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Benue, Nasarawa’s search for peace along common borders

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[FILES] Sule

Governor Abdullahi Sule’s search for peace in Nasarawa State appears to be paying off.

In 2015, the then governor Gabriel Suswan of Benue State raised allegations that Nasarawa State was a hideout for killer Fulani herdsmen, who operated in Benue communities and took refuge in some communities in Nasarawa. Former governor Tanko Almakura refuted those allegations, calling them fake news.

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But Governor Samuel Ortom, who took over from Suswan, maintained similar allegations during his first term in office, maintaining that Nasarawa communities sharing common borders with Benue State were hiding spots for killer herdsmen who perpetrated most of the killings in Benue communities.

Governor Sule, who was earlier presumed to be a city politician without firm knowledge and passion for community dwellers, has since launched peace initiative programmes, which have not only restored peace among Nasarawa citizens but with their neighbours in Benue as well.

Several inter-state security and peace meetings between governors Ortom and Sule were held in Makurdi and Lafia, aimed at ending the age-long conflict between the two states.

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Sule’s approach to ending insecurity has won the confidence of the state’s electorate. Those who were opposed to the All Progressives Congress prior to his administration have found reasons to migrate from other opposition parties to the ruling party APC in the state. Since Sule’s emergence, rival groups, ethnic and religious sentiments gradually simmered, mostly because of the approach of the governor.

Sule’s slogan “without peace, there cannot be any meaningful development” is being matched with actions through an unrelenting and dogged stance against religious and ethnic bigotry in the state. Many who benefited from the rivalry and conflict which scared investors away may not be happy now, because Nasarawa people currently see no reason to engage one another in any conflict because Sule has openly declared for peace.

As part of the government’s move to instil peace where ethnic rivalry and religious intolerance had caused conflicts, several meetings were held with traditional rulers, chairmen of local government areas, religious leaders, and community leaders, where he revealed his intention to establish a state development council. His aim was to foster greater understanding, religious tolerance and brotherhood among the various tribes and communities in the state.

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The outcome of the religious brotherhood agenda became manifest when some Muslim youths decided to attend Evangelical Redeemed Church of Christ (ERCC) in Gloryland Parish to commemorate the birth of Jesus Christ with their Christian brothers and sisters on Christmas day, December 25, 2020.

In raising personal example as an epitome for religious harmony, Mr. Sule was hosted in Akwanga College of Education Catholic Cathedral for a special thanksgiving service after he won his election in 2019. Sule at various times insists on his message to the people that there is no contradiction between Islam and Christianity and no contradiction between all the ethnic groups in the state and Nigeria at large.

The farmers-herders’ crisis is one major challenge that has created tension and calamity in the state. Thousands of lives, farm produce have been destroyed, and communities consumed by the crisis.

But Governor Sule, who was not unaware of the deadly monster, swung into action to build valuable synergy with the Federal Government through the National Livestock Transformation Plan (NLTP), designed to address the incessant farmers-herders’ conflict. Nasarawa was the first state to adopt the pilot scheme of the NLTP.

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As part of efforts to curtail youth restiveness, governor Sule paved the way for huge investments in the agricultural sector that created over 40,000 jobs for youths. To achieve this, Sule signed memoranda of understanding between Azman Farm and Rice Mill Ltd with the local community to cultivate 14,000 hectares of land for rice production in Toto Local Government Area. Apart from Azman Farm Investment, Dangote Sugar Farm and Rice Farm have acquired over 60,000 hectares of land in Doma Local Government Area. The projects are expected to engage over 10,000 youths.

GOVERNOR Ortom of Benue testified at one of the peace meetings recently, which Sule convened to end the age-long boundary conflict between the two states, when he said; “I have found an ally in this peace venture. He’s a brother, friend and colleague wrapped in one. He’s Mr. Abdullahi Sule, the executive governor of Nasarawa State.”

Both governors have begun building peace initiative projects that would save citizens of the two states from continued bloodshed and displacement. Ortom described Governor Sule as an apostle of peace, saying; “I want to commend Governor Sule, my brother, for his concern for the peaceful coexistence between the two states. The relative peace we are enjoying today is attributable to him. He’s very upright.”

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One of the first steps towards achieving the peaceful bond between the two states was the Yelewata Security and Peace meeting, which was at the instance of the Nasarawa State governor. The two-state governors attended the meeting and everyone spoke frankly.

The crux of the meeting was the persistent clashes between farmers and herdsmen along with the Benue and Nasarawa border communities. The spillover effects had caused untold hardship that left in its wake tears and blood that gravely diminished the peasant farmers’ economic right to self-sustenance. Both communities had laid claim to lands along the borders. And this was what the Yelewata meeting sought to resolve through peaceful resolution. Governor Sule admitted as much with his Benue State counterpart.

Hear him: “States are created for development and not for hardship,” stressing further that “our responsibility is to ensure peace.”

Sule conceded that though Nasarawa State has no law banning open grazing, he warned herdsmen thus: “Don’t go close to the disputed areas. As long as you don’t go there, you have given me less pressure. You must also remember that Benue has a law against open grazing and it must be obeyed. If you must live in Benue, you must obey that law.”

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At the end of the Yelewata Security meeting, the two governors resolved, among other things, to intensify efforts for the demarcation of the boundaries between the two states to curtail incessant border crises. The deputy governors of the two states were tasked to hasten the process of boundary demarcation in concert with the National Boundary Commission (NBC) to address the lingering crisis involving various ethnic groups like the Alago, the Fulani the and Tiv. 

The communiqué, which was jointly signed by the two governors, also harped on constituting joint security committees at the local government areas of Guma in Benue, Obi, Keana and Doma in Nasarawa to checkmate criminal elements in the border communities.

As a follow up to the Yelewata meeting that recommended inter-state visits by traditional rulers, the Emir of Lafia, His Royal Highness Justice Sidi Bage, Muhammed 1, led a delegation of traditional rulers from Nasarawa State to Benue on June 16, 2020. Though it was a condolence visit, it nevertheless opened a new vista for peace between the two brother states. The interaction sure gave hope that peace had returned to the two states.

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