By Sani Tukur
Benue State Governor Samuel Ortom was at the Presidential Villa, Abuja, on Tuesday to meet President Muhammadu Buhari as tension continued to rise in his state over the New Year Day attacks by suspected Fulani herdsmen.
The attack left scores of villagers dead in two local government areas of the state.
Mr. Ortom spoke with State House correspondents after the meeting. Excerpts from the interview.
On his mission to the State House
I had earlier briefed Mr. President when this incident took place on the first of January. 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.
Already, because of the communications we have been having when these incidents started, actions have been taken as directed by him (President Buhari). The movement of the DIG, the movement of the IG now to relocate to Benue State to ensure that this challenge is surmounted, was at the instance of Mr. President. Of course additional personnel of DSS and Police have been deployed and even the Army. We have additional personnel on ground now. We have adequately and fully given them the logistics support to ensure that our people are protected.
I had to brief him, he is also doing further investigation to know the next line of action. I believe that my request that the leadership of Miyetti Allah Kautal Hore, who has earlier threatened… and I accused them directly, since June last year I have been writing to the leadership of security agencies, that these people are a threat to our collective interest and they must be dealt with. They 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.
On allegations that he hired mercenaries from Republic of Ghana to fight herdsmen
I am not aware of this and I don’t even know about that one, I am hearing it for the first time. If someone has done that, it must be this Miyetti Allah Kautal Hore, that have done it.
On the allegations that he was blocked from seeing the President
I have never accused anyone of blocking me from seeing Mr. President. I’m seeing Mr. President. I told him when this incident occurred, I spoke to Mr. President on phone and followed it up. I know what it entails being a president. Even as governor most times I am not with my phone, people cannot access me the way it used to be, talk less of a president. I didn’t say that and I have not said it. The truth is that I have access to Mr. President anytime I want, I speak to him on phone and I see him personally. I requested to speak to him on phone that day because I couldn’t come to Abuja and he gave me the opportunity and today I’m here and I have seen him.
On suggestion that full blown military operations be set up in Benue like other places
Anything that can stop the killings of my people, I will go for it, I support it. Any policy or any directive, anything that will help stop the killing of these innocent people who are not armed, because this cannot continue. We know that the continuity of this will create greater challenges. I don’t want it to continue. We are struggling with economic issues, we are struggling with political issues and we are struggling with several other issues in this country, security issues and all that, Benue State should not be part of this; there is no need for it.
On allegation that the anti-open grazing law in the state is at the roots of the crisis
The law on prohibition of Open Grazing and Establishment of Ranching was made out of the necessity to ensure that we have peace for herdsmen and farmers and that is what we have done. The law seeks to protect all and as I talk to you, except this Miyetti Allah Kautal Hore who are instigating people to fight and to kill us, there are Fulani men in Benue State as I talk to you doing their business.
On allegation by the Cattle Breeders Association of Nigeria, MACBAN Chairman, Benue State chapter, Garos Gololo, that the killings were in retaliation for the theft of 1,000 cows by some people in the state
You know that man is a liar. Gololo is a liar, he is a wanted man in Benue State, we don’t even know where he is. He stays somewhere and makes allegations. The other time, he said 1,000 cattle drowned and the herdsman decided to commit suicide by jumping into the river. He has not come out to justify what he said.
On FG’s idea of setting up colonies to solve the problem
I am waiting to be briefed about what colonies means, I don’t understand it and until I understand it…But like I keep saying, for us, the way forward is ranching and up til this time, I am talking to you, the way forward is ranching because is global best practice. And it is not just practised 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.
On how many ranches his administration has created
It is not for me to create ranches. I know that as a farmer, I have one in my farm. And there are several other people who have. The permits are available for people who want to ranch their cattle to access land and begin to ranch. So it is free for everybody and that is the right way to go.
And since we started the implementation (of the anti-open grazing law), there has been relative peace amongst farmers and herdsmen. They were doing well until this militia coming from this 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, that is where these people are camped and coming to attack people.
And it is taking a different dimension. Just yesterday (Monday) in Logo local government, mobile policemen that were deployed to Logo to keep vigil to protect the people and the land, these militia came, exchanged fire with them, caught two of them and slaughtered them like goats. Mobile policemen! They shot another one, macheted him and left him in the pool of his blood, but luckily, he did not die. We have taken him to the hospital, we are treating him. The other one that was declared missing was found today (Tuesday).
So when it gets to the level of militia killing security men who are armed and are trained.
Source; Premium Times