The presidency Tuesday absolved President Muhammadu Buhari of the killings allegedly committed by armed herdsmen in several states of the federation, particularly in Benue State and neighbouring states, saying that the president was concerned about the persistent herdsmen and farmers’ clashes, especially when he sees gruesome pictures of those that have been slaughtered.
This is just as the federal government has also proposed a conference of stakeholders on infrastructure and agricultural development as a platform for immediate and long-term solutions to the frequent conflicts between farmers and herdsmen.
Despite the proposal to hold the conference, the embattled governor of Benue State, Samuel Ortom, whose people have borne the brunt of the conflicts with herdsmen, Tuesday met with the president in the State House, Abuja, but expressed indifference towards another proposal by the federal government to create cattle colonies in the country to control open grazing by cattle rearers.
The proposed conference, according to a statement by the Senior Special Assistant to the President on Media and Publicity, Malam Garba Shehu, was conceived to help in finding short and long-term measures for the expansion of agriculture in the country.
The statement said the conference would tap into experiences and best practices to draw up a development plan of 20-30 years on the basis of population and development projections, which it said would take into consideration environmental impacts.
According to the statement, Buhari was concerned about the persistent herdsmen and farmers’ clashes, especially when he sees gruesome pictures of mayhem from several parts of the country, notably Benue and neighbouring states.
The president, he said, was equally worried about some public pronouncements and finger-pointing, which in most cases were very unhelpful to the peaceful coexistence of Nigeria’s diverse peoples, adding that Buhari was conscious of his duty to Nigerians.
“Not least because he is held accountable for everything that goes wrong. He deeply sympathises with the families and all the other direct and indirect victims of this violence. He is determined to bring it to a permanent end,” Shehu said.
Further observing that while there are many Nigerians who see the conflict between the herdsmen and peasant farmers as an ethnic problem, others point to religious differences and agenda, he noted however that the president does not subscribe to such “simplistic reductionism”.
Shehu also said Buhari held the view, as many experts also do, that these conflicts are more often than not caused by major demographic changes in Nigeria, recalling that when Nigeria attained independence, the population of the country was estimated at about 63 million.
“Today, the population is estimated at close to 200 million, while the land size has not changed and will not change. Urban sprawl and development have simply reduced land area both for peasant farming and cattle grazing.
“It is therefore both unfair and unkind for anyone to keep insinuating that the president is condoning the spate of killings in Benue and other neighboring states.
“President Buhari has publicly condemned the violence at every turn. He is prepared to permit every possible step that can lead to the stoppage of the killings.
“It is on account of this he brushed aside an opinion that the federal government should challenge the constitutionality of the Anti-Open Grazing Act. He wanted to give a chance to the state government to succeed in stopping the senseless killings.
“It will be recalled that as he did in dealing with the Boko Haram insurgency in North-east Nigeria, which required sustained action from the government before it was finally curtailed, President Buhari gave the relevant mandates to the country’s security agencies to put a stop to the Benue killings.
“The killings must stop and the security agencies have the president’s support to do this as quickly as possible. Whipping up hate may captivate the public and score political points on the social media, but it will not bring an end to the crisis.
“Let every stakeholder instead sit down with the government and security forces and carry everyone along in finding an all-embracing solution,” Shehu said in the statement.
He observed that as a father, retired army general and statesman, Buhari had maintained lasting relationships with many Nigerians, irrespective of their tribes or religion.
He also said that the president was appealing to Nigerians to support and co-operate with his administration’s plan to find permanent solutions to the menace and avoid aggravating or escalating tensions in all conflicts threatening the peace of the country.
“It is also a known fact that the young people who trek the whole distance of thousands of kilometres tending the cattle do not own the cattle.
“In fact, many of the cattle are not owned by Fulanis or Muslims. The point is that it is too simplistic to see the conflict as ethnic or religious,” he stated.
Ortom Rejects Cattle Colonies
Irrespective of the position of the presidency, the Governor of Benue State, Ortom, Tuesday met with Buhari in the State House, Abuja, but expressed indifference towards the proposal by the federal government to create cattle colonies in the country to control open grazing by cattle rearers.
The Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Chief Audu Ogbeh, had at the end of a meeting in Abuja of ministers and governors on the rampant killings of innocent souls in Benue and other adjoining states on Monday, said that the federal government had resolved to set up cattle colonies on 5,000 hectares of land where herdsmen can live and tender their cattle.
But Ortom, in reaction to the proposal, while answering questions from State House correspondents, said he had no knowledge of what cattle colonies entail, insisting that what obtains globally, in accordance with best practices, was ranching.
Questioning why ranching which is practised worldwide could not be entrenched in Nigeria, Ortom said incentives such as land in his state were available for herdsmen who want to ranch their cattle.
He insisted on the enforcement of the Anti-open Grazing Law in his state, noting that until the January 1 mayhem in Benue, relative peace had largely been achieved in the state since the law took effect.
“For the colony thing, I don’t know what colony is. I’m waiting to be briefed about what colonies mean. I don’t understand it… but like I keep saying, for us, the way forward is ranching.
“The way forward is ranching because it is a global best practice. And it is not just practiced in other parts of the world, on African soil in Swaziland, South Africa, Kenya, Tanzania, Mozambique, almost all African countries that rear cattle, they ranch, so why can’t we do the same thing here?
“It is not for me to create ranches. I know that as a farmer, I have one in my farm and there are several other people who are free to do so. The permits are available for people who want to ranch their cattle to access land and begin to ranch.
“So, it is free for everybody and that is the right way to go. And since we started the implementation, there has been relative peace amongst farmers and herdsmen.
“They were doing well until this militia coming from this Miyetti Allah Kautal Hore came and attacked us. And they are known. We know where they are. As I talk to you, they are in Tonga in Awe Local Government, Nasarawa State,” he said.
Ortom, who disclosed that despite the outcry against the January 1 massacre, the herdsmen were still on the rampage in Benue State, adding that they even had the guts to kill policemen deployed in the state to bring the crisis under control on Monday.
According to him, if such militant herdsmen were daring enough to kill security agents, the development only showed that the matter had assumed a new dimension, which he said implied that nobody was safe any longer.
“That is where these people are camped and coming to attack people. And it is taking a different dimension. Just yesterday (Monday), in Logo Local Government, mobile policemen that were deployed in Logo in keep vigil to protect the people and the land, these militia came, exchanged fire with them, caught two of them and slaughtered them like goats, mobile policemen!
“They shot another one, macheted him and left him in a pool of his own blood but luckily he did not die. We have taken him to the hospital. We are treating him.
“The other one that was declared missing was found today (Tuesday). So, when it gets to the level of the militia killing security men who are armed and are trained to protect lives and property, is it now taking a dangerous dimension? Who is now safe?” he demanded to know.
On his meeting with Buhari, Ortom said he had delayed his meeting with the president till Tuesday because of the necessity to ensure that normalcy had been restored at home, disclosing that since the outbreak of the tragedy, the president had taken various measures to address the menace, including the relocation of the Inspector-General of Police (IG), Ibrahim Idris, to Benue State and the deployment of troops of the Nigerian Army.
He insisted on the arrest of the leadership of Miyetti Allah, pointing out that their threat of mayhem over the implementation of Anti-open Grazing Law, without attendant the penalties, was the underlying factor behind the recent killings.
While dismissing the allegation that he threatened to hire forces from Ghana to fight herdsmen in his state, Ortom also denied the speculation that he was previously prevented from seeing the president.
“I had earlier briefed Mr. President when this incident took place on the 1st of January. After staying back on the ground to do the needful to ensure that we restored normalcy, I said it was important for me to come personally and brief him and that has been done.
“Already, because of the communications we have been having when these incidents started, actions have been taken as directed by him.
“The movement of the DIG, the movement of the IG to Benue State to ensure that this challenge is surmounted was at the instance of Mr. President.
“Of course, additional personnel of the DSS and the police have been deployed and even the army. We have additional personnel on the ground now.
“We have adequately and fully given them the logistics support to ensure that our people are protected.
“I had to brief him. He is also doing further investigations to know the next line of action. I believe that my request that the leadership of Miyetti Allah must be dealt with will he heard.
“They must be arrested and prosecuted because we cannot allow impunity to continue to thrive. And of course, threats and no action have resulted in these killings and I think that Mr. President will also do the needful to ensure something is done,” he said.
On the speculation that he was prevented from meeting the president, he said: “I’m not aware of this and I don’t even know about that one. I’m hearing it for the first time.
“If someone has done that, it must be this Miyetti Allah Kautal Hore that has done it. I have never accused anyone of blocking me from seeing Mr. President. I have seen Mr. President.
“I told you that when this incident occurred, I spoke to Mr. President on the phone and followed it up. I know what it entails, being a president.
“Even as governor, most times, I am not with my phone. People cannot access me all the time, much less a president. So I never said that I was blocked from seeing the president.
“The truth is that I have access to Mr. President anytime I want. I speak to him on the phone and I see him personally. I requested to speak to him on the phone that day because I couldn’t come to Abuja and he gave me the opportunity and today, I’m here and I have seen him.”
The governor, who said he would embrace any measure that would put paid to the gruesome killing of his people, added that if the mayhem was not stopped, it would only add to Nigeria’s over-bloated problems.
Ortom also dismissed as blatant lies, claims that the January 1 killings were caused by the theft of 1,000 cows.
“You know that man is a liar. Gololo is a liar. He is a wanted man in Benue State. We don’t even know where he is. He stays somewhere and makes allegations.
“The other time, he said 1,000 cattle were stolen and the herdsman decided to commit suicide by jumping into the river. He has not come out to justify what he said.
“Anything that can stop the killing of my people, I will go for it. I will support it. Any policy or any directive, anything that will help stop the killing of these innocent people who are not armed… because this cannot continue.
“The law on the Prohibition of Open Grazing and Establishment of Ranches was made out of the necessity to ensure that we have peace for herdsmen and farmers and that is what we have done.
“The law seeks to protect all and as I talk to you, except this Miyetti Allah Kautal Hore who are instigating people to fight and kill us, there are Fulani men in Benue State as I talk to you going about their business,” he said.
Buhari Orders IG to Move to Benue
Meanwhile, the president on Monday night ordered the Inspector General of Police (IG) to relocate immediately to Benue State to restore law and order and forestall the escalation of the herdsmen-farmers’ crisis.
According to a statement by the police spokesman, Mr. Jimoh Moshood, the order came as more killings of innocent people by herdsmen in Guma and Logo Local Government Areas in Benue State were reported.
In compliance with the order, Idris was expected to move into the troubled state with additional five units of the Police Mobile Force (PMF).
On Sunday, the police chief deployed, among other security measures, five MOPOL units. There are now 10 of them in the crisis areas.
More units of the police special forces, counter terrorism units, and conventional policemen were also deployed in the state on Monday.
“The aerial surveillance by police helicopters will continue, while the Police Mobile Force personnel, police special forces and conventional police personnel, the Counter Terrorism Unit (CTU), Police Explosive Ordinance Department (EOD) and Special Police Joint Intelligence and Investigation Teams already deployed to Benue State will carry on unrelentlessly with the patrols and crime prevention activities in the affected areas to sustain the normalcy that have been restored in the state,” Moshood was quoted by the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) as stating.
“The force will not hesitate to deal decisively with trouble maker(s), any group(s) or individual for conduct likely to instigate the escalation of the crisis.
“The full weight of the law will be applied on anyone arrested for being responsible for the mayhem in the affected areas in the state.
“While once again, the Nigeria Police Force commiserate with government and the people of Benue State over the loss of innocent lives, the force implores them to cooperate with the Nigeria Police Force in this latest effort to restore lasting peace in the state.
“The commitment of the Nigeria Police Force to ensure law and order and the protection of lives and property of all Nigerians throughout the country remains unequivocal and unwavering,” Moshood added.
In addition to the police reinforcement in Benue State, the Chief of Army Staff, Lt.-Gen. Tukur Buratai, said Tuesday that the Nigerian Army has deployed troops to help stem the clashes between farmers and herdsmen across Benue and other neighnouring states and stabilise them.
Buratai said this at the official inauguration of the Nigerian Army farms and ranch and presentation of farm implements to the army by the Minister of Agriculture in Giri, Borno State, Tuesday.
He listed the states where the troops had been sent to as Benue, Taraba and Nasarawa, noting that the army would support the federal government to stem the clashes.
According to him, once the nation attains food security, all forms of insecurity including the insurgency in the North-east, militancy, kidnappings and other forms of security issues would be reduced.
“We are ready to support the federal government to stabilise the farmers’-herdsmen clashes across the country.
“We are tasking our special forces to ensure that everywhere they are deployed across the country at short notice, they stem the conflict.
“We have properly deployed across Benue, Taraba and Nasarawa States within the axis where we have the conflict. Once there is peace, the development in agriculture will thrive for the good of our country.
“Areas such as ranching, fisheries, poultry production for eggs and meat, green houses and plantations are now practised in most barracks of the Nigerian Army,” he said.
Two Policemen Killed
But despite the police and military deployment in Benue, rampaging headsmen on Monday killed two policemen in the state, while another police office sustained severe injuries after their camp was attacked by herdsmen in Awashuwa village in Logo Local Government Area.
The herdsmen had earlier that day, attacked the camp of a detachment of riot policemen from Mopol 13 stationed at Awashuwa in Logo but they were repelled, only for them (herdsmen) to regroup and attack the camp in the evening.
Confirming the attack to journalists, one of the policemen who was badly injured during the ambush, said the herdsmen came in large numbers and overpowered the policemen and injured an inspector and a sergeant before they slit their throats in a nearby bush in the area.
They also burnt some houses within the area after the attack, he added.
Some of the injured policemen were taken to the Benue State University Teaching Hospital (BSUTH) in Makurdi, while the remains of the deceased policemen were evacuated to the mortuary in Makurdi.
He also revealed that the Benue State Police Command, which embarked on an aerial surveillance operation, led by the Deputy Commissioner of Police in charge of Operations, Mr. Abdul Gimba, made a stopover at Awashuwa while the corpses of the slain policemen were being evacuated.
“Our men came under attack at Awashuwa in Logo Local Government Area of the state. They were ambushed by the herdsmen who had tried to attack them earlier in the day but they were repelled. They came back at night and two of our men were killed and their rifles taken away,” he said.
The police public relations officer in Benue State, who also confirmed the incident, disclosed that a reinforcement was sent to the area from 13 PMF led by the commander, CSP Abubakar Garba.
Military Arrests Armed Gang
In a related development, troops of 93 Battalion of the Nigerian Army stationed in Takum, Taraba State, Tuesday arrested nine armed militia from Benue, claiming to be members of government sponsored security volunteers.
A statement Tuesday by PRNigeria, a media and communications firm used by the army and other security agencies in the country, said the armed gang was arrested at Arufu, a boundary town between Taraba and Benue States.
Quoting an unnamed military intelligence source, PRNigeria said five of the suspects were armed with AK-47 rifles that were fully loaded.
On their arrest, a reinforcement of a purported Civilian JTF group came to prevent the troops from taking them into custody.
The military source, according to PRNigeria, further disclosed that when the soldiers stood their ground, the armed militia’s reinforcement later withdrew.
The officer was quoted to have said: “During the preliminary investigation, the arrested armed gang claimed that the weapons were issued to them by one Aliyu Tashaku through an agent of government.
“The suspects also confirmed that they were 60 in number in their own camp located at Gbeyi, Benue State. However, further investigation revealed that they were more than 700 and well-armed persons at the camp where they were trained by selected ex-service men on a monthly allowance of N15,000.00 from their sponsors.”
The suspects, said the statement, were co-operating with their investigators, while security operatives were conducting further investigations to unravel the real sponsors of the armed gang and their motives.
But in reaction to the allegation that the Benue State Government had sponsored the armed militia arrested Tuesday, the state government denied arming and owning a militia group.
According to a statement issued Tuesday by Mr. Terver Akase, the chief press secretary to the Benue governor, the state government categorically denied the fact that the government under Ortom had recruited any militia group and armed them since the governor assumed office.
“Governor Ortom is widely recognised for his disarmament policy which brought about the amnesty programme leading to the recovery of about 700 arms and ammunition, with over 800 youths laying down their weapons to embrace the programme across the state.
“It is also on record that the present administration inherited the state Civilian Joint Task Force from the previous government but later proscribed it,” he explained.
Akase said following the enactment of the Open Grazing Prohibition and Ranches Establishment Act in Benue State last year, the government set up livestock guards to help with the enforcement of the law.
The livestock guards, according to him, are not armed personnel, adding that their job is to ensure compliance with the regulation of ranches establishment and prohibition of open grazing of animals in the state.
“The Benue State Government believes in the use of conventional security agencies to protect the people.
“Even in the face of the renewed killing of innocent people by herdsmen in Logo and Guma Local Government Areas, Governor Ortom did not let the people resort to self help. The governor acted swiftly to get the approval of President Muhammadu Buhari for the deployment of more troops in the troubled parts of the state,” he said.
He said the government was committed to bringing the killings in the state to an end and restoring peace to the affected areas.