…as herdsmen engage in gun battle with soldiers in Benue
President Muhammadu Buhari on Thursday in Abuja explained that the policy proposed by Federal Government in response to the frequent clashes between herdsmen and farmers in the country is not meant to colonize any part of the country.
He made the remark while receiving Catholic Bishops Conference of Nigeria (CBCN) led by Archbishop Ignatius Kaigama.
According to him, the intention of government is to create grazing locations for cattle rearers, which has now been misconstrued as another form of colonization.
Buhari, in a statement by the Special Adviser on Media and publicity, Femi Adesina, regretted that the well-thought out policy of the Federal Government, which was conceived after wide consultations with stakeholders, had been largely misunderstood by a section of the public.
He, however, assured the Catholic Bishops that the Federal Government will continue to explore all opportunities and support initiatives to ensure peace and stability in restive areas.
Condemning recent spate of killings in Benue, Adamawa, Taraba, and Zamfara states, the President said security operatives would ensure prosecution of perpetrators and all those found with illegal arms in the affected areas.
He said ‘‘the impression created that I was sitting in an air-conditioned office and home, enjoying myself while these things happened, is dishonest.
‘‘At every step, I have tried to foresee these problems because I have the experience as a former military officer who commanded three out of the four divisions of the Nigerian army, in Lagos, Ibadan and Jos.
‘‘I am quite aware of the problems we have and I am doing my best to get law enforcement agencies to be on alert,’’ he said.
Meanwhile, suspected herdsmen engaged men of the 707 Special Forces Brigade of the Nigerian Army, Makurdi, Benue State in a gun battle.
The SFB spokesman, Major Olabisi Ayeni, disclosed this in a statement, yesterday.
He said the suspects were plotting to attack a fish farm, which belongs to Governor, Samuel Ortom.
Ayeni said two of the attackers had been arrested.
Ayeni said: “Troops of 707 Special Forces Brigade, Nigerian Army, on a routine patrol along Gbajimba – Iyiodeh road in Guma LGA of Benue State on Tuesday 6 February, 2018 arrested two Fulani militia who were suspected to be planning a dangerous mission,”
“The troops sighted a group of these people while on their daily patrol. The militia who were suspected to be converging, possibly for an attack on Governor Ortom’s fish farm and other innocent citizens were about to be approached for questioning when they opened fire on the troops who later engaged them.
According to him: “When the troops accosted the herdsmen, they opened fire on the troops, who in turn engaged them in a shoot-out.
“In the course of the shootout, some of the herdsmen fled the area, while two were arrested and handed over to the police.”
Benue has been a flashpoint of violence, especially between farmers and herdsmen. Some of the security personnel deployed in the state have been killed in their bid to restore normalcy.
On Wednesday, the army listed Benue among the six states where it would launch a 44-day operation to tackle insecurity.
When he visited Nasarawa earlier in the week, President Muhammadu Buhari ordered security operatives to arrest those perpetrating violence in the country.
Meanwhile, former governor of Benue State, Dr. Gabriel Suswam has taken a swipe on President Muhammadu Buhari for not visiting since the invasion of the state by herdsmen which resulted in the gruesome murder and eventual burial of 73 innocent people in the state.
Suswam stated this in a chat with newsmen when Rivers State Governor, Nyeson Wike stopped over at his Makurdi residence after he paid a condolence visit on Ortom and the Benue people on Wednesday.
The former governor who was reacting to the recent visit of President Buhari to Nasarawa State said the president should have visited Benue first to commiserate with the government and people of the state over the loss of many innocent lives but he didn’t do that.
“I am not in a position to comment on his visit (to Nasarawa) because I’m not in his party. Secondly, I know that as a president, he must have had his programme outlined for the year but that not withstanding, the Benue case is an emergency.
“One would expect that a place that lost 73 people at once, he (Buhari) would have been more concerned about visiting such area. One would expect that a responsive government would have visited Benue to condole with the people over the gruesome murder of innocent lives,” Suswam posited.
Suswam who totally condemned the Benue killings, disclosed that he had already sent a condolence message to his successor, urging him to convey a meeting with stakeholders across party lines to find a lasting solution to the incessant invasion and killings by herdsmen in the state.
He commended Wike for visiting to commiserate with the state government and Benue people, stressing that the gesture was in the spirit of brotherliness and had nothing to do with politics.
Asked if he would be ready to accept Governor Samuel Ortom into the PDP fold should he decide to return to the party, the former governor said, “I’m not the national chairman or a member of the National Working Committee of the PDP.
“That should be left for the NWC of the party to decide.”
In another development, Civil servants in Benue State have lamented what they described as underpayment of their January 2018 salary by the state government.
The workers who spoke on the condition of anonymity said when the alerts started coming, they were surprised to discover a serious cut in their salary without any explanation to that effect.
A deputy director, who pleaded not to be named, said his normal salary was less N60,000 even as another civil servant in the junior cadre said she got half salary this month.
But reacting to the development, Ortom said he had directed the Commissioner of Finance and Economic Development, Mr David Olofu, to immediately address complaints arising from the payment of salary.
The governor, who spoke through his Special Adviser (Media and ICT), Tahav Agerzua, gave the directive following complaints of underpayment and other anomalies in the salaries of workers and other public servants.
While maintaining that there was no new salary structure in the state, the governor said that under-payments were anomalies which should be rectified immediately. He added that a meeting would be held with state and national officials of the Nigeria Labour Congress on the outcome of the Abounu-led Salary Verification Committee before its full implementation.