Irrespective of the position of the presidency, the Governor of Benue State, Ortom, Tuesday met with Buhari in the State House, Abuja, but expressed indifference towards the proposal by the federal government to create cattle colonies in the country to control open grazing by cattle rearers.
The Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Chief Audu Ogbeh, had at the end of a meeting in Abuja of ministers and governors on the rampant killings of innocent souls in Benue and other adjoining states on Monday, said that the federal government had resolved to set up cattle colonies on 5,000 hectares of land where herdsmen can live and tender their cattle.
But Ortom, in reaction to the proposal, while answering questions from State House correspondents, said he had no knowledge of what cattle colonies entail, insisting that what obtains globally, in accordance with best practices, was ranching.
Questioning why ranching which is practised worldwide could not be entrenched in Nigeria, Ortom said incentives such as land in his state were available for herdsmen who want to ranch their cattle.
He insisted on the enforcement of the Anti-open Grazing Law in his state, noting that until the January 1 mayhem in Benue, relative peace had largely been achieved in the state since the law took effect.
“For the colony thing, I don’t know what colony is. I’m waiting to be briefed about what colonies mean. I don’t understand it… but like I keep saying, for us, the way forward is ranching.
“The way forward is ranching because it is a global best practice. And it is not just practiced in other parts of the world, on African soil in Swaziland, South Africa, Kenya, Tanzania, Mozambique, almost all African countries that rear cattle, they ranch, so why can’t we do the same thing here?
“It is not for me to create ranches. I know that as a farmer, I have one in my farm and there are several other people who are free to do so. The permits are available for people who want to ranch their cattle to access land and begin to ranch.
“So, it is free for everybody and that is the right way to go. And since we started the implementation, there has been relative peace amongst farmers and herdsmen.
“They were doing well until this militia coming from this Miyetti Allah Kautal Hore came and attacked us. And they are known. We know where they are. As I talk to you, they are in Tonga in Awe Local Government, Nasarawa State,” he said.
Ortom, who disclosed that despite the outcry against the January 1 massacre, the herdsmen were still on the rampage in Benue State, adding that they even had the guts to kill policemen deployed in the state to bring the crisis under control on Monday.
According to him, if such militant herdsmen were daring enough to kill security agents, the development only showed that the matter had assumed a new dimension, which he said implied that nobody was safe any longer.
“That is where these people are camped and coming to attack people. And it is taking a different dimension. Just yesterday (Monday), in Logo Local Government, mobile policemen that were deployed in Logo in keep vigil to protect the people and the land, these militia came, exchanged fire with them, caught two of them and slaughtered them like goats, mobile policemen!
“They shot another one, macheted him and left him in a pool of his own blood but luckily he did not die. We have taken him to the hospital. We are treating him.
“The other one that was declared missing was found today (Tuesday). So, when it gets to the level of the militia killing security men who are armed and are trained to protect lives and property, is it now taking a dangerous dimension? Who is now safe?” he demanded to know.
On his meeting with Buhari, Ortom said he had delayed his meeting with the president till Tuesday because of the necessity to ensure that normalcy had been restored at home, disclosing that since the outbreak of the tragedy, the president had taken various measures to address the menace, including the relocation of the Inspector-General of Police (IG), Ibrahim Idris, to Benue State and the deployment of troops of the Nigerian Army.
He insisted on the arrest of the leadership of Miyetti Allah, pointing out that their threat of mayhem over the implementation of Anti-open Grazing Law, without attendant the penalties, was the underlying factor behind the recent killings.
While dismissing the allegation that he threatened to hire forces from Ghana to fight herdsmen in his state, Ortom also denied the speculation that he was previously prevented from seeing the president.
“I had earlier briefed Mr. President when this incident took place on the 1st of January. After staying back on the ground to do the needful to ensure that we restored normalcy, I said it was important for me to come personally and brief him and that has been done.
“Already, because of the communications we have been having when these incidents started, actions have been taken as directed by him.
“The movement of the DIG, the movement of the IG to Benue State to ensure that this challenge is surmounted was at the instance of Mr. President.
“Of course, additional personnel of the DSS and the police have been deployed and even the army. We have additional personnel on the ground now.
“We have adequately and fully given them the logistics support to ensure that our people are protected.
“I had to brief him. He is also doing further investigations to know the next line of action. I believe that my request that the leadership of Miyetti Allah must be dealt with will he heard.
“They must be arrested and prosecuted because we cannot allow impunity to continue to thrive. And of course, threats and no action have resulted in these killings and I think that Mr. President will also do the needful to ensure something is done,” he said.
On the speculation that he was prevented from meeting the president, he said: “I’m not aware of this and I don’t even know about that one. I’m hearing it for the first time.
“If someone has done that, it must be this Miyetti Allah Kautal Hore that has done it. I have never accused anyone of blocking me from seeing Mr. President. I have seen Mr. President.
“I told you that when this incident occurred, I spoke to Mr. President on the phone and followed it up. I know what it entails, being a president.
“Even as governor, most times, I am not with my phone. People cannot access me all the time, much less a president. So I never said that I was blocked from seeing the president.
“The truth is that I have access to Mr. President anytime I want. I speak to him on the phone and I see him personally. I requested to speak to him on the phone that day because I couldn’t come to Abuja and he gave me the opportunity and today, I’m here and I have seen him.”
The governor, who said he would embrace any measure that would put paid to the gruesome killing of his people, added that if the mayhem was not stopped, it would only add to Nigeria’s over-bloated problems.
Ortom also dismissed as blatant lies, claims that the January 1 killings were caused by the theft of 1,000 cows.
“You know that man is a liar. Gololo is a liar. He is a wanted man in Benue State. We don’t even know where he is. He stays somewhere and makes allegations.
“The other time, he said 1,000 cattle were stolen and the herdsman decided to commit suicide by jumping into the river. He has not come out to justify what he said.
“Anything that can stop the killing of my people, I will go for it. I will support it. Any policy or any directive, anything that will help stop the killing of these innocent people who are not armed… because this cannot continue.
“The law on the Prohibition of Open Grazing and Establishment of Ranches was made out of the necessity to ensure that we have peace for herdsmen and farmers and that is what we have done.
“The law seeks to protect all and as I talk to you, except this Miyetti Allah Kautal Hore who are instigating people to fight and kill us, there are Fulani men in Benue State as I talk to you going about their business,” he said.