By Ben Agande, Peter Duru , Johnbosco Agbakwuru & Erunke Joseph
GOVERNOR Samuel Ortom of Benue State has accused the Federal Government and the various security agencies of abandoning the citizens of the state to be slaughtered by rampaging Fulani herdsmen.
In an exclusive interview with Vanguard, Governor Ortom, who decried the recurring killing of Benue people by herdsmen, also lamented that a cabal has blocked communications with President Muhammadu Buhari. He added that if the intention of those blocking access to the President was to make the state rescind its decision to sign the anti-open grazing law, they have failed because, according to him, there is no going back on the law.
The governor spoke as the Nigeria Bar Association, NBA, criticised President Buhari over his alleged indifference to the Benue killings. Also, Benue Committee of Elders, led by veteran Journalist, Elder Simon Shango urged President Buhari to set up a commission of enquiry on the killings.
The Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project, SERAP, has appealed to Prince Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights to “urgently call and/or facilitate the holding of a special session of the UN Human Rights Council to address persistent killings apparently by herdsmen in Benue State and other parts of the country.”
The organization also urged Prince Al Hussein to “speak out strongly and condemn the killings, and make an official visit to Nigeria with special rapporteurs with relevant mandates to discuss the killings and concrete actions to end the killings and ultimately bring about significant improvement in the lives of farmers and their families as well as other citizens affected by violence across the country.”
Meanwhile, the Police, through the Deputy Inspector General of Police, DIG, in charge of Operations, Mr. Habila Joshak, has promised that the force in collaboration with the military would fish out the masterminds of the attacks and bring them to Justice.
“The Police and the military have agreed that there would be no recurrence of the crisis and killings and all those fingered in the killings would be arrested. So, the search for the masterminds of the killings has started. Already, we have increased the manpower of the Benue command and I can assure you that in no distant time, all those fingered in the killings will be arrested. If it is established that anyone of those being mentioned as being responsible for the killings is truly involved, we will have him arrested without delay,” he said.
Cabal blocking communications with Buhari — Gov Ortom
According to Governor Ortom, some people around the president have been deliberately frustrating the attempt by the state government to present the true picture of what is happening in the state for selfish reasons.
His words: “Let me be frank. The Federal Government has not done enough. When this incidence started with the threat from the president and secretary of Miyetti Allah, Kauta Hore, who addressed a press conference and issued threats that they will do everything possible to frustrate the Benue State Government from implementing the anti-open grazing law, we quickly drew the attention of the Inspector General of Police, the Director General of the Department of State Services, DSS, and even the office of the National Security Adviser.
‘’The leadership of Miyetti Allah called the law names; that it was draconian and had no place in the 21st century. We saw that as a threat to our existence and in June 2016, we reported to the then acting president (Prof. Yemi Osinbajo) and to our surprise, these people were not apprehended.
“When they saw that no one was going to apprehend them, they went further to issue more threats. In October 2016, we reminded the IGP, the DSS and the NSA of the potential violence that we faced in Benue State as a result of the threat from the Miyetti Allah. We, specifically, demanded that the two officers of the Miyetti Allah, the secretary and the president, be arrested, but unfortunately, they were not arrested. I do not know why the Federal Government has abandoned us. If they had acted that time, we would not have gotten to where we are today.”
It’s going beyond my powers — Ortom
The governor warned that though he has consistently told the people of the state not to take the law into their hands, he is losing control of the people because of the persistent killing of innocent women and children by Fulani herdsmen and the inaction of the federal government.
He continued: “You can see that it is getting beyond me. Even when there was protest against the recent killings in Makurdi, and I went there, there was massive resistance. It became violent and it is even God that saved us. I would have been attacked.
“When I came into office, there was proliferation of arms and ammunition in the state. I declared an amnesty programme that saw massive retrieval of arms from our youths. I pleaded with them that the way to develop is not by taking the laws into their hands but by obeying the laws. I have resisted the temptation to say that our people should protect themselves because I trusted the president. I believed that he has the capacity to protect us. But from what is happening, I am sure some people around him are frustrating our communication with him and the actions to be taken. Otherwise, the president I know will not allow this kind of thing to be happening. We have not committed any offence.
“We have no regret passing the anti-open grazing law. The law came as a necessity because of the killings in Benue State by the herdsmen. We sought peaceful ways of resolving the matter but we could not. We tried everything under the sun to ensure that we stopped these killings but it was not possible so we prayed and God gave us wisdom to enact that law, which gives protection to the farmers and the herdsmen. We have not sent cattle rearers away from Benue, we are simply saying there are modern ways of rearing cattle, which is to ranch them. With that, farmers can go their legitimate ways of doing their business and those who are rearing cattle can also continue. I am surprised at the resistance of the herders.”
‘I can’t preside over dead people, campaigns suspended’
Asked if the recent killings had made the job of campaigning for an APC presidency more difficult, the governor reiterated that he has suspended all political activities until the killing of innocent people in the state is stopped.
“I have suspended everything about campaigns and all that, even for myself. Yes, I am contesting in 2019 but I don’t want to be campaigning for now. I cannot campaign for myself or any other person until this matter is resolved. I cannot preside as governor over dead people. The lives of my people come first before politics. In fact, I have decided that I am not going to engage in any political activity, whether for myself or for anybody until this matter is resolved. I cannot be talking about 2019 when my people are being killed. If I win, will I preside over dead bodies? If that will make other people to take the governorship from me, so be it. I must not be governor,” he said.
Don’t politicize herdsmen killings, Osinbajo warns Nigerians
Meanwhile, Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, yesterday, warned Nigerians against politicizing herdsmen killings across the country in recent times, saying such interpretation could inflame passion from certain quarters thus causing unpredicted crisis in the country.
Osinbajo, who said his warning was against the backdrop of rise in Boko Haram activities, following politicization of the insurgents at the early stage, asked Nigerians to be wary and not make similar mistake.
He spoke during an inter-denominational church service for the 2018 Armed Forces Remembrance Day Celebration at the National Christian Centre, Abuja.
SERAP to UN: Speak out, hold special session
The SERAP, in an urgent appeal dated January 6, 2018 by its Executive Director, Adetokunbo Mumuni, said: “The UN Human Rights Council’s ability to successfully expose and hold perpetrators of human rights violations to account may be under threat if your office continues to ignore or pay little attention to the crimes and abuses apparently by herdsmen and other unknown perpetrators in Nigeria.
“While we acknowledge that the council has made significant contributions to human rights elsewhere, we are concerned that the violence and killings in Nigeria rarely attract the attention of the UN and particularly, your office. It is time for your office to speak out strongly against the continuing killings by herdsmen in Nigeria for the sake of thousands of victims and their families who continue to lack access to an effective remedy, including truth, justice and full and effective reparation.”
Suspected herdsmen, yesterday, killed at least 11 persons in a fresh attack on Tombu village in Logo Local Government Area of Benue State. This followed the alleged killing earlier in the week of at least 33 people by herdsmen in the state.
The urgent appeal read in part: “The killings in Benue State and the distressing situation of farmers and their families paint a stark picture of the grave abuses carried out by herdsmen and the impunity that they continue to enjoy. The actions of herdsmen hinder meaningful progress towards stability, development and peace in the country.”
NBA slams President Buhari
Also, the Chairman of Makurdi branch of the NBA, Mr. Emmanuel Agbakor, while addressing journalists in Makurdi on the issue, said: “The NBA is totally disappointed, disenchanted and absolutely disillusioned at the display of apathy by the administration of President Muhammadu Buhari, with respect to the wanton, reckless and unwarranted killings.
“We condemn, in strong terms, the recurring invasion of the state by herdsmen and the concomitant nonchalant cum indifferent posture of the Federal Government concerning the problem. We overwhelmingly voted the President into power as Nigeria’s President but he has dramatically become ethnic and does not see anything wrong with what his kinsmen, the Fulani, are doing in different parts of the country, including Benue State. This is totally unacceptable. A government which is incapable of defending her people is simply, to say the least, not worth its salt.’’
We ‘ll soon start raining curses on leaders – Cleric
A Catholic cleric, Rev. Fr. Kwaggas Matthew, said, yesterday, in Abuja that Nigerians, especially Christians, will soon start raining curses on leaders, who have abandoned their primary responsibility of protecting the lives of the citizens.
The Borno State born cleric and Parish Priest of Church of the Annunciation Parish, Kubwa, Abuja, in his homily at the Feast of Epiphany, noted with dismay the killings and destruction of property by the Fulani herdsmen while the government that swore to protect the lives and property of Nigerians remained silent.
He wondered how the herdsmen allegedly killing people got the sophisticated guns they always use in their dastardly act and charged Nigerians to start protecting themselves, if the government failed to protect them.
Recollecting the number of lives lost in Agatu, Guma and Logo of Benue State, Kaduna, Plateau, Adamawa, Enugu, Taraba, Borno and other parts of the country as a result of herdsmen onslaught on the people, he said, “We will soon start raining curses on the leaders, who are not helping us. How did the herdsmen killing people get the guns?’