Governor Samuel Ortom of Benue State has written a letter to President Muhammadu Buhari urging him not to see the current push for justice and equity over the alleged atrocities committed by herders in the country as a war against the Fulani race.
The governor in the letter titled: “Appeal to act before herdsmen drag Nigeria into a civil war” dated 8th February 2021, pointed out the concern expressed in some quarters over what he called inequalities in appointments, which he said create the perception of that the president is not being fair.
He said: “Your Excellency, these security challenges have assumed new dimensions where the now emboldened assailants and armed herdsmen daringly enforce their will on legitimate owners and occupants of ancestral lands.
“There are many areas of concern over the Federal Government’s actions and inactions, including the widely discussed concern over inequalities in key appointments. These have reinforced the perception that the administration is not fair and just to all Nigerians.”
Governor Ortom, however, expressed gratitude for institutions established by the federal government in Benue as well as the deployment of the military to ensure security in the state.
Commenting on the herder’s issue, he recalled the several letters he had written to the president drawing his attention to “the murderous activities” of some groups claiming to be representing the Fulani.
He said, “These groups and their leaders have also boasted that Nigeria belongs exclusively to them. The letters alerted you to several challenges and called for the arrest and prosecution of the leaders and proscription of the organizations in question.
“We are alarmed that rather than being censored, these leaders and organizations have been emboldened and intensified their atrocities. They have received encouragement in the process through various actions and inactions by the Federal Government, including the following:
(i) Open Visa Policy which has promoted an unprecedented influx of Fulani herdsmen carrying sophisticated and prohibited weapons into Nigeria;
(ii) Non-compliance with the ECOWAS protocol on transhumance; (iii) Swift condemnation of any perceived or real threats on Fulani while maintaining silence over their atrocities and admonishing victimized host communities to accommodate their oppressors and learn to live at peace with them;
(iv) The failure to arrest, disarm and prosecute armed herdsmen and Fulani militia; (v) Disarming other Nigerians who have licensed weapons; (vi)Continuation of open grazing and support for grazing reserves, stock routes, cattle colony, and Ruga despite nationwide acknowledgment that this practice is unviable; and that ranching is the global best practice for livestock production; (vii)The non-implementation of the National Livestock Transformation Plan despite its approval by the National Economic Council and its acceptance by pilot States.”
The Governor, who noted the devastation activities of the herders have caused in Benue and other parts of the country, said:
“This ugly situation has caused devastation across the country. In Benue State, 19 out of 23 Local Government Areas have been affected by attacks by Fulani herdsmen leading to loss of lives, destruction of property, and the displacement of hundreds of thousands of Benue people who are now living in Internally Displaced Persons Camps and host communities across the State.
“The total number of Internally Displaced Persons currently in the Camps in Benue State is 483,692 persons.
“Returning these Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) to their ancestral homes has been impossible as herdsmen continue to attack, kill, maim and rape those who return. The Federal Government is also yet to redeem the pledge made on 15th May 2018 by Vice President Prof. Yemi Osibanjo to contribute N10Billion to Benue State towards the reconstruction, rehabilitation, reintegration, and resettlement of displaced persons.
“The failure of the IDPs to return to their ancestral homes to resume normal farming activities, together with the impact of climate change, has posed a serious threat to national food security, as evidenced by rising food prices.
“Sir, we all remember the wise counsel of Nigeria’s former Permanent Representative to the United Nations, the late Alhaji Maitama Sule, when Northern Leaders Forum visited you as the President-Elect in 2015. He said, inter alia ‘…With justice, you can rule Nigeria well. Justice is the key. If you do justice to all and sundry, and I say all and sundry. If you’re going to judge between people, do justice irrespective of their tribe, religion or even political inclination. Justice must be done to whosoever deserves it.’
“Mr. President, this call for justice is the heart cry of every patriotic Nigerian. It is not a call against the Fulani race or any other ethnic group, but a call to make Nigeria work for every Nigerian in line with the Oath of Office we took as leaders and your pledge to be a President for all Nigerians and to be for everybody and for nobody. Unfortunately, you seem to be tilting towards the Fulani at the expense of other nationalists.”
He cited leading voices that have spoken against the atrocities of Fulani herders including the Sultan of Sokoto, Alhaji Abubakar Sa’ad, who he said acknowledged that seven or eight out of every 10 kidnappers arrested in Nigeria are Fulani.
He added: “This is not a good testimony. More so, the consequences this image has cast on the Fulani tribe should be corrected now.”
While emphasizing that he has nothing against the Fulani, Ortom further stated: “It is important to point out that these are not sentiments directed against Fulanis who are indigenous to Nigeria and have been living at peace with other Nigerians.
“Testimonies abound in that regard. For example, my wife and I were accommodated by a Fulani man while in school at the Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria. Till date, we are still very good family friends and he visits me occasionally in Benue.
“This point underscores the pain we all have had to go through to understand the tragedy where armed herdsmen from Mali, Burkina Faso, Chad, Niger, Cameroon, and other neighbouring countries are pushing the whole country to the precipice.
“While addressing the Nigerian community on Tuesday 19th April 2019 in Dubai, You also blamed these foreign herdsmen for the attacks on Nigeria.
“Mr. President, as a major stakeholder in the Nigeria project, I have a responsibility to raise these major concerns and to offer some recommendations towards addressing them.”
The governor suggested solutions to the problem saying: “A Ranching policy in Nigeria will provide an avenue for both crop farmers and those involved in animal husbandry to increase production using modern technology. This is the only way out of ending farmers/herders conflict;
(ii) Direct the Nigeria Police Force and other security agencies to enforce Prohibition of Open Grazing Laws passed by various States of the federation;
(iii) Abolish Open Visa policy and direct relevant security agencies to ensure full compliance with the ECOWAS Protocol on Transhumance;
(iv) The Federal Government should immediately pay compensation to families killed and those whose properties were destroyed by the herdsmen in various communities across the country;
(v) Condemn the atrocities perpetrated by armed herdsmen; arrest and prosecute the leadership of Miyetti Allah Kautal Hore and other Fulani Socio-cultural groups who have consistently admitted to the wanton killings and destruction of communities across the country.
(vii) License Law-abidingNigerianstocarryweaponsinself-defence;
(viii) Ensure justice, fairness, and equity in all issues relating to public safety and security;
(ix)Support the resettlement and rehabilitation of Internally Displaced Persons as a result of herdsmen atrocities in all States of the country.”
He concluded by saying: “Your Excellency, I am writing to you as a patriot who is concerned about your reputation and the fate of our dear country. I am imploring you once again to rise to the challenges of these times to avert the country’s drift to anarchy and disintegration, a situation that sycophants and praise-singers might be unwittingly shielding from you.
“In 2015, Nigerians enthusiastically welcomed your return as a leader with a reputation for uprightness, fair-mindedness, and integrity. The current situation is raising doubts in the minds of many Nigerians who had believed in you.
“Mr. President, your compatriots are looking up to you to act fast to redress the situation.”