• House wants state of emergency declared on insecurity, may summon Buhari
• Saraki, others meet with president on crisis
Damilola Oyedele and James Emejo in Abuja
The Senate Tuesday issued a 14-day ultimatum to the Inspector General of Police (IG), Mr. Ibrahim Idris, to apprehend the perpetrators of the recent killings in Logo and Guma Local Government Areas of Benue State and hand them over to the attorney general of the state for prosecution.
The attacks led to the deaths of at least 73 persons.
Resuming from its Yuletide recess Tuesday, the upper legislative chamber said the failure to arrest and prosecute the perpetrators, who it said include “well trained foreign mercenary elements”, will threaten Nigeria’s unity as the crisis was deepening the country’s ethno-religious fault lines.
The lawmakers also called for an increased security presence in the affected areas, following findings by its Ad hoc Committee on Security that the presence of security forces was thin on the ground.
The resolutions reached at the Senate followed a five-hour deliberation on the Benue killings, which occurred on new year day.
The lawmakers, however, rejected a motion seeking for the establishment of a North-central Development Commission to address the destruction by killer herdsmen in the Middle Belt region.
Adopting the recommendations of its committee, which visited the state last weekend, the Senate also resolved to convene a national security summit to examine the recurring violence and mayhem in the country’s rural communities before the attacks become an existential threat to national cohesion and survival.
In the face of the report by the committee that some faceless persons were sponsoring and harbouring well trained foreign mercenary elements and using them to unleash violence in Nigeria’s rural space, the Senate harped on the need for better policing of the national borders to ensure movement with proper documentation and regular surveillance.
Senate President Bukola Saraki said the resolutions of the senators on the killings would be transmitted to the executive to consider for immediate action.
This, he said, was necessary following Monday’s interaction between President Muhammadu Buhari and the leaders of the National Assembly on the efforts being made in Benue.
“One of the points being made is that there must be justice and that is contained in our resolution that the IG must, in the next 14 days, apprehend the killers.
“We have condemned the killings, but more importantly, action must be taken to reassure Nigerians that we are not just talking,” Saraki said.
“Our resolution is that some of our discussions here need to be conveyed to Mr. President. We appreciate his action for calling us and briefing us on what has happened. Hence, we owe it to him to tell him what we have discussed and the seriousness with which we have taken the issue.
“It is a wakeup call for him and it is a wakeup call for us. It is a wakeup call for this government. We must address the issue of insecurity. We cannot continue to allow this violence to keep going on from one state to another.
“Therefore, something needs to be done. The president must act and those responsible for this must be held accountable,” Saraki said.
The Senate President noted that the military could not be the solution to the country’s security challenges all the time.
“This is because sometimes they are overstretched and that has its own impact and problems. In this regard, we are hoping that the committee urgently comes up with the recommendation to us on what we need to do to strengthen the police, apart from more manpower. Is it community policing Is it state policing We need to know,” Saraki added.
The Deputy President of the Senate, Senator Ike Ekweremadu, in his contribution, urged the government to declare a state of emergency in the country to allow for extraordinary measures to be taken to safeguard the country.
Ekweremadu pointed out that due to increased insecurity in the country, intelligence and international communities were of the view that war is on the horizon in Nigeria.
He called for the state of emergency to be invoked to temporarily close the borders for about 12 months in order to put the proper apparatus in place to address insecurity.
In the ensuing debate on the killings in Benue, some lawmakers queried the hesitation by the federal government to label the killer herdsmen terrorists, particularly when several government officials had said that the killers were foreigners.
Senator Samuel Anyanwu (Imo PDP) said if the killers were suspected to be foreigners, then they should be declared terrorists.
“2019 is coming, politics is around the corner, everybody wants to play politics with everything. If IPOB was tagged a terrorist group because they were agitating for secession, what about foreigners who come into Nigeria to kill people and then we see them as herdsmen I don’t believe they are herdsmen,” he said.
His position was supported by the former Senate President, Senator David Mark, who argued that it was more worrisome that the killings were allegedly carried out by foreigners.
“It means Nigeria can be invaded,” Mark warned, and also decried the lack of intelligence transmission among the security agencies.
Mark, who is from Benue State, commended Saraki for cutting short the recess of the ad hoc committee to move to Benue to hear from the people first hand and for the thorough deliberations at Tuesday’s plenary.
He, however, called for the implementation of some immediate measures to stop the killings, while short and long-term measures were being considered.
Senator Isa Hamman Misau (Bauchi APC) also called on the government to brand anyone found to illegally possess an AK-47 a terrorist, arguing that it is an assault weapon.
Placing emphasis on the threat to Nigeria’s unity by the worsening security situation, Senator Olusola Adeyeye (Osun APC) said countries had not disintegrated from external aggression, but from internal contradictions.
“There are wars that have ensued without a formal declaration of war,” he said.
Adeyeye added that if the perpetrators of Benue killings were found to be foreigners, then the head of every security agency in the country should be fired by the president, based on the ease with which foreign elements may have moved into the Middle Belt, which he said should be least prone to external attacks.
Senator Shehu Sani (Kaduna APC), however, faulted the report of the committee chaired by the Majority Leader, Senate Ahmed Lawan, for not addressing the president directly.
Sani observed that while the recommendations allude to actions that should be taken by the “federal government”, he noted that the buck stops at the table of the president, who heads the executive arm of government.
The legislature and the judiciary are part of the federal government, he added, contending that the recommendations should have alluded to the president, who is also the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces.
“You see some form of cowardice, escapism, and people try to water down the truth. In the report that was presented before us, the federal government was mentioned about seven times and we are all part of the federal government.
“The security of the country is under the control of the Commander-in-Chief. Why are you shying away from this We are calling on the president to wake up and stand up and protect this country,” Sani said.
“It has reached a point today that people have lost hope in government. We are here trying to massage the ego than not tell the truth. We don’t want to confront the presidency and the president because people want to come back to the 9th Senate.
“They do not want to lose their tickets and people are being killed in this country,” he added.
The senators, however, could not agree on whether or not cattle colonies should be established to stem the conflicts between so-called herders of cattle and farmers in the country.
While some argued in favour of the colonies and grazing routes, others maintained that cattle rearing was a private business which should not involve the government.
Before plenary, the senators had held a closed-door session which lasted for an hour to deliberate on the security situation.
In keeping with its resolution, the Senate President and other leaders of the Senate met with Buhari on the Benue killings.
A source told THISDAY that the leadership of the National Assembly was at the State House Tuesday night to brief the president on the resolutions of the Senate concerning the killings and rising insecurity in the country.
“Remember that the Senate already resolved to transmit the resolutions reached today [yesterday] to the president for implementation as part of efforts to stop these killings and stop recurrences,” the source said.
State of Emergency on Insecurity
Also, after a robust debate on the same issue, the House of Representatives Tuesday passed a motion to set up a high-powered ad hoc committee to interface with the security chiefs over the spate of deadly attacks by suspected herdsmen across the country.
While also condemning the attacks and killings in all ramifications, particularly in Benue State, the lower legislative chamber further observed a minute’s silence in honour of the departed victims.
The committee is expected to call for a public hearing of all stakeholders and even summon Buhari to brief the House on the deteriorating security situation in the country, if necessary.
It will further demand measures taken by the security agencies to forestall future attacks.
The resolution of the House followed a motion by Hon. Babatunde Gabriel Kolawole (APC, Ondo) on the need for the federal government to declare a state of emergency on rising insecurity over the spate of deadly attacks in the country by suspected herdsmen.
A similar motion was sponsored by Hon. Tarkighir Dickson (APC, Benue) and was jointly taken by the House.
The House drew attention to the deadly and sustained attacks across the country from the beginning of the year by suspected herdsmen, particularly in Benue.
Among other deadly attacks in various parts of the country, the lower House further noted the attack on worshipers in Rivers State who were returning from a church service to mark the new year, leading to the killing of about 17 persons.
It noted that the orgies of bloodletting were perpetrated in violation of Section 33(1) of the Constitution, which guarantees the right to life to every citizen and which shall not be deprived of any citizen save in execution of the sentence of a court in respect of a criminal offence of which he has been found guilty.
It added that the incessant attacks on farmers and farming communities could ultimately result in food shortages, artificial scarcity, as well as hamper the drive of the federal government to diversify the nation’s economy through agriculture.
The lower chamber emphasised the need to avoid further attacks with the consequent loss of lives.
However, the debate on the motion commenced on a rather disturbing note, when arguments appeared to be subjective and polarised rather than being objective.
Hon. Rotimi Agunsoye (APC, Lagos) had criticised the federal government for being insensitive to the attacks and wondered whether it was compulsory to eat beef, if that would resolve the issue.
Hon. Funke Adedoyin (APC, Kwara) noted that the killings and increased clashes were largely the consequences of migration, deforestation and land-related tussles.
She observed that the struggle to possess land had often led to communal wars, stressing that an ad hoc committee be set up to probe the root causes of the killings, which are on the rise.
On his part, Hon. Wale Raji (APC, Lagos) said he was saddened that the casualties resulting from herdsmen attacks were still being debated when the House last year had passed a motion asking the Minister of Agricultural and Rural Development, Chief Audu Ogbeh, to establish cattle breeding reserves across the country, noting that no action had been taken in that regard.
He decried a situation whereby the IG has to wait for a presidential directive to intervene in some of the killings.
He said the IG ought to have tendered his resignation for failing in his duties.
“In other climes, the IG would have resigned by now for failing in his duties,” he said.
Raji added that there appeared to be more to the attacks, as reports had hinted at tribal intolerance.
Hon. Afe Olowookere (APC, Lagos) said the fact that herdsmen need to feed their cows does not give them the right to take lives, stressing that the president has to take rapid steps to arrest the situation.
He said the president had not helped matters and should have addressed the nation and reassured Nigerians over the killings.
“We would be failing in our duties if we don’t demand urgent action. Let’s set up a committee to investigate this matter,” he said.
Also contributing, Hon. Sadiq Ibrahim (APC, Adamawa) said the herdsmen need the sympathy of Nigerians because they endanger their lives while others Nigerians live in comfort.
He said as long as the federal government cannot create an enabling environment for the herdsmen, sacrifices should be made by landowners (referencing state governors) to volunteer grazing reserves for the animals.
He said if grazing reserves had been created previously, the attacks could have been averted.
Hon. Aisha Dukku (APC, Gombe) said the right questions were not being asked over the N100 billion approved by former President Goodluck Jonathan to governors for the creation of grazing reserves.
She added that by default, the herdsman in fact value the lives of their cattle more than human lives, stressing: “That’s how they are created”.
Reprimanding Dukku over her comment, Hon. Hassan Saleh (APC, Benue) cautioned that there were certain things that ought not to be spoken in public, especially coming from lawmakers.
According to him, not even 10 billion cows were worth one human life, adding that some comments by his colleagues, particularly those from the Northern part of the country were rather insulting and demeaning to the people of Benue State.
His response raised tension, as some lawmakers suggested that the killings in Benue might have largely had to do with tribal intolerance.
In his response, Saleh said: “We should not inflame the polity. It’s failure on the part of government. The security agencies can’t provide security.
“We expect Buhari to intervene because we don’t want war, otherwise, you’ll see anarchy as we move forward. Nobody is a coward and you cannot use people’s land for cattle rearing for free.”
Hon. Nkem Uzoma-Abonta (PDP, Abia) said there was need to revisit the Land Use Act, which according to him, was enacted in the public interest, stressing that cattle breeding was currently a private venture.
He said it was necessary to provide for enclosed spaces for ranching, which should be paid for. He also called for a public hearing for all stakeholders.
Also, in his contribution, Hon. Mark Gbillah (APC, Benue) said it would be wrong to adhere to the existing grazing laws which were largely out of date and in need of fine-tuning to address current realities.
He argued that ranching appeared to be the only solution to the menace of the killer herdsmen, noting that ranching is practised everywhere in the world.
He insisted that the Buhari administration had failed the Benue people in the area of security, adding that the sanctity of human lives was not being taken seriously.
Uzoma-Abonta said that this explained why the president chose to commission railway coaches in Kaduna instead of visiting Benue to condole with the victims of the attacks.
Hon. Mohammed Monguno (APC, Borno) said while the herdsmen might not have the capacity to acquire ranches to rear their cattle, the federal government should provide the enabling environment for herders. He added that the creation of cattle colonies was the right way forward.
Also contributing, Hon. Oker-jev Emmanuel (APC, Benue) said there was no political will on the part of the president to tackle the issue.
He said: “There’s no determination by the president to address the issue. People can’t come and kill over 70 people and the security agencies are unaware.”
Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila (APC, Lagos) further noted that under no circumstances should a human being be killed, stressing that the ECOWAS Treaty, which allows for free migration, needed to be revisited to ascertain whether it still favoured the country in the current circumstance.
He said there was also the need to address the issue of arms proliferation from Libya, as recent killings had been carried out with the use of guns.
According to him, the federal government’s current efforts to stem the conflicts requires that state governments donate land for grazing activities, but only 16 governors had so far complied.
He said the creation of cattle colonies might be preferable to ranches since the existing ones had proved to be ineffective.