The Federal Government of Nigeria has blamed the implementation of anti-open grazing bill in some states as the major cause of the killings by Fulani herdsmen in the country.
Speaking with State House correspondents at the end of a security council meeting with President Muhammadu Buhari, the Minister of Defense, Mansur Dan-Ali, urged Nigerians to learn to accept foreigners in their areas.
According to Mansur Dan-Ali, the decision of some states to enact laws banning open grazing triggered the violence that led to the New Year Day mass killings Benue State.
He also said the Federal Government has directed security agencies to tackle the propagation of hate speech, especially through social media, adding that government has also agreed to pay $494 million for the purchase of Super Tucoma aircraft from the United States, with the deadline for payment set for February 20.
The defense minister said it was illegal for state governments to set up and arm forest guards.
The minister, Dan-Ali, responding to questions from State House correspondents said: “Yes, we did discuss solutions to the clashes. First, I talked about this commission on proliferation of arms into the country.
“Whatever crisis that happened at any time, there has to be remote and immediate causes,” the minister said.
“What are the remote causes of this farmers/herders crisis?
Since Independence, we know there used to be a route whereby these cattle rearers use.
“Cattle rearers are all over the nation, you go to Bayelsa, you see them, you go to Ogun, you see them. If those routes are blocked, what happens? These people are Nigerians, it’s just like you going to block river or shoreline, does that make sense to you?
“These are the remote causes. But what are the immediate causes? It is the grazing law. These people are Nigerians; we must learn to live together with each other, that is basic.
“Communities and other people must learn how to accept foreigners within their enclave, finish!” he said.
Mr. Dan-Ali faulted the decision by some states to set up and arm forest guards, saying it was illegal.
He said the decision was “in compliance with the presidential directive for the establishment of National Commission on the Control of Small Arms and Light Weapons in the country.”
He said the Ministry of Defense, in conjunction with the office of the National Security Adviser, “has set up a committee to work out modalities to transform the Presidential Committee on Small Arms and Light Weapons, PRESCOM, to a National Commission”.
Asked if he was justifying the killings because of blocking of the routes, the minister said: “You are going away from what I came here to do. However, this is internal security, I can provide some answers. I have told you that the remote cause is part of the grazing law. Since independence there are clear routes where these people pass.
Defense Minister labels Benue Massacre a communal issue carried out by multiple militia groups including foreign militias.
“On the issue of arms, they are all over. In those killings you are talking about, there are also militias that also did the killings. Some people were caught with arms and they call themselves forest guards or whatever, with AK-47.
“There is nowhere in this country where arms are allowed to be carried, apart from security forces. So anybody carrying any arms is doing so illegally. Militias were caught in the same land doing the same killings, so the killings are not done by any particular group; it’s a communal issue.”
Dan-Ali further said that some foreign terrorists or militias are behind those perpetrating the killings: “Of course, that is why I said they are militias. Militias are part of illegal immigrants. They are the people.”
On the composition of the proliferation of arms commission, the minister said members of the National Commission were drawn from all security services, including the Office of the National Security Adviser, Ministry of Defense as well as Ministry of Interior, adding that it would be headed by a retired general.
On whether the security meeting discussed the issue of ranching, which is the internationally accepted practice, against grazing, Dan-Ali said: “This is clearly the Minister of Agriculture’s issue. Like I have said, what we had before now were clearly demarcated routes.
“You are talking about ranches and colonies, all are the same but we have collaboration with the Ministry of Interior and the Ministry of Agriculture. They are trying to come up with what they call agro-rangers.”
On hate speech through social media, the minister described the trend as worrisome, saying “relevant security agencies should as a matter of urgency tackle the propagation of hate speech through the social media, particularly by some notable Nigerians.’’
The minister further said: “Like we always do quarterly, we do have security briefing with the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. It is like a routine event after each quarter, normally we discuss general security appraisal within the quarter.
“It normally gives us the opportunity to brief the Commander-in-Chief of the activities of the services and the intelligence community. It could be recalled that not quite long, around November last year, we deliberated on the Armed Forces Council which approved the revised terms and conditions of service for officers and soldiers.
“We also discussed some of the welfare issues of the Armed Forces and the security agencies in general.
“This one is not an exception; we discussed some of the security challenges within the quarter. We also had the opportunity to discuss some of the major events that took place within the quarter.
“From the ministry’s side, we discussed how we intend to curtail proliferation of arms into the country. A presidential approval was given to my office, in conjunction with the National Security Adviser to come up with a Presidential Committee on Small Arms and Light Weapons Restriction and Proliferation in the country, thereby coming to what the Economic Community of West African Convention said that each country within the ECOWAS should have such a commission.
“We have already outlined work of the committee which will soon start. It is supposed to be inaugurated today (yesterday) at the NSA’s office, where the terms and conditions on how PRESCOM will be transformed into a full commission. The commission is to ensure drastic reduction of arms proliferation in the country.
“We also discussed the issue of this purchase of Super Tucano Aircraft that the American government agreed to sell to our country. The terms and conditions were discussed. Also we agreed that the conditions are stringent but I, Minister of Defense, with the Foreign Affairs Minister and the American Ambassador will sit down and review some of those conditions.
“Some of the stringent conditions include the fact that we will start having them from 2020, which is two years from now. Then they are also thinking of not allowing our technicians to be part of the production inspection.
“But this is what we normally do in all the defense contracts; we send our personnel to go understudy what is being constructed, especially when it comes to specialized aircraft.
“We have similar thing in Russia, our personnel are permanently based where the production is being done for the MI-35 helicopters.”
“However, deadline for the payment was given at 20th February this year. So, we have agreed it will be paid but the conditions will be looked into.’’
The minister disclosed further that the Super Tucano aircraft would cost the nation $494 million.