Governor Ortom held a closed-door meeting with President Muhammadu Buhari on Tuesday ostensibly to discuss the recent killings in Benue state that has left about 80 people dead.
At the close of the meeting he made remarks to the media correspondents. We have deconstructed his remarks into 7 themes below:
Relationship with President Buhari
Ortom cleared the air on news reports that quoted him as suggesting he had limited access to the president.
According to the stories, Ortom had accused the people – a cabal – around the president of deliberately frustrating his attempt to brief him on the security situation of the state with regards to the Fulani Herdsmen crisis. Yesterday, he categorically denied those reports.
“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.”
FG Cattle Colonies Proposal
Ortom said he is not yet sold on the Federal government’s proposal to have cattle colonies (explained here) as a means to ending the Fulani/Herdsmen crisis. The governor insisted that he stood by his ranching law but he maintained that he does not have a grasp yet of what the cattle colonies’ proposal by the Agriculture Minister, Audu Ogbeh entails.
He said: “I’m waiting to be briefed about what colonies means, I don’t understand it and until I understand it we will not accept it. But like I keep saying, for us the way forward is ranching and up till this time I am talking to you, the way forward is still ranching because it is the global best practice.
“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.”
Ortom said that Benue state was struggling economically already and cannot afford a lingering crisis in the mould of insecurity. The governor only recently estimated that N95 billion has been lost already as a result of the crisis.
“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.”
Open Grazing Prohibition Law
Governor Ortom is doubling down on his position, in spite of several alleged threats to his life, that the open grazing prohibition and ranch establishment law has come to stay. He offered an explanation on how it works.
“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, they are Fulani men in Benue State as I talk to you doing their business.”
“Its 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 are free.
“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, since we started the implementation 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.”
False Justification For Herdsmen Attacks
Ortom also responded to the claims by Garus Gololo, a leader of the Miyetti Allah Kautal Hore group who took responsibility for the recent attacks in Benue on the BBC News Pidgin programme. Gololo had attributed the motive for the killings to his claim that 1000 cows belonging to the herdsmen were stolen. Governor Ortom calls it a lie. He said:
“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 to the River, he has not come out to justify what he said.”
Ortom also dismissed other claims, including that he hired mercenaries from Ghana to fight the Fulani Herdsmen. “I’m not aware of this and I don’t even know about that. I’m hearing it for the first time. If someone has done that it must be this Miyetti Allah Kautal Hore, that have done it,” he said.
The Real Fulani Herdsmen
Ortom clarifies that the ‘real’ Fulani Herdsmen are a militia group, namely – Miyetti Allah Kautal Hore. According to him, they are nothing like the regular herdsmen who have co-existed with the farmers in Benue for a while. He said that their recent murder of two policemen indicates their level of sophistication. He suggested that the militant herdsmen have their enclave situated in Awe Local Government of Nasarawa state.
“There has been relative peace amongst farmers and herdsmen; they were doing well until this militia – 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.
“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, exchange fire with them, caught two of them and slaughtered them like goats; Mobile Policemen.
“They shot another one, matcheted him and left him in the pool of his own 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 to protect lives and property, is it not taking a dangerous dimension? Who is now safe? 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.”
Ortom said that President Buhari has given directives to the effect of bolstering security in the state since the news of the killings. He attributed it to the communications between himself and the president. According to Ortom:
“The movement of the DIG (Deputy Inspector General – of police), the movement of the IG (Inspector General – of police) to Benue State to ensure that this challenge is surmounted, at the instance of Mr. President is the right thing in the right direction.
“Of course, additional personnel of DSS (Department of State Security) 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.”
Ortom signaled his support for full blown military operations in the state. He said: “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 can not continue.”