Benue State Governor, Samuel Ortom, interacted with the people of the state on a Radio Benue live programme for two hours on Wednesday, 1st February, 2017. The first one hour was devoted to the process and content of the recent Agatu, Fulani peace accord. This first of a two part series is a transcription of the discussion on the issue.
Anchor: Good morning, my dear listener. Welcome to another edition of the Radio Benue current affairs phone-in programme, Issues of the Moment. This avails Benue people another ample opportunity to interact with their Governor, His Excellency, Samuel Ortom, for the purpose of seeking clarifications on issues of governance and development as well as cross-fertilizing ideas to promote frontiers for development. This is equally in keeping with the Governor’s promise on assumption of office to be in constant touch with the masses.
In this edition, the overriding issues will be the recent peace meeting between Benue and Nasarawa States to address the herdsmen/farmers crisis in Agatu and the economic benefits Benue stands to gain from the recent trade mission to South Africa by a Benue delegation headed by the Governor himself on the invitation by the Aid Trade Foundation. In the course of the programme, a telephone line 07038267479 dedicated for voice calls will be opened for those willing to participate. Meanwhile, the telephone line 08034787173meant for short text messages only has been on since yesterday and listeners are free to send their text messages even now with their full names and location. Already, the State number one citizen is in the studio to lead discussion. Your Excellency, you are welcome on board.
Governor: Thank you David and thank you listener.
Anchor: The Governor is accompanied to the Studio this morning by some members of the State Executive Council and other stakeholders. In the studio today are the Chairman of the State Economic Team who is also the Commissioner for Education, Science, and Technology, Professor Dennis Anongo Ityavyar, the Acting SSG, Doctor Bem Melladu, the State Attorney-General and Commissioner for Justice, Honourable Barrister Michael Gusa is also here and the Commissioner for Agriculture and Natural Resources, Hon. James Anbua. I also see my Commissioner, that of Information and Orientation, Chief Ode Ageh, the Commissioner of Finance and Economic Planning, Hon. David Olofu and the Special Adviser to the Governor on Local Government and Chieftaincy Affairs, Hon. Titus Zam. The Sole Administrator of Agatu, Hon. Mike Inalegwu is also here, Hon. Akpa Iduh is the Chairman, Peace and Reconciliation Committee of Agatu-Fulani Crisis. Special Adviser to the Governor on Project Monitoring, Alhaji Isah Usman is also here. Also in the studio is the Special Adviser to the Governor on Media and ICT, Hon. Tahav Agerzua and of course Mr. Terver Akase, the Chief Press Secretary to the Governor. My co-anchor is Patrick Omora and I am David Ukuma, your guide.
Your Excellency, on the 18th of last month, you were joined by your Nasarawa State counterpart, Alhaji Tanko Al-Makura in Obagaji on a peace meeting to address herdsmen-farmers crisis in Agatu Local Government. This development continues to attract reactions from people within and outside the State with different people giving different accounts of what took place. Can you tell us what actually transpired?
Governor: Thank you very much, David, for providing this forum for me and my team to interact with the people of Benue and give analysis of what transpired between Benue and Nasarawa concerning the conflict between Agatu people and Fulani herdsmen. I want to restate my commitment to the Benue people because of the confidence they have in me. I came here without money. I did not buy them but they voted for me overwhelmingly. I saw people bring money and there was so much violence but yet the people stood firm with me and voted me to overthrow the government that was on seat and I think that these people are still dreaming. It is amazing that close to two years after becoming Governor, they still feel that telling lies, spreading falsehood can turn my victory to their victory. Even when I won overwhelmingly they still took me to the Tribunal, by the grace of God, I won, they took me to Appeal Tribunal, I also defeated them and the final confirmation was at the Supreme Court and it was clear as I declared that day, there is no vanquished, no victor; it’s about Benue State.
Let’s come together. If any other person was the Governor, it would have been about developing the State and I would have supported as I have done that in the past. At least when Senator George Akume was Governor, I was in a different party, but I decided that I will work with him and support him to succeed. I joined PDP and the potentials in me elevated me to the position of the State Secretary of the Party even though I came in new and I went on and on and I became the National Auditor of the party, but I actively supported George Akume to the end because it’s about Benue, it’s not about me, it’s not about the party and I keep saying that in politics, there is no permanent friend; there is no permanent enemy, but permanent interest, and in this case, the permanent interest that I have is about the Benue project, how can we develop? How can we turn around the economy of the State? How can we restore security? How can we make things happen for the ordinary man on the street? How can we put food on the table for our people? How can we make our farmers comfortable? How can we add value to our primary products? How can we give employment to our children that are graduating every day from Benue State institutions and other parts of the country? So, this is the interest we have.
Then I worked very hard for Suswam and he became Governor and I supported him throughout his eight years. I supported him and he ended up betraying me anyway, but I took it as an act of God and I took my prayers to God and by the grace of God, God made me Governor. They fought against me, they shot at me, they destroyed my offices, my campaign materials were pulled down by thugs who were armed by the then Governor, but I did not take to violence. I went into prayers and reported to law enforcement agencies as a law abiding citizen and I expected that Suswam would have known, he goes to Church, at least he hears what the Bible says that whatever you sow you will reap and if I have sown hard work, if I have sown commitment, loyalty to him, now that I am the Governor, I expect the same thing rather than pushing people to spread falsehood, lie against me in the name of politics. Me, I wasn’t in the party that tells lies, spread falsehood against PDP the way they are doing today but they should remember that one day we may work together because as I say, no permanent enemy or permanent friend but permanent interest so it is possible that they can join me tomorrow in APC and we will work together or I can even go back and join them in PDP, we’ll work together but in the end, the bottom line is about the Benue project. So, how do we develop this State?
It’s amazing, it’s surprising that the matter of security which we took a bold step and took Agatu people and the herdsmen along, sat together, allowed them to discuss as brothers and sisters, they have turned into a theatre of politics. Security matters are not treated like that because the life of an individual is valuable to me and I have sworn to protect lives and property and that’s the primary responsibility of any responsible government and that is what I stand for, so I am always running here and there.
We met the Nasarawa Security Council with Benue State last year in January and we decided that we must find a peaceful way of resolving this matter because conflict will not bring development. Fighting will not bring the solution. The way forward is about living together. Let’s look at where we can start together and find peace so that people will go back and sleep with their two eyes closed and it was resolved in that meeting that myself and the Governor of Nasarawa State should take a trip to Agatu and bring the herdsmen so that they will talk one-on-one and seek reconciliation, where there was need for apology, let it be done and this is what we did with the Agatu people and at the end, we allowed the two groups to dialogue and it was then that they came out with the conclusion that, yes, now that the Fulani people have come and tendered public apology, they will accept the apology but no land will be ceded to herdsmen. They also identified the herdsmen or the militia group that came to attack them as not people who have been with them because in the course of discussion we discovered that the herdsmen were not left out, they too had issues, their leader was killed, their cattle were rustled and then the reprisal came from the herdsmen militia. It was clearly told that there is no way now that we are talking about promoting agriculture and ensuring that we all go back to farm that we can concede the land to herdsmen. Herdsmen should look for elsewhere but in the interim, there are people who were born and bred in Agatu land who are of Fulani stock. So, these kinds of people, it was resolved in that meeting that between herdsmen and the Agatu people that these ones can come back since the apology was given and they have accepted the apology, they can come back with their families and continue with their lives but they will not allow the foreign herdsmen to infiltrate the land of Agatu again.
Now, we also heard from the herdsmen and the Agatu resolution that they will carve a route that will not infiltrate the Agatu land but will lead to the river and then through to Angbagala in Kogi State but that the indigenous herdsmen, this is what people have said but what do you expect when people, Idoma people of Agatu extraction are in Nasarawa State? I know that Tiv people are in Nasarawa State. I know them, I know that Tiv people are in Taraba State. Tiv people are in Plateau State. They even have appointment there and I know that Tiv people are in Kano State, like Abubakar Tsav, he is from there and I know that people from Kano, Kaduna, Sokoto, are in Benue State here; they even have appointments in my government.
So, this is the point, this is Nigeria, we are all free citizens and you cannot go and stop anybody from residing anywhere. I don’t have those powers but it’s a way of seeking peace and this matter was a resolution between the herdsmen and the Agatu people and I am happy that the Chairman of the Peace Committee is here and also the Sole Administrator is here. They were there with us with other stakeholders and people went out and decided to politicise this and started insinuating a lot of things that Ortom has conceded land to the herdsmen. There is nothing, and I say, nothing like conceding land to herdsmen was done.
Let me tell you, the truth of the matter is that these people who are making noise like the former Minister, Abba Moro, he is not from Agatu, but the truth of the matter is that, go to Okpokwu, there are a number of herdsmen with a large number of cattle in Okpokwu. Some of these people making noise from Guma and Makurdi and all these to discredit this government, go to their local governments, go to their villages and see the number of cattle that are roaming the streets and see the number of herdsmen that are roaming the place and they are living in peace because I made this appeal to our people that yes the position of our government is that ranching remains the global best practice for breeding and rearing cattle so the only way is for establishment of ranches. This will bring an end to all sort of problems that we have been having between herdsmen and farmers but it is something that cannot be achieved overnight. It needs careful planning, it needs financing to provide infrastructure that will help and support these herdsmen. We need to give the herdsmen a new orientation because this is what they have been doing for decades all their life, we need to bring them back, so it will take the support of the federal and state governments. This is what we are working on but it will take some time. It is not an overnight thing. That is what we have done but meanwhile, we have told our people that find a way of living in peace with the herdsmen and that is what we have succeeded in doing.
I come from Guma Local Government. My home and entire village where I come from, my ancestral home was completely razed down and destroyed with a large farm of over 200 hectares burnt in one day. More than 50 of my kinsmen were killed in one day but we said look, there must be a way forward, life and death belong to God and vengeance belongs to God. Let us allow this thing and move forward. Today our people are very happy. Farmers have gone back to farm, it wasn’t like that in 2014 when nobody was at home. Today every person in Guma Local Government has gone back to his village or is having plans to go back. So, there is peace.
One thing that we have said is that we will ensure the rule of law whether as farmers or herdsmen. Today, I tell you some herdsmen who were caught with arms are in prison. We have done that and we will continue to do this because we have told them that the enforcement of security is for the conventional security agencies of the State but not in the hands of any herdsman or farmer. You don’t take an unlicensed arm and move around and begin to terrorise others. We will not allow that and we have been working very hard, security agencies in the state are working as a team, constantly we are meeting as a security council and decisions are taken to ensure that our people live in peace. But because of what we inherited, the magnitude of insecurity we have inherited in the State with all the amnesty and all that, we are still having challenges, but we are equal to the task and we’ve been fighting and so far, so good. So I want to round up to say that this is coming from our detractors who do not mean well for our government and because we came in and we are very transparent, we are God-fearing, we want to ensure that there is equity, fairness, and justice for everybody who is in the land.
As Governor, it is my constitutional responsibility to protect lives and property and this is not restricted to those people who are indigenes of Benue State alone. Whether you are a visitor, whether you cohabit with indigenes of Benue, it is my responsibility to protect you and guarantee your safety and that is what we’ve been doing.
So, it is completely false, no land has been ceded to any herdsman. Which herdsman and where? There is nothing like that. This is falsehood to tarnish the image of this administration and of course my government. They have said it loud that by now they will destroy us so that in 2019, they will have their way. But I can assure them there is no way, government house is no longer for those people who are out to loot, who are out to embezzle in their own interest, it is no longer. It has to be someone, even if I am not going in as Governor, I don’t think that these are the kind of people that Benue people will accept as leaders, we are wiser now and our people are willing to resist it. Even if it is not me, it should be somebody who can do better than me and I will stand with that kind of person and we will support him. This falsehood that these people are spreading will not find any place in Benue state because Benue people are wiser and above all, there is no way you can suppress truth, truth will always find its way and come out gloriously and I can assure you that this falsehood very soon will be gone. Some of them will have to go to jail for looting this state and bringing us to where we are.
With every support we have gotten from the federal government and the people of Benue state, we are still having some challenges but we are equal to the task and I can assure you that we are on top of the situation and by the grace of God, God prepared me for this job from the Local Government level, serving at the State and at the Federal level. Is it private sector that I don’t know? I have been there, what is it? Is it agriculture that Benue State has comparative advantage? I have been there. I know what it is. So, there are several areas God has prepared me for this job and I am ready and as a God-fearing person, I will continue to do my best. I want to challenge my detractors who are just spreading these falsehoods. If they have any evidence of anything against this government, let them bring it out.
Anchor: Alright. I thank you very much, Your Excellency, for providing that elaborate explanation, especially as regards the issue of peace in Agatu Local government Area. Two issues came up – ceding of part of Agatu land to Fulani herdsmen in Nasarawa State and, of course, the issue of indigenous Fulanis. I think those were the two issues that were prominently discussed in the media when you were away in Cape Town, South Africa. Thank you for providing explanation to that effect.
In the studio, we have the Chief Security Officer of Agatu Local Government Area himself, the Sole Administrator of the Local Government, Hon. Mike Inalegwu. I think it will be nice for him to give his own side of the story.
Hon. Inalegwu: Thank you very much. This is an ample opportunity for me to throw more light on the rumour being spread on the social media. The people of Agatu Local Government, we are peace loving people. All these noise were not emanating from Agatu people; it was coming from those who are sinking; who lost popularity in Idoma land and other areas in Tiv land, in Benue State, who are out to discredit this government. Let me give you an instance. Since we commenced the process and the Governors of Nasarawa State and Benue came to our land, the people at the grassroots have been rejoicing that peace has returned, that this is the first time in the history of Agatu that peace came to Agatu. That four years ago, nobody spent two months at home but since this administration came into being, we have been able to celebrate Christmas this year for the first time since 2012. We lost over three 3, 920 human beings in our land, property worth billions of naira were destroyed.
Then people of Agatu unanimously agreed in a meeting that though our wounds are fresh, peace is paramount and we have to embrace peace. Even the party that is spreading this rumour, PDP, the State Chairman of PDP, current State Chairman of PDP, John Ngbede, was in the meeting with us and was in agreement with us. So, no part of Agatu land was ceded, no right thinking person from Agatu will think of that.
Instead of political insinuations, we should leave politics apart and see that our women who are roaming the streets in Otukpo, our young girls were being impregnated, people that we ran to their place to take refuge, they will impregnated our wives, such things cannot be allowed. This government is a government of change. We want to be focused, that let my people return from Otukpo and wherever they are, and we agreed that peace must be attained. Now, there is an instance that would expose these bad elements in the society. When they have nothing to offer, they resort to distortion of facts.
Abba Moro went on air to say land was ceded, the full meaning of ceding a land is that you have no land there again, you cannot use it, you cannot go into it that is what the English word ceding means. If we cede land and Agatu people are still there, it means they are not properly using the word. They should better go back to school. We have not ceded any part of our land.
Secondly, Adamu Entonu, in one of their sittings went and petitioned the State Government, the Local Government to the National Assembly with the signature of Oche of Egba, who died last year, Oche of Aku, Chief Mike Adanu, who died last year, Oche of Ogbaulu, who died three years ago, his signature is there, then Oche of Okpanabi, who died three years ago, his signature was there. Has he gone to the graves to manufacture these signatures? Moreover, these Chiefs were not educated throughout their reign. When I was the Chairman of Agatu Local Government sixteen years ago, these people normally thumbprint. They cannot sign a signature!
Let them come out to tell us the part of that communiqué that land was ceded and now as am talking to you, if you go to Ologbaji, all these places, Akpeko, the Fulani people are interacting freely with the people. Even when you say they should not come until the end of February, they are enjoying themselves. The villagers are even sending fish to us that we are happy that the Fulani are not touching them and we are not touching them. Do they want us to be excavated from the surface of the earth after losing 3, 920 persons?
The lives of our people are more important to me than this thing about propaganda machinery. They should go and face what they can do. How can a right thinking person go to Guma and erect a billboard of David Mark? Is David Mark a Senator from Guma? These are the people that have no focus.
I want to thank the people of Benue State and ask them that they should continue praying for us for peace in Agatu and peace in Benue. Any part of Benue that is not in peace, Ortom administration will not be in peace and that is how we will be having sleepless nights. Why are they crying for us while we are not crying? In Okpokwu Local Government in Ichama, if you go to Eke, Obotu, if you go to Okpoga, everywhere is filled with Fulanis. In the seven Local Governments of the Zone C, you have Fulanis residing there. The Fulani are fighting the people at Agadagba, they are fighting the people of Eke and Edumoga people and this thing happened last week and they have resorted to peace. Why has Abba Morro and others settled in peace in their area and they don’t want Agatu people to have peace? My people must have peace. They should go and rest and leave us alone.
Anchor: Thank you very much, Hon. Mike Inalegwu. Am sure that the essence of this programme is to put the right thing in the right perspective. Now, we are talking about propaganda and lies in the media. You were quoted in the media you signed an agreement and you were forced to sign it. Give us the true picture of what transpired.
Hon. Inalegwu: I want to tell the general public that I am a matured person and a seasoned administrator with a good record. How can a Governor of the State force me to sign something? As a sole administrator any decision you take there you have to analyse it, calculate it and sensitise it, is this decision in the interest of the people? And when interests conflict, you go for the general interest. In this case, the lives of the people is paramount and now they cannot come with guns, harass anybody from Nasarawa where they came from. So that decision was not borne out of any government directive but my own personal analysis that this thing will bring peace in the area and save the lives of my people, the Governor or any Executive of the State was not privy to it, it was purely my own decision.
Governor: Let me say this before you go away from this matter. I am happy that the Sole Administrator has clarified the matter, but I want to add here like he said, I have 23 local governments, I have given them the mandate to ensure security of lives and property and these are human beings and they are subject to errors. In our discussion between me and my colleague from Nasarawa State, we said that whatever agreement between Agatu and Loko Local Government was an effort to find peace, which I personally commend them because the truth of the matter is that this is a sole administrator who is resident in Agatu, who is working to ensure that there is peace but somehow it was an error for him to go and meet with his counterpart in Nasarawa State. That is a different State, he was exceeding the boundary of Benue State. If something happened in Agatu and they held that meeting, it’s a different thing but going to Nasarawa State, I would have known as Governor, I would have given my consent and of course I cannot just give my consent, I will have to contact my counterpart there. So we have discussed this and I told them that whatever agreement they had was null and void. We said it in our meeting and it was out of overzealousness to ensure peace because it is only peace that can bring development, its only peace that can make things happen, that can add value to lives and to whatever we are doing, it is only peace. So I just want to collaborate with him. And to say that nothing like that is existing, whatever agreement is null and void, it is not in place as far as my government and the government of Nasarawa State are concerned, we have overruled whatever agreement that was entered into.
Anchor: I thank you very much, Your Excellency. Now, the Chairman, Peace and Reconciliation Committee of Agatu-Fulani crisis is also here. Hon. Akpa Iduh, can you also give us your own side of the story.
Hon. Iduh: Thank you very much, Your Excellency and members of this panel. I want to thank God today for giving me this opportunity to say one or two things to Benue people. There is no alternative to peace. I am the Chairman of the Peace and Reconciliation Committee on Agatu-Fulani Crisis. Since we started we have been working towards peace in the land. In fact, the Fulani have apologised to us that they were wrong to have attacked Agatu. Anybody who knows Agatu, Agatu is a land of peace. Agatu people have no weapons; we are mere farmers and fishermen. When this crisis started in 2013, I told the Fulani who are members of my Committee that if they had taken legal steps we would have fished out those who murdered their Ardo and rustled their cattle but because they didn’t do that they saw their mistakes. I want to thank our Governor and the Governor of Nasarawa State. His Excellency, Dr Samuel Ortom is not an Agatu man, but the love he has shown to Agatu people is unprecedented. In fact, the last time I went home and saw the road construction that is going on from Oshigbudu to Obagaji, since the world started, since God created the world, we have not ever tasted that kind of road. If a person of his type has done this for us, what is more than that? And if there is no peace, can that work go on? The Federal Government is also constructing Otukpo-Oweto road. If anybody that goes there knows that, this Governor loves our people. We want development and without peace, there can be no development. Those people who are making noise that we ceded our own land to Fulani, nobody has done that. When we talked of indigenous Fulani, Audu Boderi, who is the Vice Chairman of my Committee, was born in Agatu, he speaks Agatu fluently and many of them are like that. In Obagaji, part of Angwa, Angwa Agatu in Obagaji, people from Kano have been there for over fifty years. Are they not part of us? We inter-marry, so we need to live in peace.
When I did my presentation on the 18th of last month in Obagaji, I quoted when Lt. Col. Philip Effiong led Biafra to surrender to General Gowon in Dodan Barracks and when Gowon said no victor, no vanquished, he embarked on three Rs. I appealed to the federal government to borrow a leaf from there because we are in pains, our people are living in made-shift houses. They are living in squalor. We are appealing to government to extend their hand of friendship to us. What is being done to people in North East can be done to us. We have appealed to government and that day we met our Governor and the Governor of Nasarawa State have given us some money to take off and they promised that they will take our matter before the Presidency. If the government is coming to re-build our country, which I believe they will do it in the face of this economic recession, they are finding ways of building Agatu for us. I appeal to our youth that what happened to us it was not our fault. The Fulanis only took advantage of us and dealt with us but God in His mercy will pay us back and those of us who are alive will benefit. Very soon, the Oweto-Loko Bridge will be completed and Agatu will be a beehive of activities, economic activities. Those of us who are alive to see it, we are thankful to God. I never dreamed that I will drive on a tarred road to Obagaji to my village. I remember when I was a student, I had to carry a bag of rice, divide it into two, carry to Ojantele, which is twelve miles from Obagaji. Then I rode a bicycle back because the bridge broke down, just to sell it at five naira to pay my school fees, today I can travel on a good road.
I tell people that today Agatu has the best road in the state if not in the country and that is wonderful, and in the absence of peace, we will not get there. So, we want peace. Those of you who are quarrelling with us that why did we have to sell Agatu, I am an Agatu man, my mother is from Agatu, my father is from Agatu. I have a house in Agatu, my life, sixty years of my life, I spent it in Agatu. So, I love Agatu and anybody that loves Agatu should call for peace and I know over 99 percent of people of Agatu are happy with what is going on now. We can sleep well. In fact, the last planting season the lord blessed us. My tenant, I went to Obagaji, he gave me tubers of yam, and they are wonderful. Those who planted rice harvested bags of rice that are even selling for N13, 14, 15 thousand. We used to sell a bag at N2,000, 3,000, 4,000 – what you have laboured for a whole year, but this time around we are enjoying it. If there is no peace, can they farm? With the cost of living now, if our people live in Otukpo, if you are housing like ten people in Otukpo to get water to use a toilet is a problem, a bag of rice is more than N25 thousand, how much of it can you buy to feed them? It’s better that we remain in our home and with Fulani apologizing to us, this is the time to come together, we cannot be enemies forever.
If any Agatu man is not a Christian, he is a Moslem. If he is not a Moslem, he is a traditionalist and all these religions want peace. The Bible says, blessed are the peacemakers for they shall be called children of God. So, we want peace, please. I am appealing to all and sundry to join hands with Agatu and seek for peace. I understand that the Idoma National Forum will be meeting and we will tell them our mind that Agatu wants peace. If anybody is saying we should not go for peace, then he doesn’t like Agatu. When somebody’s mother dies, you come and say, I feel the pain more than you do, if anybody stays outside and is telling us that he feels the pains of Agatu, the agony, the trauma that we have passed through more than the Agatu people, then he is not being fair to us. I want to thank God for using our Governor, he has always said this thing many times that he comes from Guma and whatever he does for Guma he will do for Agatu and we have seen it. The road is going on, electrification is going on, what else do you want? We want progress; we want peace, thank you.
Anchor: I thank you very much, Hon. Akpa Iduh. There is no alternative to peace. That’s what you said. Your Excellency, you raised two fundamental issues while you were talking about this issue of Agatu. We have two overriding issues here. Very soon we will switch from this issue of Agatu to your trip to Cape Town in South Africa. But briefly let me go through this one that whatever agreement that the Sole Administrator of Agatu Local Government entered into with his counterpart from Loko in Nasarawa State is null and void and of no effect, that’s what you’ve just told us. Then you said that Fulani cattle are roaming around across the state and so what efforts is your government doing to ensure that sooner or later, such issues do not arise?
Governor: Thank you very much. I am very happy with the outcome of this programme and I hope that the Benue people are listening to us. Like I said, truth will always prevail against falsehood and that is why the Bible says you shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free. Today, because I am emphasising of being truthful, being honest, being fair, being selfless, being transparent, being accountable, it has become alien to those who have no fear of God and so it is alien to see that Ortom gets money from the Federation account and declares it, that this is what I have gotten. It is alien to a lot of them, they never did it, even when they were confronted, they came out openly and denied and when we say we have documents they kept quiet, and so these are the issues. I am happy with the outcome and we are going to arrange a forum to address this issue with the Agatu people and many be, to a large extent, the other Idoma people will come together and open up so they don’t take on this matter as others are peddling rumours especially on the social media. I always warn people, don’t listen or don’t see something on social media and conclude, otherwise one day they will say you are a dead man and you will be the one reading it. You will be alive and they will say you are dead and will be arguing with you. Look at the case of Buhari. Can you imagine I read something yesterday somewhere that somebody posted that the African Union met and observed one minute silence. Imagine, with all the pictures we are seeing.
So I am warning people; listen to Radio Benue, listen to national media that have credibility, Harvest FM and all these ones not even all radio stations that you will listen to and accept. So, we have to be very careful. We have already sent a bill to the Benue State House of Assembly that global best practice in ending this crisis is by providing ranches. Initially we had issues with even the Federal Government but later they also saw that what we were advocating was the right way to go.
We championed the issue of providing ranches in this country and I am happy that it’s given some level of prominence now. The last one I knew was the Federal Government saying okay, let us do the two, grazing and ranching. Grazing where there is land, and I came out powerfully and said, look in Benue State, we don’t have land for grazing. We are farmers and we want to develop agriculture so we don’t have it. But I keep saying that it is something that cannot be done overnight, it needs a process that should be undertaken. Meanwhile we should check this conflict, we now put our security men on the alert, we have gone further to even involve our traditional rulers and civilian JTF and also vigilante group and other stakeholders. Let us collaborate with security agencies so we have established State and Local Government Committees, we are about establishing at the ward level and then the kindred level where all these stakeholders will be involved and what we have simply done is that there should be no trespass whatsoever, by both sides. Where there is, it should be reported to the police instead of taking laws into their own hands, whether herdsmen or farmers, nobody should be above the law.
If we observe this, it will work. I give you an example on how we achieved peace in Gunma Local Government. We have done this for the past two years and we have peace and like the chairman, peace committee in Agatu said, today our people are smiling home with thousands and millions of naira every market day because they are able to sell their produce at good price and they are also in peace. We have told people that we want peace despite the pains that were inflicted on us in Guma Local Government. Everywhere, our people were refugees and we were suffering same just like Agatu but I rose up and told my people that look, two wrongs cannot make a right. The fact that we were killed, the fact that our property were destroyed does not mean we should not move forward. As a predominantly Christian state and local government, let us know that vengeance belongs to God. Let us move forward; they listened to me and today we are there.
I tell you the truth, these people who are making noise, I find people making noise who are from Makurdi here, who are from Guma because of political difference, they go and make these statements about this peace that we have brokered with Agatu people and if you go to their villages, their own is even worse. Their people are even residing with their herdsmen, they are residing in their villages and they are enjoying this peace. The refugees that were in Makurdi are no longer there and they don’t want Agatu people to enjoy the same thing.
The Bible says, why do you see the speck in your brother’s eye without seeing the log of wood in your own eye? You should remove the log of wood in your eyes to be able to see clearly to remove the speck in your brother’s eye. So, these people are the real enemies of Benue, all they want to do is to discredit this government. but I tell you this is how they did, I am sending message, this is how they attempted to stop me but I told them that I was on a divine mission. God was going to bring me. God is going to use me to sanitise the State and nothing will stop me from sanitizing the state and so it is not going to deter me from doing what I know should be done. The final solution to this problem will be ranching but that cannot be done overnight, we need time, we need finances. I am happy that the National Assembly discovered recently that during Goodluck Jonathan’s government, N100 billion was released through the Central Bank for the establishment of ranches all over Nigeria and the former Governor was the Chairman of that Committee of Governors that was meant to collect this money and distribute. From what we read, they said this money was collected and no single ranch in Nigeria was established. I tell you the truth, that N100 billion was enough to have helped stop this problem we have because most of these things will be there.
I am just coming from South Africa, I went to Cape Town, what I saw there, the cattle I saw there were in a ranch and the team I went with can testify to this. There is no way you could see any cattle roaming round the street, so it will take time, that is what I think we should do. I appreciate the people of Benue State and I want to advise that two wrongs cannot make a right and that the security agencies and other supporting security networks are there to support us and so any report will be acted upon promptly. I am always in touch with the security agencies, getting security reports and I am always acting immediately. So, nobody should take laws into his own hands. It doesn’t help, you don’t have the capacity, I don’t have the capacity, I will use legitimate means established by the law to ensure that there is peace.
Anchor: Thank you, Your Excellency. Attorney-General, we will get back to you very quickly, but from the narrative of the peace chairman in Agatu local government, it has been established that there are some people that were born and brought up in Agatu local government who are Fulanis, now the question here is that, are there measures in place to ensure that those who infiltrated the Agatu and other parts of the State are identified? Because those ones that are indigenous or have been living peacefully with our people; are there structures put in place to ensure that those ones do not come into our State again?
Governor: I have already told you that we have established committees made up of the Security Adviser as the Chairman at the state level with all the security chiefs in the State. Then we have also brought in other members of security agencies with the indigenous Fulani people who are born and brought up here that we know. In my Local government we have them, some of them I have given them appointment in my government. So, they are working with us. They have an association, Miyetti Allah and they know those who are indigenous, who are here. If you see them, those who are in Tiv land they speak Tiv very well like the Chairman of Agatu Peace said, the ones in Agatu they speak Agatu, who are born and bred there.
Anchor: Your Excellency, are we sure that there are no conspiracies between those that we are calling ‘our people’ and the other ones outside?
Governor: Well, whatever, whether there is conspiracy, we will fish them out. One thing that we are saying is that impunity cannot survive in this government. We will not allow it because we are transparent, we are honest so we want everybody in the state to know, though it’s a difficult thing taking people from dishonesty and bad elements into doing good, but we will do it. That is why I came here, that is why I told you that these people wanted to stop me. God still made it possible for me to be Governor and that is one thing that has given me confidence that am going to succeed in this government. After all, the Bible says that better is the end of a thing than the beginning. When we were campaigning, people said it’s impossible for me to be Governor but what happened? At the end, I became Governor and so whatever they are saying and again with all the challenges, payment of salaries, gratuity, and pension, and all that which I inherited as a result of mismanagement of our resources. If I get N107 billion that Kpojime Commission brought out that these people looted, that alone is enough to clear everything. But outside that I am still working very hard with the Federal Government and whatever support that I can get anywhere to clear some of these things especially the issue of payment of salaries, which I inherited. But I can assure you that we are going to leave the State better than we met it.
Anchor: Alright, Your Excellency. Let’s try to move away from that issue of Agatu crisis but then, Mike Inalegwu; you were itching to say something. You can be brief, please.
Hon. Inalegwu: The question that you put up that is anything put in place to herald this agreement to function, we have government at the grassroots and a lot of things have happened at that level. We have strategic places in Agatu land that the State Government deployed security men there. We have 35 soldiers to one officer at Abugbe, 35 at Okokolo, 35 at Ologba, 35 at Obomagba, 35 officers to one at Oweto. What we have put in place in synergy with the State Government is that by the time we are going to implement this agreement signed by the two governors, we are the government of change and as a policy statement, implementation will be followed to the letter. We had formulated some structures that when these people are coming, census of indigenous Fulanis is going to be taken and committees have been put in place in the ten council wards of Agatu local government. These committees will identify the areas they have been staying with us before the crisis. We have the prominent leaders of Fulani at Ayila, Obagaji, and other areas of Agatu. These groups will identify and soldiers will be arranged with mobile policemen. Whenever they are coming, the committee will take them to where they were staying before the crisis and vis-à-vis our decision that no foreign one should come. I want to emphatically tell this audience that immediately the communiqué was signed, about 50, 000 heads of cattle were in Udenyi, Abachi, Aku in Nasarawa and other areas, but when they heard that the ones who were not indigenous or settlers should not come, they have all migrated from that area since that day. So, we on our own part in conjunction with the State Government as far as we have here, anything from Monday the Committee will start identifying the abode. We call them the Luga, the Luga of the Fulani are known to Agatu people and Fulani that live in those places are known to us and they know us even our names, we call ourselves. So basically the policy and means of resettling these people to co-exist and integrate with us is put in place.
Anchor: I thank you very much, the Attorney-General. I would want you to round off this issue of Agatu Peace accord but quickly we have another Agatu son in the studio, the Special Adviser to the Governor on Projects Monitoring, Alhaji Isah Usman, your take briefly in few sentences.
Isah Usman: Thank you very much. My take is very simple and it’s an appeal to the people. In the past, especially when I was in form three in Keffi, I used to pass through Loko because there was no road. When my mother died, she was pregnant, I have to carry my mother on a bicycle coming to Otukpo, and my mother had to die on the way because there was no road. What these people are doing to us now is that, they are jealous because they enslaved the people for too long. Now they have realised that we are educated and government has come to our aid. It took me eight minutes to drive from Oshigbudu to Obagaji today. It took me one hour, ten minutes today from Otukpo to Asha. On Friday I was there, so please, I am appealing to my people to forget about the detractors, they are our enemies because they don’t want our progress and they should leave us alone. What we used to do to my knowledge is that what this government is doing today, if the previous government had done up to little of that, we wouldn’t be where we are today. But they succeeded in buying arms for our boys to go and kill themselves while their children are somewhere in other places going to school. They should leave us alone.
Anchor: Alright. The State Attorney-General, briefly.
Attorney-General: Thank you very much. I think the only thing I can say is that our people should learn to appreciate hard work. Since we came in, the Governor, Samuel Ortom, has been very passionate about this issue of security in the state and you will agree with me that he was the first person to speak out against the issues all in favour of ranching. He said that is the only thing we can do because you cannot stop people from rearing cattle and so the only way to go because Benue State, predominantly, we are farmers and the only way we can go is to ranch your cattle. I want to say that when you talk about ceding of land, it makes no meaning as far as the issue of Agatu and the Fulani is concerned. The history of the crisis in Agatu is not that of land dispute. So, where is the issue of ceding of land when there is no land dispute? We have not disputed land, the Agatu people in Benue State are not disputing land with Loko in Nasarawa State, so, the issue of ceding of land does not even arise at all.
You had the issue of ceding of land in Bakassi when there was land dispute so are we disputing land here? We are not disputing land so we cannot have the issue of ceding land to the Fulanis. They came, they settled with the Agatu people as you can hear the testimony of people from Agatu. They have been living together for a very long time, crisis erupted because these are herders and these are farmers and then you are now saying that Benue State has ceded land to the Fulanis; Fulani of which State? So, that is the question. So, let us learn to appreciate hard work. The Governor has gone an extra mile to ensure that he brings peace to Benue State. Let us appreciate him so that we can encourage him.