The farming season is here. But many farmers in Benue State are unable to return to their farms because of herdsmen attacks. Mr Dickson Tarkighir representing Makurdi/Guma Federal Constituency at the House of Representatives, one of the affected communities, says the situation in Benue remains dangerous as security operatives are unable to stop the killings. He spoke with Damilola Oyedele who presents the excerpts:
What is the situation in Benue State with regards to the killings?
It is getting worse. As at January 1, 2018 when herdsmen attacked Benue state, most of them had left the state before the attack, because they had ordered their members out. This is because they were coming to attack us, and did not want their members behind enemy lines.
We had information that they were coming to attack, so our governor wrote to the then Acting President and the Inspector General of Police, the Director of State Security Services, and other security agencies about the threat, which we did not know the timeline.
After the president came back from his medical trip, the governor went to see him again with the same thing, the same report that we had. Meanwhile the Miyetti Allah were threatening that until the law in Benue is repealed, they were not going to obey the law and that they were going to cause a lot of havoc in the state.
They carried out that threat on January 1st ,on new year where 76 people were killed and since then the killings have continued. The federal government deployed security men, for Exercise Cat Race, which they have announced is ending. Since that announcement, the herdsmen have started coming back. Few days ago, they killed over 14 people in Guma, Makurdi, Gwer West and Logo local government.
Would it be correct to say that the intervention of the federal government has not yielded fruits?
My people have lost faith in the federal government’s willingness to protect them, because even as the Exercise Cat Race was going on, the killings and the burning continued. They were killing policemen and even military personnel.
We think that there is collusion between the government and the herdsmen on what is happening, because as I speak, now almost everybody in Guma local government which is my own local government, is a refugee. The land is desolate, it is empty as there is nobody there. The farming season is coming and people have no access to their farmlands, which means that beside creating poverty, there is going to be hunger in Benue come next season.
Former Chief of Army Staff, Lt. General T.Y. Danjuma and the Emir of Birnin Bwari, Zubairu Jibril Mai Gwari recently called on Nigerians to defend themselves. Would you add your voice to that call if you believe the government is not willing to protect the people of Benue?
I do not think the statements by General T.Y. Danjuma and the Emir of Birnin Bwari are new. The laws provide for self defence in the first instance. It is in our statutes, that if your life is threatened by anybody, you should be able to defend yourself. We are not a lawless society in Benue state, which is why we are calling on the government to defend our people. If the federal government leaves the security of people into their hands, Somalia would be a small story. We do not want anarchy in our land which is why we have always followed the law, we have always appealed to the government to defend us.
We are now appealing to the international community to come to our aid. We have over 190,000 men, women and children in IDP camps, and there is no food, there is nothing. The state government’s resources are overstretched, as regards the provision of medical needs, foods, clothing and infrastructures for camps. So far, we have about eight camps and the responsibility of taking care of these people is that of the state government.
What NEMA provided for us since January has been 150 bags of rice for a whole population of about 190,000 people in the IDP camps. The state’s resources are overstretched. We are appealing to international organizations, men of goodwill to come to the aid of Benue people. Our people are starving to death in their own land, and the irony is that we are farmers.
What is the role of the state government in security, when considering that the IGP accused Governor Samuel Ortom of arming militia in the state?
The state government does not command even the civil defence. Even though governors are called chief security officers of their states, they do not have the right to direct the police to do anything. This is why the governors are always falling back on the federal government to provide security, just like the case in Zamfara state.
Let me respond to the IGP’s allegation about militia in Benue state. There is no militia in Benue state. If we have militia, we will be defending ourselves right now, trust me, the situation is pathetic, it is very terrible. The IGP made that pronouncement without even going to Benue state. He had come to Benue and of course he stayed for one day and deployed to Nasarawa state.
While in Benue, he said that the situation in Benue was a communal clash. Of course, we know that is not true; communal clash between us and who? That is our land, these people come in the night, kill people, burn properties and go back to Nasarawa state. Nasarawa state, unfortunately is serving as a safe haven for Fulani herdsmen to stage an attack against the people of Benue state. It is very unfortunate. The government is handicapped, we have no one to protect us.
But the Governor of Nasarawa has denied the allegation that the state was providing safe haven for these attackers…
(cuts in) But a few days after that denial, the man who was the mastermind of the January attack was arrested in Tunga, the same town that the governor said killer herdsmen were not in. It was the security agents, the police themselves that arrested the man in Tunga, the same town that the governor said was not housing Fulani herdsmen.
As a member of the ruling APC party which is in power in Benue, how would you rate this government, considering that insecurity remains a big issue in your state and several parts of Nigeria?
Ironically the people of Benue state voted overwhelmingly for this government but I can say there is no single federal presence in the state. About a month ago, the president visited Benue state and the people came out en masse and welcomed him. They lauded him as someone who they believed in, which is why they voted him in the first place. They believed that he is just, and that he will provide good leadership for us. All we wanted was for the president to direct the security agencies to ensure the implementation of the law, which was enacted by the Benue State House of Assembly, and which met every legal requirement of law making.
We also wanted him to ensure that communities that were destroyed by herdsmen were rebuilt, just like what is happening in the North East. The governor mentioned the roads from Makurdi-Otukpo-Enugu, Makurdi-Gboko- Katsina Alla-Wukari, and Gboko-Uhiu-Senke-Ogoja which have totally failed.
When the president stood up to respond to these demands, he surprisingly said he was promising nothing, until he returns for campaigns in 2019. Now everybody was shocked, the reason being that we voted for him in 2015 in the first instance, which is why he is in power in the first place, and he said he has nothing to promise us. He has done nothing for Benue and when he came after all of us were being killed, he said he cannot promise us anything. So people were asking, “we voted for you in 2015, you have done nothing for us and you are here because of this crisis and now you are saying you are not going to make any promise.”
Incidentally a committee set up by the president himself, chaired by the vice president for the rebuilding of communities that were destroyed by herdsmen, was in our villages, same day he came to Benue. It is either he didn’t know that the committee was taking assessment of the damages done in Benue state, in order to rebuild or not, or he decided that he was just not going to have anything to do with the people of Benue state. And when he stood up either somebody didn’t tell him that the committee was in place, but he set up the committee in the first place, and he said he was going to promise us nothing. When he spoke about herdsmen, he told us to go and live peacefully with our neighbours that are herdsmen; these are people who are killing us. How do you live with somebody whose only aim and objective is to kill you?
The 2019 general elections are close. It is now safe to assume that the people of Benue may not vote for President Buhari, if he decides to re-contest in 2019?
I wouldn’t speak for the people of Benue, but the president came to Benue when he was campaigning in 2015 and made a lot of promises to us. Politics is about interest and people vote for government for a variety of reasons. You vote for government to provide basic amenities, protect lives and properties and all that. We have got none of that. We have not got the amenities, our lives are not protected and all that, so you be the judge.
Would you, as a person, vote the President come 2019 if he re-contest?
The president has time. I am a member of the party, APC and I have a responsibility to vote the candidate of my party. However the president still has the opportunity to redeem his image in Benue state.
There are reports that with the happenings in the state, the governor and members of the National Assembly from Benue, are considering leaving the APC, and are being wooed by the Peoples Democratic Party. Is this true?
It was rumoured and it still remains a rumour. As a governor, a senator, a member of the House of Representatives, of the ruling party, why would you leave the party? Of course ,people are wooing us, but we have no reason so far to leave. There is no party now, that is better than the APC in Nigeria.
We might be having challenges in the leadership, but we think and hope that it will get better. So as it is right now, we are not planning to go anywhere, we are going to remain here and build from within.
What are your plans for 2019?
My people gave me a mandate of four years. It has been three years now and I can say that I have done very well for them. They are going to assess my performance, which I think is fair. So when the time comes, I will go back to them and ask them if it is possible for them to renew my mandate.
I was the first member to sponsor a bill on ranching and that was my first bill at the National Assembly. Before I came to the National Assembly, I had promised my people that I would sponsor the bill on ranching, as it is done in other countries. We have been victims of herdsmen attack long before now, but in developed countries, animal husbandry is practiced to co-exist with farming. I had travelled to Brazil and Bulgaria where they have huge ranches, and beef export is big business.
I travelled to these countries and I came in back and sponsored the bill on ranching. Incidentally my state government picked that up and went ahead to enact that law at the state. When considering the issue of land administration, the law domiciled the issue of land administration with the states since 1976, so the states have rights to make laws as far as land administration is concerned. This is what my governor and the governors of Taraba and Ekiti states have done. All we are appealing to the federal government is please ensure that these laws are respected, if we are indeed one country.
Also in the short time I have been here, I have helped to secure jobs for 38 young people in federal agencies in Nigeria. My focus has always been that I empower the youths. We have several other programmes in my legislative agenda to empower youths.
We think that there is collusion between the government and the herdsmen on what is happening