Benue leaders yesterday expressed their disapproval of the Federal Government’s handling of killings by herdsmen in the state. The forum was a meeting between stakeholders in the state and the committee set up by the National Executive Council (NEC) to look into the matter.
According to one of the speakers, President Muhammadu Buhari has demonstrated it is safer to be a cow in Nigeria than a human.
Regretting that some persons in the corridors of power were benefitting from the crisis, Pastor Dave Ogbole told the forum: “He (Buhari) supported the law that prevents cattle rustling. But he is against the law that prevents killings and destruction of crops.
When Benue State was flooded by water, he sent his vice president who sympathised with the people. His wife also came and donated relief materials to the victims. Today, Benue is being flooded by blood. And because he has an agenda, Buhari has refused to come, yet he went to Nasarawa State to console the people.”
Ogbole, a Makurdi-based pentecostal preacher and founder of the Movement Against Fulani Occupation, also faulted the absence of Kaduna State governor, Nasir, El-Rufai, a member of the NEC committee, alleging: “He refused to attend this meeting because he has taken a position.”
He declared the people’s loss of confidence in the moves by the military to boost security in the state, describing the operations as “belated.” The soldiers “are not coming to rescue the people but to harass our children and youths,” he noted.
Ogbole warned that the Federal Government’s insincerity at resolving the issue could trigger serious political upheaval, capable of threatening the existence of the nation, even as he stressed: “If it means going the extra mile to get justice, Benue people will do just that.”
Rev. Augustine Akpen Leva, the Chairman of the Benue chapter of the Christian Association of Nigerian (CAN) alleged that the Federal Government masterminded the recent killing of dozens in the state. “We alerted the Federal Government to the possible attack on our people, yet it refused to take action,” he said.
He flayed the Inspector General of Police and the Minister of Defence for demonstrating “incompetence.” But if this is not the case, “then they are part of the grand plan.”
According to the CAN chairman, “It is a shame that the Federal Government is shielding Fulani herdsmen and has given them the audacity to go about killing people across the country.”
The leadership of Miyetti Allah “must be arrested,” he insisted, “while the Federal Government must cater for all the displaced persons in the state.”
Speaking on behalf of Benue socio-cultural groups, the President General of Mzoh U Tiv, Chief Edwin Ujege, stressed that people of the state want peace and protection of life and property, as guaranteed by the nation’s constitution.
He claimed that since 2011, over 2,000 people including women and children have been killed while property worth N95 billion has been destroyed.
“Our children no longer go to school. We have been chased out of our homes, markets and schools. We want restructuring, devolution of power and the establishment of state police,” he said, adding: “The Federal Government must uphold the anti-open grazing law enacted by the Benue State government.”
The Catholic Bishop of Makurdi Diocese, Wilfred Anagbe, noted regretfully: “It is only in Nigeria that cows are not ranched but are allowed to freely invade communities including airport runways. If the herdsmen are out for grazing, why are they killing people?”
The Leader of the NEC committee and Ebonyi State governor, David Umahi, told the stakeholders that having taken their submissions, the team would also “hear the submissions of security agents and herdsmen,” with a view to finding a lasting solution.
He refuted speculations on social media that the Federal Government had directed states to allocate five hectares of land for the establishment of cattle colonies.
Umahi denounced the killings, stressing that the crisis is delicate and must be handled seriously. “It is not a Benue problem alone but a national challenge,” he added.
The Benue State governor, Samuel Ortom, meanwhile, has warned his Plateau counterpart, Simon Lalong, to desist from making distasteful comments.
In an interview with reporters last month, Lalong had said: “To be honest with you, I advised him. I told the governor of Benue State when he was doing the law. I said, ‘Look, why don’t you tread softly. Just be careful. Take other steps before you start implementation.’”
Ortom, however, said: “At no time did Simon Lalong warn me about the enactment and implementation of the anti-open grazing law. After all, he is only my colleague. He cannot warn me but can only advice, if need be. Lalong had earlier on apologised (for the statement). For him to come back and say this again, I think he should mind his business.”
The governor thanked the committee for its mission, stressing that the state is committed to peace.
“The anti-open grazing law started smoothly until Miyetti Allah issued a threat which it actually carried out,” he said, urging the members of the committee to bring justice to Benue.
Also, President Buhari presided over a Security Council meeting at the Presidential villa, Abuja, apparently to address lingering security challenges, particularly the Benue killings.
No official statement was issued by the presidency on the outcome of the meeting as at press time.
While all the security chiefs declined to speak to reporters, Buhari later took to his Twitter handle, saying: “Let me assure that all persons arrested so far, including those arrested for illegally possessing arms will be duly prosecuted. I urge judicial officers to be alive to responsibilities in this regard, to enable the speedy dispensation of justice.”
In a related development, the Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Audu Ogbeh, at the weekend explained why herdsmen bear arms.
“We asked them (herdsmen) why they carry guns instead of sticks. They said they bought guns to defend themselves against rustlers,” he said.
Ogbeh spoke when Kogi State Governor Yahaya Bello visited the ministry to submit a letter giving his state’s approval of a 15,000-hectare donation for the Federal Government’s proposed cattle colonies.
According to Ogbeh, there is the need to prevent herdsmen from clashing with farmers by providing them with farm settlements. But asked why such a gesture should be given to a private enterprise, the minister argued that rice, cassava and yam production equally receive investments by government.