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Rose Ejembi, Makurdi
On his return from China after a two-week leave, Benue State Governor, Samuel Ortom, fielded questions from journalists, where he spoke on why he instituted criminal proceedings against the leadership of Miyetti Allah Kautal Hore (MAKH) and the recent arrest of the Benue Livestock Guard Commander, Aliyu Teshaku among other issues.
While you were away, some of your security aides were transferred, and prior to this, you alleged that there were threats to your life. Some have linked this action to a plot to eliminate you, what’s your take on this?
Of course, I was on vacation and I also heard and saw it, but I did complain through the Commissioner of Police here in Makurdi that this was not right. In the whole country, you have the right, as the governor, to select your immediate security personnel that work with you, and I think the attention of the authority of the Nigerian Police was drawn to this and it was corrected the following day. So to me, whether it was made in error or by mischief or whatever means, the important thing is that it was corrected and today, all my aides are with me because I also saw the letter that was written that cases of transfer of Police officers, as far as Benue State was concerned, should be suspended indefinitely and I have all my aides. So I don’t want to read meanings into that for now. As you’re aware, I had to come back and I resumed today, so if there are other things, I’ll still let you know but for now, an error was done which I drew the attention of the management of the Nigerian Police to and it has been corrected. So that is where we are.
We want to know the steps the government is taking to prevent further attacks on Benue communities by the invaders?
Since the invasion of January, we’ve not rested. We’ve been very proactive because we have agents in the 276 council wards, in the 23 councils and we’ve been meeting very frequently to assess and analyse the situation with security agencies in the state. And to complement the security agencies, we’ve also empowered the Vigilance Groups and Livestock Guards to complement what they do. And we’ve identified all those flash points that these invaders come from to attack our people and we’ve adequately made presentations to the federal government and as I speak to you, there’s already a reinforcement going on by all security agencies to ensure that we’re able to surmount the challenge especially of attacking our people because Mr. President, in my last discussion with him, was deeply concerned about the humanitarian crisis that we’re facing today in Benue State.
A committee was set up to assess the damage and to see how these IDPs can be rehabilitated to go back to their various communities. But one thing that was identified was that areas that were attacked were not yet safe and while the committee was going round, despite the fact that they had adequate security personnel with them, they were also attacked in several places and thank God, the security personnel were able to repel all the attacks and no one was hurt till they completed their assignment and went back.
What’s your reaction to the military invasion and massive destruction in Naka, vis-à-vis the failure of the military to react in the same manner when Fulani militia killed their men like it happened in Yogbo years back and Tyulen recently? Will Benue seek redress?
I condemned the invasion in its totality, this is unwarranted. I must also condemn the killing of the army personnel in Naka and that was why my Deputy, who was then the acting governor, swiftly took action by directing the chairman of the local government and the traditional rulers of the Gwer West Local Government to ensure that the perpetrators were arrested and brought to justice. And this was done. Even while I was away, I was keenly following up until these suspects were handed over to the Commanding Officer of 72 Battalion. So the action of government was very clear. Five people were arrested, it was not the military that arrested them or police. The chairman of the Local Government and the traditional council came together and arrested these people and handed them over. And so there was no basis whatsoever for an invasion.
We’ve reported this to the Chief of Army Staff and he has already directed an inquiry to be carried out and they assured me that anyone found wanting will be dealt with according to the laws and so I’m waiting for the outcome. I don’t want to pre-empt what will be but this is not right and I’ll continue to tell our people that criminality in all its forms is not allowed. Reprisal or revenge of any type will not be accepted by this government. We are a government that believes in the fear of God and God respects human sanctity and it is important that whatever happens, blood should not be shed even when you are attacked, reprisal is not the solution, and it’s not the answer. The answer is the rule of law. That is the only thing that can guarantee safety for all. When you allow lawlessness to prevail you are calling for anarchy; and when there is anarchy no one will ever be safe.
The National Economic Council, NEC, prohibited open grazing and it was done in just few states including Benue. Don’t you think the Benue Anti-open grazing law should be adopted and enforced nationwide?
You know that Nigeria is a federation comprising 36 states and Abuja. And of course, the 36 states are federating units and these units are independent of each other. The constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria mandates each federating unit to make laws for good governance of their citizens. This is what we did as far as this law is concerned. You’re aware that this challenge between herdsmen and farmers in Benue State and other parts of the country preceded the current administration whether at the federal level or state. The steps we took were to forestall crisis for farmers and herdsmen and we remain committed to this in Benue State. We cannot talk about any other state. But I must congratulate the Benue people; I must congratulate all of you – the media for standing with us in defence of this law. You appreciate the fact that since May 22, 2017 when we signed the bill into law, it became so contentious. There were several schools of thought and several agitations from several quarters. So for the National Economic Council, (NEC), coming to adopt that truly, ranching is the right way to go, for us in Benue State, it is congratulations to all of us and we appreciate God.
I commend the wisdom of the Vice President for setting up that committee that went out to assess the situation and the entire members of NEC for adopting the report. The northern governors too some weeks ago met in Kaduna and adopted that ranching remains the only option to stop the challenge of herdsmen, farmers’ crisis. Like they did say, by 2050, the total population of Nigeria by projection would be 415 million and if we have approximately, 200 million and we are having this challenge, by the time we double that population, where are we going to be? Where would you have the land for open grazing? So I commend NEC for taking this bold decision. Individual states are at liberty to decide what is good for them.
The coordinator of the Livestock Guards was arrested by security agents on suspicion of his links with Boko Haram and killings in Benue State. Meanwhile there had been repeated calls from you for the arrest of the leadership of Miyetti Allah Kautal Hore for threatening to attack the state and carrying out same, what do you make of these whole things?
Let me say that as a law abiding governor and someone who believes in the rule of law, I’ll always support due process. Security agencies are at liberty to arrest, detain and investigate anyone, who they may suspect to be involved in security breach or perpetuating insecurity. The arrest of Teshaku is one of such and as for me as I always do, and you are witnesses to the fact that when it comes to issues of security and prosecution, I don’t interfere. I’ve made a statement through my assistant after his arrest that due process should be followed; he should not be victimised but security men should be fair to him. He should be investigated and if at the end he is found culpable, he should be prosecuted.
When my adviser was suspected of murder and a commissioner was also a suspect in a murder case I asked them to resign. Although they were not convicted, I said for the purpose of credibility of this government they needed to give way and they gave way. They had to resign. You are also aware that even when one of my appointees was convicted, I asked him to resign. Later, he appealed the decision of the lower court and was exonerated and is now a free man. If I have another opportunity I’m going to appoint him again. So I don’t want to talk about the arrest of Teshaku other than to say let the needful be done; let there be no victimisation.
On Miyetti Allah, I’m also dumbfounded. I’ve said it repeatedly; I’ve written and will continue to write and continue to raise alarm that the leadership of Miyetti Allah Kautal Hore are responsible for the killings; for the mercenary work that is going on in Benue State. There are evidences; they are on tape, they have addressed press conferences and none of them have come out to refute what was credited to them in the media. They’ve said it is about Jihad; it’s not about grazing. They said it is about occupation; about taking over the land. I’ve presented this to security agencies and I want to believe that it is a whole process; they’re still working on it and at the appropriate time, these people will be apprehended because they cannot go free. What we’ve decided to do as a government since there is no response yet is to initiate criminal proceedings against the group in court. I have been briefed that the case is coming up on Thursday at a High Court in Makurdi. We’re beginning with the 73 victims of the New Year day attacks and several others will follow. I believe that the court will definitely give us justice. These people are not going to be allowed to go free; justice must be served to us.