By Sunday Iduh and Mathew Ajai-Kume
Participants at a one day seminar organised by Lux Terra Leadership Foundation in collaboration with Savannah Centre for Diplomacy, Democracy and Development have warned that the country was sitting on a keg of gun powder if the attacks on people of Benue State by armed Fulani herdsmen, especially the recent killing of Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) at a camp was allowed to continue without the prosecution of the perpetrators.
The seminar which was tagged the Makurdi Dialogue for National Security and Development was attended by socio-cultural and non-governmental organisations, civil societies and religious bodies, expressed dismay over the inability of the Federal Government to prevent armed herdsmen from destabilising Nigerian communities.
At the dialogue, participants took almost the whole day to debate on the deteriorating security situation in the country with some participants warning that “the country is sitting on keg of gun powder” because of the widening disunity which is capable of leading to the imminent collapse of the nation.
Specifically, participants at the event warned that the unabated killings by armed herdsmen who have been described by international organisations as terrorists was capable of exacerbating the precarious security challenge in the country.
Consequently, participants at the one day event called on the federal government to quickly convene a peace and security summit where all nationalities would assemble and take a decisive stand on ending insecurity in the country.
The discussants also opined that the federal government should take urgent steps to devolve powers, especially in the area of security.
The Makurdi Dialogue for National Unity Security and Development was held in the state last weekend where the Executive Director of the foundation, Fr George Ehusina, who was represented by Barr Mike Utsaha called for an urgent proactive step to check the gradual descent into anarchy.
The discussion was hinged on the fact that Nigeria is currently experiencing one of the greatest challenges that will ever confront a nation and a people and there is urgent need to foster peace and unity.
One of the panelists, the Chief Press Secretary to the Benue governor, Mr Terver Akase said the ugly situation the country was facing demands that the federal government should not be sentimental in dealing with it. According to Akase, “Nigeria is on fire, and at war without a war front.”
He said it was embarrassing that the federal government that has the responsibility to protect lives and property of the citizenry has resorted to carrying out actions that portray it as defending or protecting armed Fulani herdsmen who are causing mayhem and destabilizing national peace.
The President General of Mdzough u Tiv (MUT), CP Iorbee Ihagh (Rtd), in his speech said Nigerian society today can best be described as a lawless state, characterised by criminality, violence, disunity, acrimony and absence of development.
“Today, more than 50% of Benue farmers are rendered homeless and reduced to refugees in their ancestral homes. Some who have resorted to taking refuge in IDPs camps are now targets of Fulani bandits. Where then is the hope for Nigeria and Africa to actualise their food security agenda?”
“It is my opinion that the Buhari administration should be blamed for being docile, inactive and irresponsive to the state of insecurity in our society.
“There seems to be a systematic failure and a non structural dysfunction which must be corrected. We must know that Nigeria is on life support with the tendency of collapsing anytime from now.
“The police is inadequate and there is a structural dislodgement and disfunction. The military has been localised and politicised with an ethnocentric mentality. Who then enforces the laws of the land?” Ihagh asked.
In her debate, Dr Maryam Yakubu, President of Federation of Muslim Women Association of Nigeria (FOMWAN) in Benue state, said as one of the measures to restore peace, religious leaders and adherents of religious bodies in Nigeria must go back to the observance of religious tenets and commandments.
To douse tension in the country, she advised that leaders and citizens should always be mindful of their public utterances so as to avert escalation of religious misgivings.
Hours after the dialogue, the Senior Special Assistant to the President on Media and Publicity, Garba Shehu had alleged in a statement that the killings in Benue were not massive but that Governor Samuel Ortom was only politicising the matter.
Shehu, while reacting to the recent attack by herdsmen on the Abagena IDPs camp in Makurdi, said “the lives of fellow citizens should not be desecrated by deploying them in political diatribe which unfortunately appeared to be the intent of the string of emotional attacks and blame laid at the doors of the President for those killings by Governor Ortom.”
“Benue under the Ortom administration ought to cooperate with the Federal Government in the implementation of a number of national strategies programs in addressing underlying issues militating against peace, progress and development. This can still get done when the interest of the people is placed above all other interests,” it stated.
But in a swift reaction, Governor Samuel Ortom said, he has no personal grudges against President Muhammadu Buhari but he (Ortom) is only being patriotic, calling for Justice, equity fairness and above all, the rule of law, insisting the President must be the leader of every Nigerian and treat all as his people.
Governor Ortom in a statement issued by his Chief Press Secretary, Terver Akase said: “We read the statement signed by Senior Special Assistant to the President on media and publicity, Mallam Garba Shehu in which he said President Muhammadu Buhari had expressed his disappointment and sadness to hear Samuel Ortom, the Governor of Benue State make a litany of accusations against his person and his government following the recent unfortunate incidents in the state.
“Shehu was referring to Governor Ortom’s clarion call on the President to act decisively and in an unbiased manner to end the spate of killings by Fulani herdsmen in Benue and other parts of the country,” the statement stated
“We are convinced that Mr President was not aware that his aide, Shehu made such a statement on his behalf. It is clear that the media aide didn’t speak for the President in the said statement. President Buhari wouldn’t have given approval for such a reckless and insensitive press release,” it stated.
According to the governor, “What is wrong with Governor Ortom’s call on the President to address the nation, convene a national security summit and declare a state of emergency on security, following the spate of killings taking place in Benue and the remaining states of the federation?”
It further said “Ortom is not the only one who is worried by the worsening security situation in the country and has called on the President to rise to his responsibilities by declaring a state of emergency on security and convening a summit to address the numerous security challenges bedeviling the nation, many other Nigerians of good conscience have at different times made similar calls. What the Governor therefore deserves is commendation and not condemnation.”
“If Garba Shehu claims that the President is disappointed in the Benue State Governor for speaking against the sustained attacks on his people, we wonder how he feels about the killings in North East, North West, South East, South West and other parts of the North Central. Are those killings occurring as a result of the comments of Governors of the affected states?” it questioned.
Stating further, it said, “it is shocking that Shehu would make a statement regarding an attack evidently carried out by Fulani herdsmen and there won’t be a single sentence of reproach directed at the violent Fulani herders. Such a deliberate omission smacks of complicity and tacit support for the killer herders.”
“Shehu is aware that Governor Ortom has on several occasions raised alarm against activities of the rampaging herdsmen whose sole aim is to take over the ancestral lands of Benue people and other Nigerians. The Governor has written letters to the Federal Government and made other spirited efforts to have the government at the centre take preventive measures against further attacks on Benue communities. The Federal Government has repeatedly ignored such patriotic calls, insisting rather that cattle routes of the 1950s be re-opened to grant easy passage to the pastoralists and their animals,” the statement read.