The security challenges in the country have taken many new dimensions. This ranges from kidnaps, killing of farmers, killing of security forces, cattle rustling, burning of houses, abductions, terrorist activities just to mention a few. Kapital FM had a chat with John Ahemba Tseayo, a former banker, philanthropist, political commentator ,an aviation logistics expert and the founder of The Benue We Deserve Foundation (BENDEF) an NGO committed to promoting good governance/accountability, human rights, social justice and provision of humanitarian services to the less privileged. He talked about the present situation in Benue, the feelings of the citizens and he left a message for president Muhammadu Buhari.
Benue has experienced a myriad of sad occurrences from natural disasters and man made ones; take us through these especially in the last 10 years.
Indeed,in the last 10 years Benue State has suffered a lot of disasters, which can be classified under natural and manmade in no particular order. The natural ones have basically been floods caused heavy downpour of rain and 2 readily come to mind: that of 2012 and 2017 that displaced several persons, left some homeless and sadly others even died. The question however is whether this can be termed a natural disaster. If a government neglects to put adequate infrastructure (drainages, canals, etc.) in place that can mitigate against such occurrences or when government agencies like Urban Development Board and Town Planning that should ensure that structures are not constructed along waterways or channels turn a blind eye for whatever reason(s), would you then blame nature?
The other disaster which is clearly manmade that has plagued we the people of Benue Sate for a very long time now is that of incessant attacks from the Fulani herdsmen which has left scores of people dead, homeless, loss of farmlands and source of livelihood. And of course, Another manmade disaster that has bedeviled the state is non-payment of workers’ salary that has totally impoverished a lot of families as aside farming, the state is basically a civil service one depending on salaries from the government.
Benue found a sustained voice in the media following the last herdsmen killings, why was this so?
This was achieved by the doggedness of the youth who made sure that the various media platforms at their disposal were adequately utilized for this purpose. Also friends from other regions particularly from the Southern part of the country ensured that this was not swept under the carpet as in the past but above all the Benue Youth were united in one voice.
What is the current situation in Benue?
The situation in the state at the moment is very pathetic especially at the IDP camps as there is acute shortage of basic supplies: water, food, toiletries, mosquito nets and not very adequate security at the camps. At the moment no one is even talking about resettling the displaced or compensation for properties destroyed by the attacks so even if the IDPs are to leave the camps today they don’t have where to stay.
The farmers have been chased away from their farmlands and cannot return due to insecurity in these places.
On the security agencies, the impact of their presence is yet to be felt as the attacks are still on going and they are unable to arrest the current insecurity in the state.
It has been difficult putting statistics together, Is there a chance we know the figures of the people killed, the people displaced and affected, the houses burnt and also the attacks against the Fulani.
Between April 2013 to 6 January 2018, various farming communities in Benue State have reported at least 53 attacks by militant terrorist herdsmen and over 1,300 people dead to the Nigerian authorities and security agencies. These attacks are scattered over at least 28 communities in 14 out of 23 LGAs and includes an attack on a church in Egba, Agatu where 100 people were killed. On 2 January 2018 and 6 January 2018, Fulani militia attacked 2 local government areas in the state (Logo & Guma) and at least 73 people killed were hacked or shot to death, including a pregnant woman and a one and a half year old boy, and scores severely injured, including women and children.
During the period under review, at least 100,000 persons have been displaced from their homes. These attacks are yet to cease despite the military presence in the state at the moment under the “Operation Ayem a Kpatuma (Cat Race)”. It is amazing that despite the presence of the cat the rats are still having their way. Benue is gradually turning into an IDP camp because the security agencies are turning a blind eye to the attacks by the herdsmen else why are some parts of the state still under siege despite their presence?
What is the position of the law now as regards the lawmakers, its implementation and resultant punishment against offenders?
The position of the law is that there should be no open grazing as this is the major cause of the attacks on the farmers. These herdsmen and their cattle trample on farmlands and destroy crop farms, ponds, settlements and property. Their open grazing is also a danger to the environment as you find animal excrement all over the place including the state capital and other townships. On the implementation, one will say the Benue State Government is still very lenient as you see instances where the herders glaringly flaunt this law and are not apprehended. The anti-open grazing law seeks to protect both the farmers and the herdsmen as it is against open grazing and cattle rustling. The law stipulates that a rustler is liable on conviction to a minimum of 3 years imprisonment or NGN100,000.00 per animal rustled or both and in the case where the rustler injures or maims a herder he shall on conviction be jailed for 5 years or pay a fine of NGN500,000.00 or both. For any herder who contravenes this law he shall be liable on conviction to a prison term of 5 years or a fine of NGN1,000,000.00 or both. Details of this law are in the public domain and are no secret.
Note here that even the idea of ranching is attempting to solve the problem on the surface as a Professor of Animal Science, Paul A. Iji has postulated that the Middle Belt and the Southern part of Nigeria do not have enough land for ranching. In his words “I will forgive the politicians who are proposing ranches – they simply do not understand the terminology that we use in animal science. A ranch is such a large area of land; there is no such area of free land in the southern half of Nigeria. What could be created in this southern half, including the Middle Belt, are feedlots. These are smaller units of land, requiring just a few hectares to set up. Most feedlots could produce their own forage but would typically not graze the pasture. Instead, the forage is cut several times in the year and then fed to the animals or preserved as silage (fermented) or hay (wilted or dried) before feeding to animals”.
This is a topic for another day and forum but I will advise that if the Federal and State Governments are serious about a prompt and sincere resolution to this problem, then the words of professionals in the likes of Prof. Iji should be given serious consideration.
Who will you say the Benue people have faith in, with the present situation they have found themselves in?
Aside God, the Benue people have no faith in any one at all. Not the Federal Government and the security agencies and not in the State Government as it is glaring that none of these establishments have come through for us.
What is the aftermath effect of these killings?
The first effect is that food security is threatened. Benue feeds the nation as farm produce gotten from the state is sold in the Northern and Southern parts of Nigeria and West Africa. The resultant effect is famine will be experienced in the country and my Benue people will suffer abject poverty as they are unable to farm and feed themselves.
There have been reports of some killings and attacks since the January 1 misfortune, will it be right to call that reprisal attacks?
There has been no reprisal attacks in any part of Benue. What happened in some parts of the state particularly in Makurdi was a situation where some over zealous individuals felt they could take advantage of the Fulani herdsmen attacks and further cause insecurity in the state so they could achieve their dubious desire of the declaration of a state of emergency on the state. Unluckily for them, the Benue people saw through this and refused to be drawn into a war that would have engulfed the state and of course the resultant effect would have been a state of emergency and a possible suspension or repeal of the Anti-Grazing Law.
Is there any misinformation that you will like to correct about the herder farmer relationship in Benue?
There is quite a number of misinformation out there in the media. One that the Benue farmers are also engaged in cattle rustling and this is far from the truth because to be able to steal these cows you must be trained and used to the cows else you are unable to control them.
The Benue people have lived in peace in the past with herders that visit their areas from time to time without any issues. Even in instances where disagreements have cropped up, an amicable resolution has always been reached between both parties (farmers and herdsmen).
Finally, the notion that the past and present mayhem on Benue communities is as a result of clashes between the farmers and herders is unfounded. When you say clashes it presupposes disagreements between two or more parties but this was never the case. A situation where people are attacked in the dead of the night and their homes are set on fire, the people are killed (women and children mostly affected), farmlands destroyed and their lands taken over for grazing cannot be termed clashes. If these were clashes, the Benue people will probably regroup, strategize and retaliate.
How do the Benue citizens plan to maintain peace with their kinsmen as PMB advised?
This advice is out of place. The Benue people are not at war and even in the face of severe provocation and intimidation have maintained a peaceful coexistence with the Fulani herdsmen. What the President should be doing at this time is to direct the advise to his kinsmen and urge them to abide by the laws of the land wherever they find themselves as a society without laws calls for anarchy.