The Middle Belt Forum (MBF) has asked commentators to leave out the Governor of Benue State, Nr. Samuel Ortom, out of the blane-game going on over the recent killing of pastoralists in Nasarawa state, allegedly by the Nigerian Air Force, which has remained strangely quiet, more than a week after the incident.
Vice President Yemi Osinbajo has already condoled with the Nasarawa State government and disclosed that the federal government was investigating the tragic incident.
Ortom has also condoled with his Nasarawa counterpart and taken exception to comments made by deposed emir of Kano, Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, who accused him of having a hand in the death of ghe herders.
On Sunday, the MBF weighed in and threw its weight behind Ortom.
Said its President, Dr. Popular Bitrus, in a statement: “Since the incident, there have been conflicting reports on what actually transpired. Governor Abdullahi Audu Sule of Nasarawa declared on Thursday, January 26, that the herdsmen were killed through what looked like a drone attack. The Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association of Nigeria (MACBAN) said since the military was the only authority to deploy drone attack; the Federal Government should wade into the matter to bring the culprits to book.
“We are aware that the Nigerian Air Force undertook an operation against terrorist targets in areas bordering Benue, Nasarawa and Taraba in the same period. Also, there was no report of cattle casualties mentioned in any of the reports in spite of the claim that the victims are Fulani who just redeemed their cattle from the Benue State Government.
“Amidst the confusion that have trailed these killings, the deposed emir of Kano, Mallam Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, recently added fuel to the raging inferno when he accused the Benue State Governor, Dr. Samuel Ortom, as the architect of the killings. In what was seen as reprisal attacks, militant herdsmen mounted attacks on Benue communities bordering Nasarawa, shortly after Governor Sule announced the killings without any shred of evidence to prove his claim.
“On Thursday last week, Governor Ortom informed Nigerians that there were premeditated plots by some highly-placed persons to assassinate him over the recent killings of herdsmen in Nasarawa State. He cautioned against inflammatory statements over security matters, stressing that Benue State is not involved in the alleged killings.
“As the umbrella body of ethnic nationalities in the Middle Belt, the Forum is at a loss why the Nasarawa governor would just allege such a grievous crime without any proof to buttress his claim. While the MBF is opposed to any form of extra-judicial killing, we are shocked at the statement by the Kano deposed emir attempting to rope Dr Ortom on an issue that he (Sanusi) is not competent to speak on.
“Since the introduction of the anti-grazing law in Benue, there has been no love lost between Governor Ortom and supporters of murderous herdsmen who have always seen the promulgation of the law as targeted against them. In the wake of the enactment of the law, MACBAN and other Fulani groups vowed to ensure the anti-grazing law remains ineffective.
“More worrisome, there have been sparks of violence among border communities between the two states that often culminated into destruction of lives and property. All these orchestrated violence are aimed at weakening the resolve and commitment of the Benue State Government to implement the anti-grazing law described by the herders as obnoxious.
“We find the inconsistent reports on the recent alleged killings of Nasarawa herdsmen as yet another ploy to rope Governor Ortom into a matter he is completely innocent of. For those who should know, deploying drone attacks is completely the responsibility of the Federal Government. There has been no shred of evidence to suggest that the Benue State Governor is involved in the alleged attack.
“We completely disagree with the deposed Kano emir who is reputed to possess a penchant for inflammatory statements and even actions in the past, especially the murderous incident during the Gen. Sani Abacha regime. The MBF calls on him to exercise caution and desist from doing anything that is capable of undermining peaceful co-existence of Nigerians. He should allow the security agencies to do their jobs and stop fueling crises where there is none. It becomes contemptible when those who are expected to moderate their views before members of the public and promote the peaceful co-existence of communities are the same people inflaming passion in a bid to enthrone chaos and anarchy in the country.
“The Middle Belt Forum calls on the Federal Government to set up an independent probe of the Nasarawa killings with photos and pictures of the slain herders and also their cattle as bombs don’t discriminate so as to ascertain the claims by the Nasarawa state governor and others alike. We also call on President Muhammadu Buhari to probe the killings of unarmed and defenceless citizens in various states of the Middle Belt Region in the interest of justice and fair play. Governor Ortom’s traducers must desist henceforth from accusing him falsely on a matter he is not involved as he remains the leader of Benue State who is not willing to let down his resolve in standing up for the democratic rights of his people in particular, and Nigerians in general.
“For equity and justice to hold sway, Nigerian leaders must learn to treat all citizens across political, ethnic and religious divides. We must eschew enthroning the supremacy of one ethnic nationality over others if we ever hope to build a just nation for all.”