The last one week has been overwhelming for the people and government of Benue State, following the killing of 73 people by suspected herdsmen. Ahead of today’s meeting with President Muhammadu Buhari by Benue stakeholders, Governor Samuel Ortom speaks with MANAGING EDITOR (NORTHERN OPERATION) YUSUF ALLI in Makurdi. Excerpts:
Did you see the herdsmen attack coming?
Yes, I saw it coming. The bill was signed into law on the 22nd of May 2017, and in June, Miyyeti Allah Kautal Hore did a press conference and threatened that they will not accept the law and the law will not be implemented in Benue State.
The press conference was in the papers. It was on video and audio. In a normal situation, the security agencies would have picked them for threatening not to obey the law. Inciting the people should be an offence under the constitution.
As a law-abiding citizen, I decided to formally report them to the then Acting President in writing, the NSA (National Security Adviser), the Inspector-General of Police (IGP), the Department of State Services (DSS), calling for the arrest of their leaders.
Again, in October, I wrote to the Presidency and all the security agencies, reminding them of the need to arrest these people. And these people continued with their threats that they will make it impossible to implement the law and that they will mobilise their people all over the world to come against us.
Are the attackers known in any manner?
The attackers are known. These people are responsible – I mean the Miyyeti Allah Kautal Hore. Their activities are not hidden, they are in the open. So, that is where we are.
Don’t you think the attackers could be unknown mercenaries?
Even if it is unknown mercenaries, they were hired by Miyyeti Allah Kautal Hore because the evidence is that they threatened not to allow the law to see the light of the day.
What is the way forward? Will you review or revise the anti-grazing law?
Review or revise the law to do what? If they have land in their states, those who want to do open grazing should go to their states because here, there is no land for open grazing. And mind you, these killings were going on. The killings today were not as a result of the law. The Miyyeti Allah Kautal Hore came out to say that they are not just fighting for grazing; they said they are fighting for natural resources – their land; they want to take over and that is what they are doing. You go and kill people, send the remaining people away, take over their land and allow your cattle to graze on their farm produce. This is not acceptable in the 21st century. Eh! There is no land here, the population has overgrown the land and there is no single hectare of land available for open grazing.
What is your perception on cattle colonies?
Maybe in other states… in Benue State, it is not possible, ranching remains the best because I don’t have 5,000 hectares of land to offer to the Federal Government to do cattle colonies. Audu Ogbeh is the Minister of Agriculture and he is into agriculture. Let him come and show me one place where you have 1,000 hectares of land that is free for people to come and do colony. Ask those people who insinuate it was because of my law that those 73 people were killed if there is prohibition of open grazing law in Kaduna where people are being killed. Even yesterday (Saturday), some people were killed by the same herdsmen. In Adamawa, is there any law? In Taraba, is the law taking effect? In Edo, is there any law? In Bayelsa, Enugu, Ebonyi Rivers, Kogi and even Plateau, is there any law?
Go to the Internet and browse and see whether cattle colony or open grazing is being practised in any part of the world. Even in Ghana here, there is no cattle colony. It is very painful that we give examples. Ghana has become the standard in Africa or West Africa against Nigeria that is supposed to be the giant of Africa.
I am ashamed that we have the laws but we cannot obey them.
What is the meeting point between you and the Presidency on this crisis?
We are meeting on Monday (today). The stakeholders are going to meet with him to see whatever the Federal Government put on the table and if the stakeholders accept…
Does it include Miyyeti Allah?
It is Benue stakeholders. It is at our own instance; we requested that we are going to meet with him.
What is your take?
I am very open as a democratically-elected governor. It is what the people want that I go with. So, if you are able to convince my people that we can tinker with the law or do whatever, I am ready to go. I have no hard feelings about it. I will do whatever can bring progress and stop these mindless killings whether they are Fulani or herdsmen, Hausa, Igbo or Tiv, Idoma or Igede, whatever can stop the killings, I am ready for it.
What accounted for the tension between Tiv and Hausa in Makurdi on Saturday? What is the outcome of your security meeting?
We were able to bring it under control. There was no need for curfew in the state capital. We just banned Okada between 6pm and 6am because they were identified to be championing this cause. That has restored peace. About 10 people were wounded, and being treated courtesy of the government.
The so-called tension is an insinuation and falsehood on the Internet and social media. They lied that somebody was killed and he was taken to the mosque for prayers, and for burial.
Killed by who?
It was a mob action and I am yet to get feedback. But somebody was attacked. We were able to mobilise the security agencies to quell it and we are fine now.
Are the Tiv now being instigated against the Hausa-Fulani?
No, no. There is no need for that. In fact, I have directed the security agencies that anyone instigating or fighting against any other person should be dealt with according to the law. I have also called a security meeting jointly with the stakeholders of both Tiv and Hausa. I will be meeting with them to appeal to them to talk to their people because I will not allow under my watch anyone to be intimated not to talk of a fight or killing.
When you sought this mandate, did you anticipate these challenges?
Of course, I have told you the challenges are there. I saw the New Year challenges coming but God told me to be courageous, strong, firm and determined to push further to do the right thing. And this is what I am doing.
After mass burial, how are you going to protect these vulnerable farmers and the flash points?
The IGP has been relocated to the state. So far, he is doing well. There is massive deployment of policemen all over the place. There is support from the military. At the flash points, we have security agencies deployed to these places. And we want to mobilise our vigilante group to give them back up and support because they cannot do it alone.
So far, we have over 60,000 Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) but we are still counting. We look forward to these people going back home very soon. Some had to run away out of fear because of the way these people came to attack. They came around 2am, 3am, 5am in the dead of the night. It was more of a guerrilla war against the people. In some cases, they did not even want to shoot guns so that the next person will not hear. They come to your house, wake you up and slash your throat.
We are doing our best but the situation is under control. For the past four days, we had no news of any killings. It was only on Saturday that I heard that one person was killed. I am yet to get full briefing on that.
Don’t you think of political complicity or likely complicity of the militia gang in the state led by wanted Ghana in these killings? Are you foreclosing these likely factors?
Where it is happening is not Ghana area. Ghana is doing his criminality in his own area—kidnapping, armed robbery and other crimes. These crimes are still going on and we are still looking for him. Where this crisis is happening is not around his own his village which is being shielded by his own people.
Why did you ignore the advice of some of your colleagues like Governor Solomon Lalong of Plateau State?
I want to say that I have forgiven the governor of Plateau State. I don’t want to make much comment on this. But he did not warn me. I think he was just trying to get a very cheap political score out of what he said. That is the way I view it. He just wanted to please someone out there; it wasn’t that he was saying it out of goodwill. We are very close to my colleague in Plateau State; if a thing like that happened to me( like it happened to him) even if you cannot come physically, you call me to condole which I did to him. When his people were massacred in a primary school by the same herdsmen, I condoled with him. So, I expected him to reciprocate this but I was surprised.
What really transpired between the two of you?
Rather he told me that he is under pressure to do the law the last time I visited him in Jos about three weeks ago. He told me he was going to make the law because that is the only way. He said they don’t have the land. But I was surprised.
What of those injured? Any referral abroad?
No referral abroad. But we made some referral to Abuja. There is somebody whose head was butchered and it affected his skull. We referred him to Abuja, we have already spent over N3million in Primus Hospital. Others are in teaching hospital where we have over 60 of them. Some have been discharged. We have taken over their treatment.
Did the President listen to you on this crisis? It is being alleged that the President is instigating the Fulani against Tiv. How correct is this allegation?
No, no, it is not because Mr. President is a Fulani man. Everybody knows Mr. President as a man of integrity, an upright person, a straightforward person Once he knows the truth, he wants to stand by it and it doesn’t matter whether you are a Fulani man or a Tiv man. Mind you, the Tiv people are the most-friendly to the Fulani people. These Fulani that are causing this mayhem are strange Fulani people. That is why I am calling for the arrest of the President of Miyyeti Allah Kautal Hore, Abdullahi Bello Bodejo and the National Secretary, Saleh Alhassan. These are not good people, they are trying to destroy Nigeria and the image of Mr. President.