Dickson Tarkigh, the House of Representatives member representingr Makurdi/Guma Federal Constituency, spoke to TOR VANDE-ACKA on the recent attacks on the people of Guma and Logo Local Government Areas of Benue State by the Fulani herdsmen. Excerpts:
Recently, your constituency came under attacks by Fulani herdsmen where scores were killed. How do you react to it?
It is saddening that a government that was elected with a huge promise has over time squandered the goodwill of the people of Benue State. We elected this government because in 2012, 2013 and 2014, this state was under attack by the Fulani herdsmen. Our people were refugees in their own land. The then President Goodluck Jonathan did nothing about it. So, we decided that we should change the leadership, hence President Buhari won Benue State. When Buhari came in, we thought that as a Fulani, an elder statesman and a former Head of State, he understood the challenges that our people face and would bring the farmers and herders’ clashes to an end. Unfortunately, the crisis escalated under his administration. It is quite disheartening and unfortunate. The people in Benue are disappointed. I cannot even talk about the people of my local government. Guma LG has always been a centre of the Fulani herdsmen. This is because we share boundary with Nasarawa State. Nasarawa state hosts most of these fighters. They come through Nasarawa State for whatever reason I do not know.
We have had series of meetings with the governor of Nasarawa state (Umaru Al-Makura) to ensure that this does not happen but he has consistently allowed herdsmen to use his state as base to launch attacks against our state, through Guma LG. The current attack is terrible. The Myetti Allah people had been threatening for the past six to seven months after the Anti-Open Grazing Bill was signed into law, that they would not allow it to be implemented. They made public statements on TV, in national dailies and international networks. These people are known, but the security agencies have not been able to arrest these people and prosecute them. When you threaten people with death and they eventually die, you are responsible. These people have not been arrested, which is why I say that those attacking us are know by government. Unfortunately, government is doing nothing about it. So, our people feel that there is collusion between the Federal Government and herdsmen.
Look at Guma LG, it is about 40 minutes drive from Makurdi. Three military assets are in Makurdi; you have the 72 Brigade, NASME, and the Air Force Base that can be deployed to Guma in less than 20 minutes. It took three days for the military to be deployed to Guma LG. What does that tell you? It tells you that they don’t care about the lives and properties that are being destroyed in Guma or in Benue. That is so unfortunate and we are disappointed with the president.
You spoke about having peace meetings with Nasarawa State. Has Nasarawa State been able to bring to the table anything in terms of logistics or made concrete statements as a solution to this crisis?
Well, I still recall that in 2014 when this crisis was going on, the then Suswam administration held a meeting in Yelwata, a boundary town between Benue and Nasarawa, with the governor of Nasarawa State. He (Al-Makura) promised that his state would not be used as a base to launch attacks against Benue. That was one of the promises he made and up till now that has not been seen through because till today Fulani fighters come through Nasarawa in Doma, Awe and Keana LGAs. They are currently domiciled in these areas and carrying out attacks against Benue. Nasarawa has not been able to do anything. They have not been able to apprehend anyone. They give them unfettered access to our borders for these people to attack us. It is quite unfortunate that a governor who promised so much peace to his counterpart in Benue (then it was Suswam) has allowed his state to be used as a base to attack us. So, I can categorically tell you that he has done nothing.
So, what do you think should be the next step?
The next step, which I think is what the governor (Samuel Ortom) did by originating an Anti-Open Grazing Bill and sending same to the Benue State House of Assembly (BNHA) because over the years this have been a recurrent decimal. Every year, every harvesting season, herdsmen would come in and destroy crops, kill people and nothing would be done. The state has no power to prosecute these people. The Federal Government that has the responsibility to prosecute them did not do anything. What the style government came up with is for herders and farmers to have peace, there should be a balance and what is the balance? That herders who are growing cattle to ranch their cattle so that farmers too would have access to their land. That is the balance if you ask me. And if that happens, then you will have peace. Those people doing different businesses would be living peacefully in the same community; you have your cattle, you ranch it, like it is done in every other society.
You cannot be doing pastoral or open grazing in 2018. It is not done anywhere in any world, except in Nigeria. Over the years, this thing has caused destruction in almost every state in this country. I am surprised that President Muhammadu Buhari-led Federal Government has not been able to provide a single solution to herders/farmers crisis. But, I remember that in 2015 when the president came in, in 2016, he set up a battalion of the Army in Zamfara State to protect the herdsmen from cattle rustlers. He personally went there to commission that battalion, but he has not been able to deploy troops across the flashpoints of herders/farmers clashes. I think that is double-standard.
What do you think would be the impact of this latest crisis on food security?
Well, as you can see, this is the harvesting season for the average Benue person. Is it rice, soya bean, soghum, millet, maize, yams? This is harvest season. Most of these farmers are fleeing their communities, leaving everything in the farms behind. Then the cattle are destroying them, which is quite unfortunate. The president has continued to preach food security and economic diversification. As it is right now, Nigerians can only diversify fully into agriculture because it is cheaper to do in agriculture than in other sector, like solid minerals. We don’t even have the infrastructure to develop. But, in agriculture, it could be very easy. The reason is simple. With little incentives from BoI (Bank of Industry), Central Bank, these are some the programme the farmers can easily use to develop their farms. You can see the huge yields that have come up in Benue and other states this year because of what the president has continued to preach.
I remember that I was with the Minister of Agriculture (Audu Ogeh), a few months ago and he told me that our yearly consumption of rice is about 7.5 million metric tonnes and that by June last year, Nigeria had produced about 3.5 metric tones. So, we have only a small deficit left. Few weeks ago, he said that Nigeria would meet the target going by the level at which rice is being produced in this country. I think that it will help the economy because the importation of rice has always led to capital flight. We create jobs for people and for those that we buy from. We create jobs for them and then we take our money away from here and we don’t create jobs here. What is happening right now is jobs are being created in the agricultural sector because everybody has gone back to farming.
So, the Fulani herdsmen killings will take us back. We would be going back to square one. If this is allowed to continue, definitely we will need to import food, even to be able to meet our local consumption, not to talk of exporting it.
What are you and others of like minds at the National Assembly doing to support the Anti-Open Grazing Law, particularly as it seems to be the only panacea to the farmers/herders clashes?
My governor (Samuel Ortom) has consistently said that this is the best solution to this crisis. He also said that he is open to ideas and that if anybody has a better approach, they should bring it on the table for discussion. He has thrown that challenge for over a year now and nobody has been able to make a suggestion that will lead to resolving this crisis. Now, the bill has passed all due process and signed into law made by the state government. There was the initiation of the law from the Executive branch to the State House of Assembly; motions were moved; it was passed in the house; public hearings were done, stakeholders were called in to present positions on this issue and the decision was unanimous that what we need to do in Benue for us to have peace is to make this law. Even the Myetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association agreed with this law. They participated in the law making process. They appeared before the public hearing. They agreed that it would bring peace.
Suddenly, after the bill was passed and signed into law, they back-tracked and said there was no way they would obey this law. I am surprised that up till now the Federal Government has not ordered the arrest of the Myetti Allah people who had threatened openly to cause trouble in Benue. Not only have they threatened, they have been carrying out this threat, as you can see the destruction that is going through our villages right now.
So, I think that ranching is the best solution. A few weeks back, we saw a picture of the president in his ranched farm. I was thinking he was sending out that picture so that other people should copy from the leader. Unfortunately, that message has not been relayed. The president has not been able to summon courage to call Fulani herdsmen by name. He addressed them as criminal elements. We have so many criminal elements; those who are doing pipeline destruction; we have those who are kidnapping, those are criminal elements; we have rustlers in our midst; then we have Fulani herdsmen who are killing people across the country. The president needs to come out and call the Fulani herdsmen by name because if you want to take care of a problem, you must identify that problem. Let Nigerians know that the Fulani herdsmen are our problem and that should be heard from the president. The President should himself make that statement categorically so that any other person, the law enforcement agents…Once the president tags Fulani herdsmen as criminals and he calls them by name the security agencies will take it up from there. But, the President has not been able to do that, which is why so many people in Benue believe that there is collusion between the President and Fulani herdsmen.
Going by what we are hearing some of these herdsmen believe that no one will sell land to them to ranch and as such government should establish pilot ranches that they could lease to the herdsmen before the law is implemented. Don’t you think there is a friction there?
Thank you so much. There is no friction. Cattle rearing is business, just like the farmers who collects the loan from the bank to buy the land and set up his farm; buy farming inputs and eventually, it leads to harvest. It is the same thing with someone who goes to acquire cattle; he breeds them, they grow up, he milks them and eventually sells the cow. It is a personal business. Therefore, what you expect the Federal Government to do is to give incentives to herders, just as they give the same incentives to farmers so that herders can acquire land and do the business. I can tell you that no Fulani man has applied for land in Benue for ranching that has been denied.
As I speak, there is no application that is before the state government or the department that is saddled with the responsibility of allocating land or leasing land to herders who apply for it; none. They have not. You do not expect a state government which has no resources enough to even pay salaries to set up ranches for herders. Even for Benue indigenes, what the government is doing for them is to subsidise fertilisers, subsidise farming inputs, seeds and all that. So, you can’t go and start creating ranches for people who are doing their own business. That is where the Federal Government needs to come in by creating skills for herders; a special arrangement that gives them access to funds to grow their business. In fact, that will really help with the insecurity that we have. Some of these that allow themselves to be used by herders to come and kill people may be really versed in the area of growing cattle, if they are given their money and they have cattle, instead they are used to kill people in other communities and risking their lives because they have legitimate business. You don’t expect states to develop ranches for herdsmen. Most of the herders who come into Nigeria, the Federal Government, the Immigration Department have all admitted that most of these herders are foreigners.
Now, how do you expect the state to create ranches for foreigners from other countries to come and put in their cattle? This is what is happening. So, please, we should call a spade a spade. There is no reason to rigmarole about this thing. No state will do that. No state has been able to that. As I said, cattle rearing is a business. Do they sell cattle and donate money to government? No! Government is no charity. If they apply for land for ranching, definitely, the government would give them. It is in the law. And let me tell you that the law protects both the farmers and the herders because there is a provision in the law that prescribes punishment for cattle rustling. There are stipulated fines and prison terms for rustlers. So, the Federal Government needs to step up to stop insecurity. These boys they use to kill people are the same boys when they don’t have a place to go and kill, they kidnap people because they have access to arms. And there is no way you can stop general insecurity in this country when you allow this kind of thing to go on. The multiplier effect is that you have more armed robberies and more kidnappings.
The President has applied for a $100 billion withdrawal from the Excess Crude Accounts (ECA) to address insurgency. Don’t you think some of these funds should be used to address issues associated with herdsmen crisis?
The manner to which that money was released by the governors was very illegal. The Constitution is very clear about who has the responsibility to appropriate monies for anything from the Consolidated Revenue Account. Now the National Assembly is waiting for the President to come to us and apply and explain to us in details what the money should be used for. It is at that point that I will have an official comment on that issue. But, as it is right now, I can tell you that the National Assembly is not aware.
The post Why Benue People Are Angry With Federal Government – Tarkigh appeared first on Independent Nigeria.
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Author: Tor Vande-Acka