The Benue State Governor, Samuel Ortom, and his Nasarawa State counterpart, Tanko Al-Makura, have disagreed on the location of the Fulani herdsmen, who attacked several Benue State communities last week, killing no fewer than 71 residents.
While Ortom alleged that the marauding herdsmen launched their attacks from their Nasarawa base, Al-Makura faulted the Benue State governor’s assertion, asking Ortom the source of his allegation.
Ortom spoke with State House correspondents after a meeting he had with President Muhammadu Buhari at the Presidential Villa, Abuja, on Tuesday.
He however said he would not support the Federal Government’s plan to establish cattle colonies until he understood the concept.
The meeting, which was the first between the two leaders since violence broke out in the state on January 1, afforded the governor the opportunity of briefing Buhari about the security development.
He said although he had briefed the President on the telephone immediately the incident took place, he felt there was the need for him to meet Buhari personally after he had succeeded in restoring normalcy to a level.
When asked for his position on the suggestion that full blown military operation be applied in his state, the governor said, “Anything that can stop the killings of my people, I will go for it. I support it.
“Any policy or any directive, anything that will help stop the killing of these innocent people who are not armed, I will support it because this cannot continue.”
The governor explained that the law on prohibition of open grazing and establishment of ranching was made out of the need to ensure that there was a peaceful coexistence among herdsmen and farmers.
Ortom said he did not understand the concept of the cattle colonies being proposed by the Federal Government.
“Like I keep saying, for us the way forward is ranching and until this time I am talking to you, the way forward is ranching because it is a global best practice.
“It is not just being practised in other parts of the world, on African soil in Swaziland, South Africa, Kenya, Tanzania, Mozambique, almost all African countries that rear cattle, they ranch. So, why can’t we do the same thing here?
“‘For the colony thing, I don’t know what colony is.”
The governor said the state had been witnessing peace since the implementation of the law started up until the militias from the Miyetti Allah Kautal Hore came and attacked the people.
He further claimed that the attackers and their location were known.
The governor disclosed that the attackers were camped in Tongua in the Awe Local Government Area of Nasarawa State, from where they launched their attacks.
He said the gunmen still succeeded in killing two riot policemen on Monday while one other was injured in another attempt to attack the people in the Logo LGA.
The governor stated, “It (the situation) is taking a different dimension. Just yesterday (Monday) in the Logo Local Government, mobile policemen that were deployed in Logo to keep vigil to protect the people and the land, these militia came, exchanged fire with them, caught two of them and slaughtered them like goats.
“They shot another one, inflicted machete cuts on him and left him in the pool of his blood but luckily, he did not die. We have taken him to the hospital, we are treating him, the other one that was declared missing was found today (Tuesday).
“So, when it gets to the level of militia killing security men who are armed and are trained to protect lives and property, is it not taking a dangerous dimension? Who is now safe?”
He said he had been writing to the leadership of the nation’s security agencies since June 2017 on the need to arrest the leadership of Miyetti Allah Kautal Hore, who he described as threats to the state’s collective interest.
Ortom attributed the killings to the failure of the security agencies.
He insisted that the leaders of MAKH must be arrested and prosecuted because his government could allow impunity to continue to thrive.
On the claim by the Chairman of the Cattle Breeders Association of Nigeria, Benue State chapter, Garos Gololo, that the killings were in retaliation for the theft of 1,000 cows by some people in the state, Ortom said, “You know that man is a liar. Gololo is a liar, he is a wanted man in Benue State; we don’t even know where he is. He stays somewhere and makes allegations.
“The other time, he said 1,000 cattle drowned and that the herdsman decided to commit suicide by jumping to the river. He has not come out to justify what he said.”
But Al-Madura described Ortom’s statement that those who attacked his state were camped in Tango, Awe LGA of Nasarawa State, as unfortunate.
Al-Makura, while speaking to journalists in Abuja on Tuesday, said it was unfortunate that Ortom could make such a weighty allegation at a time his government was supporting him to tackle the security challenge in his state.
He explained that the town that Ortom claimed was serving as a base for the attackers was currently occupied by Internally Displaced Persons.
The governor said, “I am really taken back. This statement is most unfortunate. I will like to use this opportunity to say that there is nothing like that whatsoever.
“If anything, the Tonga that the governor is talking about in the Awe LGA is now the safe haven for displaced persons. As I speak with you today, there are more than three IDP camps in the Awe local government that cater to the number of people that have migrated from Benue to Nasarawa.
“To be specific, there are more than 7,000 people that are camped in Tonga. So, it is very ironical that a place that is supposed to be an area that has become a safe haven for IDPs can now be called militias’ camp.
“In that case, the militia do not need to go as far as Benue. They have the prey within the vicinity of Tonga to attack. I think this is most unfortunate.
“With the efforts we, as a state, are making and collaborating and supporting the governor to find ways and means of solving this problem, that Nasarawa State can be identified as an area where some of these militants are coming from, is unfortunate.”
Al-Makura recalled that he and six other governors met the nation’s service chiefs and some ministers for over seven hours on Monday on how to solve the problem.
He expressed surprise that Ortom did not find it worthy to approach him and tell him of such finding.
“He could not approach me and give me an idea if there is anything that he saw or he is worried about.
“Besides, from all the discussions we had yesterday, there was no concrete security report stigmatising any part of Nasarawa State as harbouring people that are coming to attack Benue.
“I feel what should be of concern to us as leaders is the plight of the people and any such statement that is inflammatory is likely going to cause more confusion than what is already there,” he added.
The Nasarawa State governor attributed the violence in Benue State to the implementation of the state’s anti-grazing law.
He added, “As it is, it is the implementation of the anti-grazing law in Benue caused the problem and now Nasarawa State is being infected by the problem. Notwithstanding that, we are being our brothers’ keepers and good neighbours.
“I had to cut short my vacation and come to find ways of helping my colleague. We have called all our security agencies to meet to find ways and means of helping Benue.”
Again, herdsmen kill two policemen in Benue
But despite the efforts of various agencies to curtail the violence in Benue State, dare devil herdsmen once again killed two of the policemen drafted to keep surveillance at the troubled Logo LGA of Benue State.
The ugly incident occurred on Monday at the policemen camp located at Awashuwa village in the same Logo LGA.
Logo, since the beginning of this year, became a troubled community, where Fulani herdsmen had killed and maimed farmers in the area.
This latest killing occurred when the herders attacked the camp of a detachment of Mobile policemen from Mopol 13, stationed at Awashuwa where they killed two policemen and one seriously injured.
Though they were said to have been repelled earlier in the day when they attacked the camp, the herdsmen were said to have regrouped and attacked the camp in the evening.
One of the policemen, who survived the attack, told newsmen that the herdsmen invaded the camp in large number in guerrilla warfare manner and overpowered the policemen.
They were said to have injured one inspector and a sergeant before they slit their throats in a nearby bush in the area while they also burnt some houses within the area after the attack.
The Police Public Relations Officer in the state, who confirmed the attack, said a reinforcement was sent to the area from 13 PMF led by the Commander, Abubakar Garba.
“Our men came under attack at Awashuwa in the LGA of the state. They were ambushed by the herdsmen who had tried to attack them earlier in the day but they were repelled. Two of our men were killed and their riffles taken away,” he said.
Relocate to Benue, Buhari orders IG
Meanwhile, Buhari has ordered the Inspector-General of Police, Ibrahim Idris, to immediately relocate to Benue State to prevent further loss of lives and forestall the crisis in the state from escalating and spreading.
The President gave the order on Monday night, a statement on Tuesday by the force spokesman, Jimoh Moshood, stated.
In compliance with the directive, Moshood said the IG would be moving to Benue State with additional five units of riot policemen making a total of 10 units deployed in the state, in addition to other police contingents and special forces on the ground.
“More units of Police Special Forces, Counter-Terrorism Units, and conventional policemen are already being deployed in the state as of this time today in compliance with the Presidential order.
“The aerial surveillance by helicopters would continue, while the Police Mobile Force personnel, Special Forces and conventional policemen, the Counter-Terrorism Unit, Explosive Ordinance Department and Special Police Joint Intelligence and Investigation Teams already deployed in Benue State will carry on relentlessly with the patrols and crime prevention activities in the affected areas,” the force added.
NLC, TUC demand arrest of serial killers
In their separate remarks, the Nigeria Labour Congress and the Trade Union Congress have called upon the Federal Government to urgently apprehend the perpetrators of serial killings around the country in the guise of herdsmen.
The President of NLC, Mr. Ayuba Wabba, made the appeal in a statement made available to the News Agency of Nigeria on Tuesday in Abuja.
Wabba said the congress believed that the Federal Government must rise up to its responsible by directing appropriate security agencies to urgently apprehend the situation.
He stated, “We are upset at the rate of serial killings around the country, notably in Benue, Nasarawa, Adamawa, Rivers and Taraba states reported in the media as orchestrated actions of armed civilians in the guise of herdsmen.
“We are more worried that these mass murders have continued unabated as if our security agencies are helpless.
“These killings have not only threatened security of lives and properties but constitute a major impediment to the much needed growth and development of the country.”
He said the NLC did not think it would be right for the security agencies to ignore the dangers of allowing the unhindered escalation of the fatal attacks that would not in any way be downplayed as mere communal clashes.
The NLC president added, “We therefore urge government to move further from merely sending policemen to the affected areas by constituting an emergency intervention panel that will transparently look at the issues.
“The Government must not be perceived to be uninterested in ensuring peace and security in any part of the country for any reason.
“Those attacking the communities are not ghosts and should not be left untouchable. No government will survive the advent of another terrorist group in our country.”
Also, the TUC expressed worries on how innocent citizens were being hacked to death in Benue State and elsewhere around the country.
It charged the Federal Government to, at once, fish out the killers and their sponsors.
The trade union said it was regrettable that Nigeria had been made a laughing stock in the comity of nations on account of the Federal Government’s inefficient management of herdsmen killings.
It said this in a statement on Tuesday jointly signed by its President, Bobboi Kaigama, and Secretary-General, Musa-Lawal Ozigi.
The union said, “We condemn these killings in all its entirety and demand an end to it immediately.
“We gathered that some have alleged it is a communal clash while others claim the killings were to protest the anti-grazing law passed by the Benue State House of Assembly to protect the people’s source of livelihood.
“Our thought is, no matter what the issue, we believe it can be addressed without gruesomely killing innocent people like animals. Women and children have become victims of greed and wickedness. Sometimes, one is tempted to question our humanity!
The union called on the Federal Government and security agencies to match words with action by fishing out the killers.
It said, “Bring everyone or group that threatens our peace to book. Nigeria is a country governed by law. Hacking children with machetes and maiming pregnant women are not the ways to go as a country.”
Buhari must come to identify with the people –Tor Tiv
Meanwhile, the Paramount ruler of the Tiv nation, Tor Tiv V, His Royal Majesty, Prof James Ayatse, on Tuesday, said only the visit of Buhari to Benue State could placate the people, who were grieving heavily over the death of several of his subjects killed by Fulani herdsmen.
The Tor Tiv stated this while speaking with newsmen in his temporary palace in Gboko, Gboko LGA of the state.
He reminded the President that Benue people voted massively for him in 2015, and argued that Buhari had to identify with the people at a time they had been brutally attacked and were grieving.
Ayatse described the attacks on the people as barbaric, unsolicited, unjustifiable, planned and coordinated by herdsmen to eliminate the people from their land.
“I am expecting that the President will come but if he does not, then that means he is not treating us as friends.
‘’Even if he comes and waves at the people and say I feel your pain and sorrow, it will do a lot of good. When he comes himself, his whole being will be here and the impact on the people will be greater than sending representatives,” he said.
Decked in his mourning regalia, the monarch said that the attacks were done in a mindless manner and have continued unabated.
He added, “We feel very unhappy that this is happening to us as citizens of Nigeria. We sacrificed for the unity of this country. There is no household that you go to in Tiv land that you will not find a soldier who fought for this country. The killings are continuing even as I talk with you.
“The Federal Government has made some efforts but I am not satisfied with the efforts. For the IGP to describe it as a communal clash is not fair. We do not share a border with the Fulani; so why would anyone say that it is a communal clash?”
Commenting on the proposed establishment of cattle colonies by the Federal Government, the traditional ruler said the practice was alien especially to an area where the people were not cattle rearers.
He argued that was already an existing law in the state on grazing.
Buhari’ll score no vote in Benue if killings continue –Monarchs’ council
Meanwhile, the Tiv Area Traditional Council, on Tuesday, said it had concluded plans to report to the global community and the International Criminal Court, the atrocities of Fulani herdsmen including the recent killing of natives in Benue State.
The pan-Tiv traditional institution predicted that Buhari would not score any vote in the state if he sought re-election in 2019, except “he loves his political future” and tackles the menace of Fulani herdsmen in Benue State “and bring a solution once and for all.
“Of course, Buhari is a Fulani man; he has cattle. But if he loves his political future, he should tackle this matter and bring a solution once and for all because Benue state voted massively for him (in 2015). Now, if he contests again (in 2019) and vote is cast, he will get zero vote from Benue State,” TATC said.
The pan-cultural organisation also rejected the decision by the Federal Government to designate cattle colonies in different parts of the country and demanded a definition of it.
The Legal Adviser of TATC, Chief Edward Ashiekaa (SAN), stated these in an interview with The PUNCH.
According to him, the position of Benue State House of Assembly on anti-open grazing bill is very clear.
He said, “We are going to the embassies, United Nations and even the International Criminal Court to ventilate our grievances. We are taking bold steps to inform the world that we are law abiding citizens.
“We have no capacity to fight the Fulani herdsmen, knowing the type of sophisticated weapons they have; our rural people cannot fight them.”
Southern, M’Belt leaders berate FG for not apprehending killers
In its reaction, the Southern and Middle Belt Forum leaders said they were appalled by the level of killings that were going on in Benue State in the last few days and the failure of the government to condemn and apprehend the perpetrators.
The group in a statement said, “We have seen images of horror and wanton killings perpetrated by killer herdsmen who went on a killing spree and are now granting press conferences justifying why they carried out such a barbaric act.”
The forum said it was further embarrassed that the IG, who ordinarily should have gone after the criminals, was making excuses for the violence against the call of his duty.
“We consider his remarks as highly unbecoming of the number one cop in Nigeria who should enforce the law against murderers. And it has shown clearly what the lopsided appointments into security forces can cause,” the group said in the statement co-signed by Yinka Odumakin, Senator Bassey Henshaw, Prof. Chigozie Ogbu and Dr. Isuwa Dogo.
The forum demanded the removal of the IG for failing to act against the perpetrators, and the immediate arrest of the killers and their sponsors.
Army deploys special forces in Benue, Nasarawa, Taraba
The Chief of Army Staff, Lt. Gen. Tukur Buratai, on Tuesday, said he had directed the deployment of special force in Benue, Nasarawa and Taraba states to check persistent clashes between farmers and herdsmen.
According to him, the Nigerian Army would restore peace and order in the affected states so as to ensure adequate development of the agricultural sector and boost the country’s economy.
Buratai said this while receiving farm implements from the Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Chief Audu Ogbeh, at the military ranch in Giri, Abuja.
He said, “We are asking our special forces brigade to ensure that they are deployed across the county at short notice to ensure they stem the menace between herdsmen and farmers. We are deploying properly across Benue, Taraba and Nasarawa states, within the axis where we have such conflicts.
“This is to ensure that once there is peace and stability, it will be for the betterment of our country.”
On the Giri military ranch, Buratai said the facility had over 1,000 cattle and was one of the many sites across army formations in Nigeria.
He said the army had secured about 436 hectares of land in Nasarawa State for agricultural purpose, adding that soldiers across the country’s barracks now engaged in various agricultural activities including poultry and horticulture.
Ogbeh commended the COAS for his determination to provide security in Benue State and other locations, but stated that ranching was one better way of achieving sustainable peace and security in the crisis prone areas.
“Let me quickly thank you, chief, for assuring us that you will deploy troops in hot places like Benue and so on so that the killings will stop. We don’t drink human blood and there is no need for some of the violence that is being unleashed here and there,” Ogbeh said.