The presidency Tuesday absolved President Muhammadu Buhari of the killings allegedly committed by armed herdsmen in several states of the federation, particularly in Benue State and neighbouring states, saying that the president was concerned about the persistent herdsmen and farmers’ clashes, especially when he sees gruesome pictures of those that have been slaughtered.
This is just as the federal government has also proposed a conference of stakeholders on infrastructure and agricultural development as a platform for immediate and long-term solutions to the frequent conflicts between farmers and herdsmen.
Despite the proposal to hold the conference, the embattled governor of Benue State, Samuel Ortom, whose people have borne the brunt of the conflicts with herdsmen, Tuesday met with the president in the State House, Abuja, but expressed indifference towards another proposal by the federal government to create cattle colonies in the country to control open grazing by cattle rearers.
The proposed conference, according to a statement by the Senior Special Assistant to the President on Media and Publicity, Malam Garba Shehu, was conceived to help in finding short and long-term measures for the expansion of agriculture in the country.
The statement said the conference would tap into experiences and best practices to draw up a development plan of 20-30 years on the basis of population and development projections, which it said would take into consideration environmental impacts.
According to the statement, Buhari was concerned about the persistent herdsmen and farmers’ clashes, especially when he sees gruesome pictures of mayhem from several parts of the country, notably Benue and neighbouring states.
The president, he said, was equally worried about some public pronouncements and finger-pointing, which in most cases were very unhelpful to the peaceful coexistence of Nigeria’s diverse peoples, adding that Buhari was conscious of his duty to Nigerians.
“Not least because he is held accountable for everything that goes wrong. He deeply sympathises with the families and all the other direct and indirect victims of this violence. He is determined to bring it to a permanent end,” Shehu said.
Further observing that while there are many Nigerians who see the conflict between the herdsmen and peasant farmers as an ethnic problem, others point to religious differences and agenda, he noted however that the president does not subscribe to such “simplistic reductionism”.
Shehu also said Buhari held the view, as many experts also do, that these conflicts are more often than not caused by major demographic changes in Nigeria, recalling that when Nigeria attained independence, the population of the country was estimated at about 63 million.
“Today, the population is estimated at close to 200 million, while the land size has not changed and will not change. Urban sprawl and development have simply reduced land area both for peasant farming and cattle grazing.
“It is therefore both unfair and unkind for anyone to keep insinuating that the president is condoning the spate of killings in Benue and other neighboring states.
“President Buhari has publicly condemned the violence at every turn. He is prepared to permit every possible step that can lead to the stoppage of the killings.
“It is on account of this he brushed aside an opinion that the federal government should challenge the constitutionality of the Anti-Open Grazing Act. He wanted to give a chance to the state government to succeed in stopping the senseless killings.
“It will be recalled that as he did in dealing with the Boko Haram insurgency in North-east Nigeria, which required sustained action from the government before it was finally curtailed, President Buhari gave the relevant mandates to the country’s security agencies to put a stop to the Benue killings.
“The killings must stop and the security agencies have the president’s support to do this as quickly as possible. Whipping up hate may captivate the public and score political points on the social media, but it will not bring an end to the crisis.
“Let every stakeholder instead sit down with the government and security forces and carry everyone along in finding an all-embracing solution,” Shehu said in the statement.
He observed that as a father, retired army general and statesman, Buhari had maintained lasting relationships with many Nigerians, irrespective of their tribes or religion.
He also said that the president was appealing to Nigerians to support and co-operate with his administration’s plan to find permanent solutions to the menace and avoid aggravating or escalating tensions in all conflicts threatening the peace of the country.
“It is also a known fact that the young people who trek the whole distance of thousands of kilometres tending the cattle do not own the cattle.
“In fact, many of the cattle are not owned by Fulanis or Muslims. The point is that it is too simplistic to see the conflict as ethnic or religious,” he stated.