Herdsmen attack: Benue governor run for over a half kilometres without stopping to escape death

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Introduction

According to Ortom, about 15 herders that have been dressed in black outfits ambushed him and his security personnel. In his words “… I went to my farm along Gboko street. And, on our way, back we began hearing some gunshots and we found those who had been dressed in dark, and from experience, we now discovered that these really are Fulani militias and I didn’t wish to take things for granted since, a few days ago, the media were awash with statements from MACBAN who fulfilled in Yola, the same place they met 2016 where they determined they will take Nigeria, also that each other person is a servant; that was when they began infiltrating the entire country”.

According to the Governor, “I appreciate the safety men attached to me. They could repel them and the gunmen could not have access to me. And I thank God for my fitness centre, to get run for over a half kilometres without stopping. It means that God has given me power, and I am thankful to God.” Ortom, that has been a vocal critic of open grazing of cattle, reportedly impounded over 200 cows for violating the anti-grazing law the State passed in 2018.

On March 20, 2021, at a press statement signed by Umar Amir Shehu, a team known as The Fulani Nationality Movement, (FUNAM) claimed responsibility for the assault. The team said it had real motives because it acted on behalf of millions of Fulani people in 15 countries. FUNAM said it’s a case of vengeance against an infidel, who has used his time and money in ruining the Fulani inheritance and values. According to the group, “Our courageous fighters completed this historical attack to deliver a great message to Ortom along with his collaborators: Wherever you are, once you’re against Fulani long term attention, we shall get you down. This is a clear warning. We expect those who take for granted, will find the indisputable message”.

FUNAM claimed 11 of its operatives were involved with the attack’ and that the Governor was able to escape due to a slight technical communication error. It claimed Ortom was leading the campaign against Fulani interests, at the North. The team said it has operatives in most Southern States. It warned collaborators working against Fulani people across Nigeria, of dire consequences. It stated clearly that any State or person who opposes RUGA or ranching will probably be confronted. It stated FUNAM will execute attacks on strategic human and material assets of States and non-State classes or people, known for their anti-Fulani campaigns.

The PM News on March 21, 2021, first published the FUNAM media statement. The paper reported further that in 2018, the team had triggered a few furores in Nigeria as it claimed that the Fulani are the proprietors of their Nigerian land, from Sokoto to the Atlantic. The Sultan of Sokoto, His Eminence, Muhammadu Sa’ad Abubakar, CFR, the religious mind of the Fulani, allegedly contested the authenticity of the team and disowned its announcement as reckless. The group supposedly has made several incendiary statements afterwards, without any consequence. It’s estimated that the simple fact that a group has owned up to have dedicated the assassination attempt on Ortom, if put paid to speculation that the Governor orchestrated or stage-managed the assault on himself, in order to draw sympathy.

The current attempt on the life span of Governor Samuel Ortom wasn’t the first to make him cover allegedly opposing Fulani interest. According to The paper of January 2, 2019, suspected armed Fulani herdsmen on New Year’s eve stormed the rice farm belonging to Samuel Ortom and set it ablaze. The rice farm, located in Gbajimba at the Guma Local Government Area of the State, was stated to have been razed down by the suspected herdsmen. The rice farm, according to the Farm Supervisor, Kena Iordzua, covered about 250 hectares of land, with the burnt rice anticipated at over N100 million. The plantation Supervisor advised The correspondent the herders came into the farm with a large number of cattle throughout the day and set it on fire at three different points. Iordzua said the inferno could not be put out as a result of the wild nature of the flame, as a consequence of the harmattan. The farm Supervisor added that security agents were mobilised to go after the herdsmen, who shot sporadically in the atmosphere as they retreated towards the Nasarawa State border.

Was Ortom the only real man to be assaulted in Nigeria?

According to local reports, members of this terrorist group attacked the convoy of Gov. Babagana Zulum about the Gajiram-Monguno street, killing seven soldiers and 2 civilians. Zulum escaped uninjured, but, it was the third time he was assaulted by Boko Haram terrorists, a report by Anadolu Agency (AA) said. Zulum’s convoy was allegedly attacked twice along the Baga Highway in September 2020.

Additionally, former Governor of Benue State, George Akume in March 2004 escaped assassination, after his convoy was attacked near Nasarawa-Eggon, Nasarawa State on his way to Kaduna to attend a meeting of the Governors of the 19 Northern States. His friend and former Managing Director of Nigeria Airways, Engineer Andrew Agom and a security guard, Sergeant John Ngam, died in the assault.

The General State of Insecurity in Nigeria

Such is the general state of insecurity in Nigeria, which traditional rulers, political office holders and individuals believed as extremely important Personalities have been targeted for attacks by unidentified armed groups. Back in November 2020, bandits shot a prominent First Class traditional ruler in Ondo State, Oba Israel Adeusi who was the Olufon of Ifon. Oba Adeusi was said to be returning to his town from Akure, the Ondo State capital, in which he travelled for a meeting with other frontline traditional rulers in the State.

In February 2021, Governor Bala Mohammed of Bauchi State participated in a word of words together with his Benue State counterpart on his handling of this herders/farmers conflict. Mohammed blamed Ortom for his lack of foresight, for the negative perception of Fulani herders from the country. Speaking on the theme”The Role of the Media in Promoting Peace and Unity in Nigeria”, which indicated the closing ceremony of 2021 Correspondents’ Chapel Week organised by Correspondents’ Chapel of the Nigeria Union of Journalists, Bauchi State Council, the Governor lamented the herder/farmers crisis was badly handled by Benue State Governor. The Governor further lamented that pastoralists from the nation, particularly Fulanis, are being maligned although most of them have become victims of cattle rustlers who have dispossessed them of the commonwealth, and they have no option but to take AK47 since the society and the Government are not protecting them.

He said inter alia that”the strangest part of Governor Bala Mohammed’s statement was where he defended herdsmen for bearing arms. “I wonder which section of the legislation the Bauchi State Governor mentioned to support herdsmen’s free movement around the nation with sophisticated weapons. I recall it was the exact same Governor Mohammed who once said on national television, that a Fulani man is a global citizen, and so, doesn’t require a visa to come to Nigeria, and that the forests belong to herdsmen. I wonder if my friend and colleague in Bauchi State understand a thing or two regarding the dreadful actions of herders in areas of the country, to justify the psychological defence and justification he has repeatedly put forward in their favour”. After the brickbat, the Governor of Rivers State, Nyesom Wike along with his Adamawa State counterpart, Ahmadu Fintiri, invited the two feuding Governors to Port Harcourt and settled the rift.

Resolving that the Herders/Farmers Crisis in Nigeria

From all indications, it is going to seem the genesis of the crisis where the lifetime of the Benue Governor has been hunted, is over the 2018 anti-open grazing law in the State. It needs to be remembered that this law was a child of requirement’ and a final resort, after years of attack by supposed herders on the farmlands of Benue indigenes, especially at Agatu and Guma Local Government Areas. The 2 LGAs were the epicentre of the 2018 New Year’s Day massacre, that abandoned close to 80 men dead. It was a pogrom that shook the whole State.

Governor Samuel Ortom has vowed to not repeal this anti-open grazing law. The other States such as Ekiti, Ondo, Oyo have also passed similar legislation. In reality, Governor Rotimi Akeredolu of Ondo State on January 18, 2021, incurred the anger of some Northern teams, when he gave a quit notice to most herders that are illegally inhabiting their cattle inside the Ondo forest reserves.

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The Governor issued a statement which read: “Now we have taken major steps at addressing the origin of kidnapping, in particular, and other nefarious actions detailed and documented in safety reports, the press and debriefings from sufferers of kidnap cases in Ondo State. These unfortunate incidents are traceable to the activities of several terrible elements masquerading as herdsmen. All these felons have turned our forest reserves into hideouts for maintaining victims of kidnapping, negotiating for ransom and carrying out other criminal activities. As the Chief Law and Security Officer of the State, it’s my constitutional responsibility, to perform everything lawful to protect the lives and property of residents of the State. In light of the foregoing, the following orders are issued:

1. All Forest Reserves in the State are to be vacated by herdsmen within the next seven days with effect from today, Monday 18th January 2021.

2. Night-grazing is prohibited with immediate effect because most farm destruction occurs at night.

3. Movement of cattle within cities and highways is illegal.

4. Under-aged grazing of cows is outlawed.

“Our resolution to ensure the security of lives and property within the State will stay utmost, as safety agencies have been directed to enforce the ban. In its typical magnanimity, our government will give a grace period of seven days for those who wish to carry on with their cattle-rearing business, to register with appropriate government”.

It is the herders/farmers clashes that have also led to a non-State celebrity, Sunday Adeyemo popularly known as Sunday Igboho, to similarly give quit notice to Fulani’s in Igangan at Ibarapa area of Oyo State, and the forceful ejection of Seriki Fulani of town, Abdulkadir Saliu. Similarly, members of the Oodua Peoples Congress (OPC) recently seized and handed over to the Police, Isikilu Wakili, a dominant Fulani herder at the Ayete region of Ibarapa, that was fingered in several kidnapping and rape cases in the town.

The Kano State Governor, Abdullahi Ganduje, and indeed, the Northern Governors Forum have come out to say open grazing is no longer sustainable and fashionable in Nigeria, which the best way to go is ranching. Some time ago, as printed in Business Day of Saturday, March 27, 2021, while fielding questions from journalists in Katsina, the Kano State Governor revealed that his administration has been able to stem the tide of banditry, by demonstrating a ranching culture in the State. He stated, “We are building a RUGA payoff in Sambisa woods, our border using Katsina, and we have succeeded in curtailing the impact of banditry in that area. Thus, we’re building many homes, constructing a dam, and establishing cattle artificial insemination centre. We’re establishing a veterinary clinic and we have started building homes for herdsmen.” Ganduje advocated for the proscription of nomadic herding which features the transportation or trekking of herdsmen, from the North to the central belt and Southern part of Nigeria. “There ought to be a law that will ban that, otherwise, we can’t restrain the conflicts between herdsmen and farmers and cannot restrain the cattle rustling which is affecting us considerably”, he said.

The Northern Governors Forum headed by Plateau State Governor, Simon Lalong, also fulfilled the herders/farmers clashes. In a communiqué issued on Tuesday, February 9, 2021, later their digital meeting the previous day, the discussion mentioned as follows: “The present system of herding mostly through open grazing, is no more sustainable, in view of growing urbanisation and population of the country. Consequently, it solved to sensitise herders on the need to adopt new methods of herding, either by ranching or alternative acceptable contemporary methods. It appealed to the Federal Government to encourage States with licenses, to directly undertake pilot projects of modern livestock production that would serve as a springboard for the complete implementation of new procedures of livestock production. The Governors called on political leaders to isolate criminality and social groups in their domains, with a view to handling criminals like criminals”.

A February 24, 2021 report in Vanguard newspaper reported that the Federal Government, on February 23 declared procuring a $400,000 grant to kick off National Livestock Transformation Plan, NLTP, in four States. In an announcement by the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, and Project for Agricultural Coordination and Planning, PACE, President Muhammadu Buhari, procured the grant in the Dutch Investment Agency, RVO, following approval of the grant, that Buhari signed a Memorandum of Understanding, during his visit to the Netherlands. The States for the NLTP include Nasarawa, Adamawa, Plateau and Gombe. The announcement by the Senior Special Assistant to the President on Agriculture, Dr Andrew Kwasari, that was accompanied by members of the FMARD-PACE Team to a two-day visit to the Nasarawa State Livestock Transformation Office to make sure the State Livestock Transformation team was fully aware of the requirements for successful implementation of this pilot, stated the $400,000 covered 50 per cent of the expense of the pilot startup of NLTP version in Nasarawa State for 30 pastoralist families, using a start date of March 2021.

The Federal Government is right on track with kick-start the National Livestock Transformation Plan, below which is intended to establish ranching. However, it must also host an executive order to ban open grazing nationally. Regardless of the purported ban of open grazing in the Federal Capital Territory by the Federal Capital Territory Administration, herders are still going about their business without let or hindrance. All forest reservations in Nigeria also have to be wired using Closed Circuit Television cameras, drones and satellite surveillance, in order to expose criminal herders using the forests as a hideout for attempted victims. All apprehended criminal elements ought to be prosecuted and made to serve their own punishments, rather than supplying them nebulous amnesty which has up to now proved counterproductive. Lastly, attackers of Samuel Ortom must be fished out and prosecuted, in a competent court of law.

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