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Minister’s speech at town hall meeting

Let me welcome you all to this special edition of our Town Hall
Meeting, which will focus on the incessant clashes between farmers and
herdsmen, with a view to contributing to the ongoing efforts to find
lasting solutions to what has now snowballed into a crisis.

2.   I will speak more on the Special Edition of the Town Hall Meeting
shortly. But first, I want to sincerely thank my colleagues,
Honourable Ministers, for taking time off their busy schedule to be
here. May I also thank all our invited guests, as well as the
gentlemen of the media, for honouring our invitation.

3.   The format of today’s Town Hall Meeting will be slightly
different from the ones we have held in the past. We have invited an
expert to present a paper that will put the crisis in a historical
perspective, shed light on the knotty issues involved and proffer
possible solutions. After his presentation, we will head straight to
the Question and Answer phase, bypassing the usual format of opening
statements by the Honourable Ministers, who constitute the panellists.
By doing this, we will be able to hear more from the stakeholders,
while the panelists will be on hand to clarify areas that concern
their ministries. Please note that there will be NO no-go areas at
this meeting, and we will like to hear from as many stakeholders as
possible. Therefore, we urge everyone to have an open mind and to feel
free to express their opinions.

4.   Honourable Ministers, distinguished ladies and gentlemen, in
setting the tone for this Town Hall Meeting, I want to say that the
recent spike in the number of clashes between farmers and herdsmen are
not unconnected with demographic, environmental, social and economic
dynamics, as well as criminality. It will be simplistic and indeed a
distortion to attribute the clashes to ethnic and religious reasons,
and I say this without prejudice to what this meeting will come up
with.

5.   Let me explain, starting with demography. In 1963, Nigeria’s
population was 52 million. Today, it is about 200 million, which is
four times the old figure. Yet, the land space has remained the same,
or has even shrunk if we take into consideration the effect of
desertification, to which Nigeria loses 400,000 hectares of land every
year. Against this background, the contest for land and other natural
resources is bound to be keener, and the friction, more! There is also
the case of the Lake Chad which has shrunk from 250,000 square
kilometres to 25,000 square kilometres. At its peak, it was supporting
35 million people from many countries in Africa. Today, most of those
people have moved south in search of greener pastures, further
exacerbating the contestation for increasingly scarce natural
resources – and the resultant friction.

6.   There is also the issue of sheer criminality, e.g. cattle
rustling. For those who might be tempted to view the clashes between
farmers and herdsmen from the ethno-religious prism, I will cite two
instances to debunk such postulation. Zamfara State is probably the
epicentre of cattle rustling in Nigeria. Those who rustle cattle are
Muslims. The owners of the cattle they rustle are Muslims. Both groups
most likely belong to the same ethnic group. Then, there is the case
of Kebbi State, where 70 percent of those who are in jail are there
due to the clashes between farmers and herdsmen. The farmers whose
crops are eaten by cows are Muslim Fulani, and the herders whose cows
eat the crops are Muslim Fulani: Same religion. Same ethnicity. Yet,
clashes still occur, to such a level that people land in jail! I have
cited these examples so that we can be open to interrogating the real
causes of the incessant clashes that have captured national and
international attention and turned former neighbours to bitter
enemies, so that together we can help to evolve a lasting solution to
this crisis.

7.   Permit me to put on the record here the various measures that
have been taken by the Federal Government to stop these senseless
killings and curtail the criminality that has fuelled the clashes as
well as cattle rustling and other acts of insecurity, especially in
the worst-hit areas.

–  The Nigerian Army has recently flagged-off two Battalion Forward
Operation Base (FOB) in Birnin- Gwari, with an operation tagged “Idon
Raini”.

– The Nigerian Air Force has deployed its Special Forces to the
newly-established 23 Quick Response Wing (QRW) in Nguroje, Taraba
State.

– The NAF also has a 1000-man Special Intervention Force deployed to
Makurdi to degrade bandits and criminals in Benue and Nasarawa States.

– The NAF has unveiled a new base in Kerang, Plateau State, with the
aim of reducing its response time to emergencies. The ANAF has also
deployed drones to flashpoints.

– The Directorate of Military Intelligence {DMI} has established a
Fusion Centre, an intelligence analysis hub, for the purpose of
gathering and sharing intelligence among the security agencies in the
country. The centre is to tackle the desperate actions of Boko Haram
terrorists in the North-East, who use underage children, particularly
girls, as suicide bombers.

– President Muhammadu Buhari has also approved the establishment of a
new Battalion of the Nigerian Army, as well as a new Police Area
Command in Birnin Gwari Local Government Area of Kaduna State.

– A Quick Response Wing has also been established by the Nigerian Air
Force in Taraba State, while a Joint Military Intervention Force is
fully on ground in Benue State.

– The 8 Task Force Division in Monguno was established to further
strengthen military presence in the North East.

– The Federal Government has deployed 3,000 personnel of Nigeria
Security and Civil Defense Corps Special Forces, known as
‘Agro-rangers’, to protect farms and agricultural investment in the
country.

–  The Police has deployed additional Five Units of Police Mobile
Force, Police Special Forces, Police Aerial Surveillance Helicopters
and Special Police Joint Intelligence and Investigation Team to Benue
State.

– The Police has also deployed a surveillance helicopter to Taraba,
and additional mobile police units to ensure the total restoration of
peace to the state and the region.

8   It is also worth stating here that President Buhari has visited
the affected flashpoints for an on-the-spot assessment and interaction
with key stakeholders, while the Vice President has just paid a
working visit to Benue. The Federal Government has also approved N10
billion for the rehabilitation of communities affected by violent
attacks.

9.  Also, significant arrests have been made in connection with the
farmers-herdsmen clashes. They include
Aliyu Tashaku, who was accused of masterminding some of the deadly
attacks recorded across Benue state from January 1. The Nigerian Army
has also arrested five men at Tse-Dum, in the Guma Local Government
Area of Benue State, with two AK-47 rifles and live ammunition; The
Police have smashed two gun running and arms dealing ring in Benue and
Taraba; while the Nigerian Army has paraded three militia herdsmen in
Benue, from whom two AK 47 rifles, live ammunition, cutlass and
assorted charms were recovered.

10.   Also, the Nigerian Army has arrested 18 herdsmen in the Kwata
Sule, Mbayer, Yandev and Kaambee areas of Benue for destructive
activities, and in the last two weeks, the IGP Intelligence Response
Team and the Police Special Forces, whose work cut across Benue,
Nasarawa and Taraba State Commands, have arrested 11 suspects and
recovered Ten AK 47 Rifles and other assorted firearms and ammunition
from them. These are just some of the arrests made by the security
forces in recent days.

11.  Honourable Ministers, distinguished ladies and gentlemen, I will
pulse here and cede the podium to our special guest to make his
presentation, after which we will go straight to the Q & A part. May I
now call on the MC to please introduce the special guest. I thank you
for your kind attention

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