Governor Samuel Ortom on Saturday accused the Inspector-General of Police, Ibrahim Idris, of being an accomplice to the recent attacks by suspected herdsmen on Benue residents, a day after the police chief reportedly demanded a suspension of anti-open grazing law.
“If truly the IGP said what was widely reported by the media, our conclusion is that his is a clear case of a man who is either on a mission to mislead the nation or is complicit in the attacks on Benue communities and the killing of many people by terror herdsmen,” Mr. Ortom said in a statement to PREMIUM TIMES Saturday evening.
In November 2017, Benue became the second state to implement a law that specifically targets the activities of herdsmen in the state, coming months after Governor Ayodele Fayose started enforcing a similar law in Ekiti State.
The laws followed attacks by suspected herdsmen reported in many states.
At a Senate hearing on the recent surge in attacks linked to killer herdsmen across the country, Mr. Idris testified before a closed panel of lawmakers that the anti-open grazing law in Benue State was to blame for the scores of deaths that had been recorded in the agrarian state in recent weeks.
So far this year, over 100 people have been killed in herdsmen attacks across the state. Two local government areas suffered more than 100 deaths in successive attacks between January 1 and 3, an incident that brought the activities of herdsmen under renewed focus across the country.
An outraged Nigerian Senate launched an inquiry into the attacks, with Mr. Idris finally testifying on Friday after initially failing to honour invitations. The Senate also plans a national security summit with the executive over the killings, which are also being regularly recorded in Nasarawa, Taraba, Adamawa and Kaduna States.
A senator who was present at the closed-door hearing told PREMIUM TIMES on Friday evening that Mr. Idris demanded a suspension of the anti-open grazing law in Benue and elsewhere.
The police chief suggested that laws against open-grazing should only be imposed when ranches have been created for the grooming of livestock, escalating a confrontation that began with Mr. Idris’ description of the killings as “a communal clash” last month.
“He asked for stoppage of implementation of the law until ranches are provided, then the law can be gradually implemented again.,” the senator said, pleading anonymity.
The comments came days after the Minister of Defence, Mansur Ali, also blamed the anti-open grazing laws for recent killings.
Harsh criticisms poured in for the police chief shortly after his comments surfaced in the media, with many pointing out that herdsmen attacks predated the enactment of anti-open grazing laws.
Since 2013, more than 50 attacks linked to herdsmen were reported in Benue and neighbouring states like Nasarawa and Taraba.
In February 2016, more than 500 residents were killed in Agatu, Benue State.
More than 100,000 villagers are currently living in several camps for the internally-displaced persons across Benue, according to state officials.
Herdsmen have accused the villagers of stealing their livestock, with Fulani leaders telling PREMIUM TIMES in a 2016 interview that the massacre in Agatu was a reprisal attack for the alleged theft and the 2013 killing of one of their leaders.
Mr. Ortom replied Mr. Idris with a statement to PREMIUM TIMES Saturday evening, saying the fact that the police had not denied the reports indicates that the Inspector-General was accurately quoted.
“Indeed it was this unrelenting spate of attacks that prompted the people of the state to seek a permanent solution to the incessant clashes between farmers and herders hence the law for the establishment of ranches as the best method of animal husbandry across the globe,” the governor said in a statement signed by his chief press secretary, Terver Akase. “The law which has constitutional backing followed due process with the requisite public hearings and inputs from various stakeholders.”
“The police authorities had ample opportunity to also make inputs while the process was ongoing. They, however, failed to do so,” he said.
Mr. Akase further described Mr. Idris’ claim as unfortunate, accusing him of dereliction of duty.
“The unfortunate claim by the IGP indicates that some of those saddled with the responsibility of protecting and property and maintaining law and order have abdicated their duty and become accomplices with those undermining the very existence of the country. This is unacceptable.
“The Open Grazing Prohibition and Ranches Establishment Law of Benue State is certainly not the cause of the crisis as insinuated by the IGP. Mr Idris needs to be reminded that Fulani herdsmen attacked Benue State more than 50 times and killed scores of people before the law was enacted.
“The IGP should tell Nigerians if states like Adamawa, Zamfara, Kaduna, Nasarawa, Enugu, Edo, Plateau among others where armed herdsmen have killed hundreds of people also have anti-open grazing laws in place.
“It will be recalled that a few days after the killings took place and all fingers were pointed towards the direction of armed herdsmen, the IGP quickly rose in defence of the herdsmen and frankly tried to divert attention from the genocide being perpetrated by herdsmen with a comment that it was a ‘mere communal clash’. Did he not know that there was a law in place in Benue State when he made that first statement?
“With his latest demand that the ranching law of Benue be suspended, it is now clear where the loyalty and interest of the Inspector General of Police lies – certainly not with innocent Nigerians. He has now positioned himself not only as the mouthpiece of those who are killing Benue people but indeed as their shield. Little wonder herdsmen still proudly carry out sophisticated weapons and willfully terrorize innocent people in the state without being arrested,” Mr. Akase said.
The spokesperson also said Mr. Idris only spent one day in Benue, contrary to President Muhammadu Buhari’s order that he should relocate to the state.
“We wish to place it on record that contrary to the directive by President Muhammadu Buhari that the Inspector General of Police should relocate to Benue to ensure that the killings stop, the IGP spent only one day in Benue and left for a destination where only he could tell. No one has seen him in Benue since that day,” Mr. Akase said.