Governor Samuel Ortom of Benue State in this interview with ANULE EMANUEL restates that the Anti-Open Grazing Law is making impact, especially with several arrests being made. He also speaks on the recent one-day condolence visit of President Muhammadu Buhari to the state and the peoples’ expectation, among other issues
How far have you gone with the Anti-Open Grazing law?
The prohibition of open grazing law is on course. We have no issue implementing it. Everything is going on smoothly as far as Benue State is concerned. Several arrests have been made and we have secured three convictions. Three people were convicted, though with an option of fine. I don’t know whether they have paid the fine. I think each of them was to pay N500,000 as stipulated by the law. Over 20 people have also been arraigned and some have been detained and are awaiting trial. They are there in prison. Police are still doing their investigation and almost every day, these people are being arrested for violating the law.
So, the prohibition of open grazing is on course and the security agencies are cooperating with us in this regard. I know that we already have a temporary detention camp for arrested cattle. As I talk to you, 20 of them were apprehended by security agencies with the assistance of the livestock guards and they are in detention camp. After seven days as stipulated by the law, these cows will be auctioned and the money paid into Benue State purse as stipulated by the law.
So, we have no problem in implementing this law and one thing we are saying is that those who want to stay in Benue State are free to do so. This law is not against any one. It is not against any ethnic group, it is not against an individual or group of people. This law is a win-win law for both farmers and herdsmen. If you want to stay in Benue State, the only thing that we require of you is to ranch your cattle if you are a herdsman. But if you think that you cannot ranch and you prefer open grazing then, you can go to other states that have land available. We don’t have land. But if you want security, Benue State is ready to provide security to lead you out of Benue State. This, we would do and that is where we are.
There is no doubt that the farmers/herdsmen crises have produced several IDPs. Is the State getting any assistance from the Federal Government?
Well, we appreciate them. There are good spirited individuals and corporate organizations and groups, which have also been very, very kind in responding positively to support the state government. As you are aware, Benue State cannot pay salaries as at when due. It is a big challenge, and coping with this kind of challenge requires the mercies and the grace of God to be able to contend with it. So, we have spoken to some good spirited individuals who are helping us. Everyday, people are dropping in one thing or the other. The churches all over the country are coming. Right now, the Roman Catholic Diocese of Makurdi is organizing a school programme for the children in the Internally Displayed Persons (IDPs) at least, to keep them busy outside organising some skills acquisition programmes that will help the women and the youths who are within the camp.
So far, we are able to provide some minimum assistance. Government too is intervening at the state level. The National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) from the Federal Government provided some relief materials but it was like a drop in the ocean. They provided I think 100 bags of corn, 100 bags of millet and other things like that, but they did an assessment and we are still waiting for their response. The Federal Government Committee on rehabilitation of these victims are here in the state trying to do their assessment too. The Presidential Committee on Victims Support Fund is also in the state has done their assessment but I tell you the truth, the destruction is massive. Those people cannot attempt to go back home.
More than 60 people have been killed between Guma and Logo after the burial of those 73 people. So, if you now take the one in Okpoku and add to these, it is small. And the worse thing is that these herdsmen are occupying the land of these people. They have burnt down all their houses, destroyed the farm lands, even seedlings. There is famine in Benue State already as I speak to you. That is the truth. These are areas where massive food is produced, both grains and yam tubers. So, it is a big challenge but I thank God that Mr President came to see or at least hear things for himself. I believe that his coming will spur the security to do better. They are doing their best, because they too have been victims. Nine policemen were killed, two Civil Defence men too were killed in the course of trying to secure security for lives and property for our people.
But I hope that with the coming of Mr President more action will be taken. All that we are saying is that let these invaders go back to where they are coming from. It is not right. What is amazing me is that the people who are perpetrating these are known. Miyetti Allah Kautal Hore, their leadership. And they are walking on the streets of Abuja. I don’t know what to do, but I would do the needful. If they cannot be arrested, I am taking them to court. That is what I would do, and that is the most civil way to handle such issues.
Were you pressurized by some powers in Aso Rock to cancel the idea of mass burial for the Okpokwu victims?
Not really, but you can’t be combining doing mass burial and then preparing for the visit of the President. So, Mr President is our President, we should be seen to giving him the honour. So, first things first. We chose to receive the President first then, we buried the dead. We did not receive any call to alter our programme, it was just in our own wisdom. We feel that we can’t be joining two issues at the same time. So, let us receive Mr President. One thing at a time.
After that we can have time to do the burial. You see, the advance team of the President was in Benue two days before his arrival and if I was to be involved in mass burial, it would have taken some time. But in any case, custom varies. We did that when it happened here in Tiv land but in Idoma land, we cannot do mass burial. Their custom is different from that of the Tiv people. So, what we are doing is to support the families to bury their dead. But we’ll do a mass. The community that were murdered are predominantly Christians of the Catholic faith and so, they demanded that a mass be offered, thereafter their relations will take the corps to their various home which is okay with us.
What specific demands did you make on the President when he visited?
First of all the demand we make is to help us, support us chase away the invaders so that our people can return home. I am not a happy man seeing those IDPs and staying in the comfort of my room. I am not sleeping well. For days I can’t sleep continuously for one hour. I cannot, because I think about them. They are my children, they are my fathers, they are my mothers, they are my relations. Or it could have been me being in that camp or anybody from Abuja in that camp. So, my first priority is that I am looking forward to my President to help me, help the people of Benue State to send away those invaders because we are law abiding. We have not taken laws into our hands, as you can see we don’t have militia. If we had they would be fighting. You would have heard that they have killed so so number of Fulani men or herdsmen. But you can see that since 1st of January, it is we that they are been killed and are being chased away. We are not even men again, all of us, we are like women because we want to obey the laws of the land. We want to be law abiding, we want to be good people. So, that is the challenge. And once the people go back, because rainy season is already here with us and this is the right time to begin to prepare for the 2018 cropping season. So, seed yams have been destroyed, houses are no longer there for people to live in. These are very big challenges. And so much has been lost.
What can be done to address this?
Mr. President should consider the issue of rehabilitating these people, but first thing is to provide security. Second thing is to rehabilitate them to go back, and make provision for them. And get those schools that have been burnt down, hospitals and churches and houses rehabilitated immediately so that people can resume their normal life. This is our expectation.
(source:pocket-novels,please contact us if any infringement)