From Scholastica Onyeka, Makurdi

Benue State Governor, Samuel Ortom, has asked the Federal Government to suspend the conduct of the national population and housing census until all Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) are returned to their ancestral homes.

He made the call, yesterday, when he received a delegation from the Middle Belt Forum, led by its President, Dr. Bitrus Pogu at Benue People’s House, Makurdi.

He said close to two million indigenes of Benue State were in IDP camps and expressed the fears that they may not be counted to add to the state’s census data unless they are returned to their localities.

Ortom said it was important that the Federal Government first ensured adequate security for all persons in IDPs to return to their ancestral homes before carrying out the 2023 census.

“I want to say that the Federal Government should suspend the issue of census because it looks like the proposed census is coming with an agenda. So until they are able to restore security and all our IDPs go back to their ancestral lands to give all of them opportunities to be counted in the homes of birth. Because I understand from the National Population Commission that those to be counted must be counted in their localities,” the Governor said.

Ortom lamented that at present, “there was so much injustice, bias and tribalism” going on in the country that both leaders and the people were expected to correct before the country could move forward. 

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He particularly decried the sustained attacks on Benue communities by herdsmen over the years in which more than 6,000 people have died and property worth billions of naira destroyed with the Federal Government doing little to help.

“In Benue State alone we have lost over 6,000 people. In the last few days alone over 131 persons were killed and we are still counting because others are in the hospital.”

President Middle Belt Forum, Dr. Bitrus Pogu in his remarks urged the Federal Government to suspend the proposed national population census saying  that the exercise “was coming with a hidden agenda.”

Pogu also frowned at the level at which Fulani herdsmen were  killing people of the Middle Belt claiming they acted in connivance with other Fulani socio-cultural groups like Fulani Nationality Movement, FUNAM who were openly claiming responsibility without being arrested.

He said what has made the activities of Fulani in the communities within the Middle Belt more frightening was that after killing and displacing the villagers, “the Fulani came and renamed those villages.”

Pogu maintained that people of the Middle Belt “will not cede our land to anyone. No portion of our land will be ceded to anyone. It will not be allowed. That should not be allowed to happen. Our land is our heritage.”

The President of Middle Belt Forum stated that for every one to have a sense of belonging, the Federal Government should move beyond mere “issuance of condolences messages” whenever people are killed and decisively deal with the killers and their sponsors.