KEYNOTE ADDRESS DELIVERED BY HIS EXCELLENCY, SAMUEL ORTOM, EXECUTIVE GOVERNOR OF BENUE STATE AT THE MEGA RALLY ORGANISED BY THE MIDDLE-BELT FORUM ON 16TH JULY, 2018 AT IBB SQUARE MAKURDI
I welcome you all to Benue State, “The Food Basket” of the Nation.We feel extremely honored by the presence of a distinguished son of the Middle Belt, His Excellency Darius Ishyaku, the Executive Governor of Taraba State at this occasion.
2. Benue State is the home of Middle Belt. Our leader, Late Senator J.S. Tarka is the grandfather of the Middle Belt Congress, he established the consciousness of Middle Belt as entity which spread like wild fire. From Benue to Nasarawa, Southern Kaduna, Kebbi, Plateau, Bauchi, Gombe, Southern Bornu, Adamawa and Taraba. As the champion of agitation for restructuring, Late Senator Tarka influenced the creation of 12 States by General Yakubu Gowon, the former Nigerian Head of State. From 12 to 19 and now 36 States of Nigeria were created by Generals Ibrahim Babangida and Late Sani Abacha.
3. In the early 1980, the Late Chief Appolos Aper Aku, the First Civilian Governor of Benue State led the congregation of all minorities in the country and also agitated for restructuring. He specifically canvassed for the restructuring of Nigeria into the current six geo-political zones to promote equity.
4. Let me use this opportunity to congratulate the leadership of the Middle-Belt Forum for the vision and foresight that has birthed this Rally and Conference at a most auspicious time. I am informed that delegates to this event are drawn from the six geopolitical zones of the Country. I can therefore safely say that all of Nigeria is represented here this afternoon.
3. We are living in interesting times; times that are tense; times when people are anxious and the future of many is uncertain. This situation has made this Conference most relevant for many reasons. It will provide the opportunity for healthy interaction on urgent and crucial issues that will strengthen national unity and consolidate our experience as a Republic.
4. This is the time to deeply reflect on the theory and practice of our Constitutional Democracy with a view to identifying innovative approaches to making Nigerians patriotic proud and happy citizens.
5. It is noteworthy that the Middle Belt serves as the gum that binds the North and the South, East and West. The Middle Belt therefore provides stability for the Nigerian Nation. This is however, not to say that Middle Belt has been comfortable. The agitations in the 1960s led by J.S. Tarka centred on the need for creation of Middle Belt Region. The answer came in the creation of 12 States. This provided an opportunity for the people of the Middle Belt and other minorities to be involved in governance.
6. Currently, there is increasing agitation for restructuring; and is being recommended as the recipe for peace in Nigeria. To be sure, restructuring will be for the overall good of all. Restructuring will pave way for development, peace, equity and justice which have eluded Nigeria.
7. We, the minorities of the Middle Belt have recently set the agenda for cattle ranching as a win- win solution to herders and farmers conflicts. The position canvassed by the Middle Belt peoples of Benue and Taraba through the Ranching Law is that citizens who are interested in the business of animal husbandry should embrace ranching. This will not only provide a long lasting solution to the incessant Farmers/ Herdsmen conflicts but also engender peaceful co-existence between Herdsmen and Farmers. Ranching will also give us quality beef for local consumption and for export.
8. Initially the idea of ranching was resisted as some people misunderstood my patriotic intention. For example, when the Law was passed, Miyetti Allah Kautal Hore threatened and vowed to mobilize Fulanis in all of West Africa to come over to Benue. They also said that they were not merely interested in grass, but that the Benue valley belongs to them as they were the first settlers. They clearly changed the narrative from search for grass to search for resources and for occupation. This was soon followed by Miyette Allah Cattle Breeders Association who swear that Blood will continue to flow if the Benue State Ranching law was not rescinded. Truly, a lot of blood of Middle Belters have flown as they said. That blood is crying for justice. The same ideas were canvassed by Prof. Labdo of the Bayero University under the auspices of Fulani Nationality Association of Nigeria.
It is baffling that in spite of these hate speeches paraded in press conferences and the media and threats executed, none of these have been arrested or even questioned by the Law Enforcement agencies. Let me reiterate the need for the arrest and trial of these people in order to save our democracy and maintain our unity as Nigerians.
9. Most recently however, the erroneous thinking has started to change. The National Economic Council chaired by the Vice-President of Nigeria with all governors as members first endorsed ranching as an appropriate strategy to resolve farmers and herders problem. This was followed by the Northern Governors Forum meeting in Kaduna where they unanimously resolved that Ranching of animals is the best way to address current herders and farmers crisis in Nigeria. The Federal Government has also approved a variety of ranching. There is a slight difference between what we are championing and what the Federal Government has approved. We are advocating for privately owned ranches for individuals or groups in the business of cattle rearing and not public set of ranches or cattle colonies. One thing is now clear. The entire country has endorsed Ranching as the way to go. It is international best practice that we must adopt. Ranching should not be a government activity but a private business enterprise for those in the business of animal husbandry.
10. When we all accept cattle rearing as private business, every cattle rearer will begin to think of the size of his ranch as well as where it will be located.
11. The nexus between violence, instability and poverty has long been established. With sustained violence in the Middle Belt and other parts of the Country, thousands of people have been killed, properties destroyed and over 180,000 Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) are in Camps and over 500,000 are with relatives and in uncompleted buildings in Benue State. There are many more in Nasarawa, Plateau, Taraba, Adamawa, Southern Kaduna and other parts of the Country. We must find ways of addressing this humanitarian crisis and return these people to their homes.
12. We have lost valuable human resource capital, our revenue has depleted and our sources of IGR have depleted as business activities have been considerably reduced. Mercy Corps, an American International NGO working in Nigeria has reported that between 47-75% of IGR of Nigerian government is being lost to violence.
13. The current political clouds are heavy in Nigeria. We need more of these peace building meetings by patriotic Nigerian Social-Cultural organizations. I call on all Nigerians to remain resolute for one Nigeria. A united and peaceful Nigeria has a lot of benefits for us all, regardless of whether we are from small or big ethnic nationalities.
14. Let me tell you that we all need each other. The big ethnic nationalities need the smaller ethnic minorities, and in the same vain the smaller ethnic nationalities also need the big ones. When all the so called smaller ethnic minorities come together, they suddenly become bigger and in a position to take major decisions that will affect our country. But together we are stronger and together we have a more united Nigeria. No one or group of people in this country should take the minorities for granted. We are equally key stakeholders in the Nigerian project.
15. Finally, let us all thank God who has blessed Nigeria with great human capital, large arable and fertile land, rivers, minerals and wealth. All that is left to be done is to restructure the Country and lay a better foundation on the threshold of Justice, equity, equality, inclusiveness and we will have the Nigeria of our dreams.
16. As I wish you all fruitful deliberation, it is my honour to declare this Rally and Conference open.
17. May God bless us all
18. In God we Trust