The Vice-President, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo, yesterday, denied receiving any letter from Benue State governor, Samuel Ortom, warning him of attacks planned by herdsmen.
His statement came on a day President Muhammadu Buhari and the Benue governor disagreed on the need for cattle colony to be created for herdsmen in states of the federation. While the President asked the governor and other leaders in the state to accommodate herdsmen in the state, Governor Ortom said Benue State had no land to give for cattle colony.
In a statement by his spokesman, Mr. Laolu Akande, Osinbajo expressed shock over the governor’s claims, which he described as a “terrible falsehood.” Ortom had said he alerted President Muhammadu Buhari, Osinbajo, the Inspector-General of Police, Ibrahim Idris, of the planned attacks by herdsmen but that they allegedly ignored it. Reacting to the allegation, Osinbajo said neither him nor the other parties the governor claimed to have alerted got any letters on the situation.
What Ortom told me — Osinbajo
Akande explained that Ortom wrote the vice president a letter dated June 7, 2017, protesting the opposition and resistance of Miyetti Allah to the anti-grazing law, adding that he had also received a letter from the leadership of Miyetti Allah on their reservations about the law. He said: “It will be a terrible falsehood to suggest that the VP was ever informed by the governor or anyone else of the imminence of the killing of citizens of our country in those or any other local governments in Benue State.
“Governor Ortom wrote to the Vice President, then Acting President, on June 7, 2017, protesting a newspaper publication where the leadership of Miyetti Allah was reported to have stated that it was opposed to the Open Grazing Prohibition law of the state and that they would mobilize to resist the law. “The Miyetti Allah had written to the Vice President on June 5, 2017, on the same law protesting several sections of the law.
“The governor went on to say that the leadership of Miyetti Allah should be arrested because they used words such as “wicked, obnoxious and repressive,” to describe the law, and because these were utterances that were capable of undermining the peace…” He said upon receiving the letter, Prof. Osinbajo met with Ortom to discuss the security issues in the state, and ordered security agencies to be on the alert. He said, however, that there was no mention of any threats of attacks from the herdsmen in the letter written to him by Ortom.
Meetings with Ortom
“The Vice President subsequently met with the governor, discussed the matter and the security situation in the State and then ordered law enforcement agencies to be on the alert to prevent any attacks or violence. This was in June 2017! “In the said letter written by the governor, there was no mention of any threat to any of the 23 local governments of Benue State, so the best the law enforcement agencies could do even then was to await information or intelligence of an imminent attack. None came. “Since then the VP has held several meetings with the Benue State governor, including a visit to the state on September 6, last year, at the behest of the President, during the tragic floods in the state last year. “At all such meetings, the vice-president discussed the security situation of the state with the governor.
“Following that, the then acting president (Osinbajo) convened a major national security retreat which was attended by all state governors, service chiefs and heads of security agencies. The retreat featured very detailed discussions on the herdsmen/ farmers’ clashes. “To the best of our knowledge, neither Governor Ortom nor the Federal Government was aware of the imminence of the cowardly attack on Logo and Guma on January 1, and, therefore, any suggestion that the President or the vice-president ignored the state governor’s warning is both absolutely false and certainly misleading,’’ he said.
Please accommodate herdsmen, others— Buhari
Meanwhile, President Muhammadu Buhari, yesterday, met political and traditional leaders of Benue State at the Presidential Villa, Abuja, pleading with them to accommodate herdsmen in the state. He also directed the Inspector General of Police, IGP, Ibrahim Idris, to fish out the herdsmen that were behind the massacre of over 70 people in five communities of Guma and Logo local government areas of Benue State. The President appealed to the government and people of the state to accommodate Nigerians from other states and ethnic groups in Benue. He called on the government and people of Benue State to exercise restraint as he assured that all the perpetrators of violence in the state will be made to face the wrath of the law.
The President commiserated with all the victims of the attacks, and the families who lost loved ones and properties, noting that the government would make efforts to ameliorate the situation of all the victims. He said relevant agencies had been directed to start catering for the humanitarian needs. Buhari said: “Your Excellency, the governor, and all the leaders here, I am appealing to you to try to restrain your people. I assure you that the Police, the Department of State Security (Services) and other security agencies had been directed to ensure that all those behind the mayhem get punished. “I ask you in the name of God, accommodate your country men. You can also be assured that I am just as worried, and concerned with the situation.”
The president told the delegation that his administration had already begun a process of finding a lasting solution to the perennial challenge of herdsmen conflict with farmers and communities around the country. He said the Inspector General of Police had been directed to relocate to the state to provide security for lives and properties, urging all Benue indigenes to trust the security agencies and report all suspicious cases of movements in the state. However, Benue leaders, led by Governor Ortom, insisted that President Buhari should cause the arrest of leaders of Miyetti Allah, who they accused of being behind the killings in the state and had also been issuing threats after the attacks.
No land for colonies in Benue — Leaders
Addressing State House correspondents after the meeting, Governor Ortom said the people of the state made it clear that there was no large expanse of land to be donated for cattle colonies. Ortom, who explained that the meeting was on the instance of leaders from the state, said: “As you can see, I am here with the entire leadership of Benue State, members of the National Assembly, the Tor Tiv, Ochi Idoma and the leadership of Benue State House of Assembly and other very distinguished sons and daughters of Benue State. “You are aware of the challenge we had since January 1 up to this moment. Several people were killed, more than 60,000 people displaced, we are still counting. “We thought it was wise as the father of the land and as the President of our country that there is need to meet with him to interface with him. “At a personal level, I spoke to the President on phone on the 1st of January when this incident occurred and he responded promptly. And I followed it up with a visit; he directed the relocation of IGP to Benue State, in addition to sending us additional troops from the military.
Relative calm in Benue
“So the situation as at today, is relatively calm, though there are pockets of issues. For the past five days, we have witnessed two killings compared to what was happening before in Logo local government.
‘’Other places are relatively calm; the security men with the IGP and the Benue State government have been working day and night to ensure that we bring the situation under control and stop the killings. “There are still security issues from one town to the other, like some few days ago, we had an uproar in Makurdi local government, headquarters of Benue State, where some hoodlums wanted to take advantage.
That is one of the things we have discovered, they try to create confusion so that they can go in there and loot. “We have made it known that for us in Benue State, there is no room for anyone taking laws into his hands. It is expected that even when you are offended or someone violates the law, the best thing to do is to report, by that we will be able to met out sanctions on such people. But when you take laws into your hand, you are inviting anarchy and we will not accept this. “So we are here to appreciate Mr. President for providing security, yesterday (Sunday) we also received relief materials based on his directives to NEMA and is being shared among the five IDP camps that we have in Benue State.’’
Insist on arrest, prosecution of Miyetti Allah leaders
Ortom continued: “But beyond that, it is our strong appeal to Mr. President to cause the arrest of those people that perpetrated this act, the Miyetti Allah Kautal Hore, because they are not above the law, they made inciting statements against our people and they came and perpetrated this act. “As I speak to you, they are still issuing threats and it is not just anti-grazing law, it is occupation because the manner they come and invade the land and take over is something we think is bad.
‘’We are not willing to join issues with anyone. We are law abiding citizens, we are not going to let our people go out of control. We believe in the leadership of Mr. President because he is disciplined and is an upright man and we believe he will be able to sanction these people and he did assure us that there is no room for impunity, the law of the land must take its cause.’’ On whether he got any response from the letter he wrote to the President on the killing, Ortom said: “Like I said, the President renewed his directive to the IG in our present that those who are perpetrating this should be arrested and prosecuted. “I believe that if no attention was given to my letter, I was told that it was being processed and I hope by now, it will be processed and then action will be taken now that the entire delegation from Benue State is here and Mr. President is directing the IG.
I believe something will be done about this matter because we cannot allow lawlessness and impunity. “When people violate the law and they are not sanctioned, it becomes a problem. People should be investigated and I believe that these people will be arrested because there is enough evidence against them.”
On armed militia
Also fielding question on the allegation that he sponsored armed militia to attack the herdsmen, the governor described the allegation as a mere distraction. He said: “It is not true. I view that as distraction completely from the main issue that we are talking about. These people were not even arrested in Benue State. If we are being killed in the magnitude that we saw and we had weapons of what I saw in the media, I know that five AK 47s can sack a whole community.
“So if we had such weapons and, I as governor, my local government had been attacked and people killed, property destroyed and so on, so will I go and sponsor militia in Taraba State? “You should go back to history: From 2015 when I took over, I organized an amnesty programme which saw the disarmament of over 800 youths and more than 700 weapons were turned in and destroyed in the presence of security men and the UN and the committee on small weapons and light arms from the Presidency.
‘’So it is not true, it is false. It is meant to turn facts away from the reality that is happening on ground.” On setting up of vigilance group in the state, Governor Ortom said: “We are in the process of doing that but we have livestock guards in place, that is what the prohibition of the open grazing and establishment of ranching stipulates, that we should have livestock guards and we are considering having that in place.”
The governor, who reiterated that the meeting was at the instance of Benue stakeholders and not the President, explained further: “As the father of the land, we felt let us interface with him, not just coming from the governor but from the stakeholders. And also to send the message that I am not just on my own when people try to accuse me of promulgating a law which they don’t believe in.
Anti-Open Grazing law
“This is a law that originated from the people and all the stakeholders as you see them, they are solidly behind this law. Because for us, we feel that is the best way to end these farmers, herdsmen clashes. “The law is a win win, it provides security for the herdsmen and the farmers. And as far as we are concerned, the implementation of the law is going on smoothly. “As I talk to you, several people have been arrested and arraigned before the court of law, both from the herdsmen and also from the natives. It may interest you to know that three of our youths who went and rustled cattle, killed some and killed a Fulani man, were arrested by the police. They were detained and arraigned and are now remanded in prison custody in Makurdi. “We have also arrested more than 18 herdsmen who violated the law and they were arraigned before the court of law. So as far as we are concerned, the law is being implemented without any hitch.
“These killers that came on the 1st of January, about eight of them, were also arrested. They are with the Police and they are also going to be prosecuted. And that is what Mr. President said, that he is not going to protect any criminal and we are happy about this. So that is where we are. “As for the solution to the problem, we are open to discussion with the federal government to find how we can find a lasting solution. The Minister of Agriculture happens to be a son of the soil. There are many options that are put on the table.
No to government cattle colony
“Like I told you, the last time I came here, I did not understand what colonies meant. Today, I was privileged to meet him and he did explain to me that a colony is many ranches put in one place, restricted in one place where the land is. ‘’So for us in Benue State, there is no 10,000 hectares, they are looking for 5,000 hectares we have no 10,000 hectares to allow that kind of a thing to take place.
So people are free. Other states have the land but we in Benue State we don’t have and that was what led to us enacting this law.” On the message from Benue people to the President, he said: “We needed assurance from the President, we are part of his constituency in the country. As you know, Nigeria is a federation and Benue State is part of the federating unit.
“There is division of labour, there are specific responsibility given to each of the tier of government as enshrined in the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. So we don’t have powers over the security of this country except the federal government, but it is expected that the federal government should support us to enforce our laws and the laws of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. “For us, we have seen that even before the law, killings were taking place even more than what we are witnessing today, that we are looking for ways of getting out of it and today we have found a way and that is the law which seeks to protect all. “We are not sending anyone away from Benue State.
The herdsmen, whether you are Igbo, Fulani, Hausa, Idoma, Tiv, anywhere you come from you, are free to follow the law, obtain permit and then you do your ranch and you are protected. “Benue State will protect you from cattle rustlers when you do this and a farmer will also go to the farm without being intimidated or harassed by any herdsman. So, for us, we wanted him to know our feelings as our President and that we have communicated and he has given us assurance that he is out to ensure that the oath which he swore to protect lives and properties he will do it and Benue State cannot be an exception.”
In his remarks, the Tor-Tiv, Prof. James Ortese Iorzua Ayatse, said his entire domain had been thrown into mourning due to incessant attacks, telling the President, “we want you to put an end to the gruesome situation.” Present at the meeting were Benue State Deputy Governor, Benson Abounu; former Senate President, David Mark; former Benue State Governor, Senator George Akume and Senator Barnabas Gemade. Others include Senator JK Waku, Gen. Lawrence Onoja (retd), Brig. Gen. John Atom Kpera (retd), former Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Michael Aondoakaa; Speaker of Benue State House of Assembly, Terkimbir Kyambe, and other members of the national and state assemblies from the state.