Benue State Governor, Samuel Ortom in this interview with DAILY ASSET in Makurdi bares his mind on the recent Herdsmen attack on the state, the humanitarian situation on his hands and the implication of the attacks on the state’s economy especially food security among other issues. He spoke with Editor, Danusa Ocholi and Correspondent, John Shiaondo.
How have you been managing the internally displaced persons arising from the recent Fulani Herdsmen attacks?
The situation is bad, the IDPs are over 60,000 but we are still counting. We have released N100 million for essential materials to be bought for the IDPs. They are in four locations, three in Guma and one in Logo local government. We intend to carter for them. We have also deployed Ministry of Health officials to take care of the health needs and challenges that are there. The State Emergency Agency(SEMA) has also deployed staff who are doing documentation. When this happened, we informed Mr. President about the situation and I was contacted that NEMA is bringing relief materials for the IDPs, but it is not enough. UNSCR have visited the camp with my SEMA office here. There was the issue whether by law we have the right to camp them in our state, but that has been resolved now and I have already intimated the ministry of interior and I know they too will come with some help. Obviously contending with over 60,000 IDPs is not an easy task. You are dealing with children, you are dealing with women, you are dealing with the old so the whole thing is complicated. They are staying in a primary school and the environment is not convenient at all so, with health issues and feeding, it is tasking and challenging and I am really calling for help.
Sir am aware you expressed so much happiness for the Support of president Buhari, but people in your state don’t seem to be happy with the people in Abuja especially with the minister for agriculture over his pronouncement on cattle colonies?
Its unfortunate the federal government agencies failed Mr. President and I told them that they have not complimented what Mr. President is doing. They have not been able to fill the gap in a manner that this situation would have been averted. In the first, place there was no need for this. If they had listen to the advise I gave, this thing would have not happened. The security agencies for instance, in June of 2017 were informed of this threat. You don’t need Mr. President to go there and be doing this. But even the President too was informed there is no doubt about that, but as a governor, I know what I go through. So if there is any laxity from the supporting team this kind of a thing can happen. And I think that is what happened. He was not briefed, but we must also appreciate that you are president but you have people who are responsible for specific duties that should be carried out. It is their responsibility to adequately brief and inform you as chief executive and do a follow up to ensure that this is done otherwise even in the office of the governor I know how busy I am. I was suppose to be somewhere, but I am two hours late already. It is quite challenging. The anger is so much, but I think the main challenge is because the president is a Fulani man. But I want to let my people know that they should reason beyond that. This crisis actually started before Mr. President came in. In Benue state here, the peak of it was in 2012, 2013 ,2014 and 2015 this thing was on. So it is not that Mr. President is not doing anything. When this happened I reported it and he immediately contacted the Inspector General of Police. It continued. I contacted him and he deployed a detachment of army to come into Benue. At least for the past three days we can sleep, it is as a result of this. I believe that we shouldn’t take up arms because two wrongs cannot make a right. We should allow federal government agencies that are responsible for peace and security and protecting us to do their responsibility. There is a lot of insinuations, lies and falsehoods going on, but I am pleading with them this is human lives so let us not politicise this issue. Let us not be sectional or vent our anger because the Bible says, let not the sun go down upon your wrath. What is important is to begin to pray for Mr. President , pray for me and our leaders like the Bible enjoins us. So that whatever decision we take will be in the best interest of our people for there to be peace.
There have been complaints on the issue of getting land. Is getting the land for ranching difficult ?
It is very easy to acquire land for ranching, those who could not are not interested that is a fact because as I talk to you there are some herdsmen whether Fulani or other ethnic groups that are rearing cattle in Benue state. And we did say when we implement this law we will give it a human face that is what we have done. So, 100% compliance with this law is not there, but we have allowed it. Even where people don’t have the capacity to acquire land for ranching we accommodate. We allowed them to do some level of grazing, but restricted to a particular place so, you can go and give your cattle water and come back.
Do you see any need providing subsidy for the herdsmen who agree to stay and do ranching?
The issue of subsidy is what we will sit down with the federal government. I had proposed this before that there is need because cattle rearing is also part of agriculture. If we pay subsidy for fertilizer for crop farmers, we can do same to them especially to establish new technology for cattle feeds. Government should subsidise and I agree with that.
Some of Your people insult you and say you have been too peaceful?
You see, either way they will insult you. Other people are still accusing me and when some were caught with guns they all said Benue state is sponsoring those people. I am not sponsoring them I don’t believe in violence and I don’t believe that two wrongs will make a right. I believe that we should respect the law, and do everything to ensure that the right thing is done at all times no matter the provocation. That is why I am not drumming for reprisal on this attack on our people. Innocent people should not be attacked. A Fulani man who is on sick bed doesn’t know what happened in Logo or Guma and you come and attack him in Makurdi, that is not right, it is not acceptable, such people will be treated as criminals. We must do the right thing. I know we have done the right thing by bringing the army who have succeeded in bringing the security situation to its barest minimum.
When you initiated this bill you knew it was an uphill task but you moved forward and implemented it. what gave you the courage despite the stiff opposition?
If you look at my chequered life history, you will appreciate the fact where I am coming. I have been totally refined to defend anything I do. To me I am elected by my people. Like I keep saying, if you ask me the meaning of democracy, I will tell you democracy is doing what the people want or at least what majority of the people want. To me, it was God that brought me here, nobody brought me and I will continue looking up to God. Giving leadership with the fear of God has translated to equity, fairness, justice, accountability, selflessness, integrity, discipline, these are the values that are lacking in the society today and I want to entrench them. I said it during my campaign that, if I am governor of Benue state, I will ensure that I execute counsel of God over the land. Executing the counsel of God over the land is serving the people, because that is the desire of God that all man kind be given equal opportunity. What we are doing I believe that posterity will judge us. What we are doing is a kind of revolution. You see that the kind of government I run has not been witnessed before. You say the truth, you ensure that there is equity. Doing this, we have transformed a lot of things. These are things that were not practiced before including the law that prohibits open grazing. We believe that prohibiting open grazing is global best practice. People were shying away from it. People who said that it was because of the open grazing that herdsmen are killing us I ask them. How about Adamawa, Taraba, Plateau states.? Is there any anti – open grazing law in Plateau state? How about Nasarawa and even Bayelsa, Ebonyi and Ondo? In Ondo, on the other day somebody’s hand was chopped, he was machete on the back. I don’t want to shy away from my responsibility as governor. I want to do the right thing, but I want anybody who feels I am not doing the right thing to challenge me. I am always open and if your arguments are superior to mine, I am ready to go with you. But now, I feel that I am going along with the people. They elected me so I must do their bidding all the time.
Are you under threat?
It is true I am under threat. The Fulani men sent a text message that I will be killed they called some people and told them that they will attack me, that I am a dog. They also said all kinds of things, but this kind of a thing is worth dying for. I am not cowed and I am not afraid of anything. It is only a fool that dies 20 times before you bury him and I am not one. Looking at my chequered life experience you will appreciate that this person cannot be a foolish man.
Are there any financial implications on the treasury of the state government on implementing this law?
Yes there is. I am yet to put in place what we have spent so far, but I can tell you it’s much. This is because, Implementing the law requires the Livestock Guards to be in place, we spend money on them. The police, we provide logistics for them. We require the conventional security because we need them, especially as this is happening. Implementing the law is what resulted to these 73 people that were killed, that is why we decided to honour them the manner that we did on January 11, 2018. This is because we feel that these are Martyrs, these are heroes and should be respected forever. It will be on record that when this law was implemented these people paid the supreme price. When implementation of the law is fully achieved, those people who embraced it will be enjoying the law through ranching, because definitely they are going to have better meat, good milk. Instead of allowing these cows to travel thousand kilometres, it is not healthy for them. Worldwide, it is better to have cattle that can stay in one place and do their feeding, provide water for them and they are able to feed and herders giving the privilege of their children going to school. It is a better way of cattle rearing and I demonstrated it. Much has been said because what we are doing will be of immense benefit.
On Food Security, a lot of farms were destroyed and economic mainstay of these people disrupted. Do you have any fear of shortages of food supply this year?
In 2014 alone, across 10 local government areas in Benue state, we lost property and goods, and of course food crops worth over N95 billion, with thousands of people killed. Definitely, what has happened will affect food security. The IDPs now, what we have recorded is over 60,000 in just two local government areas. This is harvest period, so those people were harvesting their crops and now they are being displaced, they can’t go to farms. Now two things will happen, herdsmen will bring their cattle to graze on it or fire will burn their crops. Nobody is there to watch. Therefore, I want to assure you that definitely this thing is going to have some level of implication on food security in Nigeria because we are the food basket of the nation.
Can you tell us your relationship with the security?
We are doing very well. I have a commissioner of Police here with his men, the commander of the army, the DSS and also the Civil Defence all of us work together as a government. This law for instance, was discussed with the security council before we even took it to the Executive Council and then sent to the House of Assembly. So, we are working together and I must commend that, because since implementation of this law, their role has been fantastic. As I talk to you, close to 30 people are in detention and there is no bias about implementing this law. There are some young men in Ado LGA, who went and murdered a Fulani man and killed his cattle, they were arrested, three of them, they are in detention. And there are some herdsmen who violated the law by doing open grazing and they were arrested. On the recent killings, more than nine persons have bee arrested, six of them have been arraigned, three of them, it was just three days back that they were arrested. So what else do they do? You appreciate the fact that the Nigeria security have been over stretched. The army, the police all have been over stretched because of the security situation going on across the country. For me in Benue state, they are doing very well. Things that are beyond them I don’t expect them to do it. If I call the federal government to arrest the Miyetti Allah Kautal Hore, they are in Abuja not here. They are there inciting people to cause havoc. If you listen to Channels TV yesterday and of course what we have in papers, the young man came out clearly and from what he presented proved the fact that they are responsible for the attack and I still continue to call for their arrest.