Rose Ejembi, Makurdi
Governor Samuel Ortom of Benue State, on Sunday, said the claim by his Plateau State counterpart, Simon Lalong, about warning him against the enactment and implementation of the Anti-Open Grazing law was untrue.
Governor Ortom said this during a meeting between the Federal Government committee on the herdsmen and farmers crisis and some Benue stakeholders at the New Banquet Hall of the Government House, in Makurdi, on Sunday night.
Governor Ortom who was reacting for the first time after Governor Lalong told State House Correspondents, in Abuja, some weeks back, that he (Lalong) warned him (Ortom) against promulgating the law but the latter refused to heed his warning stated that at no time did Lalong warn him against the law.
According to the Benue governor, “At no time did Governor Simon Lalong warned me against enacting the law. Let Governor Lalong mind his business in Plateau and let me mind my business in Benue,” Governor Ortom said.
The Benue governor, however, commended the committee led by Governor David Umahi of Ebonyi State for deeming it fit to visit the state first on a fact-finding mission in the onerous task of finding sustainable resolutions to the farmers/herders skirmishes across the country.
He particularly appreciated the committee for choosing Benue state as its first port of call and expressed optimism that the visit would afford the members the opportunity to see things for themselves.
Governor Ortom continued, “We choose the path of peace in a civilised way to tackle the crisis even when Fulani herdsmen are killing our people like chickens. We remain committed to this course in ensuring that we live in peace.
“We must not accept the total deceit that is going on in the country. The anti open grazing law started smoothly until Miyetti Allah issued a threat which was actually carried out by them. Therefore, l want to urge the committee to work assiduously to bring justice to Benue.”
On his part, leader of the Federal Government delegation, Governor Umahi, condemned the killings in Benue and other parts of the country, noting that the crisis in Benue state was a delicate one which must be handled with open minds.
According to Governor Umahi, “We are here to tell you that we feel your pains because whatever happened to Benue may affect other ethnic groups in Nigeria. That is why at the national economic council meetings, the issue of farmers and herdsmen crisis were discussed extensively after which agreement was reached that a 9-man committee be set up to proffer sustainable solutions to the crisis between the farmers and herdsmen.”
Governor Umahi also said that insinuations at some quarters, especially on the social media that the Federal Government had directed states to allocate 5,000 hectares of land for cattle colonies was not true, stressing that at no time did Federal Government give such directives.
The Ebonyi State governor, who noted that the herdsmen/farmers crises was not just a Benue problem but a national problem, maintained that in one of their meetings, it was agreed that a sub-committee should be set up to visit the four most affected states including Benue, Taraba, Kaduna and Plateau states to interact with the people and get their submission.
He continued, “We have heard the submission of the Benue people and shall also try to hear the submission of the herdsmen so that sustainable solutions can be found to the problem. The herdsmen/Farmers crisis is not a Benue problem alone but a national problem which require national attention and solutions.
Earlier, speakers after speakers, at the meeting including the President General, Mzough U Tiv, Chief Edwin Ujege, Pastor David Ogbole, Justice Benard Hon, Chief Daniel Abomtse among others, described the invasion of Benue State by the herdsmen as ethnic cleansing and a calculated ploy to annihilate the people and occupy the Benue Valley.
They noted that the issue was not just about grazing but a jihad with a view to conquering the land and take over their lands.
The people, however, vowed that no matter the intimidation, the Anti-Open grazing law has come to stay.
Ujege who spoke on behalf of Benue socio-cultural groups, said since the crisis started in 2011 in Benue State, over 2,000 people had been killed including women and children with properties worth N95 billion destroyed, adding that the Benue people wanted peace, protection of lives and properties in accordance with Nigerian constitution.
Ujege’s words, “Our children no longer go to schools. We have been chased out of our homes, markets and schools. We want restructuring, devolution of power and establishment of state police”.
He said Federal Government must ensure that the Anti-Open Grazing law enacted by Benue State Government work by making sure that lives and property of Benue people were protected.
He also said that before the law was enacted, 14 local government areas of the state were attacked by herdsmen.
Also speaking, Catholic Bishop of Makurdi Diocese, Bishop Wilfred Anagbe, who spoke on behalf of the clergy, said that before the law was enacted, several villages in Tiv land had been deserted down to Agatu where the herdsmen launched massive attacks on Benue communities.
Bushop Anagbe said, “I am happy that the Federal Government has set up this committee to find solution to these incessant attacks on farmers. We have changed government, educational curriculum in Nigeria why can government not change to the adoption of ranching. It is only in Nigeria that cows are not ranched but are allowed to freely invade communities including airport runways.
“If the herdsmen are for grazing, why they are killing people? There is more to grazing. In 1950s,1960s, Fulani came to settle in our community with their wives and children but the present crops of Fulani now come without their families but with sophisticated weapons.
Tor Tiv, HRH James Ayatse, expressed concern about the sincerity if the Federal Government and the committee to find a lasting solution to the crisis, stressing that several other reports before this particular one had never been acted upon.
Ayatse who also wondered the motive behind the preannouncement of the military operation codenamed Ayem Kpatuma (operation Cat Race) before its eventual commencement also expressed the fear that the Race may be targeted at the Benue people eventually.
According to the Tor Tiv, “Governor Nasir el-Rufai of Kaduna State is a member of this committee yet he refused to attend this meeting because he has taken a position. We have no confidence in the military because it is belated.
“The military is not coming to rescue the people but to harass our children and youths in our community. Law is made to address mischief therefore we will not bend the law but go extra mile to protect the law.”
Also speaking at the meeting, Chairman, Christian Association of Nigerian (CAN), Benue State chapter, Rev. Augustine Akpen Leva, alleged that the recent killings of 73 persons were calculated, masterminded and supervised by Federal Government.
“We alerted the Federal Government about the possible attack on our people yet FG refused to take action. The IGP , Minister of defence have shown incompetent and if not so, they are part of the grand plan. Therefore it is a shame that the Federal Government is shielding and covering Fulani herdsmen and had given them audacity to go about killing people across the country”, he maintained.
Rev. Leva stated that leadership of Miyetti Allah must be arrested while the Federal Government must cater for all the IDPs in the state, saying the killings in Nigeria is a grand plan to islamize Nigeria just as he said that Christians are being killed for Muslim to takeover Nigeria.
Mrs. Rebecca Apendza, who spoke on behalf of the women, said cattle has no economic value in Nigeria economic, stressing that at today, Nigeria import beefs, chickens.
“Instead of the federal government to purchase agricultural and farm input to till the ground for farming, government is busy promoting cattle open grazing. For the past years, children in Moor area of Kwande Local Government have stopped going to school because the place has been taken over by Fulani herdsmen.
“Our children are dying in the IDPs camps. Just yesterday, two children died in one of the camps. Federal government is not fair to us. Our fathers fought to keep Nigerian together. We want justice and those people were not arrested, we will not have confidence in whatever FG is doing”, she lamented.
On his part, one of the speakers, Pastor Dave Ogbole who posited that somebody was benefitting from the crisis state that by his body language, President Buhari has demonstrated that it is safer to be a cow than human being in Nigeria.