Two governors elected on the platform of the All Progressives Congress (APC) yesterday clashed over New Year attacks by suspected Fulani herdsmen in Benue State. Over 50 people were killed in twin attacks on January 1st in Guma and Logo local government areas, homes of Benue State Governor Samuel Ortom and his predecessor, Dr. Gabriel Suswam.
Herdsmen, under the aegis of ‘Myetti Allah Kautal Hore’, before the attacks, had vowed to resist the anti- open grazing law enacted by the Benue State House of Assembly to check frequent clashes between herders and farmers.
While the Benue State governor is accusing the Nasarawa State government of harbouring the perpetrators of the attacks, Governor Tanko Almakura has blamed the killings on the implementation of the anti-open grazing law approved last year by Ortom. While speaking to State House Correspondents after a closed door meeting with President Muhammadu Buhari at the presidential villa, Abuja, Ortom disclosed that the killer herdsmen are being camped in Nasarawa State from where they launched attack against Benue people.
Ortom said the state had witnessed relative peace since the implementation of the anti-open grazing law until the killer herdsmen came from Nasarawa State to attack the people of Benue State. “There has been relative peace amongst farmers and herdsmen until this militia from Miyetti Allah Kautal Hore, came and attacked us.
And they are known, we know where they are. As I talk to you, they are in Tongua in Awe Local Government in Nasarawa State. That is where these people are camped and are coming to attack people.
“Just on Monday in Logo local government, Mobile policemen that were deployed to protect the people and the land, these militias exchanged fire with them, slaughtered two mobile policemen,” Ortom said.
But Al-Makura faulted Ortom’s claim that the Nasarawa State government has carved out a site in Tonga in Awe Local Government Area from where Fulani marauders launch attacks on communities in neighbouring areas in Benue State.
Al-makura said: “I’m really taken back by this statement. It is most unfortunate. I will like to use this opportunity to say that there is nothing like that whatsoever. If anything, the Tonga that Ortom is talking about in Awe Local Government is now the safe haven for displaced persons. As I speak with you today, there are more than three IDP camps in Awe local government that quarters and caters for the number of people that have migrated from Benue to Nasarawa.
“To be specific, they are more than 7,000 people that are camped in Tonga. So, it is very ironical that a place that is supposed to be an area that has become a safe haven for IDPs can now be called a place where militias are camped.
“On Monday, we held over seven hours of rigorous interfacing with seven governors, service chiefs and some ministers and all our security operatives within the states around Benue, and my colleague could not tell me this; he could not approach me and give me an idea if there is anything that he saw or is worried about.
“Besides, from all the discussions we have had on Monday, there was no concrete security report stigmatizing any part of Nasarawa State as harbouring people that are coming to attack Benue. “I feel what should be of concern to us as leaders is the plight of the people and any of such statement that is inflammatory is likely going to cause more confusion to what is already there,” Almakura noted.
On his part, Ortom insisted that the best way out of the increasing killings was the establishment of ranches across the country. He said ranching of cattle by the herdsmen, like it is done in other African countries as against the option of creating ‘grazing colonies’, remains the solution to the crisis. The Benue State governor also rejected plans by the Federal Government to establish colonies across the country to end the rising incidences of killings by suspected Fulani herdsmen.
According to him, “I’m waiting to be briefed about what colonies means, I don’t understand it. But like I keep saying, for us, the way forward is ranching and up till this time I am talking to you, the way forward is ranching because it is global best practice.
And it is not just practice in other parts of the world, on African soil in Swaziland, South Africa, Kenya, Tanzania, Mozambique, almost all African countries that rear cattle, they ranch. So, why can’t we do the same thing here? “For the colony thing, I don’t know what colony is.”
The Benue State governor also pledged to give all necessary support to the latest security deployment to the state as directed by the President, even as he lamented that the herdsmen attacked a contingent of mobile policemen in the affected area, beheaded two of them and severely injured others.
“I had earlier briefed Mr. President when this incident took place on January 1st. After staying back on the ground to do the needful to ensure that we restore normalcy, I said it was important for me to come personally and brief him and that has been done.
“I had to brief him. He is also doing further investigation to know the next line of action. I believe the leadership of Miyetti Allah Kautal Hore must be arrested and prosecuted because we cannot allow impunity to continue to thrive.
And of course, threat and no action has resulted in this killing and I think that Mr. President will also do the needful to ensure something is done,” he said. On allegations that he hired mercenaries from Republic of Ghana to fight herdsmen, he said: “I’m not aware of this and I don’t even know about that one, I’m hearing it for the first time. If someone has done that, it must be this Miyetti Allah Kautal Hore, that have done it.”
On suggestion that fullblown military operational base be set up in Benue like other places, Ortom said: “Anything that can stop the killings of my people, I will go for it. I support it.” He also denied allegation that the killings were in retaliation for the theft of 1,000 cows by some people in the state.
However, Al-makura blamed the New Year killings in Benue on the implementation of the anti-open grazing law. Al-Makura said: “It is the implementation of the anti-grazing law in Benue that has caused the problem and now Nasarawa State is being infected by the problem notwithstanding that we are being our brothers’ keepers and good neighbours. “I had to cut short my leave and come to find ways of helping my colleague.
We have called all our security to meet to find ways and means of helping Benue and if all efforts we have done and with all the relief materials we have given and the protection to the IDPs that were created, that certain parts of Nasarawa State can now be stigmatized with this allegation is, to say the least, most uncalled for and most unfortunate.
“We will still continue to render whatever assistance that we can give to the IDPs from Benue because we have some Tiv people that live in Nasarawa in virtually all the three or four local governments that share boundary with Benue State.
We are duty bound as a responsible administration to cater for all. “And the Tonga he is talking about is a town within three states, that is Goa in Benue, Shanda, Ibi in Cross River. So anybody can fly through the River to go and attack in Benue.
“And don’t forget the obscurity of the wilderness which is very porous and anybody can move from any part to any place to attack any place. “So, as far as I am concerned, there is nobody keeping anybody anywhere in Nasarawa State.”