President Muhammadu Buhari yesterday passed a damning verdict on the perpetrators of killings in Benue State, saying the killer herdsmen will be made to face the wrath of the law.
Declaring that the culprits of the massacre won’t escape justice, Buhari called on the government and people of Benue State to exercise restraint in the their reactions to the recent attacks on some communities in the state.
Speaking when he received a delegation of political leaders, traditional rulers and elders of the state led by Governor Samuel Ortom at the presidential villa, President Buhari said all those involved in the conflict that culminated in loss of lives will not escape justice, including any illegally armed militia in the state.
The president commiserated with all the victims of the attacks and the families who lost loved ones and properties, noting that the government will make efforts to ameliorate the situation of all the victims.
A statement by his special adviser on media and publicity, Femi Adesina, quoted the president as saying relevant agencies had been directed to start catering for the humanitarian needs of the affected people.
His words: “Your Excellency, the governor, and all the leaders here, I am appealing to you to try to restrain your people. I assure you that the Police, the Department of State Security and other security agencies had been directed to ensure that all those behind the mayhem get punished.
“I ask you in the name of God to accommodate your country men. You can also be assured that I am just as worried, and concerned with the situation’’.
The President told the delegation that his administration had already begun a process of finding lasting solution to the perennial challenge of herdsmen conflict with farmers and communities around the country.
President Buhari recalled that the Inspector General of Police had been directed to relocate to the state to provide security for lives and properties, even as he urged all Benue indigenes to trust the security agencies by reporting all suspicious cases of movements in the state.
Speaking to State House correspondents after the meeting, Governor Ortom who maintained that Benue does not have land for cattle colonies as proposed by the federal government reiterated his call on the federal government to arrest leaders of Miyetti Allah association.
He said, “As for the solution to the problem, we are open to suggestion from the federal government to find how we can find a lasting solution. The minister of agriculture happens to be a son of the soil. There are many options that are put on the table.
“Like I told you the last time I came here, I did not understand what colonies meant. Today, I was privileged to meet him and he did explain to me that a colony is many ranches restricted in one place.
“So for us in Benue State, there is no 10,000 hectares. We have no 10,000 hectares to allow for that kind of a thing to take place. So, people are free. Other states have the land but we in Benue State we don’t have and that was what led to us enacting this law”.
He also warned against reprisal attacks, pointing out that in Benue State there is no room for anyone taking the law into his hands.
“It is expected that even when you are offended or someone violates the law, the best thing to do is to report; by that they will be able to mete out sanctions on such people. But when you take laws into your hand you are inviting anarchy and we will not accept this”, he added.
Ortom also disclosed that the delegation made a strong appeal to President Buhari to arrest perpetrators of the Benue massacre, the Miyetti Allah Kautal Hore, insisting that they are not above the law.
He said, “And until this time I speak to you, they are still issuing out threats and it is not just anti-grazing law. It is occupation because the manner in which they come and invade and take over the land is something. I am not sure we are willing to join issues with anyone. We are law-abiding citizens; we are not going to let our people go out of control.
“We believe in the leadership of Mr President because he is a disciplined and upright man and we believe he will be able to sanction these people. He did assure us that there is no room for impunity and that the law of the land must take its course. The IGP was in the meeting; he directed the IGP to arrest those who perpetrated this act and prosecute them according to the law.
“He (Buhari) assured us that he would do everything possible to ensure that Benue State lives peacefully and there is no further killings. So, basically that is why we came to see Mr President.
On reports that he wrote a letter to the president and did not get any response, Ortom said, “Like I said, the president renewed his directive to the IGP in our presence, that those perpetrating this act should be arrested and prosecuted.
“And I believe that attention was given to my letter. I was told that it was being processed and I hope by now it’s been processed and that action will be taken now that the entire delegation from Benue State is here and Mr President is directing the IG that something should be done about this matter because we cannot allow lawlessness and we cannot allow impunity”.
Ortom observed that when people violate the law and they are not sanctioned it becomes a problem, just as he dismissed insinuations that the state government is arming militia groups in the state.
He explained: “It is not true. I see that as a distraction completely from the main issue that we are talking about. These people were not even arrested in Benue State. If we are being killed in the magnitude that we saw and we had weapons of what I saw in the media, I know that five AK 47s can sack a whole community.
“So, if we had such weapons and I as governor my local government had been attacked and people killed, property destroyed and so on, will I go and sponsor militia in Taraba State? Then you should go back to history.
“From 2015 when I took over I organized an amnesty programme which saw the disarmament of over 800 youths and more than 700 weapons were turned in which were destroyed in the presence of security men and the UN and the committee on small weapons and light arms from the presidency. So, it is not true; it is false. It is meant to turn facts away from the reality that is happening on ground”.
On whether there are plans to have vigilantes in the state, he replied: “We are in the process of doing that but we have livestock guards in place. That is what the prohibition of the open grazing and establishment of ranching stipulates, that we should have livestock guards and we are considering having that in place”.
He further explained that the meeting was at the instance of Benue stakeholders and not Mr. President calling them to a meeting.
He said, “As the father of the land, we felt that let us interface with him, not just coming from the governor but from the stakeholders and also to send the message that I am not just on my own when people try to accuse me of promulgating a law which they don’t believe in”.
When asked about the message from Benue people to the president, he said “We need assurance from Mr President; we are part of his constituency in the country. As you know, Nigeria is a federation and Benue State is part of the federating unit. There is division of labour; there are specific responsibility given to each of the tier of government as enshrined in the constitution of the federal republic of Nigeria.
“So, we don’t have powers over the security of this country except the federal government. It is expected that the federal government will support us to enforce our laws and the laws of the Federal Republic of Nigeria”.
On his part, the Tor-Tiv, Prof. James Ortese Iorzua Ayatse, said his entire domain had been thrown into mourning due to the incessant attacks. “We want you to put an end to the gruesome situation’’, he added.
Also present at the meeting were former Senate president, David Mark; former Benue State governor, Sen. George Akume and Sen. Barnabas Gemade.
Others include Sen. JK Waku; Gen. Lawrence Onoja (rtd); Brig. Gen. John Atom Kpera (rtd); former Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Michael Aondoakaa; Speaker of Benue State House of Assembly, Terkimbir Kyambe; Benson Abounu and other members of the National and State Assemblies from the state.
Benue Leaders Reject Cattle Colony
Meanwhile, Benue Leaders led by the state governor, Samuel Ortom, to meet with President Muhammadu Buhari yesterday rejected the setting up of cattle.
The delegation maintained that Benue does not have land for cattle colonies as proposed by the federal government.
They also reiterated their call on the federal government to arrest the leaders of Miyetti Allah Association.
You Lied, Osinbajo Tells Ortom
Meanwhile, Vice President Yemi Osinbajo said yesterday that he was shocked by media reports ostensibly quoting Benue State governor, Samuel Ortom, as saying that he (Ortom) warned him (Osinbajo) of the savage and inhuman killings by killer herdsmen in Logo and Guma local government areas on January 1, 2018.
“To the best of our knowledge, neither Governor Ortom nor the Federal Government was aware of the imminence of the cowardly attack on Logo and Guma on the 1st of January, and therefore any suggestion that the President or the Vice President ignored the State Governor’s warning is both absolutely false and certainly misleading”, a statement by his spokesman, Laolu Akande, stated.
Osinbajo said although he does not believe that the governor could ever have said so, it will be a terrible falsehood to suggest that he was ever informed by the governor or anyone else of the imminence of the killing of citizens in those or any other local governments in Benue State.
In the statement, Akande said Governor Ortom wrote to the vice president, then acting president, on June 7, 2017 protesting a newspaper publication where the leadership of Miyetti Allah was reported to have stated that it was opposed to the Open Grazing Prohibition law of the state and that they would mobilize to resist the law.
According to him, the Miyetti Allah had written to the vice president on June 5, 2017 on the same law protesting several sections of the law. The governor went on to say that the leadership of Miyetti Allah should be arrested because they used words such as “wicked, obnoxious and repressive,” to describe the law, and because these were “utterances that are capable of undermining the peace…”
Akande further explained that the vice president subsequently met with the governor in June 2017, discussed the matter and the security situation in the state and then ordered law enforcement agencies to be on the alert to prevent any attacks or violence.
He said, “In the said letter written by the Governor, there was no mention of any threat to any specific one of the 23 local governments of Benue State. So, the best the law enforcement agencies could do even then was to await information or intelligence of an imminent attack. None came.
“ Since then the VP has held several meetings with the Benue State governor, including a visit to the State on the 6th of September, last year at the behest of Mr. President during the tragic floods in the state last year. At all such meetings, the Vice President discussed the security situation of the State with the Governor.
“Following that, the then Acting President convened a major national security retreat which was attended by all State Governors, service chiefs and heads of security agencies. The Retreat featured very detailed discussions on the herdsmen/ farmers’ clashes”.
Crisis May Plunge Nigeria Into Internecine Conflict – Coomassie
Meanwhile, the chairman of Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF), Alhaji Ibrahim Ahmadu Coomassie, has warned that if not properly managed, the crisis involving the herders and farmers resulting into loss of lives and property is capable of plunging Nigeria and the North in particular into a conflict that has never been seen.
He also said governors as well as land grabbers are responsible for the current spate of killings occasioned by herdsmen and farmers clashes.
The chairman of the apex sociocultural umbrella body of Northern Nigeria stated these in Kaduna yesterday in his opening remarks while chairing a conference on the North and the Challenge of Leadership organised by Sir Ahmadu Bello Memorial Foundation and Arewa Research and Development Project (ARDP).
Coomassie who is a former Inspector General of Police also lamented that thousands of lives and property have continually been lost because land grabbers in conjunction with corrupt local and state government officials have bought lands reserved as cattle routes, while the state governors have joined the fray by banning grazing in their states.
He said, “ Today, there are too many flashpoints, not just in the North but all over the country. A case in point is the incessant clashes between herdsmen and farmers in recent times, which have assumed a most destabilishing dimension and which, if not managed properly, could plunge the nation (particularly the North) into internecine conflicts, the likes of which has never been seen before”.
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