The Presidency on Sunday denied alleged plans by President Muhammadu Buhari to islamise Benue State, saying that Governor Samuel Ortom was engaging in a hate campaign against Buhari by making the allegation.
It also stated that Buhari supported the anti-grazing law passed by the Benue State Government in a bid to end the series of conflicts between herdsmen and farmers in the state.
The Presidency noted that Ortom had so far based his 2019 re-election campaign on what it described as “falsehood” against Buhari. It went on to ask the governor to stop passing such messages to the people of the state.
Benue State was one of the theatres of killings by suspected Fulani herdsmen in 2018, beginning with the January 1 massacre of 73 people in Logo and Guma Local Government Areas.
The victims were later given a mass burial on January 11 of the same year.
Throughout 2018, the killings continued unabated, thereby forcing the State House of Assembly to pass the controversial Open Grazing (Prohibition) Law to regulate cattle business and promote a healthier farmer-herder relationship in the state.
Only last Friday, Ortom, during a memorial service held at Our Lady of Perpetual Help Cathedral, Makurdi, in honour of the 73 January 1 victims, urged the people to stop the capital flight going to Fulani cattle farmers by paying more attention to cattle farming themselves.
He disclosed that Benue spent the sum of N2.1bn on cow meat annually saying that the money could be kept within the state instead of using it to buy cows from outsiders.
“With the research we have carried out, over N2.1bn has moved out of the state into the hands of Fulani herdsmen for the purchase and consumption of cattle during the Christmas and New Year’s celebrations.
“Instead of pushing this amount to Fulani herdsmen and our youths engaging in shoddy acts, it is better they direct their energy towards livestock farming to stop capital flight,” the governor had told the congregation.
However, the Presidency, in a statement issued by the Senior Special Assistant to the President on Media and Publicity, Mr Garba Shehu, criticised Ortom’s methods, saying that he was visiting churches to spread hatred against the President.
It dismissed as untrue, the allegation that Buhari was planning to islamise the state, adding that Ortom was using the herdsmen/farmers’ conflict to divert attention from his inability to pay workers’ salaries.
“Governor Ortom’s campaign is clearly 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 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.
“The allegations coming from Ortom were particularly unfair, especially 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,” the Presidency stated.
The Presidency also claimed that Buhari supported the implementation of the anti-grazing law in Benue so as to prevent the situation from deteriorating further.
It advised the governor to explain to the people why he had been unable to pay salaries, in spite of getting multiple bailouts from the Federal Government, instead of using Buhari as the focus of his campaign.
The Presidency added, “If not for President Buhari’s insistence that the governor be given a chance to effect the law, he would have faced resistance from different sources.
“While advising Ortom to immediately stop his dubious attacks on President Buhari, the Federal Government calls on the people of Benue State not to fall for his deception or allow themselves to be hoodwinked by his negative campaigns.
“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.”