By Joseph Erunke, Peter Duru & Levinus Nwabughiogu
ABUJA— Protests over herdsmen killings in Benue State, yesterday, rocked the National Assembly, Abuja, and Makurdi, the state capital, where students across institutions of higher learning barricaded the busy Makurdi-Lafia Road for over two hours.
Meanwhile, Governor Samuel Ortom of Benue State has explained that the reason he ordered the expulsion of herdsmen out of his state was to essentially protect the lives and property of his people.
He said that as the Governor of the state, it was incumbent on him to secure the people against any internal and external aggression.
The peaceful protest in Abuja, which was staged to draw the National Assembly leadership’s attention to the killings in Benue State, did not achieve much of its aim as both the Senate President, Dr. Bukola Saraki, and Speaker of the House of Representatives, Yakubu Dogara, failed to turn up to address the protesters.
The protesters rejected a delegation of the National Assembly leadership, comprising three senators, including Jeremiah Useni (PDP, Plateau South), Thomson Sekibo (PDP, Rivers East) and Saaba Lafiagi (APC, Kwara North).
The protest, which started at 11a.m., disrupted both human and vehicular movements, as workers, visitors and some legislators, who had come early for work, could not gain entry because protesters had barricaded the main entrance and exit gates.
Convener of the protest, under the auspices of Vanguard Against Tiv Massacre, VATIM, Akula Tersoo, called on the government to, as a matter of urgency, “stop the killings in Benue by herdsmen and their hired mercenaries.”
In Makurdi, hundreds of students of Benue State origin from various higher institutions in the country, who convened under the banner of Benue State Students’ Movement Against Fulani Occupation, grounded all business and commercial activities in the state capital.
The students sang war songs, bearing placards some of which read “Enough of killings in our state,” “We will fight back if the Federal government fails to act,” “We can’t be slaves in our own state,” “They must leave Benue now” and “Benue State Assembly give us anti-open grazing law now.”
Speaking to newsmen at the end of the National Executive Council, NEC, meeting at the Presidential Villa, Abuja, yesterday, Governor Ortom said: “Armed herdsmen are not friendly to my people. They are killing them and I cannot tolerate that. It is not right. The only thing my people are living on is farming.
“When you go to their farmland and destroy their crops and then when they complain you kill them; that will never be acceptable. I will not fold my hands to watch this happen.
“I have told my people that as farmers, they have no business carrying arms. And so, I will protect them as long as I am governor is my state.”
The governor also refuted the claims that his directives were not accepted by the Commissioner of Police, saying that they were both on the same page.
He said: “The Commissioner of Police should arrest those people with arms. These are not licensed arms. I was with him when we went to Buruku and he never said anything to contradict what I said earlier. I do not know where this fabrication is coming from.
“As far as I am concerned, I am in touch with my security council in Benue State. We meet regularly and we discuss all these problems when we meet.”