The Benue State Governor, Samuel Ortom, on Monday insisted that the state did not have land for the establishment of cattle colonies as being proposed by the Federal Government.
President Muhamamdu Buhari had on Monday at a meeting in Abuja appealed to the government and people of Benue State to “in the name of God” accommodate their countrymen.
But Ortom said the size of the land required for the proposed cattle colonies was not available in Benue, adding that the Federal Government should arrest and prosecute leaders of the Miyetti Allah Kautal Hore who he accused of making inciting statements; and allegedly being the brains behind the January 1 killings in parts of the state.
Ortom spoke with State House correspondents after leading some leaders of the state to a closed-door meeting with Buhari at the Presidential Villa, Abuja.
The governor said, “Like I told you the last time I came here, I did not understand what colonies meant.
“Today, I was privileged to meet the Minister of Agriculture and he did explain to me that a colony is many ranches put in one place, restricted in one place.
“So, for us in Benue State, there is no 10,000 hectares; we have no 10,000 hectares for that kind of a thing to take place.
“Other states have the land, but we in Benue State; we don’t have and that was what led to us enacting this law (anti-open grazing law).”
Ortom lamented that several people were killed in the recent attacks, while more than 60,000 people were displaced.
He said leaders of the state thought it was wise for them to meet Buhari on the matter, adding that the meeting was at their instance.
He noted that while the current situation in the state was relatively calm, there were still pockets of issues.
“For the past five days, we have witnessed two killings compared to what happened before.
“Other places are relatively calm; the security men and the Inspector-General of Police and the Benue State Government have been working day and night to ensure that we bring the situation under control and stop the killings.
“There are still security issues from one town to another like a few days ago that we had uproar in the Makurdi Local Government Area, where some hoodlums wanted to take advantage of the situation to create confusion so they can loot,” he said.
Ortom said the delegation renewed their call on the President to ensure the arrest and prosecution of the leaders of the Miyetti Allah Kautal Hore.
“We made a strong appeal to Mr. President to arrest those people that perpetrated this act, the Miyetti Allah Kautal Hore, because they are not above the law.
“They made inciting statements against our people and they perpetrated this act. They are still issuing threats and it is not just anti-grazing law; the manner with which they came and invaded the towns and took over the land was something else,” he added.
While expressing confidence in the leadership of Buhari, the governor said the President had assured them that there would be no room for impunity.
He added, “We believe in the leadership of Mr. President because he is a disciplined and an upright man and we believe he will sanction these people.
“He assured us that there is no room for impunity, the law of the land must take its course.
“He directed the IG, who was at the meeting, to arrest those who perpetrated this act and prosecute them according to the law.
“He assured us that he would do everything possible to ensure that Benue State is peaceful and there is no further killing.”
When asked to shed more light on the letter he said he wrote to the President on the imminent attacks without getting any response, Ortom said, “Like I said, the President renewed his directive to the IG in our presence that those who are perpetrating this should be arrested and prosecuted.
“I was told that it (letter) was being processed and I hope by now it has been processed and that action will be taken now that the entire delegation from Benue State is here and Mr. President has directed the IG that something should be done about this matter because we cannot allow lawlessness and impunity.
“When people violate the law and they are not sanctioned, it becomes a problem.
“I believe that these people will be arrested because there is enough evidence against them.”
Ortom denied reports that he was arming militias, describing the allegation as mere distraction.
“It is not true. I see that as distraction completely from the main issue that we are talking about. These people were not even arrested in Benue State.
“If we are being killed in the magnitude that we saw and we have weapons of what I saw in the media, I know that five AK-47s can sack a whole community.
“So if we have such weapons and I as governor, my local government had been attacked and people killed, property destroyed and so on; so will I go and sponsor a militia in Taraba State?
“Then you should go back to history, from 2015 when I took over I organised an amnesty programme which saw the disarmament of over 800 youths and more than 700 weapons were turned in which were destroyed in the presence of security men and the UN and the committee on small weapons and light arms from the Presidency.
“So it is not true, it is false. It is meant to turn facts away from the reality that is happening on the ground,” he said.
The governor explained that the state’s anti-open grazing law originated from the people.
“The law is a win-win; it provides security for the herdsmen and the farmers. And as far as we are concerned, the implementation of the law is going on smoothly, he added.”
“As I talk to you, several people have been arrested and arraigned before the court both from the herdsmen side and also from the natives.
“It may interest you to know that three of our youths, who went and rustled cattle and killed a Fulani man, were arrested by the police. They have been arraigned and are remanded in custody in Makurdi.
“We have also arrested more than 18 herdsmen who violated the law and they were arraigned before a court.
“These killers that came from January 1; about eight of them have been arrested and are going to be prosecuted. And Mr. President has said that he is not going to protect any criminal and we are happy about this.”
Ortom said the people of the state met Buhari because they needed an assurance from the President since they were part of his constituency.
He faulted insinuations that the implementation of the law caused the killings.
“For us, we have seen that even before the law, killings were taking place even more than what we are witnessing today. What we are looking for are ways of getting out of it and we have found a way and that is the law which seeks to protect all.
“We are not sending anyone away from Benue State. The herdsmen; whether you are Igbo, Fulani, Hausa, Idoma, Tiv, anywhere you come from, you are free to obtain permit and then do the ranch and you are protected.
“Benue State will protect you from cattle rustlers when you do this and a farmer will also go to the farm without being intimidated or harassed by any herdsman.
“So, for us; we have communicated and the President has given us an assurance that he will protect lives and property and Benue State cannot be an exception,” Ortom added.
The meeting which was meant to find ways of restoring peace to the state was attended by Benue State Deputy Governor, Benson Abounu, a former President of the Senate, David Mark; a former governor George Akume; Tor Tiv, Prof. James Ayatse, Senator Barnabas Gemade, a former Attorney-General and Minister of Justice, Michael Aondoakaa; Senator Joseph Wayas; Gen. Lawrence Onoja (retd), Brig. Gen. John Atom Kpera (retd), Sen. J.K. Waku and Speaker of the state House of Assembly, Terkimbir Kyamb.
Also in attendance were the Minister of Defence, Mansur Dan-Ali; Minister of Agriculture, Audu Ogbeh; Minister of Interior and Abdulrahman Dambazzau.
‘Accommodate your countrymen’
Earlier at the meeting at the Presidential Villa, Abuja, Buhari appealed to the government and people of Benue State to “in the name of God” accommodate their countrymen.
He assured them that all the perpetrators of violence in the state would be made to face the wrath of the law.
According to a statement by his Special Adviser on Media and Publicity, Mr. Femi Adesina, Buhari was quoted as promising that all those involved in the conflict that culminated in the loss of lives would not escape justice.
The President commiserated with the victims of the attacks, and the families who lost loved ones and property.
He said relevant agencies had been directed to start catering for their needs.
The President said, “Your Excellency, the governor, and all the leaders here, I am appealing to you to restrain your people.
“I assure you that the police, the Department of State Services and other security agencies had been directed to ensure that all those behind the mayhem are punished.
“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 told the delegation that his administration had already begun a process of finding a lasting solution to the perennial challenge of herdsmen conflict with farmers and communities around the country.
He said the Inspector-General of Police, Ibrahim Idris, had been directed to relocate to the state to provide security for lives and property.
In his remarks, Ortom said the tension would be reduced with the Federal Government’s intervention.
“We will leave here to rebuild confidence in our people,’’ he said.
The Tor-Tiv, Prof. Ayatse, said his domain had been thrown into mourning due to the incessant attacks.
“We want you to put an end to the gruesome situation,’’ he added.
Benue killings: You lied, Osinbajo replies Ortom
Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo on Monday said he was shocked by media reports that quoted the Benue State Governor, Ortom, as saying he (Osinbajo) was warned ahead of the January 1 killings in the Logo and Guma local government areas of the state.
In a statement by his Senior Special Assistant on Media and Publicity, Mr. Laolu Akande, the Vice-President described as “a terrible falsehood” the suggestion that he was informed by the governor or anyone else of the killings.
The statement read, “Governor Ortom wrote to the Vice-President, then Acting President, on June 7, 2017, protesting against 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 against 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 attack or violence. This was in June 2017.”
The statement noted that in the said letter written by the governor, there was no mention of any threat to any specific one of the 23 local government areas of Benue State.
It explained that the best the law enforcement agencies could do was to await information or intelligence of an imminent attack and none of such came.
It added that since then, the Vice-President had held meetings with the Benue State governor, including a visit to the state on September 6, 2017, at the instance of Buhari during the tragic floods in the state.
At all the meetings, according to the statement, the Vice-President discussed the security situation of the state with the governor.
It noted that the then Acting President also convened a major national security retreat which was attended by all state governors, service chiefs and heads of security agencies.
It added that the retreat featured 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 the Logo and Guma areas 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,” the statement said.
MASSOB hails Abia, Anambra for rejecting cattle colonies
The Movement for the Actualisation of the Sovereign State of Biafra has commended Anambra and Abia states for rejecting the Federal Government’s proposal for the establishment of cattle colonies.
Describing the proposal as anti-people, MASSOB commended the governors of the two states, Willie Obiano (Anambra) and Okezie Ikpeazu (Abia), for their courage.
A statement by the MASSOB leader, Uchenna Madu, said, “We salute the courageous spirit of the governors for opposing the anti-peoples Federal Government policy, which only favours the Fulani and their cows.”
The group insisted that allowing the establishment of “colonial village for Fulani herdsmen and their cows simply means allowing a known enemy to dine and sleep with a hated opponent.”
The statement partly read, “It will not be far-fetched to conclude that the Fulani herdsmen and their kinsmen are pawns in an agenda to overrun all towns in Nigeria.
“So that soon, we will have emirs in Owerri, Enugu, Benin, Agatu, Wukari, Abeokuta and other towns where the Federal Government is planning to create grazing colonies for Fulani herdsmen.”
Don’t drag Nigeria into civil war –CAN tells FG
The leadership of the Christian Association of Nigeria, Taraba State, on Monday called on Buhari to end herdsmen killings across the country to prevent the country from going into a civil war.
At a press conference in Jalingo, CAN Chairman in the state, Rev. Ben Ubeh, said the killings going on across the country with impunity by Fulani herdsmen were capable of pushing the country into an unprecedented civil war.
This is even as the body called on the Taraba State Governor, Darius Ishaku, not to be bothered by the blackmail from MACAN over the implementation of the open grazing prohibition law.
“We call on President Buhari, the northern Emirs and the patrons of Miyetti Allah to prevent the country from going into another needless civil war.
“Cattle breeding is a private business and you cannot force your private business on the resources of others. If the Federal Government creates cattle colonies, would they create piggery colonies across states in the north?
“We support ranching as the best solution to the killings going on in the country. Ranching is the way to go and the Federal Government should stop playing politics with the lives of innocent Nigerians to please a particular group in the country,” he said.
While accusing the Federal Government of playing double standard on issues of security in the country, CAN said the government last year declared Independent People of Biafra as a terrorist group and launched the Operation Python Dance, and Operation Crocodile Smile against IPOB and Niger Delta Avengers, but failed to do so on herdsmen “who have killed more people than Boko Haram.
“We urge the Federal Government to live up to its constitutional responsibility of protecting the lives and property of the people. It will not be in the interest of anybody if the people resort to self-defence because government has failed to protect them,” the state CAN chairman said. Punch