THE Presidency has called on Governor Samuel Ortom of Benue State to desist from basing his campaign for re-election on “falsehoods” concerning President Muhammadu Buhari, saying that his open grazing law would not have succeeded if the President did not support its implementation.
A statement issued in Abuja on Sunday by Garba Shehu, Senior Special Assistant to the President (Media and Publicity), said the Governor should instead to focus on the dire issues confronting the State.
It alleged that Ortom’s campaign “is clearly one designed to stir division and hatred and to divert the people’s attention from his inability to pay staff salaries and pensions for several months.”
It added: “It has been noted that the governor has been visiting churches in the state where he falsely tells congregations about President Buhari’s so-called plans to Islamise Benue State.
“This nonsense has formed the basis of his campaign because he has nothing to offer Benue people.
“The allegations coming from Ortom were particularly unfair when one considers how much support the governor received from the Federal Government, which supported his grazing laws as a means to end the farmer-herder crises that have plagued the state.
“If not for President Buhari’s insistence that the governor is given a chance to effect the law, he would have faced resistance from different sources and found it difficult to implement.
“While advising Ortom to immediately stop his dubious attacks on President Buhari, the Federal Government calls on the people of Benue State to not fall for Ortom’s deception and allow themselves to be hoodwinked by such a negative campaign.
“They should instead, ask him why he has refused to pay staff salaries and pensions for months, and what he did with the funding from the excess crude account which should ideally have gone towards addressing such payments.”
But in a prompt reaction, Governor Ortom denies the allegations made against him, noting that the Presidency came up with the statement troubled by guilty conscience.
A statement made available to the media by Tahav Agerzua, the governor’s Special Adviser (Media and ICT), said that it is on record that Ortom had never accused the President Buhari of planning to Islamise the country.
The statement added: “He prays daily for the President for God to grant him good health and wisdom and commends him for upgrading Exercise Ayem Akpatuma to Operation Whirl Stroke which has been able to reduce Fulani herdsmen attacks in Benue State to the barest minimum.
“It could be recalled that Governor Ortom was one of those who organised prayers and fasting for the President when he had protracted health challenges in 2017.
“The Governor has consistently quoted officials of Miyetti Allah Kautal Hore who addressed a press conference in Abuja on Tuesday 30th May 2017 stating that they would mobilize their kith and kin across the world to resist the Open Grazing Prohibition and Ranches Establishment Law 2017 enacted by the Benue State Government.
“They stated that the crises in Benue State was a struggle for the natural resources of the Benue Valley.
The Governor, the State House of Assembly and various stakeholders wrote to the Presidency and the relevant security agencies complaining that the position of the Fulani socio-cultural group amounted to a declaration of war on Benue State and that the leaders of the group should be arrested and prosecuted.
“Nothing was done until the threat was carried out on New Year day, 2018.
Benue State had to bury 73 victims of Fulani herdsmen attacks on Guma and Logo local government areas.
“On 13th January 2018, the Fulani Nationality Movement, FUNAM, met in Kano and issued a statement that what was happening in Benue State was a continuation of the 1804 Jihad when recalcitrant Benue indigenes stopped them in their quest to dip the Qur’an in the sea.
“They stated that they were currently equipped with weapons and political power to continue with the agenda.
This was also reported to the Presidency and the security agencies but nothing was done.
“It must have been the guilty conscience arising from the failure to forestall these attacks and their enormous deadly consequences that may have prompted the Presidency to issue today’s mischievous statement.
“More so that in the aftermath of the attacks President Buhari did not offer any message of sympathy or condolence to the bereaved families and the people of the state.
“The best that came from him when major stakeholders from the state visited him in Abuja and after a long expected visit to the state was that Benue people should learn to live with and accommodate their neighbours.
In all these Governor Ortom does not hold the President responsible.
The well-known cabal in his administration might be responsible for his ignorance of the real situation on the ground.
“Top notchers of his administration have blamed the Benue law for sparking the farmers, herders crises in Benue State without explaining what is responsible for the crises in other states including Zamfara, Adamawa, Plateau, Kaduna, Kogi, Ebonyi, Oyo, Ogun, and several others where there is no such law.
“Others say the blocking of grazing reserves and cattle routes is justification for the conquest and occupation agenda.
The Presidency at a time issued a statement that it is better to give up land and be alive than hold to it and die.
“Meanwhile, the Presidency may also not be aware of the Miyetti Allah and it’s supporters agenda in Benue State which includes the perpetuation of impunity with the connivance of the police and other security agencies.
This explains the constant transfers of Police Commissioners in Benue State as a search for those who will dance to the whims and caprices of APC leaders in the state.
“The Presidency has displayed gross ignorance on the salary situation in Benue State. Throughout 2018 salaries were paid consistently and up to date besides the fact that the Benue State University does not have any arrears of salaries.
“Benue State is owing salary arrears because it pays the highest salary in the country after Lagos and Rivers State and has been affected by the recession through which the entire country passed through especially from 2015 to 2017.
“Several other states including those being governed by the All Progressives Congress, APC, have greater salary payment challenges with affects the majority of states.
“The Presidency has never come out openly to express support for the Open Grazing Prohibition and Ranches Establishment Law 2017.
However, the implementation of this law and any other is the Constitutional responsibility of the Federal Government which have control of the security agencies.
“If it supports the ranching law it is its responsibility and not any favour.
We urge all to disregard the statement from the Presidency and regard it as an expression of a guilty conscience that has arisen from the failure to live up to its responsibility of protecting lives and property not just in Benue State but throughout the country.”