Benue State Governor, Samuel Ortom
•They come without cattle, kill, destroy and withdraw
•Resolves to set up security outfit
•Insists state must be secured for farmers to return
By Peter Duru, Makurdi
Governor Samuel Ortom of Benue state has resolved to replicate the South West security outfit, ‘Operation Amotekun’, in Benue state.
Ortom who granted an interview after an emergency security council meeting in the state also spoke on the decision of the government to strengthen the law prohibiting open grazing, and how to tackle the increasing security challenges and communal crisis in parts of the state. Excerpts:
You held a crucial security council meeting, what were the nagging issues that prompted the extraordinary meeting and what were the decisions reached?
It was part of our periodic meeting to assess the security situation in the state and we have been able to analyze all issues including the herdsmen and cattle influx into Benue state, kidnappings, armed robbery and cultism. At the end we took far reaching decisions especially in strengthening our laws.
From the prohibition of open grazing we are going to strengthen the law to make sure that those who violate our law receive stiffer punishment. We have also resolved to strengthen our law on kidnapping and look at how we can make it more effective as well as the law on cultism. All these are meant to strengthen our position. We will also encourage our security personnel because they are doing very well there is do doubt about that.
The last time when I talked about security personnel being overstretched and overwhelmed, I meant to encourage the authorities to do more for them in terms of manpower and other forms of support. I was not castigating them, they have done excellently well as far as I am concerned with the capacity they have, the equipment and funding they have they are doing excellently well and we are actively supporting and collaborating with them to work hard. But honestly I also appreciate the fact that today in Nigeria there is massive problem security-wise.
Everywhere in the country requires attention. So, we must always fight to get more. But I want to assure Benue people that we are on top of the situation and with the support I have from the security council we will be able to contain the issue of flux of herdsmen and other security issues that we have like kidnappings and so on. So, generally we are doing well, we have been able to reduce kidnapping to its barest minimum as at today. Cultism is one area that is complicated because very high profile people are also involved. We want to strengthen the law on cultism to see how we can lay hands on these high profile people and punish them to serve as deterrent.
Almost every week the Police parade suspected kidnappers, cultists and armed herdsmen arrested in the state but shortly after they are arraigned, they are set free. Does it mean that these suspects are not being prosecuted diligently?
It was part of what we have discussed at the meeting. Luckily the Chief Judge was there, the Attorney General was there, my SSG is a Senior Advocate, the Police, the DSS and all the Security heads were part of the meeting. We were able to discuss the issue and we identified some loopholes especially in trying to amend the law to make sure that there are no more gaps so that when people are apprehended and taken to court, there will be evidence to prosecute them so that they can be convicted accordingly.
You said the security council has prescribed stiffer penalties, in specific terms can you tell us what penalties you are coming up with?
We have set up a committee to look at it because everything we are doing has to be within the ambit of the law. We set up a committee to look at areas where we can strengthen all the said laws and come up with recommendations.
Do you have any update on the recent attacked Moon community in Kwande Local Government Area by armed herdsmen?
Of course that was a major discussion. It took a long time to analyze the situation. We have identified certain areas and we are still doing further investigation. But we are also beefing up security in that area including deploying the military to be at the border just like we have in Taraba state to enable us contain what happens in the event of further attacks on the people.
But the principal challenge we have there is that we have boundary issues with Taraba state and Moon is a community that happens to be in contention. You will recall that before we came in Moon was conceded to Taraba, while Chanchangi was conceded to Benue state.
Arising from that, myself and the Taraba Governor met and said, traditionally Moon has always been known to be part of Benue. So, in principle we agreed that it should still remain in Benue but that has not been legalized and that Chanchangi should also still remain in Taraba state because traditionally they had always been there. So, these are the issues we need to sort out. But we are going to beef up security to ensure that we protect the lives and property of the people.
What are you also doing about the boundary crisis between the Ngbo people of Ebonyi state and Agila people of Benue state, did the council discuss the matter?
Of course these are areas of contention and we have set up the machinery to deal with it. We are asking the two communities to give us the benefit of the doubt so that we can resolve the matter. We inherited the crisis because it has been going on for decades, it is a crisis between Benue and Ebonyi states. But myself and the governor of that state are determined to solve the problem once and for all. We just want the communities to give us the opportunity and we are ready to go in. Both sides must offer concession.
We cannot get a perfect solution for the matter but we need buy-in of these two communities to agree. We are mediating and discussing and so far it is going on smoothly, there are rough edges, we are going to smoothen them but it is not something that can be done overnight.
Benue seems to be facing a lot of challenges on all fronts
This is certainly a very difficult time for us. It is a trying time for the entire people of Benue state. We are faced with the challenge of inter-communal clashes all over the place owing to the fact that the rainy season is gradually setting in and preparation for the farming season has started. So it is quite disheartening because the entire state is challenged by these constant disagreements over land and that is what we are witnessing at the moment. We are doing our best, security personnel are on ground but like I keep saying, they are inadequate to take care of the entire state considering the volume of the problems that we have especially the inter communal crisis over farmland.
What we are doing is to mobilize the traditional rulers to reach out to their people to make sure that wherever there are issues we sit down and discuss instead of taking arms against each other. And then the external aggression coming from the armed herdsmen has not stopped. They have adopted guerrilla warfare tactics. They come without cattle, kill, burn down houses and withdraw. After that they move to the next village to do the same thing. This has continued but we have discussed with our security personnel and we are moving and closing in on them.
The Agro Rangers have been mobilized further and provided additional support and vehicles and their personnel have been put together with some resources to ensure that they keep vigil especially against those people who are not coming for grazing but for the sake of killing and destroying people’s property including those who had attempted to go back from the IDPs camps to resettle. So the tension is there but we are not sleeping and by the grace of God we shall overcome.
Recently you wrote the Presidency requesting that the ongoing joint military operation in the state be sustained, but it appears there is a slow response to crisis in the state by the security personnel?
I have always said it is not actually slow response or activity of the military, they are doing their best but the truth is that the magnitude of the problem is much. The security situation in the state will require more personnel and equipment to be deployed and more funding. As I talk to you now they cannot be everywhere and that is why I talked about being overstretched and being adequate to take care of the magnitude of the problems that we have.
But they are working very hard and I think that the Operation Whirl Stroke has gone further to mobilize in the air, the land and the sea to ensure that they curtail the challenge. We are working with them and we are discussing ways of tackling the challenge in spite of the issues of not having enough personnel, equipment and so on. We are still working together to see how best to contain the situation. I believe that with the synergy we have in place today things will work out.
With this magnitude of security challenges in the state are you not looking towards replicating ‘Operation Amotekun’ in Benue state to compliment the conventional security agencies?
On that issue, every region is planing its own security outfit. I think that we are also going to meet very soon at our own regional level. Although we have not met at the regional level of North Central Governors, but I can assure you that there will be need for Benue state too to provide a security outfit that will compliment what the conventional security personnel are doing. For me as Benue state Governor I think there is need to have something in place that will collaborate and complement what the current security personnel are doing because they are grossly inadequate. How can a whole Local Government Area, LGA, like Guma have less than 50 police men? Even other LGAs in the state have less that number. So, this is the challenge, we are not criticizing anyone but we are saying the truth. And it is something that we have to collectively come together and handle. It is not a matter of ego, not at all. We need to secure the state so that our displaced farmers can go back home otherwise I keep saying that there will be issue of food insecurity.
These are the people who farm in our communities, there are no mechanized farming activities going on in Benue state. We have the peasant farmers and those are the people in the IDPs camps scattered across the state. I need these people to go back home. It is my desire. So, I think a similar thing like ‘Amotekun’ would have to happen, we have no option than to do it in view of our challenges in the state.