TIMOTHY AGBOR, OSOGBO
GOVERNOR Samuel Ortom of Benue State has raised the alarm that recent genocide allegations and blackmail targeted at him and the Government of Benue State by Fulani personalities were part of a grand conspiracy by enemies of the state to eliminate him.
He said the allegations were contained in a write-up signed by 52 personalities of Fulani extraction, led by the former Emir of Kano, Lamido Sanusi, in form of a letter to President Muhammadu Buhari.
He spoke at a press conference on Thursday.
His press statement reads, “My attention was drawn to a write-up signed by 52 personalities of Fulani extraction led by the deposed Emir of Kano, Lamido Sanusi in form of a letter to Mr President in which the group leveled all manner of accusations against me in a desperate attempt to set me up for hatred, vilification and attacks. The group which refused to give itself a name, accused me of being responsible for the recent killing of some pastoralists at Akwanaja, Doma Local Government Area of Nasarawa State via a bomb attack.
“They tried to link the Benue State Livestock Guards with the killings, claiming that the pastoralists were bombed on their way from Benue to Nasarawa after they had retrieved their cattle. The group maliciously accused me of carrying out genocide against pastoralists. The dethroned Emir Sanusi did not stop at that. He made a video in Hausa in which he maligned me and called on all Fulanis to consider me as their enemy while urging those in Benue State to vote against me during the coming elections.
“I consider these allegations and blackmail targeted at my person and the Government of Benue State as part of a grand conspiracy by enemies of the state to eliminate me. Since 2017 when we enacted the Open Grazing Prohibition and Ranches Establishment Law, I have escaped seven assassination attempts. Those behind the evil plots have not hidden their motive. They have made me an enemy for choosing to stand with my people and defending their rights to life and freedom. You will recall that on the 20th of March, 2021, I was attacked at Tyo-Mu along Makurdi-Gboko road by herdsmen. After the attempt on my life, a group named Fulani Nationality Movement (FUNAM) issued a press statement taking responsibility for the assassination attempt. They said I escaped because of a technical error, but that I wouldn’t be lucky another time. They vowed to get me at all costs. The recent utterances of some personalities such as Lamido Sanusi have revealed the true identities of those behind the sinister agenda to eliminate me. But my life is in the hands of God and only He can permit anything evil to come my way.
“Our Livestock Guards operate within the boundaries of Benue State and are not permitted by law to bear arms. Their function is to help conventional security agencies in enforcing the law which protects both the farmer and the herder. The Guards have become target of attacks by armed herdsmen with many of them killed in cold blood. Benue State Livestock Guards do not rustle cattle. They legitimately impound cattle which are seen violating the law and take them to the quarantine unit for the period stipulated by the law.
“Let me remind those castigating me unjustifiably that nomadic herdsmen attacks on farmers in Benue state date back to 2009; however, 2011 was when the attacks assumed a dreadful dimension with widespread killings, injury and displacement of farmers from their ancestral homes. Benue State came under attack nearly 50 times before the law was enacted. My predecessor, Senator Gabriel Suswam was nearly killed by Fulani herdsmen in 2014 at Uikpan on his way to Torkula village in Guma local government area to see the damage caused by herdsmen in the community. When I was voted as 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 after public hearings were held in the three Senatorial Districts of the state. The law 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.”
I publicly assented to the law 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. The law does not target any ethnic group. It is meant to bring peace between herders and farmers.
“It is public knowledge that right from the day the law came into effect, umbrella bodies of nomadic herders boldly came out with impunity and said they would never obey the law. They vowed to mobilize Fulanis across the West African sub-region to invade Benue State and stop implementation of the law. They actualized their threats on the eve of the 2018 new year when they carried out simultaneous attacks on Guma and Logo local government areas killing 73 people whom we painfully gave a mass burial in Makurdi on January 11, 2018.
“Fulani herdsmen attacks on my people in the last couple of years have caused a devastating humanitarian crisis resulting in the killing of over 6,000 Benue people and the displacement of about two million others with many living in Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) camps. Our people have suffered the organized genocide masked in terrorism, not because they do not know their attackers. Benue people know those who are visiting them with unprovoked violence and killings, but as law-abiding citizens of Nigeria, we have chosen to sustain our belief in the conventional security agencies of this country. Now, the enemy has turned round to accuse our people of being the aggressors. Their aim is to blame the victim in order to launch more attacks on the state. On the 31st of January, 2023, armed herders blocked the Makurdi-Naka road and killed innocent people including the Divisional Police Officer of Gwer-West local government area of Benue State.
“Let me tell the dethroned Emir of Kano Lamido Sanusi and his conspirators that I cannot be intimidated by any of them. I hold the mandate of Benue people and my allegiance is to my people in respect of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria which gives states as federating units, the power to enact laws for the good governance of their people. I have nothing personal against the Fulani. When I heard about the bomb attack in Doma in which pastoralists were killed, I visited my counterpart, the Governor of Nasarawa State, Governor Abdullahi Sule and sympathized with him and his people over the loss of his son and victims of the bomb incident.
“I consider the statement by the nameless group led by Lamido Sanusi as a mockery of thousands of Benue people killed by Fulani herdsmen. The group has chosen to spit on the graves of our people in a manner that smacks of impunity and lack of humanity. They are pushing a false narrative that 3,000 herders have been killed in Benue State without any proof of such an allegation. The other elder called Hakeem Baba Ahmed who claimed to be speaking for the Northern Elders Forum, leveled more verbal attacks on me. I elect to ignore and leave him with his conscience.
“When I started advocating for the establishment of ranches, I received criticisms from different quarters. I was vilified for championing an impossible cause, but today, my joy is that the entire country, including those who wrongly attacked me, have come to agree that open grazing of animals is no longer feasible in a densely populated country like ours. I demand an apology from those who attacked me unfairly.
“I must state categorically that the Benue State Government under my leadership has no hand in the Akwanaja incident. Linking me with the bomb attack in Doma, Nasarawa State is the most unfair thing anyone would do to me. How am I connected or responsible for what did not take place in my state? Akwanaja is in Doma local government area of Nasarawa State, so how do I account for what did not take place in my state? I am Chief Security Officer only in Benue State.
The Defence Headquarters has already spoken on the Akwanaja incident through the Director of Defence Media Operations, “Major General Musa Danmadami, when he said and I quote, ‘What I can tell you is that we are very professional in the conduct of our operations. They are also intelligence-driven. Also, our code of conduct and standard of operation are in tandem with international best practices.’
“I advise the persons who wrote to the President claiming to have the interest of Nigeria at heart to stop playing politics with security matters.
“The individuals and groups pushing for the repeal of the Benue State Open Grazing Prohibition and Ranches Establishment Law ought to know that they are wasting their time. The law has come to stay. Anyone who wants to rear animals in Benue State should be prepared to do so in ranches and according to provisions of the law. We will not be distracted by the avalanche of smear and hate campaigns against us. I have the mandate of my people and I will protect their interests till the day I leave office as Governor.