By David Mzer
David Mzer is a public commentator, he writes from Makurdi.
Prior to the commencement of the Governor Samuel Ortom administration, Benue State was under siege of insecurity, people were robbed, kidnapped and killed indiscriminately. Thuggery was elevated to the status of a state religion.
The perennial herdsmen/farmers crisis had also reached an alarming rate,with Makurdi, the State capital also experiencing attacks, and not less than 12 local governments were threatened.
Some schools became permanent IDP camps. In summary, the people were attacked by both internal and external forces.
On Assumption of office, Governor Ortom quickly Instituted an Amnesty programme for those with illegal arms and weapons in the state. He extended his amnesty programme to the herdsmen as well. The amnesty had two approaches, the carrot and stick approach. The carrot required those with arms to surrender their arms, get paid for each gun they surrender and undergo a rehabilitation process for them to be integrated into the society to live normal lives, while the stick which is currently ongoing is to arrest and prosecute anyone found with an illegal arm or weapon.
At the expiration of the carrot phase of the Amnesty programme, not less than 700 youths embraced the amnesty programme, and over 600 arms and ammunitions were surrendered. The result is a high reduction in kidnappings, armed robbery and Thuggery in the state.
Governor Samuel Ortom’s efforts at ensuring peace in the state and its neighbours through the amnesty programme won him the recognition of the United Nations, UN. Governor Ortom was invited to deliver a keynote address during the 6th Biennial Meetings of States – BMS6 organised by the UN between the 6th and 10th of June 2016 in New York, United States of America.
The event was a UN’s ‘Programme of Action to Prevent, Combat and Eradicate the Illicit Trade of Small Arms and Light Weapons in all Aspects’ which is also aimed at considering the national, regional and global implementation of the roadmap to peace.
The Presidential Committee on Small Arms and Light Weapons (PRESCOM), in a letter to Governor Samuel Ortom on the said the amnesty programme of the state said Governor Ortom’s model has been adopted as a model in Africa and other parts of the world for ending conflicts through peaceful disarmament.
In Nigeria, states like Rivers have copied Ortom’s model of Amnesty.
While the state was reaping the gains of the Amnesty programme, and a decrease in the cases of kidnapping, robbery and thuggery, herdsmen also attacked the state. Agatu local government was the worst hit, then Buruku, Logo, Kwande, and Tarka.
In order to end the perennial herdsmen and farmers clashes and also ensure border security, Governor Ortom went into collaboration with the Nasarawa and Taraba State Governments in search of peace. Governor Ortom also held peace meetings with the leadership of herdsmen in the state to discuss peace and avoid the clash between herdsmen and farmers. He kept making contacts with the Presidency, Chief of army staff, the Inspector General of Police, and other relevant security agencies to contain herders assaults in Agatu, Guma, Tarka, Logo, Kwande and Buruku Local Government Areas.
In order to end the skirmishes around the Benue-Taraba border, Governor Ortom held a joint security Council meeting with his Taraba state counterpart, Governor Darius Ishaku,at Kashimbila, where they also agreed to swap their border communities of moon and chanchangi,which are erroneously under Taraba and Benue respectively. Both Governors also pledged their resolve to end the violence around their Northern border and ensure permanent peace. Governor Ortom also promised to ensure the return of the displaced people of moon, Kwande LGA and to also rehabilitate critical infrastructure and social amenities in the area.
When it became obvious that herders and farmers cannot avoid clashes, and some criminal elements were using the movement of cattle to inflict pain and kill innocent and defenceless citizens of the state, Governor Ortom’s led state Executive Council sponsored a bill to the state House of Assembly prohibiting open grazing in the State. The bill was passed, and the Governor signed it into law on Monday, 22nd of May, 2017, with the enforcement of the law to commence in November, 2017.
In order to improve security surveillance in the state, Governor Ortom also purchased 20 pickup vans for security surveillance. Governor Ortom further demonstrated the commitment of his administration to enhance the security of lives and property by donating five pick up vans to Beef up the state Vigilante service and the Civilian Joint Task Force in the state.
Governor Ortom’s efforts in security have also seen the rescue of people especially children from kidnappers. Thuggery which was elevated to the status of a state religion is no longer fashionable, the state has also enacted and signed into law the Anti-cultism law, which has stiff penalty for offenders.
The enforcement of the Benue State Open Grazing Prohibition and Ranches Establishment Law, which encourages ranching of cattle will also make the state more secured,as it will bring to an end the farmers/herdsmen clashes.
The enactment of the law has also received the support and endorsement people, both within and outside the country. Just last week, Governor Ortom bagged a peaceful award from the Tiv professionals group, for signing the anti-open grazing bill into law. Also last week, the United Nations also backed the law as disclosed by it’s country representative in Nigeria, Mr Edward Kallon, who also promised to tell the Benue story to the UN.