Ortom: Ranching is solution to incessant farmers/herdsmen clashes
Benue State like many other states in the country, have continued to suffer the challenge of Farmers/Herdsmen clashes, among other security challenges. The governor of the state, Dr. Samuel Ortom in this interview with KARLS TSOKAR explains the security situation, why soldiers were deployed to hunt down a suspect and other issues.
On cause of farmers and herdsmen clashes
It is unfortunate. But in my opinion, the reason why we have this challenge across the entire nation is our inability to properly plan for the future. Recall that in the 1950s, when cattle routes were carved out and grazing areas were designated all over the country, the total population of Nigeria at the time was just over 40 million, sitting on a land mass of 923,000sq km. But According to the 2012 projection, the population rose to over 170 million. Today we even have less land with the cessation of Bakassi to Cameroon and this is 2016. So, due to population upsurge, the demand for land has increased. Infrastructural development has expanded to meet the needs of the growing population, more roads, more settlements, more schools and several others. Our leaders did not consider these possibilities when they were situating these routes and grazing areas. Such that today, schools are situated on these grazing areas. Roads, hospitals, markets settlements and several other things are right there on these supposed routes.
The worse thing that has happened is the economic downturn. For a country that for a long time depended on oil as its major source of revenue, the crash in oil prices and other factors have combined to necessitate a look at alternative ways to diversify the economy. In Nigeria and Benue State in particular, we are looking at agriculture, where we have comparative advantage. We have multiple opportunities in agriculture if we consider the entire value chain. From seeding, cropping, harvesting, processing, storage and marketing. There are huge opportunities, for job creation, wealth generation and other beneficial avenues for the people.
As a government we have set our priorities, our people are prepared to take advantage of the opportunities available to them, so they need their lands. In the 50s, the population of Benue was about one million, but today we are over six million, so it becomes a very big challenge, as almost all the land in the state is in one way or the other cultivated or inhabited, thereby making it near impossible to reserve land for grazing and such pastoral activities.
So, if we had planned very well, we would have allowed the designated cattle routes and grazing areas to remain, so that we maintain the movement of the cattle and their pastoral activities. But this was not done.
With this situation at hand therefore, we have to make alternatives for the people to live. The modern way of breeding cattle is ranching, so now that the issue of grazing areas and route is no longer good for the country, it would have been better to move with the world into ranching the cattle, so that we can control them. It requires help from government at both the federal and the state levels to come together and support these nomads, who have lived all their lives in the jungle. They have no other home, as you see them going about, that is all they own. So, to a large extent they need help. And that help must come from both the federal and state governments to support them. To be honest, it is difficult to place blame on one party, the farmers or the herdsmen. For us in Benue State, we have adopted the live and let live approach. My government wants the herdsmen to exist, as much as we want our farmers to exist, there must be cooperation. So, since we came in as a government, I have being pursuing peaceful strategies to resolving the issues and trying to make all those involved understand that, two wrongs cannot make a right.
The problem I have identified in the whole saga is the criminality involved. Left to the farmers and herdsmen, they usually have conflicts but they resolve them, sometimes even when it leads to bloody clashes, they still find a way of resolving it. But of recent, what we have noticed is that there are militia group from both the farmers and the herdsmen. This criminality has created a lot of tension in the land, because most of the people that are victims of these clashes are innocent. This is my major worry. When criminals come around in an area and rustle cattle, they go away with the animals, and when the Fulani militias come, they don’t go after these criminals that rustled their cattle, they go after the people in the community where their cattle were rustled. So, this is the challenge, they kill innocent people, destroy their properties.
But I think that we all need to come together, sit down and get it right. I must state however that it has been very difficult marrying farming and pastoral activities in my state. The challenge is huge because no matter how a herdsman tries to control his cattle, these are animals, so if they derail and enter somebody’s farm, it becomes a problem. An average person in Benue State must farm; there are no industries, no commercial activities and so on. Most of the farmers are innocent, as most of the herdsmen are also. The people that come to rustle cattle are not really indigenes of those areas, even if they are, they are criminals. So it is a matter of coming together, strategizing to dislodge these criminals.
On the need to develop Ranches
We have agreed in Benue State about ranches. As a government, it is our firm belief that we need to sit with the Federal Government and agree on a road map because, it is not something that can be done overnight, it requires massive education of the nomads, the herdsmen. Government must also provide an enabling environment and the facilities, as well as the education, on the advantages that are available in ranching, other than grazing. The safety, and the value chain that come with ranching. The opportunities are there, it can be done. My appeal to the people is that we must live and lets live. Life is about complimenting one another. We must know that the herdsmen need the farmers as the farmers also need the herdsmen. We must sit and define a way.
For grazing reserves, I can speak for my state, my fear is that now that we are diversifying to agriculture, everywhere in Benue State today, is being identified or cultivated. So, it is very difficult to have a grazing reserve or a cattle route. In my opinion, the best approach is for the government at the federal and state levels to provide a roadmap and begin a gradual process that would be used to transit the herdsmen from nomadic life to normal life of ranching their cattle. Their children can go to school; they will sit in one place make money and live in more decent houses. It would help them, but it would need some kind of orientation, hence the need for government to come in. If we have succeeded in borrowing the presidential system of government from America, why can’t we borrow the modern system of breeding cattle, which is ranching?
On the amnesty program
For us in Benue State, we adopted the amnesty program on assumption of office, starting with the carrot approach, and many youths, over 900 of them came out to embrace the amnesty and returned arms they illegally acquired. We recovered more than 600 various types of weapons, including explosives. After a while, some of them went back to their old ways, some of them are even involved in this cattle rustling. Like one notorious criminal gang leader, an armed robber, kidnapper, cattle rustler all in one, called Terwase Akwaza, alias Ghana, who recruited a lot of our youths and armed them, they have always terrorised people in Benue and parts of Taraba State. We had declared them all wanted. A lot of his lieutenants have been arrested and various weapons recovered through the second phase of our amnesty program, called the stick approach. We are going after them wherever they are hiding, we would get them because Benue State remains one state that this country can depend on. The land is arable, food security can be guaranteed and we all know that another sector that can boost the country’s economy is agriculture and Benue is the base as the food basket of the nation. So, we cannot allow these criminals to take over the state and dislodge us from performing our responsibility as a government.
On cooperation from the Federal Government
I must commend the President and the Federal Government, the support has been wonderful. Each of the challenges I have had, I have shared with Mr. President and he gives me adequate attention and support. And you know the security apparatus in the country are the agents of the Federal Government. But for their efforts, Benue State would have been overrun by these criminals. Right from the onset, I knew that the economy would be where we are today, because of the way the operators were running the state in the past. As minister of the Federal Republic, I knew. So when I came in to campaign, I talked about looking outside the box of government. Because all over the world, it is the private sector that is driving the economies of countries. The states that have made success depend on the contributions of the private sector. I told my people, that we need to industrialise the state, so that we can process our primary products. Basically to develop micro, small and medium scale enterprises, so that we can generate a lot of jobs and create wealth for our people.
But of course, all these cannot thrive well where there is insecurity. We are taking the issue of security seriously. And the Federal Government has supported me, where we need the Police and the SSS, and also the military is at our disposal. Where it is beyond the capacity of the Police, the military come in, and since they started working together as a team, the result has been amazing. Since we started the stick approach, most of the hoodlums have gone into hiding, we are going after them and no one would escape, because technology makes it easy to track you wherever you are and we have been arresting quite a number of them. I must commend the soldiers, when they went out to arrest the notorious gang leader Terwase Akwaza, alias Ghana, who refused to surrender to the Police, when he was accused of rustling over 3,000 cattle, killing my Senior Special Assistant on Special Security. And when they went to arrest him in his village in Gbishe, he fled. But the good thing I must commend is that no single soul was lost as a result of that military operation. They were able to keep to the rules of engagement, only in the course of searching for the criminal that they destroyed his house. Outside that, no single soul was harassed, intimidated or killed. So, I have received full cooperation from the Federal Government. If not for the might of the Federal Government, I won’t be sitting here with you.
On killings and lasting peace
There are nine Local Governments that were attacked by the herdsmen, Agatu is just one of them. Currently there is a council ward that has being completely occupied by the Fulani herdsmen, after they sacked the original inhabitants. But I have as much as possible decided to apply wisdom in dealing with the situation. The Agatu situation is under control; there is reasonable security presence there. So, the place is secure now, most of the people have returned to their ancestral homes, but my problem is how to rehabilitate them. Because the paucity of funds, which has led to my inability to pay salaries, is not helping matters. We are working hard to see how we can surmount this challenge.
Other local Governments too like my own Local Government Guma, Makurdi, Tarka, Buruku, Katsina Ala, Logo and Kwande are affected. Kwande is where an entire council ward, called Moon is completely deserted. The herdsmen invaded, sacked the people and occupied there. We have issues that we are going to thrash out there, this council ward share borders with Taraba State, we intend to have a meeting with my colleague Governor there and resolve the matter, once we have the meeting we can now see how we can rehabilitate these people back to their homes.