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Mixed reactions trail establishment of Benue Community Volunteer Guards

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By Oluwatobi Enitan and Fatunbi Olayinka

MIXED reactions have continued to trail the establishment of the Benue Community Volunteer Guards by Governor Samuel Ortom.

Ortom had on August 4, 2022, inaugurated the 500-man Community Volunteer Guards as a response to attacks by armed Fulani herdsmen in rural communities in the state.

According to Ortom, the Volunteer Guards would complement efforts of conventional security agencies in the state.

The governor, in another move, wrote President Muhammadu Buhari to seek permission for the Volunteer Guards to bear arms.

Following allegations and counter allegations that trailed the development, which pitched the government against the Fulani herdsmen, The ICIR spoke to parties involved in the saga.

Ortom, in an exclusive interview with The ICIR, explained that the lack of concern shown by the Buhari-led Federal Government to the killings and displacement of over two million people in Benue necessitated the establishment of the volunteer guards.

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“So on the Fulani attacks against our communities, what we are trying to do may not necessarily put an end to it but it will minimize the level of insecurity that we have in our land, because the conventional security of the state have done their best, but I can tell you that from 2017 alone when we enacted the prohibition of open grazing and enacted provisions for ranching, to date, more than 120 security personnel have been killed; more than 5000 people from 2011 till date have been killed,” Ortom said.

The governor also disclosed that the state government had secured the conviction of over 400 Fulani herders, and confiscated more than 25,000 cows over the herdsmen’s failure to adhere to the anti-grazing law.

“Four places were designated for public hearing and we went through due process. It went through the State Executive Council, it went through the House of Assembly. The House of Assembly organised four different venues for public hearing, it was held and passed and I signed it into law in 2017. Miyetti Allah came out and said they will never obey that law.

“Most of these people are not even Nigerians, they come here and say they will not obey the laws of the land. If I was not a child of God, if I did not believe in being lawful, if I did not have respect for the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, I would have taken arms myself to go there and fight.”

But the National Secretary Miyetti Allah, Saleh Alhassan in an exclusive interview with The ICIR, said the governor’s actions were not helping the country.

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Alhassan said, “All these vigilantes the state governors are creating are not helping the country. What they are trying to show is that there is a lack of confidence in the authority of the state to maintain law and order, so you now begin to create your own small -army.

Miyetti Allah
National Secretary of Miyetti allah Kautal Hore, Saleh Alhassan

“If the Fulanis decide, they will create their vigilantes, which our organisation has started working on and launched their activities. Do you know how many millions we will have? It is not thousands, and we have them in millions. Will that go well for the country?

“When you have non-state actors carrying arms, all the volunteers Governor Ortom has recruited who profiled them? Who knows their real background? Some may be hardened criminals.

“He has auctioned more than 90 per cent of the cattles he has seized, not necessarily from Benue State. If you say livestock have encroached, it is assumed they have entered a farmland. But in the case of Governor Ortom and his terrorist squads going by the name Livestock Guards, they have been seizing cattles from innocent poor herders, small holder herders, who are Nigerians and nobody has come to their aid.

“You seize an entire herd belonging to a household to go and auction it. That is the only thing they have as a means of livelihood, and you now seize it completely. You are the Governor of the State and the Chief Security Officer; you are supposed to be taking care of all the citizens in your domain, assuming even those cattles you’ve seized in Benue State, if they trespass on any land, you have a law that makes provision for ranching, you have refused to allocate the land for ranching.”

The Special to the Benue State Governor on Security, Paul Hemba, a retired colonel, said personnel of the Volunteer Guards were properly selected and trained.

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“The members of the volunteer guards were selected from across the 23 local government areas of the state. After they passed them through the process of screening, we further handed their names to the various security agencies, particularly the Police and the DSS. We took them to camp at the College of Education Ikpayongo and we got instructors to train them from the various security agencies, including the Police, the DSS, and the Civil Defense.

“They were trained for three weeks. We intend to return them to their communities to assist the conventional security agencies in areas of intelligence. In terms of numbers, the various security agencies are grossly inadequate. They are doing their best, the military, Police, and the Civil Defense, they are doing their best, but they cannot be everywhere.”

The Commander of the Benue State Community Volunteer Guards, Ayuma Ajobi, a retired Army captain, maintained that the establishment of the security outfit was long overdue.

He noted that the Volunteer Guards would abide by their rules of engagement.

According to him, the outfit was not established to fight a conventional war.

“We were not trained to fight a conventional war, but to curtail civil unrest, civil disturbance and to defend our various communities. So you can see the difference,” Ajobi said.

The Police Public Relations Officer Benue State Police Command, Anene Sewuese Catherine, declined to speak on the Community Volunteer Guards when the The ICIR’s reporters called at her office.

But she highlighted efforts being made by the police to maintain law and order in all parts of the state.

She said, “In Sankara axis, the collective name for Logo, Katsina-Ala and Wukum Local Government, we used to have banditry there, but as we speak, we have a serious deployment of officers alongside with other sister agencies. Heavy deployment has brought down the activities of bandits in the area. So it is relatively calm. Within the metropolis, Makurdi, Gboko, Otupko, the area is calm; issues of kidnap and cultism has been brought under control.”

The ICIR asked some Benue residents in Makurdi what they think about the Community Volunteer Guards.

Benjamin Ankwa, an indigene, said the new outfit will help in restoring peace to some communities.

Benue Community Volunteers Guard
Benue Community Volunteers Guard

 

“I love what the governor has done with the security outfit. The main aim of the outfit is to ensure that the lives of Benue people and their safety is protected, and I want to believe that they will help restore peace in Benue State,” he said.Another Benue indigene, Zenedesha Jacob Terungwa, said he expects the security outfit to tackle all forms of criminal activities in the communities.

Also speaking, Ade Mary, a resident, said the outfit would complement the efforts of the Police and Army in securing the State.

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