By Ede Ogaba Ede
Benue State Acting Governor, Engr Benson Abounu has debunked the news making round that the Benue State government has ceded part of Agatu land in Agatu local government area to Fulani herdsmen.
In an interview granted a group of journalists at the Benue Governor's lodge, Abuja, on his return from a meeting of the Northern Governors Forum at Kaduna, Engr Abounu also reacted to the use of the phrase “indigenous Fulani” in the agreement which he said never emanated from either Governor Samuel Ortom or his Nasarawa state counterpart, Tanko Al Makura.
Excerpts: HOW DO YOU REACT TO THE ALLEGATION THAT YOUR GOVERNMENT HAS CEDED A PART OF YOUR STATE, PRECISELY, PART OF AGATU LOCAL GOVERNMENT AREA TO FULANI HERDSMEN FROM NASARAWA STATE AND HOW DO YOU JUSTIFY THAT ACTION?
Thank you for this question. I also read of that allegation on the social media, and I must tell you, I was shocked. At no time did the Benue state government cede any part of Agatu land to anybody or group of people. Governor Samuel Ortom has consistently said at every forum that Benue state would never cede any part of its land to anybody, no matter whom.
The allegation, therefore, that the government has sold a part of Agatu land to Fulani herdsmen is totally untrue. It is wicked, malicious, mischievous and most unfortunate. Governor Ortom has never contemplated such an action and he would never do that.
THEN, TELL US, WHAT HAPPENED? WHAT IS CONTAINED IN THE AGREEMENT?
The joint Benue/Nasarawa state Security Council meeting did not cede any part of Agatu land to Fulani herdsmen. It merely deliberated on the best possible ways of maintaining enduring peace in the conflict area; bringing together the two parties.
For the avoidance of doubt, the peace treaty as contained in the communique issued after the joint State Security Council meeting was a mutual agreement between the Agatu and Fulani people. It was not forced on the Agatu people as all that were contained therein came from the position of the Agatu people themselves as delivered by their representative in the person of Mr. Akpa Idu.
It is unfortunate that politicians have chosen to play politics with the lives of the people as we are now witnessing. While Governor Samuel Ortom is sincere about bringing lasting peace to Agatu land, political detractors have elected to play politics, giving different negative interpretations to a genuine effort of the government.
The pogrom that took place in Agatu last year is something none of us would ever want to witness again in our lifetime. It is therefore incumbent on all of us, political differences notwithstanding, to come together and find solutions to the frequent farmers/herdsmen clashes in and outside Benue state.
MOST PEOPLE HAVE PICKED HOLES WITH THE USE OF THE PHRASE “INDIGENOUS FULANI” IN THE AGREEMENT. WHAT DO YOU REALLY MEAN BY INDIGENOUS FULANI?
The people may have a point there. The use of “indigenous Fulani” for the Fulani in Agatu may be inappropriate. However, it never emanated from any of the two governors, rather, it came from the Agatu people who probably accepted as brothers the Fulani who were born and bred in Agatu. Probably, the word “settler” would have fitted more than the word “indigene”.
THERE IS THIS ALLEGATION THAT THE SOLE ADMINISTRATOR OF AGATU LOCAL GOVERNMENT COUNCIL, HON. MIKE INALEGWU SOLD AN ISLAND IN AGATU TO FULANI HERDSMEN FROM NASARAWA STATE. HOW TRUE IS THIS?
We have investigated that allegation and find it to be completely false. Mike Inalegwu never sold any island to anyone. The place in question is in the middle of River Benue and during the rainy season is always covered with water. It cannot therefore become a permanent place of abode for anyone.
The agreement to allow cattle of the Fulani people who are known to the Agatu graze on that piece of land does not transfer ownership of the island to the Fulani. It was a temporary arrangement to stop the Fulani massing on the Nasarawa bank of the River Benue from crossing over Agatu settlement area.
Arrangements was also made with the Nigerian Army to provide armed soldiers to watch the cows while grazing in order to prevent further movement from the island.
WHAT IS YOUR MESSAGE FOR THE BENUE PEOPLE?
The Benue people should have confidence in the government. As long as Governor Samuel Ortom and I are at the helm of affairs of this state, not one inch of Benue land will be ceded to anybody.
The position of government on the issue of grazing has not changed. Governor Ortom has repeatedly stated that Benue land is for farming and not for uncontrolled grazing and that ranching remains the best solution to the farmers/herdsmen crisis.
However, ranching cannot be achieved overnight; hence the need to find a compromise that will allow peace to reign and prevent further loss of lives and wanton destruction of properties. This is what Governor Samuel Ortom has sought to do in Agatu.
Thank you, Your Excellency You are most welcome.