President Muhammadu Buhari is neither condoning nor turning a blind eye against mass killings in Benue state, and those accusing him falsely are mischievous or ill-informed, the presidency said in a statement on Tuesday.
Conflicts between the nomadic herdsmen and peasant farmers have left countless people dead in the central Nigerian state of Benue in the past few days, and the horrific images of women and children butchered have shocked the world.
Many have accused Mr. Buhari, a Fulani Muslim, of condoning the killings, mainly of Christians by Muslims in Benue. They have labeled the conflict another ethnic cleansing, and warned that an ethnic war may be about to break out all over Nigeria.
Northern Nigeria is mainly populated by Fulani and Hausa Muslims, while southern Nigeria is dominated by Christians from other ethnic groups.
In the middle of the country where Christians and Muslims meet, conflicts often break out between the Fulani herdsmen and the local farmers.
Herdsmen often accuse the peasant farmers of killings their animals while the farmers accused the animals of destroying their farms. It is often portrayed in the media as an ethnic conflict.
But, the presidency said Mr. Buhari does not see the Benue conflict as an ethnic war, but blamed the exploding population in a landmass that has remained the same since independence from Great Britain in 1960.
“While there are many Nigerians who see the conflict between the nomadic herdsmen and peasant farmers as an ethnic problem, others point to religious differences and agenda. The President does not subscribe to such simplistic reductionism,” the presidency said.
“President Buhari holds the view, as do many experts, that these conflicts are more often than not, as a result of major demographic changes in Nigeria. When Nigeria attained independence, the population of the country was estimated at about 63,000,000. Today the population is estimated at close to 200,000,000; while the land size has not changed and will not change. Urban sprawl and development have simply reduced land area both for peasant farming and cattle grazing.
“It is therefore both unfair and unkind, for anyone to keep insinuating that the President is condoning the spate of killings in Benue and other neighboring States.
“President Buhari has publicly condemned the violence at every turn. He is prepared to permit every possible step that can lead to the stoppage of the killings. It is on account of this he brushed aside an opinion that the federal government should challenge the constitutionality of the anti-open grazing bill. He wanted to give a chance to the State government to succeed in stopping the senseless killings.
“It will be recalled that as he did in dealing with the Boko Haram insurgency in northeast Nigeria, which required sustained action from the government before it was finally curtailed, President Buhari gave the relevant mandates to the country’s security agencies to put a stop to the Benue killings.
“The killings must stop and the security agencies have the President’s support to do this as quickly as possible.
“Whipping up hate may captivate the public and score political points on social media, but it will not bring an end to the crisis. Let every stakeholder instead sit down with the government and security forces and carry everyone along in finding an all-embracing solution.
“As a father, a military General and a statesman, President Buhari has maintained lasting relationships with Nigerians, Muslims and Christians among every ethnic group. It is also a known fact that the young people who trek the whole distance of thousands of kilometers tending the cattle do not own the cattle. In fact many of the cattle are not owned by Fulanis or Muslims. The point is that it is too simplistic to see the conflict as ethnic or religious.
“The President seeks the support and cooperation of all citizens and the media in particular, to join hands with his administration to find permanent solutions and not to aggravate or escalate tensions in all conflict areas of the country”.
The presidency said the administration of Muhammadu Buhari is coming up with a conference of stakeholders on infrastructural and agricultural development to put in place a plan for immediate relief and long term plan for the expansion of agriculture in the country.
The government hopes to find short term and long term solutions to frequent conflicts between farmers and cattle rearers.
“The conference will tap into experiences and best practices to draw up a planned development 20-30 years ahead based on population and development projections and will take into consideration environmental impacts,” the presidency said in a statement.