The groundswell of opposition to Nigeria’s population census holding in the first week of next month is on the rise with Benue State Governor, Samuel Ortom asking the Federal Government to suspend the conduct of National Population Census until all Internally Displaced Persons, IDPs are returned to their ancestral homes.
Many prominent individuals and groups have lately opposed the headcount on account of its timing shortly after elections and tensions still high in the country.
Governor Ortom made the call Thursday, April 13th, 2023 when he received a delegation from the Middle Belt Forum led by its President, Dr. Bitrus Pogu at Benue People’s House, Makurdi.
The Governor stated that close to two million indigenes of Benue State were in the IDP camps and would not be counted because they need to be in their localities before they can participate in the exercise.
Governor Ortom stated that what the Federal Government must do before carrying out the census was to ensure adequate security for the IDPs in Benue and elsewhere in the country to go back to their homes to be counted.
“I want to say that the Federal Government should suspend the issue of census because it looks like the proposed census is coming with an agenda. So until they are able to restore security and all our IDPs go back to their ancestral lands to give all of them opportunities to be counted in the homes of birth. Because I understand from the National Population Commission that those to be counted must be counted in their localities,” the Governor said.
Governor Ortom lamented that at present, “there was so much injustice, bias and tribalism” going on in the country that both the leaders and the people were expected to correct it before the country could move forward.
He particularly decried the sustained attacks on Benue communities by herdsmen over the years in which more than six thousand people have died and property worth billions of naira destroyed with the Federal Government doing little to help.
“In Benue State alone we have lost over six thousand people. In the last few days alone, over 131 persons were killed and we are still counting because others are in the hospital.”
Governor Ortom however maintained that despite the unprovoked attacks and other injustices meted on the people of the state, “Benue people will remain law abiding citizens because they believe in Nigeria and have worked for the unity of the country.”
The President Middle Belt Forum, Dr. Bitrus Pogu in his earlier remarks also corroborated with the Governor Ortom, and urged the Federal Government to suspend the proposed national population census because he believed that the exercise “was coming with a hidden agenda.”
Dr. Pogu also frowned at the level at which Fulani herdsmen have been killing people of the Middle Belt in connivance with other Fulani socio-cultural groups like Fulani Nationality Movement, FUNAM, openly claiming responsibility without being arrested.
He said what has made the activities of the Fulani in the communities within the Middle Belt more frightening is that after killing and displacing the villagers, “the Fulani came and renamed those villages.”
Pogu maintained that the people of the Middle Belt “will not cede our land to anyone. No portion of our land will be ceded to anyone. It will not be allowed. That should not be allowed to happen. Our land is our heritage.”
The President of Middle Belt Forum stated that for every one to have a sense of belonging, the Federal Government should move beyond mere “issuance of condolences messages” whenever people are killed and decisively deal with the killers and their sponsors.