The issue of the conflict between farmers and herdsmen continues to give Nigerian state governors sleepless nights and Benue state has felt the heat of the crisis, losing over 600 people and displacing over 7,000 more in 2016
On this edition of Hard Copy on Channels Television, Governor Samuel Ortom gives insight into the root of the crisis in his state and the solutions he is working at to resolve the conflict.
Highlights of the interview include Gov. Ortom’s confirmation of a militia that is sponsored by herdsmen.
Although he refused to confirm if they were sponsored by local or foreign herdsmen, he traced the proliferation of kidnapping incidences to this militia who turn to kidnapping when they’re not ransacking villages.
Here are excerpts from the interview:
With over 500 people reportedly killed in Agatu alone and about 7,000 people displaced from that crisis, Benue state has felt the heat of the crisis between farmers and herdsmen. From your experience and I am sure you must have set up a committee on the matter. What would you say has been the cause of this crisis in Benue state?
It is an unfortunate development. Benue state remains one state that is at the heat of this challenge of herdsmen and farmers clashes.
I would attribute the cause to two issues. Lack of land for grazing and the criminality involved between herdsmen and farmers.
Some people have argued that we should go back to grazing routes. I appreciate them but we know that when grazing routes and lands was enacted it was around the 1950s and I am aware that the total population of Nigeria was less than 40 million.
Today by 2012 projection we have over 170 million people. 2016 projection I believe it will be close to 200 million.
With human activities and the upsurge of population, you discover that more hospitals, land settlements and human activity are all over the place. Some of these grazing routes and areas have been taken over by federal highways.
It becomes very difficult. Even the 920,000 square kilometers that we used to have is no longer in place because the excision of Bakassi to the Cameroons. It has become a problem especially in Benue where we are the food basket of the nation and more than 80% of the people are peasant farmers. It becomes a big challenge.
There is also the talk about how the Lake Chad basin is drying up and desertification also coming into parts of the north and you find that herdsmen who used to find pastures further up north are finally being forced to come down south. Do you think that that has any bearing on the conflict as well?
What we have noticed in Benue state is that the indigenous Fulani we had or herdsmen are no longer the ones creating this problem. We have foreigners coming in with large number of cattle and it has really created a problem.
I think that most importantly there is no land again like it used to be in the 50s because it has even been compounded by the country trying to diversify the economy and the first thing that comes to mind is agriculture and in Benue state we have a comparative advantage.
About 90% of the land is arable. We have rivers Benue and Katsinala. It is very difficult to find empty land where there will be grazing and the routes for herdsmen to rear their cattle.
We’ll come to the solutions shortly because there’s been the proposal for grazing reserves versus ranches and you have already stated your preference for one but then there are different theories of what this conflict is about.
Do you also say that there is a criminality aspect of it and there’s also some conspiracy theory coming up saying that you know in some instances they are taking over entire villages, sacking the villagers and people are settling down in those areas. You do have evidence in your state that this is happening?
Those who are coming to chase people away and take their land like we have right now in one council ward in Kwandi local area in Mo district – as I talk to you, the indigenes have been chased away and the herdsmen are occupying that land. These are terrorist people.
The second aspect is the aspect of people rustling cattle. The unfortunate thing is that most times the cattle rustlers are not indigenes of such villages. They come from somewhere, rustle the cattle and go away and the Fulani come with their militia and run down an entire village, kill people and destroy their property.
It is a major problem we are facing in Benue today. One thing is that after our carrot approach of the amnesty programme we have gone into the stick approach. We are regarding anyone rustling cattle as a criminal.
Once we get to you the law would take its cause. The criminality is not from one side. The herdsmen are involved and the natives as well. They work together to rustle cattle and take them away but when the herdsmen come with their militia they attack the indigenes where the cattle is rustled.
So, there’s actually a militia arm of the herdsmen menace?
In this country today they are everywhere and they say they are hired to come and fight and when there is no fighting they go into the business of kidnapping.
Is the militia arm sponsored by herdsmen in the country or is this foreign herdsmen sponsoring foreign militia into Nigeria?
I know that they are sponsored by herdsmen. There is no doubt about that. The rampant cases of kidnapping today is attributed to these militia hired by herdsmen. It is a wrong approach altogether.
I believe there should be a win-win situation. Like I said, there is no more land for grazing but there is need for us to dialogue. Dialogue remains the best option to solving this problem.
So, you are not able to clarify whether or not the militia is sponsored by local herdsmen or foreign herdsmen because you did mention that there was a foreign aspect to these crises.
I don’t know but I am aware that there is a militia group maintained by the herdsmen because each time there are incidences of cattle rustling or attack on herdsmen, militia people come and attack.
When they are coming they will give you notice and they come. They are all over the place. I tell you the truth, today in Nigeria these militias are responsible for the kidnapping all over the place. Back home in my place a reverend father was kidnapped and killed by the herdsmen. There is an existence of this militia group in Nigeria.
Only recently you visited Tarfu village in Buruku Local Government Area and you were quoted as saying that your state is helpless in the face of these attacks. Is there really nothing that states can do?
Honestly I appreciate the President. The passion he has for the state. Each time I call, the security agencies have been directed to work with me and ensure that they flush out all these evil and terrorist groups, killers and kidnappers and cattle rustlers including the militia group of the herdsmen. There is a directive from the Presidency that we flush out these people.
Honestly my state has been under siege for a very long time even before I came in. What I have tried to do is to introduce dialogue to the whole process. Tried to convince the farmers and herdsmen that let us work together because we must find a way out of this.
Today and tomorrow I still believe that what we have to do as a lasting solution to this problem of herdsmen and farmers clashes remains the issue of ranching. But I believe it cannot be done overnight. It is something that would require the federal and state governments to come together and find ways of indoctrinating these nomads to find a way out of it. If we borrowed presidential system of government from America why can’t we borrow ranching?
Your colleague in Ekiti state, Governor Ayodele Fayose, has proposed a prohibition of cattle and other ruminant grazing act of 2016. They recently passed that into law. Do you think that that would be a stop gap measure pending when it is you are able to find a lasting solution to this?
I don’t know the details of his law but we presented a bill to the state house of assembly to be passed into law and we believe that we should adopt ranching and our method is going to be a peaceful one and there will be a transition.
Governor Samuel Ortom Reveals Militia Sponsored By Fulani Herdsmen (VIDEO)
Reviewed by Link Naija