Senator Gershom Bassey represents Cross River Southern Senatorial District. He is one of the founding members of the Peoples Democratic Party in the state. In this interview he condemns the recent attacks of herdsmen on his constituents and said that designating permanent grazing routes will not solve the problem. He also disclosed some of the efforts to reduce crisis in his constituency. Excerpts:
By Johnbosco Agbakwuru
THERE have been reports of crisis in your constituency. What is the situation now?
First let me condemn the attacks in Obiesere in Odukpani Local Government Area by intruders into that community. But I think that the problem that we have there was over land for grazing. Farmlands that were being used by the indigenes of the area were now also being thought of by the herdsmen as grazing land. So there were skirmishes between the community and the intruders as it were. I condemn the killings and the violence in its entirety, there should be no room for that kind of behaviour in our country today. Particularly, when you have a situation where visitors engage in skirmishes with the indigenes.
It is most unfortunate and I would ask also that indigenes themselves and the intruders should sheathe their swords and find a peaceful resolution to this. Already, a number of local elders in that community are looking for ways in which to resolve the problem. From the initial information we have, it appears to be some misunderstanding somewhere, so we are going to get to the root of it but we do not want people to take the laws into their own hands and we do not want visitors also to attack our brothers and sisters.
This is not the first time attack like this is taking place in that community, what is the state government doing to arrest the situation?
Well, I am not part of the state government. But what we have done is to engage the village elders. We have spoken to the Obong Abasan and we have engaged him thoroughly and he has actually provided a lot of information to us. We are trying to see what could be the best line of action to take because we want to put a permanent resolution to this problem. That is why we are taking our time and being very deliberate to ensure that we get all the facts right. Yes we have condemned it but I think what is beyond that is how to solve the problem.
I have engaged with the member of the House of Assembly, Honourable Akiba who has already raised the motion on the floor of the State House of Assembly. We are engaging with the state government as well to find out how jointly we can bring a permanent end to this problem. It is a problem that has been reoccurring, this is not the first time, it has happened several times before and we want to get to the bottom of this once and for all.
What do you think is the solution to it?
I have to first of all understand the problem thoroughly before we prefer any solution. But I want to say that we must solve this problem in a holistic way, we must have to solve it once and for all. In the past there was no loss of lives; but now we are having loss of lives and various figures on this loss of lives. But no matter what the figure is, even if it is one person, it is a serious matter. So, we want to make sure that we bring a permanent end to this problem.
Will the permanent solution involve designating a grazing area for herdsmen?
You know what we agreed in the Senate is that this problem is a local problem and those problems should be resolved by the state governments. So I don’t know about a permanent grazing area and I am not sure that that will be the permanent solution because while you are trying to please one party, you may be displeasing another party. So you have to be very careful when you start talking about permanent grazing area, because we have a community that is aggrieved.
What steps have you taken to re-assure your constituents that they are safe?
The state security adviser and the governor have deployed a detachment of security agency to that area. Heavy policy presence is there.
Do you think that the federal government is doing enough in tackling the menace of herdsmen in the country?
I think as long as we are losing lives on this issue, then clearly enough hasn’t been done, that is the issue. As long as on a particular issue we are losing lives and we keep losing lives, whether it is in Enugu State, whether it is in Cross River State, wherever it is, then there is a problem and that problem has not been solved. So, I will urge the federal government to spend more time and resources and focus more on this problem because the problem keeps recurring and keeps leading to loss of lives and that needs to stop.