For opposing grazing reserves, Buhari accuses Benue governor of promoting anti-Fulani agenda

NIGERIAN President Muhammadu Buhari has accused Benue State Governor Samuel Orton, who opposed his plans to revive 368 grazing reserves in 25 states, of promoting an anti-Fulani agenda.

Buhari, who spoke through a statement issued by his Senior Special Assistant on Media and Publicity Garba Shehu on August 25, also said Ortom was not fit to hold a public office.

The statement titled ‘Statement concerning Samuel Ortom, the governor of Benue State’ was apparently a response to Ortom’s unwavering opposition to plans by the Buhari administration to introduce pro-Fulani herdsmen policies, including the recent move to revive 368 grazing reserves in 25 states in the country.

After the presidency announced on August 19 that Buhari had approved the review of the grazing reserves to assess the level of encroachment, preparatory to their revival, Ortom, in a statement issued by his spokesman Terver Akase accused the Nigerian president of planning to turn Nigeria into a ‘Cow Republic.’

In the statement titled ‘Presidency is turning Nigeria to a Cow Republic,’ Ortom had accused the Buhari administration of turning a blind eye to the ‘unimaginable levels of encroachment’ on lands belonging to Nigerians by cattle.

“Mr. President has never come out even once to condemn activities of herdsmen and the attacks they visit on innocent people. The only time the president is heard speaking about atrocities of the herders is when he defends them,” Ortom said through his spokesman.

Stressing that there is no gazetted land or cattle route in Benue State, the governor said his state should be counted out of the proposed grazing reserves programme.

Ortom swore that the people of Benue State would rather die than surrender their lands for Buhari’s grazing agenda.

“If President Buhari must actualise his cattle agenda in Benue State, he should be ready to kill all of us! We know that grazing reserves and cattle routes are the only project that the President has for Nigeria, but Benue is not interested in such a project,” the governor said.

Ortom had also opposed Buhari’s earlier moves to introduce cattle colonies and Rural Grazing Areas (RUGA) as solutions to the unending bloody conflict between nomadic Fulani herdsmen and sedentary farmers across the country.

Responding to Ortom’s opposition to the grazing reserves in the August 25 statement issued by Shehu, Buhari accused the Benue governor of withholding the rights and freedoms of the Fulani through the Open Grazing Prohibition and Ranches Establishment Law passed by the Benue State government in 2017.

Likening Ortom’s actions to that of the Hutu ethnic group in the build-up to the Rwandan genocide perpetrated against the Tutsis, the presidency claimed that the Benue governor was inciting other Nigerians against the Fulani.

A mass burial was held for victims of Fulani herdsmen attack on Benue communities in January 2018

Benue State – known as ‘Food basket of the nation’ because of its fertile farmlands – has suffered more than other Nigerian states from the violent activities of Fulani herdsmen. Hundreds of farmers in rural agrarian communities in the state have been slaughtered in series of attacks by the herdsmen.

On New Year Day in 2018, in what came to be known as the ‘Benue Massacre,’ matchete-wielding cattle herders, widely believed to be from the Fulani tribe, went on a rampage, slaughtering defenseless villagers in farming communities in Logo and Guma local government areas of Benue State.

A mass burial was later held for 72 victims of the attack in Makurdi, Benue State capital, on January 11, 2018.

Reacting to the unending killing of farmers by herdsmen in Benue and other parts of the country, Buhari’s spokesman Femi Adesina said Nigerians should choose between holding onto their lands or losing their lives.

Attacks by Fulani herdsmen on Benue communities have continued. In May, suspected Fulani herdsmen attacked Shikaan Mbagena Kpav, a Tiv community in Benue State, killing at least 36 residents, including students of the College of Education in Katsina Ala.

Women at the mass burial of victims of the January 2018 ‘Benue massacre’

But, in the statement issued by Shehu on August 25, the presidency claimed that Ortom knowingly caused deaths of innocent Nigerians by inciting farmers against herders, and Christians against Muslims.

“Specifically, Ortom stirs up hatred by targeting one single ethnic group in Nigeria – using language reminiscent of the Rwandan genocide.

“As was the case in Rwanda where the then Hutu leaders of the country incited their countrymen against each other, claiming there was a ‘secret Tutsi agenda’ over the Hutu, Ortom claims there is a ‘secret Fulanization agenda’ over other ethnic groups in his state and in Nigeria. This is a copy of the language of Hutu Power – which falsely, and intentionally, accused the Rwandan Tutsi of plans to dominate the country.

“This wicked talk is aimed at giving cover to his so-called ‘policy’ on the Ranches Establishment Law – which in reality is purely an act of denial of the law – intended to withhold rights and freedoms from one ethnic group alone, whilst inciting race hatred against them amongst all others,” Buhari’s spokesman Shehu said in the statement.

“These are not the actions of a man who should be trusted with running public services or holding public office,” Shehu added.

The presidency went as far as resorting to name-calling in a bid to discredit the Benue State governor.

“Governor Samuel Ortom has few political principles. We can see this from the fact that he has changed political party five times during his undistinguished career.

“Every time he feels the wind may be blowing in a certain direction, he follows it. Unfortunately, for the good citizens of Benue State, the most dangerous direction he blows in today is that of sectarianism and ethnicity.

“In an attempt to boost his sinking political fortunes, Ortom takes the cheapest and lowest route possible by playing on ethnic themes. For the governor of a major state in Nigeria to be politically driven by ethnic hatred is a stain on our country,” Buhari’s spokesman further said.




     

     

    The statement noted that the presidency was looking forward to a time when Ortom would no longer be the governor of Benue State.

    “The good, and fair-minded people of Benue State deserve more than this, and we look forward to the next elections when they have an opportunity to restore its greatness.”

    It would be recalled that in March, Ortom claimed that he survived an assassination attempt when Fulani herdsmen attempted to kill him when he visited his farm.

    The governor said he had to run for more than 1.5 kilometres to escape the assassination attempt.

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