The Buhari administration on Monday claimed credits for the implementation of anti-open grazing law in Benue State, a gesture it slammed Governor Samuel Ortom for failing to appreciate.
The comments appeared the first time President Muhammadu Buhari would publicly claim support for the law, which was largely deemed controversial amidst fears it prohibit free movement of a targeted ethnic group within the nation’s borders.
Before now, the overwhelming indications from the Buhari government was that the law should be scrapped and replaced with a universal grazing policy being proposed by the central government at the time.
Mansur Dan-Ali, Nigeria’s defence minister, and Ibrahim Idris, the police inspector general, were amongst the top administration voices who spoke against the law following its passage in November 2017.
When attacks against Benue villages by suspected herdsmen were escalated between early and mid-2018, Messrs Dan-Ali and Idris warned of grave consequences if Benue and two other states that had the law in place failed to scrap it. Taraba and Ekiti are the two other states with strict anti-open grazing policies within their jurisdictions.
Rather that express support for the law, Mr Buhari has only been on the record urging people of the troubled states to embrace their compatriots, which loosely meant that the nomadic Fulani herders should be accommodated even though they were largely suspected in the herdsmen violence across central Nigeria.
But in a statement Sunday, presidential spokesperson Garba Shehu said Mr Buhari should be thanked for the implementation of the law in Benue State.
Mr Shehu said Mr Buhari “supported” Benue “grazing laws as a means to end the farmer-herder crises that have plagued the state.”
The comments came in a reproach to Mr Ortom, whom the presidency said had recently embarked on a hate campaign against Mr Buhari to boost his own reelection chances in the state.
The governor allegedly told residents that Mr Buhari was involved in an alleged conspiracy to ‘Islamise’ Benue, a claim the presidency strongly rejected.
“If not for President Buhari’s insistence that the governor be given a chance to effect the law, he would have faced resistance from different sources and found it difficult to implement,” Mr Shehu emphasised.
Mr Shehu said Mr Ortom had taken the divisive campaign to Benue churches in recent weeks in a desperate move to avoid discussing the acute salaries backlog which workers have been grappling with in the state.
“While advising Ortom to immediately stop his dubious attacks on President Buhari, the Federal Government calls on the people of Benue State to not fall for Ortom’s deception and allow themselves to be hoodwinked by such a negative campaign,” the statement added.
PREMIUM TIMES could not immediately identify instances of hate speeches against the president by Mr Ortom, or the context under which they were allegedly made.
A spokesperson for Mr Ortom did not immediately return requests for comments Sunday afternoon.