TEXT OF STATEWIDE BROADCAST TO BENUE PEOPLE BY GOVERNOR SAMUEL ORTOM, ON THE INVASION OF FULANI HERDSMEN AND MASS FUNERAL FOR VICTIMS, ON WEDNESDAY, 10TH JANUARY, 2017.
My dear compatriots,
It is with a heavy heart that I address you this evening.
2. We had looked forward to starting a new year with renewed hopes and aspirations when our land was invaded by merciless and mindless Fulani herdsmen. The delight of these people to murder in cold blood is as chilling as it is unimaginable. Their targets for annihilation include pregnant women, children of all ages, youths and the elderly be they men or women.
3. From the beginning of the year to this day we have lost more than 73 people to these murderers with several others missing while many who sustained various degrees of injuries are receiving treatment. This figure does not include our security operatives who have also fallen at the hands of these enemies of peace. It does not even include those already buried in their communities. Some of these gallant patriots who survived gun and machete attacks are receiving medical attention.
4. Our hearts go out in sympathy with all families who lost loved ones, orphans who lost parents and bread winners, parents who lost children, as well as wives and husbands who lost their beloved spouses. We pray for God’s comfort at this difficult time of grief and pray that His judgement will be swift in response to the spilled blood which cries to Him day and night.
5. For several years these attackers have turned our beautiful and endowed land into their killing fields. The main reason has been clashes between Fulani herdsmen and farmers. These attacks have been intensified with alarming devastation since 2011. The report of a survey conducted by the Bureau of Local Government and Chieftaincy Affairs in the state stated that in 2014 alone 10 of the 23 local government areas of the state lost hundreds of lives and incurred loses of over N95 billion. Since then more devastating attacks of wider coverage have taken place with the most devastating taking place in Agatu last year. So far, 13 of the 23 council areas of the state have been affected in these well planned and executed attacks on churches, schools, hospitals, markets, as well as private houses in addition to farms, foodstuff and all signs of progress in the affected communities.
6. It was from this background that the people of the state desperately sought for a lasting solution and God gave us the inspiration to draw from the experience of other countries with expertise in livestock farming and animal husbandry. As a popularly elected government which is sensitive to the aspirations of our people, we crafted the law to prohibit open rearing and grazing of livestock and provide for the establishment of ranches. This law was enacted in accordance with the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria which empowers states to make laws for the welfare of their people. The major objective of the law is to ensure permanent peace between farmers and herdsmen as it makes provisions to ensure the interests of all the parties. The law was not made against any particular group but was aimed at regulating livestock activities to eliminate friction usually generated when animals graze openly and stray into farms.
7. The executive bill that eventually became this law went through due process with attendant public hearings at several locations in the state. This gave various stakeholders ample opportunity to make their required input before it was passed into law. By virtue of the constitutional powers conferred on me as the Governor of the state I gave my assent on 22nd May, 2017.
8. On Tuesday, 30th May, 2017, the Miyetti Allah Kautal Hore held a press conference in Abuja which its National President Abdullahi Bello Bodejo, and National Secretary-General, Alhassan Salleh addressed. They stated publicly in very clear and unambiguous terms that the Fulani herdsmen and farmers’ crises in Benue State was “A STRUGGLE FOR THE NATURAL RESOURCES OF THE BENUE VALLEY.” They claimed that their ancestors arrived the valley before the present occupants. The two leaders threatened and vowed to mobilize herdsmen across the globe to invade the state and resist the law. This development was widely reported by the national and international media the very day and subsequently.
9. The government and people of the state interpreted this clear handwriting on the wall as an open declaration of war on Benue State. The State Executive Council resolved that the matter must be reported to the Presidency with all urgency. As Governor I wrote a petition on the threats to President Muhammadu Buhari and other security chiefs in the country. These included the Inspector General of Police, the National Security Adviser, the Department of State Security, and relevant authorities calling for the arrest and prosecution of the Fulani leaders for making inciting threats capable of undermining the security of our state. We drew attention to the fact that from antecedents, coupled with the deadly reputation of the militia at their disposal, the Fulanis do not make empty threats. The State House of Assembly, leaders of socio-cultural organizations and other individuals and groups wrote similar petitions to the aforementioned authorities and also called for the arrest of those who made the threats. The national and international media reported these cries for help and calls for action to forestall the invasion of the state. But no action was taken.
10. Our people would not have been massacred. It would have been prevented. Meanwhile, the state government delayed the implementation of the law until 1st November, 2017 so as to give a grace period for those who needed permits for the establishment of ranches to obtain them. However, no Fulani herdsmen or woman applied for the permit. Rather than make attempts to comply with the law their leaders continued to engage in more threats to resist the implementation. They also went to court to challenge the legitimacy of the law and the matter is still pending.
11. On New Year Day, 2018 the Miyetti Allah leaders fulfilled their threats and started the invasion simultaneously in several parts of Guma and Logo local government areas. They invaded the camp of Livestock Guards charged with the responsibility of ensuring compliance with law at Tomatar, Shaghev Council ward of Guma in the dead of the night and unleashed a slaughter spree. According to survivors, the attackers, after dealing with the guards knocked on the doors of villagers and killed those they found indoors as well as those they found on their way as they retreated. The dead bore the characteristics of Fulani militia brutality – slit throats, deep cuts from machetes on the head, chest and back of the neck with some of their private parts removed. It was well planned and clinically executed with specific targets.
12. We took the decision to collectively mourn for those killed in the current attacks and also accord them mass state funeral to underscore the fact that their blood was spilled after a formal declaration of war on Benue State. Our sons and daughters, children, pregnant wives, fathers and mothers are victims of impunity and deliberately organized pogrom against our people. For six months we warned, we cried for help, we saw danger and sought protection from the security agencies of our land – but no one came to rescue them.
13. We wish to draw the attention of the national and international communities to the fact that Benue State has come under a deliberate, well planned and well-funded siege. What has started in Guma and Logo is a grim statement of the evil and devastating plan against the state. Benue people MUST realize that these are not normal, ordinary times. We are under siege and the earlier we realize this the better.
14. Our invaders do not care which political party we belong to, they don’t care where we worship. They do not care about our age and gender. All they care is to annihilate us, to obliterate us from the Benue Valley so that their cattle can graze and drink freely from the rivers in the state. An attack on one should be an attack on all. Pieces of the puzzle that featured Kwande, Katsina-Ala, Ukum, Gboko, Buruku, Tarka, Makurdi, Gwer, Gwer West, Otukpo, Okpokwu, Oju, and Agatu have completely fallen in place with Guma and Logo. We must bury our ethnic, political and religious differences to tackle this unprecedented challenge that may swallow us all. History beckons and we must rise to the challenge which our forefathers confronted and surmounted.
15. The questions to answer are: how could four year old Terkimbi who was slaughtered, rustle even just a single calf? How could pregnant Sarah, rustle a herd of cattle? How could 76 year old Pa. Iortimbir who could not walk without support, rustle cattle? Why are these killers removing the private parts of defenseless women and children they slaughter? From these questions one can see that the claim that the attacks were reprisal for rustled cattle is baseless.
16. What is happening in Benue State should be a lesson to all. The problem is surely not in our law. It is with the green grass and water wherever found in Nigeria. The implementation of our law is progressing steadily as those caught contravening have been charged to court. States including Adamawa, Cross Rivers, Niger, Kaduna, Abia, Ebonyi, Anambra, Ogun, Zamfara have been attacked by Fulani herdsmen yet these States have not enacted anti-open grazing law.
17. In Benue State the security situation appears to be getting out of hand as even trained security agents are becoming victims. Our people must however remain calm but alert and vigilant. They must not take the laws into their hands as the state government is collaborating with the relevant authorities to bring the situation under control.
18. Benue State needs help to overcome this invasion. We need help to tackle the enormous humanitarian crisis on our hands. We now have over 50,000 Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) in our State. We appreciate the Federal authorities, individuals and organizations that have helped us to overcome similar challenges in the past and appeal to them to rally round us once again. We call on the International Community to assist.
19. Tomorrow morning, we shall all gather at the IBB Square in Makurdi to pay last respects to our fallen heroes. Let me call on all citizens of Benue State to remain calm. No one should betray his or her emotions tomorrow at the mass burial. The blood of our fallen heroes is crying out to the Federal Government and most importantly to God Almighty. Be rest assured that our God will not fail us.
20. May God bless you all.
21. In God we trust.