HOW I WON RE-ELECTION,THROUGH THE FIGHT AGAINST KILLINGS IN BENUE STATE – Governor Samuel Ortom Explains

For all intents and purposes, Benue State Governor, Samuel Ortom is a hero in his state now. Since death of J.S.Tarka, hardly has any leader from any of the component communities making up the present Benue state fought battles, like Ortom did in the past two years, in defence of the state and its interests.

In the months leading to the last general election  in Nigeria, which saw Ortom  seeking re-election for a second term in office, the governor  stood for his people ,against armed herdsmen wreaking havoc in farmlands which led to the death of  many people from Benue state. His cries and efforts pitched him against his party, the All Progressives Congress, APC and the APC-led federal government.

 Virtually all security agencies in the country filed out against the governor. He stood firm on the side of Benue people. He also culled the bluff of the APC and defected to the main opposition party, the People’s Democratic Party, PDP. His heroism earned him re-election by the people of the state ,for a second term in office.

On the occasion of  a public lecture organized by the  Political Science department, University of Nigeria, Nsukka (UNN), held at the university’s Princess Alexander auditorium,   on 7th May 2019, the Governor delivered a keynote address as a Guest Lecturer

Below is the full text of Governor Samuel Ortom’s address:

PROTOCOL

I am very delighted to be here. I appreciate the Department of Political Science and especially its distinguished Head, His Excellency Ambassador Prof. Ifeanachukwu Michael Abada for the honour in extending invitation to me as Guest Speaker on this very auspicious occasion. I deeply appreciate the very distinguished Vice-Chancellor, Professor Benjamin Chukwuma Ozumba and the entire University of Nigeria, Nsukka Community. I am also honoured by the presence of my dear colleague, the man loved and cherished by the good people of Enugu State; the hardworking Executive Governor and popular Gburugburu of Enugu State, His Excellency Chief Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi. I thank you all! 

2. This University is one of Nigeria’s flagship and foremost centres of learning, research and innovation. The Political Science Department of this great University has produced many men and women of great value; an overall human and socio-economic capital for our dear country Nigeria. The Alumni of University of Nigeria Nsukka, parades great scientists, administrators, bankers, economists, international scholars, politicians, leaders and statesmen of outstanding value and reputation like His Excellency Chief Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi, the Gburugburu of Enugu State. 

3. I commend the initiative to honour one of your best, the late Professor Miriam Ikejiani Clark. She was not only a distinguished Professor of Political Science in this University but was a noted political leader in our nation. She served Nigeria with commitment and exemplary passion for excellence. As Hon Minister of State for Federal Capital Territory (FCT), late Professor Ikejiani Clark was a leading light and contributed immensely to implementation of the Abuja Master plan.

4. You have invited me here to share our experiences concerning the fast spreading national tragedy of nomadic herdsmen attacks on sedentary crop farmers and other citizens of our great country Nigeria. I consider this recognition of my apical role in signing into law the Benue State Open Grazing Prohibition and Ranches Establishment Law, 2017.

5. The recent history of nomadic herdsmen attacks on crop farmers in Benue state dates back to 2009; but 2011 was when the conflict assumed the dramatic serious status of widespread killings, injury and displacement of farmers from their ancestral lands. When I was voted Governor in 2015, my people who are predominantly farmers requested for a policy that would not only end hostilities and attacks on them by nomadic herdsmen, but would also allow both parties to peacefully coexist. As a result, the State Executive Council sent a bill to the State House of Assembly and the “Open Grazing Prohibition and Ranches Establishment Bill” was passed by the House of Assembly on 4th May, 2017. I publicly assented in the presence of Benue State stakeholders on the 22nd of May, 2017. A six-month moratorium was allowed to create awareness about the Law and to enable those interested in establishing ranches to make proper arrangements to embrace what is considered as the global best practice of animal husbandry. Enforcement of the Law began on 1st November, 2017.

6. The objectives of this Law include preventing destruction of crop farms, ponds, settlements and property by open rearing and grazing of livestock; as well as cattle rustling, thereby curbing incessant conflicts between nomadic livestock herders and farmers. 

The Benue Open Grazing Prohibition and Ranches Establishment Law 2017 protects both herders and farmers. It is therefore in gross ignorance of the law for anyone to insinuate that the law protects only the farmer. Section 20 of the law provides 

(1) Any person(s) who rustles cattle, or other animals from any ranch commits an offence and shall be liable on conviction for imprisonment for a term of not less than three (3) years or One Hundred Thousand Naira (N100,000.00) per animal or both.

(2) Where a rustler: 

injures, or maims any person while carrying out his activities he shall on conviction be reliable to five (5) years imprisonment or a fine of Five Hundred Thousand Naira (N500,000.00) only or both; 

causes death, he shall be guilty of an offence of culpable homicide punishable under the provision of the penal code; 

(3) a person convicted of cattle rustling may, in addition pay compensation to the victim or owner as the court may direct.

7. I personally briefed His Excellency, President Muhammadu  Buhari on the security challenges in Benue State, particularly the invasion and killing of innocent people of the state by armed herdsmen militia; and the inevitable need to find a lasting solution and permanent peace. I also briefed him on the enactment of the “Open Grazing Prohibition and Ranches Establishment Law” in May, 2017 and that it was to take effect on 1st November of the same year. Similarly, I also wrote to the Vice President, when the President was away on medical vacation and he was Acting President, Professor Yemi Osinbajo. 

8. I drew their attention to the threats by Miyetti Allah Kautal Hore who’s National President Alhaji Abdullahi Bello Badejo and Secretary General Engr. Saleh Alhassan addressed a World Press Conference in Abuja on Tuesday 30th May, 2017, as reported on page 41 of the Nation Newspaper of 31st May, 2017. In that report, Miyetti Allah Kautal Hore called on Fulani herdsmen across West Africa to invade Benue, resist implementation of the ‘Open Grazing Prohibition and Ranches Establishment Law, 2017’ and in their words, help them “reclaim their land.” In the same vain, Miyetti Allah Cattle Herders Association in their Press Conference declared that, “more blood would flow in Benue if the Ranching Law was not rescinded.” 

9. Herdsmen have repeatedly argued that the ranching law of Benue State denies them their constitutional right to free movement and residence in any part of the country as guaranteed in section 41 (1) under Chapter 4 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (as amended). Our position is that constitutional rights apply to citizens, not animals (cows). In addition, Benue state and other states have a right to regulate economic activities, especially when these infringe upon the livelihoods of our people.

The herdsmen from other Western African countries have also argued that the ranching law denies their freedom of movement as guaranteed under the ECOWAS Protocol on Transhumance and Free Movement of Goods and Services.

There are conditions to be satisfied, such as the possession of ECOWAS Travel Certificate. The ECOWAS Protocol on Transhumance also provides conditions to be satisfied for seasonal movement of herds between member countries which include possession of the ECOWAS International Transhumance Certificate as provided for in article 5 of chapter III. The certificate contains details of the composition of the herd, vaccinations given amongst other requirements. These conditions are not usually met by the herdsmen.

10. Regrettably, Miyetti Allah Kautal Hore subsequently followed their threats with action and attacks on innocent Benue people which commenced on January 1, 2018 where more than 73 people were killed in one day. I called for the arrest of the leadership of Miyetti Allah Kautal Hore and other such groups who had similarly threatened violence against Benue people.

11. On the 15th of January, 2018, after the mass burial of 73 victims of the January massacre, I led a delegation of eminent Benue sons and daughters to visit Mr. President and we again provided him details on the security situation in Benue State. Members of the delegation who spoke during the visit all re-echoed the call for the arrest and prosecution of leaders of Miyetti Allah Kautal Hore, as well as those of Miyetti Allah Cattle Herders Association who had publicly vowed that “there would be more bloodshed in Benue State if the Ranching Law was not rescinded.” 

12. Our people have suffered the attacks and killings that appear more like a pogrom or genocide masked in terrorism, not because they do not know their attackers. Benue people know those who are visiting them with unprovoked violence and killing their kith and kin, but have chosen as law-abiding citizens of a federated Nigeria, to sustain our belief in the conventional security agencies of this country, despite obvious neglect.

13. While addressing the Nigerian community on Tuesday April 9, 2019, at a town-hall meeting in Dubai, President Buhari was quoted to have absolved Nigerian herdsmen of involvement in killings, laying the blame on those “cattle rearers from Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger, Chad, Cameroon and other cattle herders.” The President reportedly said: 

“I took the governor on this and this is one of the reasons he left our party for another party. 

“Because I told him the cattle rearers and settlers problem in Nigeria is older than myself not to talk of him and at first republic, there were cattle routes, they put infrastructures and even veterinary. 

“So, if you are a cattle rearer or you know about cattle like myself, the herders now pass through anybody’s land to find water for their cattles to drink. 

“I told Audu Ogbeh, the minister of agriculture to look at the Gazette of the first republic to get the cattle routes and get the grazing routes and re-establish them so that we can reduce this incidence. Some of you here know the efforts we are making.”

It is true that the President took me up on this matter as he stated in Dubai and suggested that the solution was the opening up of grazing routes across the country. I pointed out to him that it was not tenable to do that in the 21st century when Nigeria’s population far exceeded that of the fifties at a time these routes were contemplated. At present, the routes have been taken over by airports, roads, schools, hospitals, as well as markets, houses and other human activities. The country’s land mass has also reduced to less than 923 square kilometers with the excision of Bakassi to Cameroon. Besides, the international best practice on this matter remains ranching. 

When the President stated that the crisis is older than himself and me, a statement from the Fulani Nationality Movement, FUNAM, issued after a meeting on 13th January, 2018 in Kano comes to mind. This group stated that “we notice the recalcitrant culture of the Tiv people as demonstrated even during the 1804 Jihad when they obstructed our ordained conquest of Nigeria.” They stressed that the crisis is a continuation of the 1804 Jihad.

14. The concern of Benue people is not just with the herdsmen militia, be they Libyans, Boko Haram, ISIS or any other mercenary terrorist force. Our concern is with those who hire the killers as mercenaries; those who bring them and show them our ancestral lands for them to turn into killing fields. The arrest and prosecution of leaders of Miyetti Allah KautalHore and Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association of Nigeria would have been the beginning of a semblance of justice for the thousands of people killed, injured, maimed and displaced; and whose property has been destroyed in Benue State by the armed herdsmen and their mercenaries; which escalated since 2013 with the Agatu killings. No one is now safe in Nigeria, from the North, South, East and West bandits are gradually taking over. This state of affairs started when the authorities allowed armed herdsmen from other countries free access into Nigeria, some were hired for mercenary purposes and have gone out of hand.

The allegation that large amounts of money have been voted to placate the bandits implies that the nation’s sovereignty has been surrendered to criminals. With enormous funds at their disposal, they can acquire more weapons and also make themselves more formidable to perpetrate more criminality as well as be better placed to carry out their agenda which is conquest and occupation.

15. In addition to thousands of lives lost, Benue has been thrown into humanitarian and economic crises of enormous proportions. Homes, schools, churches, health centres, security posts, roads, bridges, farms and other sources of livelihood have been destroyed. These have beene estimated at over N400 billion over the years. Over 180,000 of our people were registered in eight officially designated Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) camps in most part of 2018; while over 500,000 displaced people have been living with relatives and in uncompleted buildings and public spaces across several Local Government Areas in Benue State.

THE RANCHING ALTERNATIVE

16. Benue State has embraced ranching as the viable alternative. Our ranching Law which prohibits open grazing is Benue people’s reaction to these incessant killings, and an instrument of development. It was enacted by representatives of the people in the Benue State House of Assembly, in exercise of its powers as provided for by Section 4 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (as amended). Part 2 of the Second Schedule reinforces the power of the State House of the Assembly providing that “a House of Assembly may make laws for the State with respect to industrial, commercial or agricultural development.” The Law followed due process with public hearings and requisite opportunity for all stakeholders, including the Police making inputs. Our Ranching Law has the potential to launch Nigeria into 21st century agricultural good practices. The law does not target any particular ethnic group; it is for the good of all in the state.

17. Today we live in the 21st century and open grazing is extinct in most countries of the world. In Europe, America, Asia and in many countries in Africa, pastoralism has long given way to ranching. How can Nigeria then still be battling with a problem of pastoralism that in other countries has been solved over a century ago? According to the United States Department of Agriculture, USDA, India has 303 million cattle, Brazil, 226 million, China, 100 million, USA, 93 million, Argentina, 53 million and Australia 27 million. All these countries ranch their animals. Nigeria has less than 20 million cattle which could also be easily ranched. Unfortunately, the cows are allowed to either roam the streets freely or encroach on people’s farms and other investments.

18. A ranching policy in Nigeria will provide avenue for both crop farmers and those involved in animal husbandry to increase production using modern technology. The Netherlands in Europe and Swaziland in Africa are both small countries who export a huge amount of beef through the practice of ranching. With arable land of just 2% and population less than 9% that of Nigeria, the Ranches and Animal Husbandry Agriculture subsector of The Netherlands exported meat worth over 21 billion EURO, that is about 9 trillion Naira, between 2016 and 2018 only. Ranching by law and policy therefore, if properly implemented in our country, will also yield similar results and have great positive impact on our economic diversification dreams and our food security. 

19. The National Economic Council (NEC) has endorsed Ranching as the only sustainable solution to the frequent invasion by herdsmen as contained in the National Livestock Transformation Plan (NLTP) 2019-2028; except that the draft NLTP-Plan Implementation Document (PID) does not seem to offer convergence with provisions of the Land Use Act and the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 as Amended. In the draft, the PID in certain parts is couched in terms which are at variance with the dictum of true federalism.

20. It is worthy to note that for Benue State, the Open Grazing Prohibition and Ranches Establishment Law (2017) already provides for interested persons to privately acquire land for ranches; recognizing ranching as a form of agribusiness that should be driven by the private sector. All lands in Benue traditionally belong to family owners by law and practice. Government therefore should promote farming as a private enterprise, with private investors encouraged to approach individual family land owners and negotiate for available lands, if any, for such purposes.

21. The idea of ranching cattle in Nigeria cannot and should not be ignored. It is our considered view that the Federal Government is the most appropriate tier of government to understand and support legislation that promotes Ranching in any part of Nigeria. The bold step Benue has taken in this direction therefore deserves applause and support but certainly not scorn, knocks and the ongoing blame-the-victim narrative.

BLAMING THE VICTIM

22. The approach employed by some Federal Government appointees in handling the security challenges in Benue State has not been helpful. The Minister of Defence, Retired Brigadier-General Mansur Dan-Ali was twice quoted to have made reckless statements about our ranching law capable of worsening the security situation not only in Benue State but also in other parts of the country. On the 25th of January, 2018, the Defence Minister briefing Journalists after a quarterly Security Council meeting at the State House Abuja, was reported online in Vanguard of 26th January, 2018 and Punch of 27th January, 2018 to have stated that the law passed by Benue State is the cause of killings in the state. He defended herdsmen’s attacks and killings and blamed the victims for blocking cattle routes and reserves. He said:

“Look at this issue (killings in Benue and Taraba), what is the remote causes (sic) of this farmers’ crisis? Since the nation’s independence, we know there used to be a route which the cattle rearers take because they are all over the nation. You go to Bayelsa, Ogun, you will see them. If those routes are blocked, what do you expect will happen?” 

“ These people are Nigerians. It is just like one going to block shoreline, does that make sense to you? These are the remote causes of the crisis. But the immediate cause is the grazing law,”

23. Brigadier-General Dan-Ali (Rtd), again on June 5, 2018, as reported in Punch of 6th June, 2018 in a statement signed by his Public Relations Officer, Col. Tukur Gusau, called for the suspension of the Open Grazing Prohibition and Ranches Establishment Law, 2017 as the only condition for peace in Benue and other states which have enacted similar laws. He said:

“We need to employ other channels with the affected states to reduce tension by suspending the implementation of the anti-open grazing laws while also negotiating safe routes for the herders”. 

24. Those comments immediately triggered further killings by herdsmen militia in Guma, Logo, Kwande, Gwer West, Agatu and other local government areas in Benue state.

25. Then former Inspector General of Police, Mr. Ibrahim Idris, also made disparaging comments against my person and also the office of the Executive Governor of Benue State, and castigated the entire people of Benue State. In his first statement at a press conference in Abuja, he described the killings of our people by armed herdsmen as “a mere communal clash”. Also before a Senate Committee on Friday 2nd February, 2018 he stated that the Ranching Law, 2017 was the cause of the attacks. Apparently acting on the directive of his principal, the then Police Public Relations Officer, JimohMoshood featuring as a guest on Channels Television Sunrise Daily (www.channelstv.com>2018/02/06) on Tuesday 6th February, 2018 described me as “a drowning man.” 

26. It is on record that shortly after the 2018 New Year attacks during which more than 73 people were killed, the President directed the then IGP to relocate to Benue and bring an end to the attacks. The IGP came to Benue, spent barely 24 hours and moved to Nasarawa State where he reportedly conducted an investigation at Tunga market square to “find the killers of Benue people”. The then PPRO’s comment that I (Ortom) am “a drowning man” made me write to the President stating my fears and suspicions that the Police had plans to eliminate me.

27. On April 24, 2018 Rev. Father Joseph Gor and Rev. Father Felix Tyolaha, two Catholic Priests were killed while conducting morning mass alongside 17 others in an attack by herdsmen in Ayar- Mbalom, Gwer-East Local Government Area of Benue State. The Catholic Archbishop of Abuja, John Cardinal Onaiyekan, who presided over the burial mass for the two priests as well as the 17 other deceased parishioners in his sermon, said Nigeria is in a state of emergency and as such, government must stop paying lip service to the issue of security. In his words, “The nation is in a state of emergency. We demand for synergy. Division, especially on tribal lines, will only throw our nation to anarchy.” He called on citizens to be vigilant and to be their brothers’ keepers; but he also warned that if the killings were allowed to continue, the time will come when people will be left with no choice than to seek other means of self defence. Vice President YemiOsinbajo who also attended the burial mass of the priests, described the killings as satanic and evil, assuring the people that “this evil will be defeated and ended,” promised that, “We can ensure justice by apprehending and punishing their assailants. We must rebuild places that have been damaged and heal wounds that have been caused.

28. Similarly, Bishop Charles Hammawa, the Catholic Bishop of Jalingo Diocese, at a requiem mass at Our Lady Queen of Peace Cathedral, Jalingo, Taraba State, in memory of the two priests who were killed by suspected herdsmen, in his sermon, said the silence of people in power in the face of continued violent killings across the country was “an act of betrayal, an act of blasphemy against God”. According to Hammawa, 

“It’s a blasphemy for our elected people to allow the killings of human beings as if their lives did not matter. The federal government must rise up to protect all citizens without bias, for every human life matters and no life is more important than the other…”. 

Hammawa, however, urged Christians to remain peaceful and not resort to reprisal attacks, but to defend themselves where they could.

29. It can also be recalled that during his visit to flashpoints in Benue State in May 2018, the Chief of Army Staff, Lt. General TukurBuratai called for a repeal of the Ranching Law, 2017 as his solution to the wanton attacks and killings of Benue farmers by Fulani herdsmen.

30. The Minister of Transportation, Mr.RotimiAmaechi on Sunday November 18, 2018, made scurrilous allegations and reckless assertions on Channels Television’s “Sunday Politics” programme; concerning the unprovoked massacre of two the Catholic priests and seventeen worshippers in Ayar-Mbalom, Benue State earlier in 2018; and asserted that “…the people who killed them were from Benue,…they were not herdsmen.” In a similar fashion, the National Chairman of All Progressives Congress, APC, Comrade Adams Oshiomhole had earlier accused me of sponsoring the killing of the two Catholic Priests, alleging without proof that one of the Reverend Fathers was preaching against my administration before he was murdered. Benue people found the utterances of Minister Amaechi and Chairman Oshiomhole not only unacceptable but also reckless and an insult to the entire state.

31. On July 3rd, 2018, the Special Adviser to the President on Media and Publicity, Mr Femi Adesina, while speaking on an Africa Independent Television, AIT morning programme in response to a question on ancestral attachments to land, made a statement that shocked many Nigerians. He said: 

“Ancestral attachment? You can only have ancestral attachment when you are alive. If you are talking about ancestral attachment, if you are dead, how does the attachment matter? 

“So, if your state genuinely does not have land for ranching, it is understandable; not every state will have land for ranches. But where you have land and you can do something, please do for peace. What will the land be used for if those who own it are dead at the end of the day?” 

32. For political reasons, some Benue sons joined the blame the victim narrative. On 23rd of November, 2018, while addressing journalists in Abuja shortly after meeting with President Buhari, the Senator representing Benue Benue North West, Dr George Akume stated categorically that Benue people were the ones killing themselves. He pointedly accused the Benue State Government of sponsoring the killing of its people. Senate Akume’s interview was broadcast by Channels Television and other media outfits in the country. 

The widespread condemnation that followed his statements was demonstration of the people’s shock and anger. 

The statements made by the Minister of Defence, the Inspector General of Police, the Transportation Minister, APC National Chairman, Chief of Army Staff, Presidential spokesman and later Senator Akume, exposed the affected personalities as not representing the interest of the nation but rather that of herdsmen and their sponsors. Their expressed views on the security challenges in the State have continued to embolden the herdsmen militia to kill with impunity. 

33. I expected the Presidency to call these public officers to order even if they were not going to be outrightly dismissed. Sadly, nothing was done till today. 

MIYETTI ALLAH AND INFLUX OF CATTLE INTO BENUE

34. Most recently, Miyetti Allah KautalHore warned security agencies and citizens against attacking Malian herders grazing within communities in Sokoto State. Nigerians are really bothered about the affront of the Miyetti Allah group towards security agencies. We are also concerned that already, there is an influx of thousands of cattle and herdsmen into Benue state in flagrant violation of the Open Grazing Prohibition and Ranches Establishment Law, 2017.

35. The Federal Government should make a public pronouncement directing the country’s security agencies to support the implementation of the Benue State ‘Open Grazing Prohibition and Ranches Establishment Law, 2017’. A public pronouncement from the Presidency supporting the law will also restrain those sponsoring attacks on the state. It will rekindle hope for the much expected Executive Bill on Prohibition of Open Grazing and Establishment of Ranches in the country. Meanwhile, the Law is being implemented in Benue State with arrests and prosecution of those who contravene it, with many already convicted.

RANCHING LAW: THE ROLE OF THE POLICE

36. The Ranching law has exposed me and the government of Benue to many challenges including frosty relations with the Federal government and especially the Nigeria Police. The former IGP, Idris Ibrahim frequently changed police commissioners in Benue State. His motive was obviously suspect as he shopped for the Police Commissioner that would bend the rules in favour of herdsmen against crop farmers.

37. Within a period of 12 months, no fewer than four Commissioners of Police were posted to the state. Some spent less than two months before they were replaced. In January 2018, CP Bashir Makama was replaced by CP FataiOwoseni who was later transferred and one CP BesanGwana deployed to Benue in July of the same year. Gwana was apparently on a ‘special mission’ to the state. He supervised the illegal impeachment move against me by 8 out of 30 members of the Benue State House of Assembly a few days after he assumed duty in the state. He did not hide his mission. After the impeachment move by the eight assembly members failed, my Security Adviser asked him why he gave protection to those members to gain entry into the Assembly chambers. He bluntly told him that he was acting on ‘orders from above’. Next to be deployed to Benue was CP OkonEne in August 2018. CP Okon who appeared to be more professional in his outings than Gwana was transferred in December 2018 on allegations that he was not working in the interest of the APC leadership in Benue State.

38. Sometime in early 2018, a circular was issued by the Police High Command transferring all my personal police aides to other states. Though the order was later rescinded, I found it strange and unacceptable. It was impunity taken to new heights.

39. It is in view of this that the opinions of many Nigerians of goodwill calling for justice have become imperative. There is the need to enhance justice and prevent further bloodshed in Benue State which has the potency to spill over to neighbouring states including Enugu. There is the need to address the herdsmen attacks on farmers across the country. This gave rise to the celebration of the Ranching law of 2017 in the Benue state and beyond.

CONCLUSION: LESSONS FROM BENUE STATE

40. The last four years have been eventful. We have worked hard to promote peace and justice. We started with an amnesty programme. Armed youths and gangs were given opportunity and incentives to surrender their arms and ammunitions to government. Those who surrendered were given skills acquisition training for self-employment. This ushered in peace and security which was quickly disturbed by the massacre of our people by herdsmen in January 2018. The Ranching Law came as a solution to herdsmen attacks and has become the dominant phenomenon of our administration. The law has generated a chain of reactions from all walks of life and from it we have learnt a number of lessons:

STANDING WITH THE PEOPLE AGAINST POWERFUL INTERESTS

41. My landslide victory at the 2019 elections for a second tenure of 4 years as governor has proven that it pays to be on the side of the people. At the wake of herdsmen massacres visited on Benue farmers, I faced, and I am still facing persecution from many powerful interests. It would have been easier for me to have serviced the needs and wishes of those interests. I did not; instead, I stood with my people on the side of justice and equity. To our consternation, my government and the people of Benue were exposed to all forms of embarrassing intimidations. EFCC has repeatedly scrutinized our accounts including security votes and have many of our staff invited for no good reasons. We were barred from using the Air Force Base Airport for chattered flights and our guests were refused landing rights at that airport. We have had all police in government house transferred. We have been abused by the Police high command. We have had constant change of police Commissioners and at one point we had 4 commissioners within six months. Some Federal Government officials have been unfriendly and give nasty comments about our struggle. Miyetti Allah Cattle Associations and their collaborators worked to ensure that I did not win in the last elections.

42. False propaganda was sponsored against me and my party and voters incited against us. All these happened to us because we support and believe that the Ranching Law in our state is the answer now and in future for the genocide visited by herdsmen on Benue farmers and people, including women and children. In spite of all these and the paucity of funds to effectively conduct electioneering campaigns, my people gave me victory. The lesson is that it pays to stand with the people. 

POVERTY OF LEADERSHIP 

43. I have learnt from my experience that Nigeria has deficit of sustainable leadership. We seem to have a dearth of bold leaders who can clearly identify with what is good, and tell the nation. We have a lot of lily-livered people who masquerade as national and regional leaders in this country. They are afraid to speak and advise the Federal Government correctly. Many leaders have whispered to me that our position on ranching is good not only for the Benue State but for Nigeria as a whole. But they cannot speak publicly to support it. Where then are our elder statesmen and women? Where are our political leaders who can speak instead of whisper on crucial and critical national issues; including an existential challenge such as the herdsmen sack and pogrom of entire villages and communities in Benue State and beyond. 

44. As long as Nigerian leaders are not willing to stick out their necks to speak against the ills of our brand of federalism, the more we will remain dominated and underdeveloped. The Bible encourages us to speak the truth and the truth shall set us free. We are not yet free in Benue. It is not yet uhuru; but the attacks visited on innocent Benue farmers are decreasing even if marginally; thanks to the directive of Mr. President for the launching of Operation Whirl-stroke after Exercise Ayem Akpatuma (Cat Race) failed to contain the carnage. Thanks also to the Chief of Army Staff, Lt General Tukur Buratai, and the Commander of Operation Whirl-stroke, Maj. General Adeyemi Yekini, officers and men of the Nigerian Armed Forces as well as other security agencies who have faithfully prosecuted the Operation Whirl-stroke. By the grace of God we will continue on this path of victory and we will eventually be completely free, if not today, someday soon.

NIGERIA NEEDS RANCHING LAW

45. My research and reflection on the establishment of ranches has made me come to the conclusion that national legislation on ranching is urgently required in Nigeria. At least 24 out of 36 states of Nigeria now have serious farmers and herdsmen crisis involving killings. Without ranching laws, herdsmen may soon be at your doorstep and that will compromise farming and food security in your State. Herdsmen attacks on farmers will only come to an end when open grazing is completely eliminated. Many countries in the world including those in Africa have embraced ranching. It is a good practice that enhances productivity of animals and quality of meat. There are potentials that good implementation of the Ranching Policy will make Nigeria become an exporter of meat; and its associated value-chain of animal protein and allied products. 

46. I understand that the Federal Government has thrown a huge carrot at the Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association of Nigeria, MACBAN, by offering its members money running into billions to stop kidnapping in the country as reported by dailymailonline.com.ng, in its 3rd May 2019 edition. Though the government has only confirmed holding negotiations with representatives of the herdsmen, it is my opinion that giving money to herdsmen to stop the killing of innocent people across the country is only a temporary measure which will backfire in the long run.

47. I recommend that such funds should instead be channeled towards helping the pastoralists and intending pastoralists to establish ranches in the states where they seek to establish their cattle business and where there is land for such. The Federal Government can do this by banning open grazing which will be followed by loans given to all Nigerians interested in pastoral farming to enable them set up ranches. This method has worked in Europe, America, China and many other Asian countries.

48. Those who think that the problem of herdsmen is only that of the Benue Valley and Middle-Belt states should watch out. It was first with Plateau State and southern Kaduna, and then Taraba, Adamawa, Niger, Kogi, Nasarawa, Delta, Cross River, EkitiEbonyi, Enugu, Zamfara, Katsina, Rivers, Ogun, Ondo and other states. It is spreading and soon it will become an obvious national social and economic problem too difficult to contain. The 9th National Assembly must be challenged to pass National Open Grazing Prohibition and Ranches Establishment Bills. Any recommendation about opening cattle routes of the 1950s will not work because, on such routes, there are now built hospitals, airports, university campuses and Government Secretariats. Nomadic pastoralism is not an activity of this century. Courage and wisdom are needed by the National Assembly and political leadership to move Nigeria forward. 

FEDERAL, STATE AND LOCAL POLICE

49. I have learnt another lesson! The current Nigeria Police is not really Nigeria Police but the Police of some people in power at the centre. I have had a lot of experience with many police commissioners as well as Police officers sent to Benue for assignments. All I can say is that we need State Police and Local Police at the LGAs beside the Federal Police; and not as a ‘Police Force’ but a ‘Police Service’; answerable to the entire people and not just the few in Government. The State Police will complement the Federal Police and the Local Police will complement the Federal and State Police Services. In some countries there are several levels of police services such as the Federal, State, LGA, County, and City police services. Universities in other countries of the world have their own police as well. This important reform is required to address not only the herdsmen massacres on farmers but all other forms of banditry and general security of the country. Nigeria is critically under-policed, to state the obvious.

WHO WILL STAND FOR NIGERIA?

50. Nigerians from all walks of life are prepared to support that man or woman who will stick out his neck for good ideas and actions that are good for the people and will promote development and unity. But look around! You may not find many who are willing to put their neck for the overall good of the Nigerian people. Nigerians can give you full support when you stick out your neck for them to denounce injustice, domination and religious intolerance. Where are those Nigerians willing to work for the overall interest of the people and not their narrow self-interests? The more they come out, the better we are all for it. The more they stand for the country, the more the leadership will perform better and appreciate them and the greater the fortunes of Nigeria will be.

51. I am hopeful, and my hope draws strength from the belief of the average Nigerian, that someday, this country will rise and embrace Ranching as a veritable solution to herders/farmers conflicts, the same way June 12 was recently recognized as Democracy Day and M.K.O Abiola was acknowledged as winner of the 1993 Presidential election. 

In God We Trust!

Thank you.

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