BENUE KILLINGS: Grazing routes will not work, I am not satisfied with the police - Hon. Emmanuel Orker Jev

In this interview, the Leader of the Benue Parliamentary Caucus at the House of Representatives, Hon. Orker Jev, tells that the recent “massacre” of villagers in Benue State by Fulani herdsmen was one too many and that his people have been pushed to a point where they might have to retaliate
How would you react to the recent attacks on farmers in Benue State by Fulani herdsmen?
The issue of attacks by herdsmen started peaking around 2013. At that time, every other day, there were cases of herdsmen attacking one village or the other. During the former Governor Gabriel Suswam’s administration, his village was attacked and he had to bring soldiers to be guarding his house in the village. But for those who were not fortunate enough to have the privilege of engaging the protection of soldiers, they were at the mercy of the herdsmen. Suswam visited Logo Local Government Area, which is the home local government of the present governor, Dr. Samuel Ortom, when the area was attacked and scores of dead bodies lay on the ground. Indeed, while Suswam was there, another attack took place. He told the world that chemical weapons were being used because the report that he got was that people were sniffing chemicals and dying later.
Do you have an idea of the number of your people that have so far been killed by the Fulani herdsmen?
I cannot give an accurate figure of the number of people that have been killed by attackers in Benue State, but not less than a thousand lives had been lost even before the Agatu massacre.
The most terrible thing about the crisis is that when the herdsmen come, they kill the villagers and occupy their farmlands. This has been happening of late. They will just occupy the place and drive the owners of the land away. As a result, Benue now has thousands of internally displaced persons. They are scattered in camps in over seven local government areas. It is really a serious issue. Don’t forget that Benue is tagged the ‘Food Basket of the Nation’. The attacks normally come at the start of the planting season when the farmers are supposed to settle down and farm. How will the people survive? How will they fill the basket with food to feed the nation? So, it is really a serious thing. That is why my colleagues and I from Benue State, known as the Benue Parliamentary Caucus, came together and decided to let the world know what is happening in the state. In spite of the reports and media attention that followed the Agatu massacre, a lot of people still believe that it is an isolated case, when indeed; the attacks have been consistent since 2013 to date. Even after the Agatu massacre, the Inspector-General of Police, Mr. Solomon Arase, went to Benue State and made a statement that all of us considered as very unfortunate. He said the matter had been “blown out of proportion”. It was not up to three days after he made the statement and left Makurdi for Abuja that two of his policemen, who were armed, were gunned down. They were killed by the same Fulani herdsmen in Buruku, my own local government area. The question is, if riot policemen could be so easily gunned down, what would be happening to unarmed civilians?
Don’t also forget that when Governor Ortom came, he made it a matter of policy to introduce an amnesty programme to disarm the youths in the state. As a result, a lot of arms were returned by the youths. I wouldn’t know whether everything was returned, but a sizeable number of arms were returned. This means that our people were not even well prepared to repel these attacks. As it is now, we have our backs against the wall. We cannot continue to allow ourselves to be hounded like wild animals and driven away from our farms and homes. What do we do?
So, what specific steps have been taken to address the problem?
Even before Governor Ortom came with his policy of disarming the youths as a way of addressing security issues generally in the state, his predecessor, Suswam, held several meetings with his counterparts in the surrounding states, especially Taraba and Nasarawa states. These are states where these Fulani easily infiltrate. Nasarawa is the place they infiltrate the most and Suswam held several meetings there. At a point, they would attack other places and retreat to Nasarawa. From what we heard arising from the meetings, one would think that a solution would have been found, but the killings have continued. Peace meetings were held within the states for farmers and herdsmen to leave peacefully. Come to think of it, we have lived with these herdsmen for ages. When the attacks started, the Fulani herdsmen would also claim that they did not know where the attackers came from. There is the suspicion that some of these people are not even Nigerians. Due to Nigeria’s porous borders and the linguistic and cultural affinity that some foreigners have with our own Fulani here, they can easily come in and go, or even claim to be Nigerians. It is a big challenge for the security agencies and the immigration service to make sure that our borders are monitored to minimise the influx of these people.
This situation has been going on for long but you and others from the affected areas seem to have kept quiet for too long. Why?
You journalists normally say that bad news is good news. Maybe it was the sheer scale of the Agatu killings that drew the attention of the media to Benue. Otherwise, it has always been happening and only attracting footnotes in the newspapers. But because of the sheer number of the people who were massacred in Agatu recently, without additional efforts from the Benue people, the media have woken up to the issue. In fact, people now call it Agatu killing. But it is Benue killing because it is not restricted to Agatu. As I mentioned before, seven local governments have been affected. In my own ward, many families have been displaced and they were basically farmers. I don’t think that if something like that is happening, we are supposed to go to the streets to protest before government’s attention will be drawn to it. We have security agencies in every local government, so we don’t have to take to the streets before government will know that there is something wrong going on somewhere.
For the crisis to have been on for this long, does it mean that the former President of the Senate, Senator David Mark, as a stakeholder, has not done anything to prevent it?
As I said, this is not something you can entirely pin on a Senate President, a governor or the people of Benue State. If it is about resolving matters, I tell you, several attempts have been made at many levels. These people, apparently, they do not respect agreements. The herdsmen have not kept any of the agreements they reached with farmers; none has been kept by the herdsmen. The parties may reach an agreement and in less than a week, Fulani herdsmen will launch an attack. Then the ones that you reached an agreement with would claim not to know the Fulani who carried out the attacks. I don’t think it is a failure of leadership in dealing with this issue that has led to the escalation. It is just that we have to do certain fundamental things as a country. We have to police our borders so that all manners of people will not be infiltrating because these people if they come in they have no respect for Nigerian lives since they are not Nigerians themselves. It is more about dealing with an enemy that is difficult to understand than about the failure of leadership.
Does it mean that it is beyond the control of the Benue people?
I don’t want us to take the option of self defence. We are insisting that the government can still defend us. That is a constitutional mandate. I don’t think we should be pushed to a situation where we will start to organise ourselves for self defence. That is why we came out as representatives of the people to shout that if we did not do enough before to bring the issues in Benue to national attention, now the 11 of us in the House of Representatives will do that. We jointly signed a statement to draw the attention of the national authorities to the situation. We still insist that it is not beyond the Nigerian state to defend us. We may have been known to be warriors, but we have reached a certain level of civilisation that we should not be pushed to the wall to take laws into our hands. If we are pushed to the wall, we can’t wait to be hounded like wild animals. That will be a final resort. But I think for now, it is not beyond the state to protect us.
Did you make similar calls on the Federal Government during the administration of former President Goodluck Jonathan as you are making now? Some people say you only came out now because President Muhammadu Buhari is Fulani and you assume he is defending his kinsmen.
I am aware that Governor Ortom cried out that he had gone to brief the former President (Jonathan), especially when there was suspicion that chemical weapon was being used on the people. But you see, the sheer scale of the latest attacks in Agatu should make any responsible government know that it should step in. We don’t want a situation where the government will be embarrassed internationally. There are agencies out there that will begin to ask questions about what is happening in Nigeria. Having so many people killed at a time is something that will bother not only Nigeria, but also the international community. That is why we had to address the President (Buhari) that the issue has reached an embarrassing level. I am sure there is nobody in Nigeria who is enlightened that is not embarrassed by what is going on in this country.
By implication, are you saying the people of Benue have not received enough protection from government?
If we have had enough protection, our people wouldn’t be killed cheaply. Like I told you, even before the Agatu massacre, at least 10 persons were killed in my own local government. That is enough to raise hues and cries. We are talking about 10 persons, including two policemen, who were killed in my constituency. So, as long as people continue to get killed, I can’t say that there is enough protection for us. The welfare and protection of the citizenry is the primary reason for the existence of government. That is the provision of the constitution. As long as that is not guaranteed, I don’t think anybody should be satisfied.
The Fulani claim that these attacks are reprisals for earlier killings of Fulani people and the stealing of their cattle. How do you react to that?
It is most unfortunate. But, my reaction is that this is an indictment on the government. If we should talk about ‘you do me, I do you’, then, we should be living in a lawless society. We have a government with laws. So, people are saying ‘I am killing because this person also killed’. Is that the kind of society we want to build and leave for our children? It will be very unfortunate to allow our society to degenerate to a level where people will kill anyhow and go to the media to tell the world that they killed in reprisal. I don’t even want to look at the legitimacy of those claims; whether indeed, their people were killed and if that is why they have killed in reprisal. If that happened, where were the law enforcement agents? Why are the courts and all the other bodies responsible for enforcing the laws of the land there? Does it mean that any time the Fulani kill Benue people, they should also organise themselves and kill any Fulani that they come across? It is a very unfortunate position to take.
People have criticised the fact that as legislators, you don’t do much follow-up after an attack. You stay in your comfort zone in Abuja and make a few comments here and there.
Well, you see, people should understand the role of the legislator. Sometimes, people expect you to play to the gallery. That is not the best. Apart from speaking to the media, we have reached out to security agencies. If I am going to talk to security agencies, I must not call a press conference or organise a rally to promote myself. When things like this happen and people are down, I understand the anger. However, the best that we can do is to call on these agencies. For example, a motion was brought to the floor of the House (by Hon. Adamu Entonu) immediately after the Agatu attack. Pursuant to that, the House Committee overseeing the National Emergency Management Agency was asked to go and assess the situation and commiserate with the people. NEMA sent relief materials there and I was also part of the delegation. Also, the security agencies, by that resolution, were to be contacted to make sure that the matter would be properly looked into and handled. For legislators, that was the best that we could do under the circumstances. You don’t expect a legislator to go and buy arms and ammunition to give to people to fight or do any of such things. The best that we can do is to follow due process to ensure that the suffering that our people are being subjected to are looked into and eliminated, if possible. That is what we have been doing, and it is an unfair accusation to say that we only come after an attack occurs and disappear to Abuja.
Some of the issues have to do with legislation. What role can the National Assembly as a whole play here in resolving the crisis?
Let me say that there are laws against killing of human beings. So, we don’t have to bring a fresh law to say that if you kill, you should be penalised. As for the Fulani issue, it is not something you rush to do. You may be laying a landmine that will explode in all our faces in the future. When grazing routes were introduced, I think in the 50s or so, Nigeria’s population was not up to 50 million. So, we had few people. Now, the population has exploded to 170 million or so, and the land mass has not increased. Where will you find the routes to give to these people to be grazing their cattle? What should happen, taking a cue from some African countries, is that when you have cattle, you ranch them. You put them in a place, go and look for grass and feed them. There are at least two bills before the House on ranching and there are two or three others again to do with grazing. They are being consolidated to see that we come up with the best laws that will stand the test of time and try to ameliorate what is really happening. President Muhammadu Buhari, through the Minister of Agriculture (Chief Audu Ogbeh), has said that soon, the issue of cattle crossing the roads will be a thing of the past. How they intend to do that, I don’t know. But for us as legislators, our role is to make laws. But, I tell you that even when you have the best law in place, it is the attitude of the people whom the law tries to curtail that matters. Like I already said, there are laws against killing, yet people kill and get away with it. The National Assembly, to the best of my knowledge, is putting measures in place to see how this can be curtailed.
There are insinuations in some quarters that northerners in positions of authority including the President are shying away from confronting the issue based on ethnic sentiments. What is your reaction to this?
The President is the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and it will be unfortunate if he is seen to be taking sides in matters such as this. Security of lives of all Nigerians should be his primary consideration. For now, I don’t have any concrete evidence to say that he is happy that some Nigerians are being killed and hounded like wild animals. That is what is happening in Benue State. We have cried to the government and I want us to give it a little more time to see what it will do. If nothing is done after a considerable time, we can begin to agree with the conclusions of the conspiracy theorists. For now, I want to caution that we wait and see.
What became of the many committees and commissions set up by government in the past to look into this issue? Why are the reports not being implemented?
Unfortunately, I don’t know. You see, several resolutions were reached at meetings both between Benue and neighbouring states, but the herdsmen will always deny that they know the attackers. If what they are saying is true, my thinking is that perhaps, we are having foreigners in our midst. They are taking advantage of the porous borders to cross in and out of the country to cause damage. So we must address the problems we have with our borders. For now, most of these killers may not be Nigerian Fulani and it is dangerous to have such people in your domain. The real solution is to monitor our borders.
What is your assessment of the role of the police in this crisis?
The police have not helped matters in any way. They have not been useful. The security agencies generally have not done what they are supposed to do. Sometimes, you report to them that there is a planned attack and they tell you that they don’t have enough ammunition. Is it the civilians that should give them ammunition? The police themselves appear to be scared of these killers in most instances. In my ward, I have received such excuses like the police saying that they don’t have money to buy fuel when there is an emergency. Let me say that honestly, I am not satisfied.
The last constitutional conference recommended creating additional grazing routes as a possible solution to the crisis. Why didn’t the National Assembly act on it?
Grazing routes will not work. The Governor of Benue State also said it the other time. It’s not just because the governor said it but it is something that is unrealistic in today’s Nigeria. Like I earlier stated, the population explosion that we have here has not expanded the land that people are living on. Population has been growing, but the land remains the same. Grazing routes were conceivable 50 or 60 years back, but you cannot say the same thing today because we have more people and less land today. Now, where will the grazing routes be? The best solution is that cattle owners should build ranches; ranch their cows so that they would not go about destroying other people’s means of livelihood.
Of all the North Central states, Benue is always at the centre of these unfortunate incidents. Why do you think that is so?
That is the concern of everybody. There are conspiracy theories that the attacks may be a deliberate ploy to weaken some of these states. Like I said before, these people, they come during the planting season to cause a lot of havoc and dislodge farmers. What is the agenda? When it is time for harvest, they also launch attacks! To make things worse, they are now taking over the land. They now attack and settle there; unlike before that they would attack and retreat. There is something sinister in this and government should act fast. Benue State has a large number of ex-servicemen who served Nigeria well. We don’t want a situation whereby we will begin to have problems from the local communities in Benue, who will take up arms against the Nigerian state. That is not my idea of a new Nigeria.
Both former Governor Suswam and Governor Ortom have made efforts that have failed to resolve the crisis. Are we expecting the killings to continue?
The question is better directed to those who are attacking us. When will they stop? That is why we are asking the government to please come and protect us. We do not know the agenda that may be involved. Everything reasonably possible that a government could do, Suswam did it, even though I did not entirely agree with his style of governance in other areas. But, on this issue, he did his best. Governor Ortom came and he is doing all that is possible to ensure that there is peace. But, the problem is the attackers; they will not stop.B
BENUE KILLINGS: Grazing routes will not work, I am not satisfied with the police - Hon. Emmanuel Orker Jev BENUE KILLINGS: Grazing routes will not work, I am not satisfied with the police  - Hon. Emmanuel  Orker Jev Reviewed by Link Naija on 15:52:00 Rating: 5

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