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…Says key politicians are keeping mum to preserve ambitions
Iheanacho Nwosu, Abuja
Professor David Iornem served in the senate in the third republic. An educationist, he is currently a chieftain of the All Progressives Congress (APC). In this chat, the politician stridently flayed the Federal Government’s handling of the recent killings in Benue State. He warned that the state may be compelled to vote against President Muhammadu Buhari in 2019 unless sufficient efforts are made by the President to address the tetchy herdsmen/farmers recurring issue in the state. Iornem also accused some prominent indigenes of the state of not speaking up against the federal government in the face of the killings and tense situation in the state because of their ambitions.
Do you subscribe to the assertion that the federal government failed your state before and after the killing of 73 persons allegedly by herdsmen?
You are talking of criticism of the federal government. Actually, I am from the affected area. It happened in my senatorial district. We feel that the federal government has been insensitive to the wishes of the people. If you visit the area and you see the destruction of farms you will pity the farmers. You have your own farm – be it yam, cassava, soya beans , herdsmen just destroyed everything. They went to the farms with their cattle and the cattle ate up everything. When you complain they kill you. Sometimes they leave the farms and attack our villages, rape our daughters and wives. This is what is happening.
The Governor has taken the right step. He is not Incharge of security agencies, therefore he relies on the President , the person who can order security agencies . He relies on the Inspector General of Police, the person who can deploy the police to protect lives and property. It is on record the number of times the governor complained, it is on record how the governor reported planned attacks. When he gets security reports and intelligence that an attack is going to be made he complains to the President, he reports to the IG and nothing is done.
It is very worrisome, extremely worrisome.
Do you feel that the President asking the IGP to relocate to Benue after the New Year day killings is not enough?
That is acting after the damage has been done. 73 people killed and other forms of damages recorded and he is sending the IG. The people are complaining that even the soldiers and police that are sent there are not really protecting our farmers ,they are there taking side, allowing more cattle herders to come in. The strategy we fear is that they will allow thousands of them to come in, after that they will begin to say let us negotiate. That was the strategy they used in Southern Kaduna. That fear is there. There is also the fear that the President may be planning to allow the situation to degenerate so that he can declare a state of emergency in Benue. Under that kind of situation he can then do anything.
What will he gain from declaring a state of emergency in Benue?
They will remove the governor , appoint an administrator who will do their bidding, then they will bring in Fulani from all over to take over the state.
Why do you think the President will target your governor for removal when they belong to the same party?
Is there no fighting inside APC? Is not the same party? Is there no fighting inside PDP, are they not the same party? It is about interest. If the President has interest in taking over the Benue valley for Fulanis, that is his interest. It does not matter if there is a sitting governor that is APC.
Is there anything in terms of body language of the President that has suggested that he does not care about the feelings of Benue or has a secret plot against the state?
It is not just about Benue people, it is about Nigeria generally when it comes to the issue of Fulani herders. What has the President said about Fulani activities in Ondo, Delta, Adamawa, Zamfara, Ebonyi, Enugu, Anambra? There is every reason for anybody to believe that here is a grand design to do what is happening. But I tell you, it will be very dangerous for this country.
How much impact has the situation in the state been on the approval rating of APC which you are a chieftain in Benue?
Nobody is talking about APC or any party at the moment in the state. Whether you are APC, PDP or any party. If you belong to any party you are a son of a farmer, you belong to a village that is being attacked. It has nothing to do with APC. But the President is the one that will represent APC, he is an individual. If he allows the situation to continue like this, we may not vote against APC but we will vote against Buhari. If they think that because they are in power they can manipulate votes let the election come. Unless Buhari does something to significantly demonstrate that he is for justice we will not stand with him during election. At the moment there is no indication that he is for justice, he is favouring a certain group. Unfortunately the group is his tribe.
If you are accusing him of bias in the handling of Benue killings, would you say he is acting against his inaugural speech that he is for everybody and for nobody?
That statement is not true, based on facts on the ground.
Is your assertion based on developments in Benue or you are looking at his government generally?
I am talking about the country generally especially as it affects Fulani herdsmen. It is easy to understand what the governor in Benue State has tried to do. If we do not know, even Aper Aku many years back set up a ranch to demonstrate that we can keep cattle in a ranch and it will be healthy, produce more etc. One of the areas that the Fulanis are fighting for is near the Cameroun, that is where Aper Aku brought foreign grass to plant for the cows. The place is very rich, it is good for feeding cows. It means that we can do it anywhere .
The minister of agriculture and prominent indigene of the state has recommended the creation of cattle colony as a way out of farmers/herders’ clashes, do you support that?
Benue cannot be colonized. We were in the forefront fighting against the British colonization. J S Tarka was there. We lost people. Benue cannot be colonized. It is even a wrong word to use. It is insensitive to other parts of the country -colonies. Nigeria was a British colony, so Benue will be a Fulani colony? No to colonization in today’s Nigeria.
What do you recommend as the solution to the problem?
The solution remains ranching. There is no other way of handling the matter. That is how it is done worldwide.
What do you make of calls by some people especially prominent indigenes of your state that herdsmen should be designated terrorist group?
Herdsmen who go about killing should be declared terrorists. Not every herdsman is killing people. Those who go about killing people, setting houses ablaze and destroying farms should be declared terrorists.
How do you know those who kill and those who don’t?
We see them. We have a law in Benue State and for crying out loud, this is a federation, the state has the right to make a law everybody must obey it. If a Fulani man comes and obeys the law, acquires land and put his cattle there, he is not a terrorist. But a Fulani man who comes around and is bulldozing his way with cattle, moving into people’s farm, killing people is a terrorist. Anybody who supports that is a terrorist. The president should be very careful because the Miyetti Allah that is supporting that kind of action said that he is their grand patron. If really the President is for Nigerians, he should resign his position as grand patron of Miyetti Allah. The group has said that we should expect more bloodshed , a group saying that cannot have the President as its grand patron.
Are you worried that most of the APC governors are yet to openly identify with Gov Ortom after the incident. Some have even accused him of implementing the Anti Open Grazing against their earlier advice. What is your take?
It is only Lalong that criticized Gov Ortom but he has come out to apologize and said that he didn’t mean what he said. He didn’t deny that he said something of that nature. He admitted saying that and has apologized. He accepted that his statement was inappropriate. I respect him as a person for that because what is happening at the moment, if anybody thinks it is only Benue, the person is making a big mistake. If you keep quiet and allow Benue to be overrun, they will move to another place .
One of the thrusts of this administration is security, do you think it has efficiently handled it so far?
The government has failed in the area of security. Boko Haram is still there, there are some states where insurgency is still a huge concern to residents. There are more killings in Nigeria today than we had before Buhari’s government. If security is about human lives and property, I will say the administration has failed.
Why are some prominent Benue indigenes especially those that belong to APC reluctant to openly condemn killings in the state?
They are expecting appointments, they are angling for oil blocs, contracts and things like that. These things happen, people compromise the interest of those they represent because of their ambitions. Some have ambitions to be given oil blocs, contracts, lift oil. If you are expecting such thing you cannot be bold enough to talk about Fulani herdsmen because the person who is sharing those things will not give you if you speak ill of his government.
Are you saying that the leaders are quiet because they do not want to offend the President?
Yes, they don’t want to offend the President, they don’t want to take action that will affect their ambitions. They can hold a meeting with you in the secret and condemn the President but will go back in the public and declare that they have confidence in the President. I say goodluck to them
I can never be loyal to a party and government at the expense of my own people. It is the people that sent me to the office I occupy so I must protect their interest. Anybody is in politics because of people. I cannot show allegiance to a party over and above the interest of my people .
If the incumbent administration, as you claim, has failed on security, which area would you say it has excelled?
When next we meet I can say that .