Governor Samuel Ortom of Benue State, in this interview with George Okoh, tackles issues relating to insecurity, using the situation in his State as a mirror to reflect the grim situation in Nigeria.
The spate of insecurity across the country in recent times is getting out of control. What do you think will resolve these issues?
The truth is that this country belongs to all of us and the presidency must act fast because things are going to an alarming proportion. From North-east, North-west, North-central, South-west, South-east and South-south, there is general insecurity and this is being propelled by herdsmen. I want to repeat again, I have sent a petition to the presidency and to all security agencies before that if they want peace, Miyetti Allah must be arrested. These are people who have owned up and taken responsibility that they have killed; they maim, they rape and do all sorts of atrocities, yet their leadership is in Abuja and nobody is confronting them. Until these people are arrested, we will continue to have this sad scenario. But when I talked, I was being vilified and castigated. There is nothing they didn’t say against me but the reality is here now. It is not just happening to Benue State today, it is happening to the entire country. Why is the Federal Government silent about these Fulani herdsmen? When will the Federal Government come out and criticize and arrest herdsmen carrying AK47? When are they going to do that? Are we second class citizens in this country? What makes Fulani man feel he is superior to a Tiv man? A Benue man is not a slave to any Fulani man in this country. And so, Federal Government must do this. At a point in time, the Federal Government came out with a policy through the police that even those with licensed dane guns, double barrel and pump action guns should surrender them to the police. How many times has the presidency or the Federal Government condemned the Fulani herdsmen who are carrying AK47 all over the place? This is not correct. In Benue, we stand for justice, equity and fairness. Whatever is happening to Fulani man should also happen to any other person. That was why I called on the Federal Government to license me and many other good citizens to have Ak47 too. Because, if I have my AK 47 and a Fulani man coming and see that both of us are carrying same type of guns, then we can face each other. But you can’t disarm me and arm the Fulani man. This is the point. This is not right. The Federal Government is biased and unfair. The failure in security is caused by the Federal Government. What I perceive is that the president is not aware of all these things, because if he is aware he will stop it. I know General Muhammadu Buhari as someone who is disciplined but people around him, sycophants and mediocre are not willing to let him know the pains that Nigerians are going through.
Mr. President, in case you are listening to me, I want you to know that your people, Nigerians are suffering. You promised Nigerians that you would be fair to all. You said that you will be for everybody and for nobody and now it would appear that you are just for Fulani people because nothing is coming from you to give the people confidence that you are their president. You are the president of the federal republic of Nigeria and not the president of Fulani. You are the president of everybody and I owe you a duty as a stakeholder in this country, to let you know that what is going on is wrong and this has the potential of dividing this country which will not be in the interest of anyone. Some of us believe in the unity of this country. We believe in leadership because we know that leadership is by God and we have the responsibility to advise you when things are going wrong. It is not everything that I know as governor but depend on lieutenants. So, you must depend on us. Those who are silent are doing that as sycophants and mediocre. They are not willing to tell you the truth. The bible says you shall know the truth and the truth will set you free. Mr. President, if anybody is deceiving you that all is well, it is not well with us here in Benue state and from what I can hear from other states, it is not well with Nigerian today. You must act fast before it is too late.
What do you have to say about the recent agreement by the Nigerian Governors Forum (NGF) to ban open grazing?
Benue State has become a model in this country when it comes to issues of security, when it comes to economic issues and on issues of ensuring that there is adequate legislation to ensure the rule of law in our society. Today, like I said when MKO Abiola was being honoured in Abuja, you would recall that I said that the prohibition of open grazing and provision for ranching law that is being opposed today that tomorrow, it will be celebrated as they are celebrating June 12 and the principal actor, MKO Abiola. It is not more than two years and today we have seen it. And if you recall for all of you who were with us here who supported us in the struggle, that we told Nigerians and Benue people that there is no alternative in ensuring security for lives and property other than ensuring that there is legislation so that everybody will know his limit. That is what we have done in Benue state. Our anti open grazing law has succeeded. Today we have relative peace in the state because there is a legislation on ground and anybody that comes here with cattle in the forest or in our farms and so on knows that he is trespassing against our law. We appreciate the security agencies, our livestock guards, Argo Rangers, vigilante groups and our people for standing with us to ensure that we implement this law. It is on record that hundreds of people have been convicted, some have paid fines and some are in prison. And thousands of cattle have been arrested and quarantined until people come to pay their fines. And those who are not able to pay, we auction them as stipulated by the law. And we are not going to relent. Benue State has no intention to scrap the law that has given us relative peace.
I am happy that people from the South-east and South-west including South-wouth are agreeing that cattle must be ranched. This is what we saw several years ago.
A Yoruba activist, Sunday Igboho, recently said that herdsmen should vacate the South-west and the Federal Government has called for his arrest. Do you think that call is justifiable?
I’m happy that the South-west people are responding squarely to it and they are committed to it. And I heard while I was away that they have also decided to embrace prohibition of open grazing which is a welcome development because globally, that is what we have. In Brazil, we have over 300 million herds of cattle. In India, you have over 250 million herds of cattle. In America you have over 100 million, in South Africa you have over 100 million. In Senegal, you have more than 50 million. Yet you don’t see what is happening here in Nigeria happening in those countries. Why should we allow this thing to be happening as if we are still in the 16th and 17th century? Why must we still be practicing open grazing in the 21st century? In the 50s when they started open grazing, the total population of Nigeria was less than 40 million. Today, we are over 200 million and several human activities have taken over the land and the land still remains 923,000 share kilometers. The land still remains the same. The same land that was in the 50s when our population was less than 40 million and it’s still accommodating us when our population is now over 200 million. So, where is the grazing land for God’s sake? If we adopted presidential system of government from America, why can’t we adopt ranching from America? Of course, we have done that in Benue State here and you can see that it has succeeded. So, this question of arresting those opposed to Fulani men is not right. I also heard about the press statement issued by the presidency when the Governor of Ondo issued a 7-day ultimatum that the Fulani should leave the forest. The presidency came out swiftly and said it is wrong for him to say that. But when people are killed in Benue, Ekiti, Zamfara, Delta, and in all those places by these herdsmen and they come out to own up, the presidency doesn’t do anything about it. There’s this Fulani socio-cultural organization known as FUNAN who came out and claimed responsibility and said that they were going to mobilize Fulani from all over the place to come and take over Nigeria, that it’s their ancestral land. The presidency did not say anything. But they quickly ordered the arrest of an activist who stood up to speak out and defend his people. What else would you do when you see your people being killed and their farms being razed by herdsmen? What else will you do as a patriotic person of that community? It’s just the same thing. The world terrorist index has named Fulani herdsmen as the fourth deadliest terrorist group in the world but up till today, the Federal Government has not cared to declare herdsmen as a terrorist organization. And they have gone further to form Miyetti Allah Kautal Hore, Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders, Miyetti Allah this one and that one. And the Federal Government is romancing with them. And the Federal Government comes out to defend them anytime something happens to them. But when they cause pains in the lives of other people, the Federal Government will keep quiet. The Federal government has gone ahead to ban IPOB. Why can’t they ban Miyetti Allah? What did IPOB do that they went ahead and banned them? This one that the Fulani are taking over everywhere under the watch of the Presidency and they are not saying anything, what is the meaning of that? What are they trying to say? When you talk, they will come after you. Some people are afraid to talk in this country because if they talk, EFCC will come after them; ICPC will come after them, security agencies will come after them. They did that to me and I went to court against them and I won. They tried to impeach me but by the grace of God, I survived. So, these are the issues.
– Culled from Thisday Newspaper (Feb. 11, 2021)