Governor Samuel Ortom of Benue State said he took prominent leaders from the state to see President Muhammadu Buhari on Monday in order to appreciate what the president has done so far to help restore peace to the state.
The governor also spoke on details of the discussion the Benue delegation had with the president.
Mr. Ortom also said the visit was to appreciate the president for his directive to the National Emergency management Agency, NEMA, to provide relief materials to those affected by the conflict between herdsmen and local communities in the state.
Mr. Ortom who had an interactive session with State House correspondents after the meeting said they were also in Aso Villa to make a “strong appeal to Mr. President to arrest those people that perpetrated this act, the Miyetti Allah Kautal Hore.”
PREMIUM TIMES brings the full details of the interview the governor had with journalists after the meeting.
Ortom: As you can see I’m here with the entire leadership of Benue State, members of the National Assembly, the Tor Tiv, Ochi Idoma and the leadership of Benue State House of Assembly and other very distinguished sons and daughters of Benue State.
You are aware of the challenge we had since the 1st of January up to this moment. Several people were killed, more than 60,000 people displaced; we are still counting.
We thought it was wise as the father of the land and as the president of our country that there is need to meet with him to interface with him.
At a personal level, I spoke to the president on phone on the 1st of January when this incident occurred and he responded promptly. And I followed it up with a visit and he directed the relocation of IGP to Benue State in addition to sending additional troop from the military.
So, the situation as at today is relatively calm although there are pockets of issues. For the past five days, we have witnessed two killings compared to what was happening before. Other places are relatively calm, the security men and the IGP and the Benue State Government have been working day and night to ensure that we bring the situation under control and stop the killings.
There are still security issues from one town to the other. Like some few days ago we had an uproar in Makurdi Local Government, headquarters of Benue State where some hoodlums wanted to take advantage. That is one of the things we have discovered; in trying to create confusion so that they can go in there and loot.
We have made it known that for us in Benue State, there is no room for anyone taking laws into his hands. It is expected (that) even when you are offended or someone violates the law, the best thing to do is to report, by that we will be able to mete our sanctions on such people. But when you take laws into your hands, you are inviting anarchy and we will not accept this.
So we are here to appreciate Mr. President for providing security. Yesterday (Sunday) we also received relief materials based on his directives to NEMA and is being shared among the five IDP camps that we have in Benue State.
But beyond that, we made strong appeal to Mr. President to arrest those people that perpetrated this act, the Miyetti Allah Kautal Hore, because they are not above the law. They made inciting statements against our people and they came and perpetrated this act. And until this time I speak to you, they are still issuing out threats and it is not just anti-grazing law, it is occupation because the manner with which they come and invade the man and take over the land it is something. I am not sure we ar willing to join issues with anyone. We are law abiding citizens, we are not going to let our people go out of control.
We believe in the leadership of Mr. President because he is disciplined and is an upright man and we believe he will be able to sanction this people. And he did assure us that there is no room for impunity, the law of the land must take its cause. So those perpetrators, the IG was in the meeting, he directed the IG to arrest those who perpetrated this act and prosecute according to the law; and assured us that he would do everything possible to ensure that Benue State live peacefully and there is no further killings. So basically that is why we came to see Mr. President.
Q: On the letter written to the president, did you get any response?
Ortom: Like I said, the president renewed his directive to the IG in our presence that those who are perpetrating this should be arrested and prosecuted. And I believe that enough attention was given to my letter. I was told that it was being processed and I hope by now it’s been processed and that action will be taken now that the entire delegation from Benue State is here and Mr. President is directing the IG that something will be done about this matter because we cannot allow lawlessness and we cannot allow impunity. When people violate the law and they are not sanctioned, it becomes a problem. People should be investigated and I believe that these people will be arrested because there is enough evidence against them.
Q: Did the issue of arming militia groups come up in the meeting?
Ortom: It is not true. I see that as distraction completely from the main issue that we are talking about. These people were not even arrested in Benue State. If we are being killed in the magnitude that we saw and we had weapons of what I saw in the media, I know that five AK 47s can sack a whole community. So if we had such weapons and I as governor my local government had been attacked and people killed, property destroyed and so on, so will I go and sponsor militia in Taraba State? Then you should go back to history; from 2015 when I took over, I organised an amnesty programme which saw the disarmament of over 800 youth and more than 700 weapons were turned in which were destroyed in the presence of security men and the UN and the committee on small weapons and light arms from the presidency. So it is not true, it is false. It is meant to turn facts away from the reality that is happening on ground.
Q: Are there plans to have vigilante groups?
Ortom: We are in the process of doing that; but we have livestock guards in place. That is what the provision of the open grazing and establishment of ranching stipulates, that we should have livestock guards and we are considering having that in place.
Q: This meeting is intended to find solutions to the problem. We will like to know some of the specific proposals to find and an end to this problem? And is there any proposal to bring the leadership of you and the Miyetti Allah Kautal Hore, together, to find lasting solution to the problem?
Ortom: Let me correct an impression, this meeting was at the instance of Benue stakeholders and not Mr. President calling us to a meeting. As the father of the land, we felt that let us interface with him, not just coming from the governor but from the stakeholders. And also to send the message that I am not just not on my own when people try to accuse me of promulgating a law which they don’t believe in. This is a law that originated from the people and all the stakeholders as you see them, we are solidly behind this law. Because for us we feel that that is the best way to end this farmers, herdsmen clashes.
The law is a win win , it provides security for the herdsmen and the farmers. And as far as we are concerned the implementation of the law is going on smoothly.
As I talk to you, several people have been arrested and arraigned before the court of law, both from the herdsmen and also from the natives. It may interest you to know that three of our youths who went and rustled cattle, killed some and killed a Fulani man were arrested by the police. They were detained and arraigned and are now remanded in prison custody in Makurdi.
We have also arrested more than 18 herdsmen who violated the law and they were arraigned before the court of law. So as far as we are concerned, the law is being implemented without any hitch. These killers that came from the 1st of January, about eight of them have been arrested and are going to be prosecuted. And that is what Mr. President said that he is not going to protect any criminal and we are happy about this. So that is where we are.
As for the solution to the problem, we are open to suggestion from the federal government to find how we can find a lasting solution. The minister of agriculture happens to be a son of the soil. There are many options that are put on the table.
Like I told you the last time I came here, I did not understand what colonies meant. Today, I was privileged to meet him and he did explain to me that a colony is many ranches out in one place, restricted in one place. So for us in Benue State there is no 10,000 hectares, they are looking for 5,000 hectares we have no 10 hectares to allow it for that kind of a thing to take place. So people are free. Other states have the land but we in Benue State we don’t have and that was what led to us enacting this law.
Q: What was the message from Benue people to Mr. President before you left for this meeting?
Ortom: We need assurance from Mr. President, we are part of his constituency in the country. As you know, Nigeria is a federation and Benue State is part of the federating unit. There is division of labour, there are specific responsibilities given to each of the tier of government as enshrined in the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. So we don’t have powers over the security of this country except the federal government, it is expected that the federal government will support us to enforce our laws and the laws of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. And so, as the father of the land, we needed to communicate this to him. We have not committed any offence; rather we are looking for a solution to a problem that has become an epidemic to Nigeria and we need a solution.
For us, we have seen that even before the law killings were taking place even more than what we are witnessing today, that we are looking for ways of getting out of it and today we have found a way and that is the law which seeks to protect all. We are not sending anyone away from Benue State. The herdsmen, whether you are Igbo, Fulani, Hausa, Idoma, Tiv, anywhere you come from you are free to follow the law, obtain permit and then do the ranch and you are protected.
Benue State will protect you from cattle rustlers when you do this and a farmer will also go to the farm without being intimidated or harassed by any herdsman. So for us, we wanted him to know our feelings as our Mr. President and that we have communicated and he has given us assurance that he is armed to ensure that the oath which he swore to protect lives and properties, he will do it and Benue State cannot be an exception.