Benue killings beyond grazing – Ortom
The Governor of Benue State, Dr. Samuel Ortom, speaks on the herdsmen killings in the state and why he assented to the Open Grazing Prohibition and Ranches Establishment Law, among other issues. PHILIP NYAM reports
There have been allegations that the implementation of the anti-open grazing law is responsible for the killings in your state. How would you respond to that?
I will tell you the truth because the Bible says you shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free. We have no business being where we are today. We would have been far ahead of where we are today and it is just because for a long time, we have suppressed the truth. But the truth is that I have decided to offer myself, if it would require me to pay the supreme price for saying the truth, I am ready to do it because time has come in this country that we must stop promoting sycophancy and mediocrity. We must promote the truth; respect the constitution and the rule of law.
The constitution and the laws of our land is the only thing that can guide us to greater heights; it is the only thing that can lead us to where we want to be; it is the only thing that can promote and project us to rank with other countries that are doing well. Was it not just yesterday that we said “Ghana must go?” Why is it that on African soil today or the whole world, Ghana has become a reference point against Nigeria?
And at my age and having been privileged to work at the local government and state levels as well as working as a cabinet minister and now back to my state as a governor; what have I contributed, what can I make to add value to Nigeria’s development? This is the challenge I have, this is the pain that I share and today for the persecution I am going through, for doing what is right, I have become a target for saying enough is enough. Stone Age laws should be repelled because they will not help us.
But, two key officials of the Federal Government made the allegation…
The truth is that I felt so sad when the Minister of Defence and the Inspector General of Police (IGP) were acting the script of the Miyetti Allah instead of doing their jobs for which they are being paid from collecting tax payers’ money. How can you say that it is because of the prohibition of the Open Grazing and Provision for Ranching Law of 2017 in Benue State that has brought those killings? The killings did not take place in 2011, but have there not been killings from 2012 to date. This law is a necessity arising from the killings. And for us, we sought to bring a permanent solution with the perennial problem of herdsmen and farmers clashes. We did our research and adopted global best practice, which is ranching for all types of animals.
So it is amazing for anyone to assert that it is because of the law that the killings were carried out. But in any case, is this law in Adamawa State, how many people did we hear were killed there? And almost everyday people are killed; do we have a law in Plateau State, do we have a law in Kaduna State, do we have it in Nasarawa State? We already have more than 10,000 Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) from Nasarawa State camping in Benue State. Do they have this law in Edo, Ondo, Bayelsa or Rivers?
So it is not about the law, it is deliberate and we live in a country where people will come out in the name of Miyetti Allah and issue a threat that they are coming to attack, that they will mobilise people to invade and take over the land and even when you report to the authorities, no action is taken and they expect you to keep quiet when you are a leader elected by the people and they are looking unto you for protection. I should speak and of course when I speak the media is able to alert the whole world and today the whole world appreciates the magnitude of the problems that I am going through. How can you be in a state and you have seven IDP camps hosting more than 100,000 people and 60 per cent of these people are children who should be in their schools, they are being denied of their legitimate rights which we as leaders are supposed to give them because of non-performance of people who are saddled with sensitive responsibilities in this country to provide security for lives and property.
How would you react to the various claims by the security agencies on who is actually responsible for the killings?
So, it is painful and really unfortunate and I expect that those who are responsible for enforcing the laws of our land and ensuring security for lives and property are the ones demonstrating incompetence because of what is going on. Take for instance, the President directed the IGP to relocate to Benue State to ensure that these killings stop, but he came one day and left and he is sitting in Abuja and he has chosen to send his public relations officer to be insulting me for doing what is right. This is unfortunate and it is like there is a general disconnect amongst even the security agencies.
Today, one would say it is a terrorist organisation from West Africa that is coming to attack. Tomorrow, they will say it is because of the law, next tomorrow they will say that we have succeeded in blocking the water from flowing, so the herdsmen can do and undo. And we have repeatedly called on the security agencies to arrest Miyetti Allah who are sponsors of these militias. The Fulani militias are in their numbers with AK47 riffles all over. Even when they were coming to attack people in Benue they boarded two boats, they were more than 200 heading to Benue. They filmed it and released it on social media for people to see their mightiness yet the IG of police will say that it is Benue people that have arms to attack. It is unfortunate.
But you were accused of recruiting and arming militias…
If I have 6,000 militias for God sake with AK47, will my people be massacred in the manner as it happened on January 1? If I have them, will I still be crying to the police and to the President every day that my people are being killed? Since after the burial of these people, there is no single day that one or two persons are not killed and the security men are not even spared. Policemen have been victims, they have been killed in the course of trying to promote peace and arrest these persons. There was an attack by these herdsmen on mobile policemen in Logo Local Government Area. Three of them were wounded, they are in the hospital and four of them are missing, we hope that they will be rescued.
There are several reports and write-ups that this is not a normal thing. It is not about grazing and some who should be taking action are not doing it. They are talking about jihad, about ethnic cleansing, about taking over the land and about the struggle for Benue valley, which they claim is their own. I have submitted to security agencies names of those behind all these, they are known, they are in Abuja where they call press conferences. So, which hate speech can be more than killing fellow human beings? I hear of so many plans to frustrate me here and there, plots to tarnish my image, they sponsor people to write hate speeches against me, but as a man who trusts and who God brought on this seat, l leave my fate in Him.
What is your reaction to the belief that some powers that be are angry over the mass burial your government organised for victims of the January 1 killings, which they see as a deliberate attempt to paint them black?
I work with my people who elected me and I always do their bidding. And this law prohibiting open grazing and making provision for ranching is the product of the people themselves. We did work with them, they asked for something that can solve this problem, so we brought the law. The law is a win-win one for herdsmen and farmers. So, it is a very popular law. You can go out there and do some opinion poll and see whether that law is unpopular because we have suffered between 2011 2017. People were angry and they felt that government should do something. And so we did our research and it was the popular view of Benue people to enact this law. When we started the implementation on November 1, 2017, everything was peaceful, herdsmen were doing their own and we did not even require them to do standard ranching. Even where they were not able to gather sticks and confine their cattle, they were able to restrain them from straying to peoples’ farm and we were okay with that.
When Miyetti Allah gave their threat, we reported but no action was taken and on January 1, these people were killed because of the insensitivity of the security agencies. So, it was the collective decision of Benue stakeholders irrespective of party affiliation that we honour these people. Today, the grave yard is separate from any other grave yards in the state and it has become a monument for all those who are victims of enactment of this law, that was why we chose to honour them and it will serve as a monument.
We are going to put structures there, we are going to put pictures of other people killed there with time because we couldn’t bring them down for burial here so that our children will know that once upon a time, there was this challenge and we rose to tackle the matter headlong and we held the bull by the horn and said the only way we can live in peace is to ranch and that is global best practice because the land is not expanding. By the ceding of Bakassi to Cameroon, the land mass is no longer 923,000 square kilometers, but the population is growing.
Some people have argued that in the 50s, there were cattle routes and grazing areas, all these things have been encroached upon as a result of population growth. What was the population in 1950? Less than 40 million, today we are told by projection that we are over 200 million people, so where is the land? We are talking about diversifying from oil economy to other sectors like agriculture, solid minerals and for us in Benue State, agriculture is one area where we have comparative advantage and everyone is encouraged to do it.
At a time that we cannot even pay salaries as and when due, we have encouraged all the civil servants, during cropping and harvesting period; we give Fridays off for those who are not on essential duties to go and do farming so that if salaries do not come as expected, at least you have food on your table. This is a strategy we introduced since we came in 2015 and it has worked for us.
The January 1, invasion of Benue communities resulted to over 100,000 IDPs. Now, there are Cameroonian refugees crossing into the state and that gives close to 200,000 refugees. How are you coping with that considering that you just mentioned the issue of salaries?
The challenge is there as you rightly said. Today we have seven camps in Benue State housing the IDPs and two camps in Kwande Local Government Area hosting the refugees from Cameroon. It is a difficult thing, when it comes to human life as you definitely have to suspend other things and give room no matter how tight it is.
But, honestly I am a human being, the condition where these people are living is not enough to say that we have been able to provide minimum provision for them to live in those camps, at least minimum comfort, it is still not there. But we have appointed managers in all these camps, the seven of them for the IDPs and the two for the Cameroonian refugees making nine camps, they are being managed. We have had a couple of support from good spirited individuals and groups and government to assist us to provide non-food items and food items to these people, with the support from Benue state government too, we have been doing our best to ensure that they have minimum support. We have also mobilised health workers from primary healthcare board that are supporting them in health facilities but that is still not enough, that is a very big burden on government; we are still calling on good spirited individuals, groups and organisations and the international community to come in and support us because this is about humanitarian crisis, we never envisaged that we will have this at this time. Even where these people are being hosted, it is not a good sight.
Some people believe that you have left the All Progressives Congress (APC) in spirit as a result of the development in Benue State. Do you have any plan to return to the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP)?
I think it is not a problem to me, at least, for now. When these killings took place and I looked at the magnitude and I saw how people were running all over the place, my local government was affected, my ancestral home was affected, my farm was affected, everybody and more than half of the local government have left, you see them living in Makurdi or they have found refuge somewhere or they are staying in IDP camps. Then the dead people were not even buried, I decided that this is something that would require the entire Benue people to come together and work to ensure that we have a way forward, for peace to return and let our people go back to their ancestral homes.
I also decided that I will withdraw from all political activities and that is where I am now. I am still a member of APC, but for now, I have withdrawn from all political activities, including campaigns. I am no longer talking about that for myself or any other person until I am able to resolve this because that would bring distractions and that would also send some people who are supposed to make inputs so that we resolve this matter away from me.
Rivers: Obuah rallies PDP for council polls
EMMANUEL MASHA reports on the forthcoming local government election in Rivers State and efforts by the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) to seize the opportunity to consolidate its grip of the oil-rich state
Voters in Rivers State will on June 16, go to the polls to elect candidates of their choice, who will be in charge of governance at the local government level. It is one election that some don’t want to hold, especially those in the state chapter of the All Progressives Congress (APC). But 62 other opposition parties in the state under the aegis of Inter- Party Advisory Council (IPAC) have made it clear that they will participate.
The state’s electoral body, Rivers State Independent Electoral Commission (RISIEC) has given the green light for the conduct of the election. RSIEC chairman, Justice Chukwuneye Uriri, who recently addressed representatives of political parties during a stakeholders meeting at the commission’s secretariat had noted that for long there has not been council elections despite the fact that the law abhors vacuum. He, therefore, declared that there was need for a democratically elected council administration in the state even as he reaffirmed the commitment of the commission to perform its obligations to reflect the aspirations of the electorate.
His words: “Given the 90-day mandatory notice as stipulated by the electoral laws, the next election ordinarily comes up in June this year. It is therefore imperative that we fix a date for the election in accordance with the said rules.
“By the powers conferred on me, as enshrined in the Rivers State Independent Electoral Law No 2 of 2018, I therefore declare Saturday, the 16th day of June 2018 as local government election day in Rivers State. It is accordingly so fixed.
I reaffirm the commitment of the Rivers State Independent Electoral Commission to perform its obligations, to reflect the aspirations of the electorate.” There is no doubt that it is exactly three years since Governor Nyesom Wike took charge of the state after the triumph of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) during the 2015 general elections and in a normal political setting, that is a long time to conduct council election.
But, for the past three years, attempts to achieve this have continuously been resisted by the APC, which appears to be comfortable with the caretaker committee arrangement adopted by the Wike administration.
The caretaker arrangement itself is however a child of necessity as few weeks before the immediate past Chibuike Amaechi administration left office, it conducted council election after which chairmen and councillors were hurriedly sworn in.
The main flaw about that election is that the PDP and many other parties refused to participate in it on the ground that its outcome had been predetermined by the then APC-led government in the state. Observers claimed that the election was nothing other than a political landmine laid by the Amaechi administration for the then incoming Wike government.
But, the law took its course in September 2015, when a Federal High Court in Port Harcourt presided by Justice Lambo Akanbi, invalidated the May 23, 2015 council election won by the APC chairmanship and councillorship candidates.
In his judgement on Suit No. FHC/PH/CS/84/2015 filed in April 2015 by the PDP claiming that RSIEC did not comply with the 90-day mandatory notice stipulated by the electoral laws, Justice Akanbi declared that the May 23 polls were null and void. He further ruled that the conduct of the election by the Amaechi administration was lawless, provocative and disregard for the rule of law.
The judgement paved the, way for Governor Wike to dissolve the boards of RSIEC and the Rivers State Judicial Service Commission following the recommendation of the State House of Assembly. But, like the PDP did in 2015, the APC has declared that it will boycott the June 16 council polls.
The chairman of Rivers APC, Davies Ikanya, who announced the party’s decision to boycott the elections, described as shocking RSIEC’s decision to hold the polls in June, arguing that the issue is a subject of litigation before the Federal High Court, Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court.
Ikeanya, who would be handing over to Ojukaye Flag-Amachree, a former chairman of Asari-Toru Local Government Area, by the time his tenure elapses at the end of June, maintained that it was subjudice for the commission to fix a date for the election, even at a time when the courts had not decided on the cases filed by the main opposition party in the state.
He said: “We have been in a protracted legal battle over previous election that the RSIEC conducted, which Wike sacked elected officials and the case has not been vacated. It is wrong for a respected citizen to announce that their tenure has elapsed,” he said.
“Would RSIEC turn itself to Court of Appeal or the Supreme Court? Why can’t they wait for the court to determine the matter before fixing a date for council election? We are also saying that RSIEC, as presently constituted, cannot conduct election.”
IPAC chairman in the state, Sam Ihunwo, who condemned APC’s position, lauded RSIEC for its plan to conduct the election. He described the decision as a bold move to entrench democracy at the grassroots. He added that it was rather unfortunate and an illconsidered decision for the APC to withdraw from the exercise.
Ihunwo insisted that there was no truth in the claim by the state APC that local government election held in the state on May 23, 2015. “As you can see, 62 political parties are present to express their happiness with the Rivers State Independent Electoral Commission for putting the machinery in place to conduct free, fair and genuine local government election on June 16, 2018,” he said. He argued that the judgement of the High Court of Rivers State on the matter put paid to whatever hope the APC had on the validity of the said May 23, 2015 local government election.
The APC’s planned boycott, notwithstanding, the state chairman of the PDP, Bro. Felix Obuah, during the re-registration of old and new members of the party, promised a level-playing field in the council election. He has been urging party members to be peaceful and play by the rules of the game throughout the process that would lead to the election.
While addressing party leaders recently, he advised that “even the persons who will be defecting today and wish to join our party must be registered. Do not restrict anyone from becoming a member. We need everybody and we do not want anyone to stop them from registering, due to personal interests.” Already, Obuah, a grassroots politician, who is also the chairman of Rivers State Waste Management Agency (RIWAMA) has been rallying party faithful for the election and remains optimistic that the exercise will be free and fair.
Wike, who made a similar pledge, said imposition of candidates would not be allowed in the PDP. The governor, while addressing an expanded state stakeholders meeting of the party, said: “We will use the local government elections to test the waters. Let people come out and vote, so that we know that we are doing well.”
The Rivers governor also charged party members to ensure that those who would emerge as chairmen and councillors would defend their constituencies during elections. No doubt, while Governor Wike continues to deliver sound governance, and projects, Obuah has stepped up his game in instilling discipline within the party, while preparing the grounds for a triumphant council poll and a successful outing in the 2019 general elections.
…Stop blackmailing Fayose, PDP warns
Reacting to the claim by All Progressives Congress (APC) that Governor Ayodele Fayose ordered the demolition of its governorship candidates campaign billboard, Ekiti State Publicity Secretary of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Mr. Jackson Adebayo, accused the APC chairman in the state, Chief Jide Awe and members of his party of attempting to blackmail Fayose.
Adebayo said: “We don’t habour hoodlums in our party, it is APC that harbours hoodlums and you can see it from their recent congresses. “PDP is a party of peace, our rally in Oye that day was peaceful and the governor and our members were not responsible for the destruction of the billboard.
“APC should search its ranks for those who destroyed the billboard if ever it was destroyed because I am hearing it for the first time. Governor Fayose knows nothing about it and our members know nothing about it.”
Fasanmi canvasses support for Fayemi
Former Deputy Leader of pan Yoruba socio-cultural organisation, Afenifere, Senator Ayo Fasanmi, has called on members of Afforenifere and electorate in Ekiti State to support the All Progressives Congress (APC) governorship candidate, Dr. Kayode Fayemi, during the July 14 election in Ekiti State.
Speaking to journalists in Osogbo, Fasanmi, an indigene of Iye Ekiti, implored the people of Ekiti State to give their support to Fayemi for APC to seize power from PDP and return the state to the progressives’ fold, which he said it rightly belonged.
The former Afenifere deputy leader also commended all APC governorship aspirants in the state, especially the party’s Deputy National Chairman (South), Engr. Segun Oni, for their maturity, selflessness and the belief in the doctrine of party supremacy which he said was not common among popular politicians.
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