Goverrnor Samuel Ortom of Benue State is now at war path with Presidency on the security challenge in the country after accusing the federal authorities of pampering gunmen terrorising Nigerians.
Ortom, speaking on BBC Pidgin, also accused the Presidency of blackmailing him each time he tries to draw attention to its shortcomings.
But the Presidency, through the same medium, dismissed the governor as an ethnic jingoist who is out to cause disunity among Nigerians.
Senior Special Assistant to the President on Media and Publicity, Malam Garba Shehu, labeled Ortom a disseminator of disinformation.
Firing the first salvo on Saturday, Ortom said: “If the government has power to stop Sunday Igboho and Nnamdi Kanu, why don’t they have the power to stop bandits? All we hear is unknown gunmen.
“For me, I know it is Fulani bandits that are coming to kill us in Benue and our current leaders at Aso Rock in the presidency have a hand in all this that is happening.
“In fact, I was not the one who said it: even the Fulani bandits, they don’t want them to be addressed as Fulani; they should just be calling them bandits. But they have come out to say this government brought them in 2015. It is not something to hide.
“I’m not the one who said this alone; Obasanjo has said it too; even the Sultan. Didn’t you hear what Commodore Kunle said a few days ago?”
Asked to prove his allegations, Ortom retorted: “Which proof do you want again? Why did the President not brand the Fulani bandits as terrorists just like he branded IPOB as a terrorist group, and the way he tagged Nnamdi Kanu and Sunday Igboho?
“The President knows what he is doing. There are good Fulani people who want the country to be at peace, but the President does not want it to happen.
“When I talk, the next thing is to blackmail me.
“When I spoke on Channels TV a few days ago, it had been a while I spoke there, then the next thing I heard was that they were being queried because of my interview.
“Miyetti Allah sponsors terrorism; they get funds and they have taken responsibility for their actions. I have written a couple of times to the President. Another group, Fulani Nationality Movement, attempted to assassinate me. I have sent these findings to the President.
“You remember in 2012 or so. I was a minister at the time, and we told Goodluck (Jonathan) to try to negotiate with Boko Haram.
“When we called them (Boko Haram fighters) to negotiate, they said, ‘No’, that Buhari would be their coordinator. Buhari was not President then.”
Stop spreading misinformation, Presidency warns governor
Reacting to Ortom’s claims, Presidential spokesman, Garba Shehu, said the governor’s statement smacked of incitement and misinformation.
He said that contrary to Ortom’s allegation, President Buhari did not accept the Boko Haram’s invitation to represent its interest.
His words: “People can make all sorts of claims. They can say all sorts of things. It would have mattered to the nation, to everyone, if at that point the then General Muhammadu Buhari had accepted the invitation to go and be a representative of Boko Haram.
“There is no record anywhere that he accepted to be with them, and he has denounced them over and over again and has rejected their creed.
“So, I think that statement by the governor is tautological and it doesn’t accord common sense.”
Continuing, he said: “The President has reacted officially in a statement in which he expressed disapproval and anger, unhappiness over the fact that a high value military institution could be violated.
“He has directed the (Ministry of) Defence to investigate the situation to prevent any future reoccurrence.
“One thing people who say that ignore is the successes recorded in many areas in fighting insurgency and criminals. Nigerians knew in 2015 when Buhari came into office they could not go to their places of worship.
“There have been enormous successes recorded in dealing with insurgency in the Northeast. Boko Haram members are surrendering in their thousands. These bandits are being taken out.
“All other citizens are entitled to fair protection by the state.
“I am absolutely sure that there are bandits and kidnappers, armed robbers among Hausa, Igbo, Yoruba. You cannot go and incite one group against the other. The governor of Benue State should stop presenting misinformation.
“Ethnic and religious hatred should not be preached. The media have to be careful in airing these things. The question is: if only Fulani were the criminals, and the governor has apparently sent them out of his state, then who are those perpetrating criminal activities?”
Garba Shehu said Buhari does not have to brand gunmen in the north as terrorists to show that his administration is after them
He said: “What the Buhari administration has done to the arms-wielding bandits is worse than being declared as terrorists.
“Do you know that there is a subsisting order by the President that any arms-wielding, AK-47 bandits should be shot on sight?
“I am saying yes, IPOB has been proscribed by law of the land, there is no shoot-on-sight order on IPOB. There is nothing to suggest that these bandits are treated preferentially.
“The Nigerian Air Force is busy bombing locations. The military is there on the ground, exchanging fire for fire, taking them out in hundreds. That is certainly not treating them (bandits) lightly.
“Before President Muhammadu Buhari (assumed office) many Nigerians could not worship on Fridays. Mosques were being bombed. On Sundays, churches were being bombed, motor parks and public gatherings.”