Governor Samuel Ortom of Benue State has said that the state has no land for the cattle colony proposed by the Federal Government to put an end to the incessant clashes between farmers and Fulani herdsmen in the country.
He told State House Correspondents after a meeting with President Muhammadu Buhari yesterday: “The last time I came here, I did not understand what colonies meant.
“Today, I was privileged to meet him (Minister of Agriculture, Audu Ogbeh) and he did explain to me that a colony is many ranches in one place, restricted in one place.
“For us in Benue State there is no 10,000 hectares they are looking for. Other states have the land but we in Benue State we don’t have and that was what led to us enacting this (anti-grazing) law.
The President had earlier appealed to the delegation of political leaders, traditional rulers and elders from the state led by the governor to exercise restraint.
He told them: “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.
“I ask you in the name of God to accommodate your country men. You can also be assured that I am just as worried, and concerned with the situation.”
He promised that all those involved in the conflict that culminated in loss of lives would not escape justice.
He said his administration had already begun a process of finding lasting solution to the perennial challenge of herdsmen conflict with farmers and communities around the country.
He said relevant agencies had been directed to start catering for the humanitarian needs, disclosing that the Inspector General of Police was directed to relocate to the state to provide security for lives and properties, urging all Benue indigenes to trust the security agencies and report all suspicious cases of movements.
Ortom continued: “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.”
The governor reiterated that his administration did not arm militias, describing the allegations as diversionary meant to turn facts to fiction.
He said they also appealed to Buhari to cause the arrest of Maiyetti Allah leaders who, he said, were still issuing threats of attacks:
“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 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. I followed it up with a visit and he directed the re-location of IGP to Benue State in addition to sending additional troops from the military.
“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.
“There are still security issues from one town to the other like some few days ago we had an uproar in Makurdi Local Government, 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.
“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.
“But beyond that we made strong appeal to Mr. President to arrest those people that perpetrated this act, the Miyetti Allah Kautal Hore. They are not above the law, they made inciting statements against our people and they came and perpetrated this act.
“Until this time I speak to you, they are still issuing out threats and it is not just anti-grazing law, it is occupation. I am not willing to join issues with anyone. We are law-abiding citizens we are not going to let our people go out of control.
On the letter written to the president, Ortom said: “The President renewed his directive to the IG in our presence that those perpetrating this should be arrested and prosecuted.
“I believe if no 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.
“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.”
Asked if he has plans to have vigilantes in the state, the governor said: “We are in the process of doing that. We have livestock guards in place that is what the prohibition of the open grazing and establishment of ranching stipulates, that we should have livestock guards and that we are considering having that in place.
“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.
“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 these farmers, herdsmen’s 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.
“Several people have been arrested and arraigned both from the herdsmen and from the natives. Three of our youths who went and rustled cattle, killed some and killed a Fulani man were arrested by the police. They were arraigned and 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.”
The Tor-Tiv, Prof. James Ortese Iorzua Ayatse, said his entire domain was thrown into mourning due to the incessant attacks.
“We want you to put an end to the gruesome situation,’’ he added.
In another development, the Federal Government planned to adopt a community-based model that would expose promoters of the crises.
The collaborative intervention on peace-building programme christened “Sharing the Green Grass,” would deploy institutional intercommunity dialogue for peaceful resolution of conflicts and disputes.
A document by Director General, National Orientation Agency (NOA), Dr. Garba Abari and Chief Executive Officer, National Theatre/National Troupe of Nigeria, Comrade Tar Ukoh, in Abuja, promised that the new policy on establishment of cattle colonies and ranches to mitigate herders-farmers’ clashes would not be “decreed.”
They explained that working with local Fulani pastoral herder communities and local farming communities in Nasarawa, Kaduna, Plateau, Benue and Enugu states, the project would use community theatre drama model and advocacy to douse the tensions caused by frequent clashes between the two communities.
“We recognise the fact that apart from the main adversarial actors in the Fulani pastoral herders/farmers’ clashes, there are elites on both sides who are rendering divisive narratives to incite members of the public against each other, on tribal and religious grounds.
“We will be working together with these groups to moderate counter narratives of peaceful dialogue, which will expose criminal elements who, instigate and perpetrate these criminal acts.
“Law enforcement agents would as expected, be proactive in arresting and sanctioning criminal elements in these communities.
“This cultural and community mobilization initiative is continuous, and will endure for a long time in the chosen communities,” they stated.