last in the state.
In a related development, the governor of neighbouring Benue State, Mr. Samuel Ortom, who has adamantly advocated the establishment of ranches for cattle rearing, Monday received the support of the United States Ambassador to Nigeria, Mr. Stuart Symington.
The US ambassador, who visited Ortom at the Government House, Makurdi, to commiserate with the governor over the recent killings in Benue State by suspected herdsmen, said if cattle are properly reared in ranches instead of open grazing, Nigeria could become one of the highest income earners from milk production.
Narrating his own experience, the ambassador disclosed that he came from a family of farmers that used to graze cattle from Colorado in the U.S. to Texas every year until his family stopped moving cattle and learnt to take advantage of the land to rear their livestock.
“I come from a family of farmers and part of my family used to move cattle from one state called Colorado to another state called Texas every year and over time they changed until now the cow business that they do is very much one that takes advantage of the land and we have to move them on trucks.
“I had a great conversation the other day just outside the city of Jos with one of the great milk producers of the world, a company that produces milk. And I talked to the guy and he was mentioning to me that the milk that comes from the Fulani cattle could be incorporated into the milk produced here.
“Literally the future of the nation could be rich when the milk of those herders get fed to the sons and daughters of families and their vegetables get fed to the sons and daughters of the herders. I am happy that you are thinking in this direction Mr. Governor,” the US ambassador stated.
Ortom thanked the ambassador for the visit and solicited the assistance of the U.S. in the establishment of ranches across the country, stating that they were one reliable way of guaranteeing peace in the country.
“Let me on behalf of the government and people of Benue State welcome and appreciate your visit.
“We were glad when we learnt that you were coming to visit us because we look up to America for a lot of things. Today the presidential system of government that we practise, we borrowed it from America.
“I have been advocating ranching instead of the open grazing that we have in Nigeria today. And because of the shortage of land, the issue of open grazing has become a major security challenge, especially in my state.
“Frequently, there are clashes between farmers and herdsmen because the land is not there and my people are mostly farmers, so they find the herdsmen encroaching and trespassing on farmlands and thus destroying their crops and when they (the herders) are confronted, it turns into a fight, In the process, we have lost so much.
“I have been calling for the establishment of ranches just like it is done in America. Most of us look forward to a time when our governments at the federal and state levels will come together and find a lasting solution to this crisis, because it is not peculiar to Benue State alone.
“There are other states too that are affected. But to me, I see that ranching as it is done in America can solve the problem permanently because the land is not increasing but the population is increasing.
“When there were grazing routes in the 1950s, the total population of Nigeria was less than 40 million. Today, by the 2012 projections, we are over 170 million and by 2017, I am sure we will be hitting 200 million. So it is a big challenge.
“While we want to support the herdsmen to graze and to rear cattle, it should not be at the detriment of the lives and property of our people,” he said.
Ortom also highlighted other areas of collaboration between the state government and the U.S., recalling that he had to persuade officials of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) to remain in Benue.
“America has been supporting us in several ways. The USAID has been of great assistance to my government. Before I assumed office, they were about to leave the state but I invited them to stay back for dialogue and since then, they have been of tremendous help to us,” the governor stated.