Benue state Government has confirmed the deployment of Boko Haram insurgents in the state as recently reported by the Governor of Nasarawa state, His Excellency Engr Abdullahi Sule.
Deputy Governor of Benue state, Engr Benson Abounu who disclosed this Wednesday during a press conference in Makurdi the state capital said, “I am sure you are aware of the fact that in the most recent past, there was a declaration by the Governor of Nasarawa state when he visited the presidency that there is a deployment of Boko Haram insurgents to the boundary between Benue and Nasarawa states. As a result of this, we in Benue state, using our security agencies decided to swing into action to find out the truth or otherwise of that declaration. Of course, given the exalted position that the Governor of Nasarawa state occupies, no doubt all, no reason whatsoever to doubt his declaration. In the meantime, why we are still investigating, we have been able to ascertain the fact that there appears to be a massive deployment of herdsmen with their cattle on the bank of river Benue and Nasarawa states and we also observe that a good number of these herdsmen are heavily armed, many of them with AK47 riffles. As if this is not enough, we have been able to apprehend a good number of them in a village called Kaseyo in Guma Local Government Area of Benue state. On the 23rd of January, one hundred and fifty six (156) cows belonging to these herdsmen were apprehended and on the 26th of this month which was yesterday, another two hundred and twenty ( 220) cows were apprehended from the same vicinity. It has been observed that the herdsmen were not ordinary herdsmen because they were heavily armed. Of course, their cows in keeping with the Anti-Open Grazing law of Benue state were apprehended and brought to the enclosure here as you can see behind me. I want to make it clear, that Benue state is a unit of the federating structure of Nigeria and this unit like all other units is governed by laws of the state.
“Benue state has its own laws, one of which is the Anti-Open Grazing Law. We have been keeping to this law and as a result, we have been able to apprehend all the people that violated the law and a good number of cows were taken into custody in keeping with the provisions of the law. Herdsmen that violated the law and who paid the fine were given back their cows. I also want to make it very clear that this law is succeeding and it has been very successful because not only that we have been apprehending cows which have been released to the owners upon paying the fine, but a good number of them have been prosecuted and sent to correctional centres to serve their terms. So, I want to make it abundantly clear that Benue state government is not in any way intending to abrogate this law, the law has come to stay and it is working very well. The Chief aim of this law is the prevention of conflict between herders of cow and farmers. To that extent, I think the law has been very successful because we have not been having conflict in recent time between herders and farmers. But it appears something is beginning to happen, that is why this press conference is being given. There is a massive deployment of cows along the river Benue in Gwer West Local Government Area. Just as we have been able to catch some of them red handed so to say in Guma Local Government Area, we want to make it abundantly clear again, that these herdsmen must not enter Benue to herd their cattle in an open grazing manner. They are free to come and get land, lease land, they are free to come and build ranches in order to do their cattle business. The law is in place and the law prohibits open grazing that is what we stand on”, Abounu stated.
Fielding questions from journalists, as whether Benue state has land for herders to ranch and do their cattle business, the Deputy Governor said, “we are in a federating unit, no Nigerian is prohibited from occupying a piece of land anywhere in Nigeria and to that extent, even the herders are free to come to Benue and they are free to continue to do their businesses. Like if you want to set up a Hospital in Benue state, there are laws guiding the setting up of a Hospital and you will be given a license to go ahead and set up a Hospital. If you want to set up a law firm practice, there are laws guiding the setting up of a law firm practice and therefore, if you want to herd your cattle in Benue state, you must look for a piece of land, build a ranch and then you put the cattle there and you go and look for feeds somewhere to give them. What we are against is open grazing that would allow the animals to spread into farmlands, destroy the farm crops and then when the farmers voice out against them, the herders use AK47 to kill them. As a responsible government, we have to prevent this and having asked questions all over the world, we are made to understand the international best practice is the setting up of the ranch and that is why the law came into being.
“Six herders were arrested and they have been handed over to the police for questioning, interrogation and possibly prosecution”, he added.
Asked why he believed the alarm raised by the Governor of Nasarawa state, Engr Abdullahi Sule despite its counter denial by the Federal Government, Abounu said, ” I cannot fault what the Hon. Minister of Information, Alhaji Lai Mohammed has said. First, I was not there when he was saying it, secondly, I only saw it on social media and thirdly, since I was not there when he said it, I cannot confirm that he actually said it or not. But if you ask me, if what the Governor of Nasarawa state said, not that he wrote and gave it to somebody then you can say may be he was misquoted or quoted out of context, not that he addressed some people privately and the press reported it. But the issue is that we saw him say it on television, therefore, the only person in my view that can authentically refute what he said or even claim that what he said was a twist of the tongue, I think is the Governor himself not any Honourable Minister. So, as a state, we want to stand by what the Governor of Nasarawa state said.
“In the meantime, you are aware that we held a security council meeting yesterday and deliberated on this issue and like I told you yesterday, action is being taken but it is not an action that I can announce now until it is concluded”, Abounu maintained.