By Kenneth Atavti and Sunday Ogli
THERE appears to be no end to the controversy between Governor Samuel Ortom of Benue State and Fulani sociocultural organizations in Nigeria.
Since the promulgation of the Open Grazing Prohibition and Ranches Establishment Law in 2017 by the governor to halt the unprovoked killing of Benue villagers by Fulani pastoralists, the sociocultural organizations apart from inciting civil unrest, have taken turn to institute litigations against the governor. One of them took responsibility for the killing of 73 Benue villagers in 2018 new year eve.
Just recently, its sister organisation, Miyetti Allah Kautal Hore, MAKH, dragged the governor before the International Criminal Court, ICC in The Hague to face justice for “violating the rights of Fulani herders” in his state.
The National Secretary-General of MAKH, Mr Saleh Alhassan, said who disclosed this said MAKH has filed a suit against Ortom for seizing over 25,000 cows belonging to members of the group and detaining over 4,000 herders.
Ortom had, after inaugurating the state’s Community Volunteer Guards, said he had secured the conviction of over 400 Fulani herders ‘besieging’ the state.
His words, “We have secured the conviction of over 400 Fulani herders, who have besieged the state. We have seized over 25,000 cows. We released some of the cows to the owners who paid fines and auctioned the cattle of those who did not pay because that is what the law says to ensure that we protect our lands.”
Reacting to this development, Alhassan said Ortom was known for always “abducting and keeping” cows belonging to Fulani herders.
“He (Ortom) would go to Benue and Taraba states border communities and seize cows, making our members suffer. We don’t have herders in Benue. So, the livestock that he seized shows that he is part of the problem.
“He is destroying the economy of our people in the border states. We have raised that issue, prepared our documents and sued him before the International Criminal Court in Hague.
“We sued him for stealing our cattle in Nasarawa and Taraba border communities and for also detaining our innocent youths and dumping them in his dungeon because he is a governor.
“He is not arresting herders for violating anti-open grazing law because there are no herders in Benue. The law which he assented to in his state Assembly stated that for a herder to function, there must be a ranch.
“Ortom has failed to provide a ranch for us. Let him finish all this wickedness. He will still leave and the herders in Nigeria will continue to exist, prosper and be better,” he said.
Alhassan also noted that Ortom had performed “woefully. So, he needs these diversionary tactics to be able to stay relevant.
“I just pity the innocent people of Benue State. We have asked these people to investigate and probe the quantum amounts of security votes he (Ortom) has diverted from the state.
“He is a total failure and has seen failure staring at him in the face. After almost eight years, what are the developmental achievements he can present?
“We have stopped taking him seriously with regards to governance. We are taking a number of legal actions against him. We have also written to the President (Muhammadu Buhari) for compensation,” he added.
However, the governor, in a statement signed by his Chief Press Secretary, CPS, Nathaniel Ikyur, told the Miyetti Allah Kautal Hore that he is ever ready to meet them at the International Criminal Court of Justice.
Governor Ortom reiterated his readiness to meet them in court saying: “Tell Miyetti Allah and all its leadership that I am ready to meet them in court, anywhere.
He further explained that as the Governor of Benue state, he was implementing a law duly passed by the legislature and signed into law.
Governor Ortom insisted that the law was enacted in good faith and it remains “a win-win for the herders and farmers. Unfortunately, what we see is that the terrorists come with the sole intention to take over our ancestral lands and not to graze.”
The Governor also maintained that the passage of the law was part of measures to end the incessant invasion by the armed Fulani herdsmen and halt farmers/herders clashes in the state.
He stressed that the “implementation of the law banning open grazing of cattle in the state is irrevocable” and advised Miyetti Allah and their collaborators to be ready for a long legal battle.
In his words; “Let those who are threatening to take me to court understand that every law is meant to be obeyed. For the avoidance of doubts, Benue people agreed for the law to be implemented.
“We are therefore enforcing the law. And anybody willing to do business in the state must abide by the law.
“I have done what is right and legitimate to protect my people from further killings. That is what constitutional democracy demands,” the Governor stated.
He insisted that “instead of Miyetti Allah directing their members who wish to live and do business in Benue State to abide by the law, they have continued to sponsor acts of terror against Benue people, killing and destroying properties worth billions of naira. As we speak, there are over 2 million of our Benue people living as refugees in IDP camps.”
The Governor also dismissed claims that officials of the Benue State Livestock Guards arrests cattle from neighbouring states.
He declared: “It is laughable to say that Benue State officials of the Livestock Guards go into Taraba or Nasarawa States to impound cattle. We know the boundaries between Benue and other states. As such, our officials do not go outside of the state boundaries to make any arrests of herds of cattle that violate our laws,” the Governor insisted.
The Governor further confirmed: “We have documented evidence of threats and actual killings by Fulani terrorist groups who have been sponsored by Miyetti Allah to carry out violence against communities in the state.”
Governor Ortom emphasized; “The State Government has also compiled the atrocities of Fulani terrorists against Benue people and we are also demanding compensation from Miyetti Allah for their atrocious activities in Benue State which have led to the killing of over 5,000 of my people, sacking of various communities, destruction of property worth billions of Naira and displacement of over 2 million people by these herdsmen. Make no mistake against this, I will continue to defend my people from this premeditated annihilation. The law is made to be obeyed. No compromise.”