By Cosmas Nkeremwem
Shortly after receiving the grieving governor of Benue State, Samuel Ortom in audience, Tuesday, President Muhammadu Buhari announced plans for a conference of stakeholders to find short term and long term solutions to frequent conflicts between farmers and cattle rearers in the country. Benue state is still reeling from the carnage and brutal murder of people by unidentified herdsmen. As at press time, 80 persons are said to have died from the attack by the herdsman in protest against the anti-grazing law of the state. The killings have triggered protests and critical social media commentaries and hashtags.
The President said the confab will also propose immediate relief for victims and long term plan for the expansion of agriculture in the country, a statement by SSA Media, Malam Garba Shehu said.
According to Shehu:
“President Muhammadu Buhari has been concerned about these conflicts each time he received those very gruesome pictures of mayhem from several parts of the country, especially as it affected Benue and neighbouring states. He is equally worried about some public pronouncements and finger-pointing that are, in most cases very unhelpful to peaceful coexistence of our diverse peoples.
“The President is conscious of his duty to Nigerians, not least because he is held accountable for everything that goes wrong. He deeply sympathizes with the families and all the other direct and indirect victims of this violence. He is determined to bring it to a permanent end.
“While there are many Nigerians who see the conflict between the nomadic herdsmen and peasant farmers as an ethnic problem, others point to religious differences and agenda. The President does not subscribe to such simplistic reductionism.
“President Buhari holds the view, as do many experts, that these conflicts are more often than not, as a result of major demographic changes in Nigeria. When Nigeria attained independence, the population of the country was estimated at about 63,000,000. Today the population is estimated at close to 200,000,000; while the land size has not changed and will not change. Urban sprawl and development have simply reduced land area both for peasant farming and cattle grazing.
“It is therefore both unfair and unkind, for anyone to keep insinuating that the President is condoning the spate of killings in Benue and other neighboring States.
“President Buhari has publicly condemned the violence at every turn. He is prepared to permit every possible step that can lead to the stoppage of the killings. It is on account of this he brushed aside an opinion that the federal government should challenge the constitutionality of the anti-open grazing bill. He wanted to give a chance to the State government to succeed in stopping the senseless killings.
“It will be recalled that as he did in dealing with the Boko Haram insurgency in northeast Nigeria, which required sustained action from the government before it was finally curtailed, President Buhari gave the relevant mandates to the country’s security agencies to put a stop to the Benue killings.
“The killings must stop and the security agencies have the President’s support to do this as quickly as possible.
“Whipping up hate may captivate the public and score political points on social media, but it will not bring an end to the crisis. Let every stakeholder instead sit down with the government and security forces and carry everyone along in finding an all-embracing solution.
“As a father, a military General and a statesman, President Buhari has maintained lasting relationships with Nigerians, Muslims and Christians among every ethnic group. It is also a known fact that the young people who trek the whole distance of thousands of kilometers tending the cattle do not own the cattle. In fact many of the cattle are not owned by Fulanis or Muslims. The point is that it is too simplistic to see the conflict as ethnic or religious.
“The President seeks the support and cooperation of all citizens and the media in particular, to join hands with his administration to find permanent solutions and not to aggravate or escalate tensions in all conflict areas of the country.”