Benue State Governor Samuel Ortom has said unless Nigerians collectively wake up to the menace of the killer herdsmen, everyone stands the risk of being consumed. Ortom spoke in Abuja at the weekend.
The governor justified his recent call on the federal government to allow Nigerians bear arms, saying it would serve as self-defence in the face of the growing insecurity in the country.
This was as the warring Atyap, Hausa and Fulani communities in Zangon Kataf Local Area of Southern Kaduna agreed to live in peace after months of violence that led to mass killings and destruction of property.
Ortom said regarding the attacks by herdsmen that the state government had taken decisive steps, which had yielded positive result, including the arrest and prosecution of a sizeable number of the criminals.
He stated, “I am not a security expert but as a governor, I receive briefing and I was able to do my independent investigation and know that these people are coming for an agenda. Nigerians must wake up. If we don’t wake up, we will all be consumed.”
The governor added, “We have arrested about 400 herdsmen and some are not even Fulanis but majority of them are Fulanis and we have prosecuted them. Today, we have convicted more than 130 herdsmen, who are already serving various jail terms and some have paid fines.
“We have arrested over 9000 cattle but as the law stipulates, once you pay fine we release them to you and you transport them. You no longer go on foot with those cattle within Benue State.
“On the issue of foreign herdsmen, I am happy that the Inspector General of Police, some days ago, did say these herdsmen are not Nigerians. That is what I said about two or three years ago. I knew it.”
Ortom reiterated his belief in the need for the citizens to bear arms in self-defence, saying he stands by his submission.
According to him, “This is a suggestion that the federal government should take up seriously, because in America people are licensed to carry sophisticated weapons, but life is still going on. It is left for the federal government to look at it if my suggestion can be carried, but for me, I still stand by my suggestion.
“I heard people complaining that Ortom called for Nigerians to be allowed to carry sophisticated weapons and that it would bring about anarchy. What about the Fulani herdsmen, who are carrying AK-47 rifles and kidnapping innocent Nigerians, raping our women, and destroying our villages and towns and becoming a terror to us.
“Why can’t we collect these sophisticated weapons from them? How many of them have been arrested? I am aware that some have been apprehended, but majority of them are still there with those AK-47.”
The governor explained that the state’s share of the N13.5 billion approved by the federal government for community policing across the country would be used to train personnel of its local vigilante group. He stressed that the state had so far recruited the necessary personnel for the take-off of its vigilante body in all the 276 wards in the state. According to him, what is left is the training of the security personnel.
Ortom stated, “Already, we have done the recruitment from all the 276 wards, so I think the next thing is for the training to take place. I believe that the N13.5 billion that was approved will support the logistics of training these people.
“Otherwise we had undertaken that the local governments and state government will jointly see how they can provide stipends so that these people will report to the police and support the police. But they will work hand-in-hand with vigilante groups.”
Commenting further on community policing, he explained, “This is a policy that all the North-central state governors and the Inspector General of Police met sometime ago and we jointly agreed to augment the capacity and the strength of the Nigeria Police.
“We need to do something that will arise from the community to support the police. So, it is a policy that would engaged the rural people and government is told to find ways of giving them stipends, but the police will train these recruits.”
Meanwhile, the agreement reached Saturday night in Southern Kaduna was brokered at a peace and reconciliation summit organised by the Atyap Traditional Council, Atyap Chiefdom, Zangon Kataf Local Government Area. The meeting held at the Mariyamu and Yakubu Event Centre in Ungwan Wakili community, in Zangon Kataf.
Participants at the summit condemned the killings and destruction in the area and resolved to forgive each other and work with security agencies to arrest and prosecute criminal elements. They warned the youth against taking the law into their hands, insisting there should be justice and fairness to all the ethnic groups, while also cautioning against inputting religious and ethnic sentiments to every issue.
Declaring open the summit chaired by Air Vice Marshal Shekari (rtd), the Agwam Atyap, His Royal Highness, Dominic Yahaya, said the Atyap, Fulani, Hausa and other ethnic groups in the area had coexisted peacefully and harmoniously for decades. He condemned the spate of killings and destruction of property, and urged the people to embrace peace.
“The entire chiefdom was a close-knit family, as Fulanis, Hausas, Chawai, Igbos, Yorubas, Amawa, Ikulu, Surubu all lived peacefully with the Atyap, who are known to be very accommodating and hospitable,” he said.
The paramount ruler regretted that the trust that existed among the ethnic groups “has gradually been eroded and deteriorated, resulting in the crisis now bedevilling the chiefdom, which informs the onus for convening this conference.
“There is no gainsaying that the recent crisis has had devastating effects on the entire people of the chiefdom. Lives were lost and properties worth millions have been destroyed and life has become almost unbearable for all.
“The pitiable and woeful sight of all people running away from their places of domicile to IDP camps and places unknown has a devastating effect on the entire chiefdom.”
He called on the youth to eschew violence, embrace peace, and adhere to the rule of law as enshrined in the country’s constitution.
A communiqué issued after the meeting was, however, signed by representatives of the Atyap, Fulani and Hausa communities, the co-chairs and His Highness, the Agwatyap.
In a 14-point resolution, the summit called on all residents of Atyap Chiefdom not to take laws into their hands and, instead, submit all grievances to the lawful authorities.
The meeting “appreciated the fact that all Nigerians have the constitutional or fundamental right to move and reside anywhere in Nigeria, including Atyap Chiefdom, without any fear, molestation or harassment from anybody or any source whatsoever.” It called on the authorities to facilitate the return of displaced persons to their homes.
It also “recommended the establishment of a standing peace committee that should comprise of Hausa, Fulani and Atyap and their youths to organise robust engagement/dialogue on security issues from time to time with a view to sustaining peaceful coexistence.”
News of the peace meeting came hours after the Kaduna State government reduced curfew hours in Zangon Kataf and Kauru local government areas, citing serious efforts at rapprochement between the conflicting communities.