President Muhammadu Buhari Monday in Abuja appealed to the Governor of Benue State, Dr. Samuel Ortom, to accommodate his fellow countrymen, promising that all perpetrators of violence in the state would be made to face the wrath of the law.
“I ask you in the name of God to accommodate your countrymen. You can also be assured that I am just as worried, and concerned with the situation,’’ the president was quoted to have said in a statement by his media and publicity adviser, Mr. Femi Adesina, after a meeting with visibly angry leaders of thought from the state, led by the governor.
To quench the anger of his visitors over the recent killings by suspected herdsmen in two local governments of the state, Buhari reportedly added: “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.”
Following the incessant killing of farmers by herdsmen across several local governments, the state government in May last year promulgated the Open Grazing Prohibition and Establishment of Ranches Law. It outlaws open grazing in the state and compels livestock breeders, including cattle to ranch them.
Fulani cattle rearers massed in the Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association determined that the law was made to exclude them from the state and opposed it, vowing to frustrate its implementation.
Their agitations against the law that took effect in November last year persisted culminating in the New Year day massacre of 73 people in Logo and Guma Local Government Areas.
A horrified nation carpeted the president for his initial silence even as the security agencies were hugely criticised not only for its failure to prevent the occurrence but also for its sluggish response to the bloodbath.
Buhari responded by ordering the Inspector General of Police (IG) Ibrahim Idris to relocate to Benue to contain the violence. Monday’s meeting with Benue leaders was a further step by the president to control the damage the mayhem had done to the federal government’s image.
According to the statement, Buhari said all those involved in the conflict that culminated in the loss of many lives would not escape justice, including any illegally armed militia in the state.
It also said the president commiserated with all victims of the attacks and families who lost their loved ones and property in the incidents, promising that the government would strive to ameliorate their situation.
Buhari disclosed that relevant agencies had been directed to start catering for their humanitarian needs.
Adesina said the president also told the delegation that his administration had already begun the process of finding a lasting solution to the persistent conflicts between herders and communities around the country, stating that IG Idris had been directed to relocate to the state and ensure security of lives and property.
He urged all Benue indigenes to trust the security agencies and report all cases of suspicious movements in the state.
Furthermore, the statement said Ortom told the meeting that the federal government’s intervention in the crisis would reduce the prevailing tension in the state.
“We will leave here to rebuild confidence in our people,” he said.
The Tor-Tiv, Prof. James Ayatse, was, however, said to have lamented that his entire domain had been thrown into mourning due to the incessant attacks, and implored Buhari “to put an end to the gruesome situation”.
According to Adesina, present at the meeting were Benue State Deputy Governor, Mr. Benson Abounu; former Senate president, Senator David Mark; former Benue State governor, Senator George Akume; and Senator Barnabas Gemade.
Others include Senator John Waku, Gen. Lawrence Onoja (rtd), Brig. Gen. John Atom Kpera (rtd), former Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Mr. Michael Aondoakaa; Speaker of Benue State House of Assembly, Terkimbir Kyambe; and other members of the National and State Assembly from the state.
No Land for Cattle Colony, Benue Leaders Insist
But the Benue leaders, according to Ortom, told the president in clear terms that while they were willing to accommodate their fellow countrymen, they had no luxury of land for cattle colony.
They restated their call for the arrest and prosecution of herdsmen who killed 73 persons in the state recently, saying no one must be seen to be above the law.
Briefing journalists at the end of the meeting, Ortom who recalled his earlier comment during his last visit to the Villa that he was yet to understand the meaning of the concept of cattle colony being proposed by the federal government, added that he had eventually been educated on the matter Monday by the Minister of Agriculture, Chief Audu Ogbeh.
According to him, whereas the government requires 10,000 hectares of land for the take-off of cattle colony in the state, the idea is totally impracticable in Benue State because such luxury of land for such project is not available in the state.
He disclosed that the total land size currently available in Benue State is 5,000 hectares, which he said was far below the requirements for the implementation of the concept.
The governor said the leaders made a strong appeal to the president in the meeting to ensure the arrest of perpetrators of the heinous crimes, noting that the assailants have continued to issue threats of further killings in the state.
According to him, the delegation believes in the leadership of the president and hence, wants him to ensure that the perpetrators are caught by the long arms of the law. He further disclosed that the president in his response vowed to leave no room for impunity.
Furthermore, he said, the president renewed his directive to the IG to arrest and prosecute those behind the killings, pointing out: “We cannot allow lawlessness.”
While insisting that there is no going back on the implementation of anti-open grazing law, Ortom said the law makes provisions for the security of both the herdsmen and farmers as he explained that even if there are still “pockets of issues” in some places such as Makurdi Local Government, relative calm has returned to most places of the state.