The Chief of Army Staff, Lt.-Gen. Tukur Buratai, has said some of the killer herdsmen, who had wreaked havoc in Benue, Enugu and Ekiti states among others, may have affiliation with the Boko Haram insurgents.
He said this on Thursday in Abeokuta, the capital of Ogun State, when he paid a courtesy visit to the governor, Senator Ibikunle Amosun, at his Oke Mosan office.
Buratai, who was also visiting Army formations in the state, said this probability was already being investigated as the troops continued their onslaught on the insurgents in the North-East.
He, however, called on all Nigerians to be security conscious and report any suspicious movement of persons in their communities to security agents.
The Army chief added, “One may not be too far from the fact that some of these herdsmen that are attacking communities across the country may have some affiliation with the Boko Haram terrorists.
“This we are further investigating and also pursuing them so that we can address the situation.
“Let’s report quickly movement of suspicious persons carrying arms especially. If you suspect any individual within your community, we should be able to report immediately. Timely information is very important.
“We have our troops deployed in certain areas and I believe the Police are working with them to be able to tackle any challenge that comes in immediately.”
Buratai, who explained that the insurgents had been largely defeated, said there was no community in the North-East under the sect’s control.
He said, “Our troops are patrolling all those places and we are coordinating with the Multinational Joint Task Force to ensure that the borders are well secured and are blocked from any infiltration.”
Amosun, who called for the creation of a Nigerian Army Division in the state, said the population of the state had increased to over seven million just as the economy of the state had also expanded tremendously.
He commended the military for the successes recorded against the Boko Haram terrorists.
“Nigerians are now happy with the military. We are happy that normalcy has returned to the North-East region even to the point where Emirs, who had earlier had to run away from their domains, have now returned,” he added.
Meanwhile, the Benue State Government on Thursday raised the alarm that the “systematic” attacks by suspected Fulani herdsmen in Agatu and other local government areas in the state were part of a plot by foreign insurgents to occupy Nigeria.
It called on the Federal Government to take urgent steps to nip the development in the bud before it spiralled into another B’Haram insurgency, which it pointed out could be “10 times the scale of what we witnessed in the North-East.”
The Benue Government told a panel of the House of Representatives that the aim of the “bigger agenda” was first to weaken the Middle Belt of Nigeria, particularly Benue State, before expanding to the South-East, South-South and the South-West.
The Deputy Governor of the state, Mr. Benson Abonu, who presented the position of the government to the committee in Abuja, disclosed that intelligence suggested that insurgents dislodged from Mali had moved into Nigeria with the mission of occupying communities.
“There is a national dimension to it, which indicates that they are headed for the South-East, South-South and they are already in the South-West in Ekiti State,” Abonu added.
He called on the Federal Government to treat the matter more seriously than the present approach that tended to situate it as mere clashes between herdsmen and farmers.
Abonu noted that if the government sought to maintain that it was mere clashes, the solution should be to restrict herdsmen to ranches as practised in other climes.
The deputy governor added, “Our stand is that the solution is ranches, ranches and ranches.
“Cattle breeding is a private, professional business that should be devoid of government involvement.
“It is a private affair of the cattle owners; so, they should seek permission from land owners to build their own ranches in their own localities.”
Some lawmakers from Benue State, including Mr. Dickson Tarkighir, Mr. Adamu Entonu and Mr. Terse Gbillah, also made presentations to the committee, recalling the sad experiences of the attacks on the Agatu, Buruku, Gwer-West/East, Makurdi, Katsina-Ala, Kwande and Logo local government areas.
For instance, the Spokesperson for the Benue Dialogue for Peace and Dialogue, Mr. David Ogbole, informed the committee that herdsmen had already occupied “15 out of the 23” local governments in the state.
“They kill, burn down houses, take over farm-lands and occupy”, Ogbole stated.
On its part, the Mdzough U Tiv, the umbrella body of the Tiv people of Benue State, demanded N100bn compensation from the Federal Government for the lives and property lost in parts of the state.
The President-General of the group, Chief Edward Ujege, who addressed the committee, also demanded the immediate eviction of the herdsmen from Benue State.
He disclosed that in 2014 alone, 883 persons were killed, while 23,324 persons were displaced.
According to Ujege, property worth N31.4bn was lost in 2014.
He added that between 2015 and this year, more than 170 lives were lost in Tiv land, besides the 500 hacked to death in Agatu in March.
He said, “The attackers are well trained in modern warfare and highly motivated. They use sophisticated weapons and are brutish in their attacks, killing all humans that are in sight, including women and children.”
The Inspector-General of Police, Mr. Solomon Arase, who also appeared before the committee, told the committee how he held strategy meetings with the governors of Benue and Nasarawa states as well as holding town hall meetings with Fulani herdsmen and farmers.
Arase claimed that due to his professional leaning, he needed to handle the issue more carefully with the sole aim of achieving peaceful resolutions.
But not satisfied with Arase’s position, the Haliru Jika-led committee sought to know why the police had hardly arrested and prosecuted any herdsmen for the atrocities they committed over the years.
The IG claimed that the police arrested 18 suspects in connection with the Agatu killings, but added that they were not prosecuted because the police could not get enough evidence.
“Eighteen suspects were arrested. But, I don’t have to go on air to malign them until there is sufficient evidence to prosecute them,” he added.
He also disagreed with the alarm raised by the Benue State Government that insurgents were plotting to overrun Nigeria.
“There is nowhere in security history, that hoodlums overrun a state and the Nigerian state cannot be an exception”, Arase argued.
No member of the Miyeti Allah Cattle Rearers Breeders, the umbrella body of the herdsmen, attended the session on Thursday.
Also, the Executive Director of Stefanos Foundation, Mr. Mark Lipdo, said on Thursday that the increase in the attacks on communities by Fulani herdsmen might dwarf the successes the Federal Government had recorded against the Boko Haram insurgents.
In a report prepared by the foundation, a copy of which was obtained by The PUNCH in Jos, Lipdo said there were 233 attacks with Boko Haram responsible for 149 and 84 attributed to Fulani herdsmen between 2014 and 2015.
He added that under the Muhammadu Buhari administration, the attacks stood at 198, in which Boko Haram carried out 94 while the attacks by Fulani herdsmen increased to 96.
Lipdo said 8,004 Nigerians died in 546 attacks during the last two years of former President Goodluck Jonathan administration, but 2,385 Nigerians had died in 233 attacks, mostly by Fulani herdsmen, in the one year of the Buhari administration.
Lipdo said, “The report indicates a significant terror decline between July and September 2015. Fulani terror attack indicates a significant drop in November 2015, but soon picked up in December 2015.
“Boko Haram terror attack was on progressive decline since October 2015.”