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Gunmen kill 100 in Benue as Buhari backs Malami, battles Southern Governors over open grazing ban

One hundred bodies of people have been recovered after gunmen stormed many communities in Katsina-Ala Local Government areas of Benue State between Saturday and Sunday.

This is just as President Muhammadu Buhari flayed Southern Governors over ban on open grazing, saying it is just power show.

There are even conflicting figures of the dead in Benue State. While local authorities said at least 100 bodies were recovered from some villages, a witness from one of the affected villages said he counted 70 dead bodies in the area he lived, while another man said over 150 people were killed in his locality.

Some officials alleged that the attacks were perpetrated by some militants loyal to the notorious Terwase Akwaza, popularly known as ‘Gana’, who was killed by Nigerian troops in September 2020.

They alleged that the attacks were carried out in cohort with suspected herders.

President Buhari, while expressing strong resolve to address the conflicts of herders and farmers permanently on Monday, chided the Southern Governors’ Forum for their recent ban on open grazing, which he described as an act of questionable legality.

The President further accused the Governors of politicking with serious security issues and an attempt at a show of power.

In a statement conveying the President’s position by Presidential Spokesperson, Mallam Garba Shehu, Buhari insisted that the Governors’ resolution during their meeting, which held on May 11 in Asaba, Delta State, is a violation of the constitutional right of Nigerians to live and do business in any part of the country, irrespective of such citizen’s state of origin.

The President obviously backed his Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami, who last week compared selling of spare parts in the North to open grazing of cattle in Southern Nigeria. This comparison drew the ire of Southern governors, senior lawyers and other socio-political organizations.

Shehu, in the statement, recalled that Buhari approved measures to bring an end to the skirmishes as recommended by Sabo Nanono, the Minister of Agriculture, in April.

President Buhari had according to Shehu approved a number of specific measures to permanently end the frequent skirmishes as recommended by the Agric Minister in a report he submitted and the President signed off on it back in April, well before the actions of the Southern Governors’ Forum.

The president’s spokesman alleged that the Asaba Declaration, which moved to place a ban on open grazing “and other acts of politicking were intended by its signatories to demonstrate their power.

“It is very clear that there was no solution offered from their resolutions to the herder-farmer clashes that have been continuing in our country for generations,” he said.

However, the President noted that “citizens of the southern states – indeed citizens of all states of Nigeria – have a right to expect their elected leaders and representatives to find answers to challenges of governance and rights, and not to wash their hands off hard choices by, instead, issuing bans that say: ‘not in my state.’

“It is equally true that their announcement is of questionable legality, given the Constitutional right of all Nigerians to enjoy the same rights and freedoms within every one of our 36 states (and FCT) -regardless of the state of their birth or residence.

“Fortunately, this declaration has been preempted, for whatever it is intended to achieve and Mr. President, who has rightly been worried about these problems more than any other citizen in consultation with farmers and herders alike, commissioned and approved an actionable plan of rehabilitating grazing reserves in the states, starting with those that are truly committed to the solution and compliant with stated requirements.

“With veterinary clinics, water points for animals, and facilities for herders and their families, including schooling – through these rehabilitated reserves, the Federal Government is making far-reaching and practical changes, allowing for different communities to co-exist side-by-side: supporting farmers to till their fields, herders to rear their livestock and Nigerians everywhere to be safe.

“The entire country is acutely aware of the strain the COVID-19 pandemic has taken on public finances, for both Federal and States. Still, given the pressing urgency of addressing the perennial challenges, the federal funding for the project that has been delayed is now being partly unlocked. Actual work for the full actualisation of the modern reserve system in a few of the consenting states should take off in June,” he said.

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