The National Economic Council rose from its first meeting this year in the State House, Abuja, thursday and announced that it has set up a committee to address the protracted conflicts and bloodletting between herdsmen and farmers in the country.
Briefing journalists at the end of the meeting, Kano State governor, Ibrahim Ganduje, disclosed that the committee was mandated to collaborate with the federal government in addressing mindless killings and violence between the two groups.
According to him, the committee chaired by Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo and consisting of nine state governors, will deploy attendant commitment to the task with a view to ensuring that those engaging in impunity and violence are severely punished.
He listed the nine other members of the committee as Governors Abdulaziz Yari (Zamfara), Nasir el-Rufai (Kaduna), Bindow Jubrilla (Adamawa) and Samuel Ortom (Benue).
Others include Darius Ishaku (Taraba), Godwin Obaseki (Edo), David Umahi (Ebonyi) and Abiola Ajimobi (Oyo)
Ganduje said: "On the farmers-herdsmen crisis, council constituted a working group to collaborate with the federal government in addressing the issue of impunity regarding the killings and violence.
"The committee consisting of nine governors, under the chairmanship of the vice-president, will work in accordance with commensurate commitment to ensure that all perpetrators of violence are brought to book.
"The committee consists of the governors of Zamfara, Kaduna, Adamawa, Benue, Taraba, Edo, Plateau, Ebonyi and Oyo States. The committee has started its meeting right after this NEC meeting," he said.
Ganduje who also gave an update on balances in three Federation Accounts up to January 15, 2018, said the Minister of Finance, Kemi Adeosun, told the council that so far, N700 million had been disbursed to 11 states which had complied with the requirements for the disbursement of the budget support facility.
According to him, the minister insisted that the remaining states must comply with the criteria for the disbursement of the facility, in accordance with the federal government's fiscal sustainability plan.
"The Minister of Finance reported to council that the balance in the ECA (Excess Crude Account) as of 15th January, 2018 stood at $2.317 billion, the Stabilisation Account: N9.730 billion, and the Natural Resources Development Fund: N115.108 billion.
"The Minister of Finance informed the council that N700 million has been disbursed to 11 states and the states that have outstanding payments are required to meet and complete the necessary obligations before the disbursement is effected.
"The minister told the council that the criteria for disbursement is tied to the federal government's fiscal sustainability plan which the NEC and state governors had already approved," he said.
In his briefing, the governor of Ebonyi State, David Umahi, said the Minister of Budget and National Planning, Udo Udoma, informed the council that the federal government was addressing the economic situation through the Economic Recovery Growth Plan (ERGP) 2017-2020.
According to Umahi, the minister enumerated the drive for implementation of the plan to include: stabilising the macro-economic environment, achieving agriculture and food security, ensuring energy sufficiency in power and petroleum products, improving transportation infrastructure and driving industrialisation with a focus on small and medium scale industries.
He added that the federal government was required to back its efforts in delivering the ERGP targets within the three years left and delivering quick and fast results on investments and job creations in some areas.
He listed such areas to include agriculture and transport, manufacturing and food processing, and power and gas.
According to him, focusing on these areas was meant to achieve two pillars: investment in critical projects and resolution of complex inter-agency problems which he said usually impede private sector investment.
"Council agreed that each state will have a contact point, which means that we will have 36 states plus the FCT (Federal Capital Territory) that will now start the process to implement these programmes with the Minister for Budget and National Planning," Umahi added.
Furthermore, the Ebonyi governor said council approved the recommendations by the Minister of Health, Isaac Adewole and the Director-General of the National Agency for the Control of AIDS (NACA), that between 0.5 and 1 per cent of the monthly allocations to the states be set aside to finance the implementation of a sustainable roadmap for tackling HIV/AIDS.
He also said council approved the recommendation for free antenatal services aimed at preventing the transmission of HIV from affected pregnant mothers to their babies.
He said council approved the presentations of the health minister and head of NACA for increased funding for HIV/AIDS treatment with a view to achieving the goal of eliminating the disease by 2030.
"Council considered an update on the need for domestic funding for the treatment of persons living with HIV/AIDS in Nigeria. The Minister of Health and Director-General of NACA made presentations seeking increased funding for HIV/AIDS services in Nigeria in order to achieve the goal of eliminating HIV/AIDS by the year 2030.
"The presentation stated that the increase would reduce the dependency on donor funding for HIV/AIDS treatment and the attendant development indicators. They also called for investment in HIV/AIDS treatment that will lead to increased life expectancy in the country and a proportionate increase in GDP.
"They added that the need to invest in HIV/AIDS treatment is important because donor funding is on the decline because of economic circumstances.
"Reducing the gaps between those who require HIV medicare and treatment and those who are actually able to access it is another reason adduced for increasing investment in HIV/AIDS.
"The presentation asked NEC to consider and approve the resolution of the 59th Council on Health that at least between 0.5 and 1 per cent of the monthly federal allocations to states be earmarked for financing the implementation of the HIV/AIDS sustainability roadmap.
"Council was also asked to consider and approve the universal free antenatal services and abolition of user fees associated with the prevention of mother to child transmission services.
"Council was also asked to request that the state health insurance scheme including HIV/AIDS is an indicator for both testing and treatment, particularly as it relates to the community health insurance programme. Council noted and approved the recommendations above as requested.
"Let me also state that the minister presented the emergency situation on Lassa Fever, especially in Ebonyi State, where some health workers died from the disease last week.
"So, the minister said that it was agreed that the federal government was going to intervene very quickly in the cases of Ebonyi and Ogun States where this epidemic has developed," Umahi submitted.
A statement issued later by the vice-president's spokesman, Mr. Laolu Akande, said the NEC was also briefed on how the federal government had committed N2.8 trillion to the construction of roads and bridges.
According to him, this commitment had made it difficult for the government to fund such projects from consolidated government budget in the country.
He said the situation forced the government to resort to bond financing for roads and tax credit schemes.
Part of the bond issues, he said, included the N100 billion Sukuk bond to fund 25 priority roads; private-public partnership arrangements and tax credit for organisations to fund highway projects; the Road Trust Fund (RTF) approved by Federal Executive Council (FEC); and tolling and load control at some selected locations nationwide with modern facilities.
Sultan Exonerates Miyetti Allah
But even as the federal and state governments set up a committee to resolve the violent conflicts between cattle herders and famers, the Sultan of Sokoto, Alhaji Mohammad Sa'ad Abubakar III thursday exonerated the Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association of Nigeria of the recent killings of farmers in some parts of the country, which has been blamed on members of the association.
The sultan, who is the grand patron of the association and spoke at the General Assembly of Interfaith Dialogue Forum for Peace (IDFP), contended that the association has no control over any Fulani man.
Abubakar observed that rather than attributed the massacre of innocent lives to Miyetti Allah, the blame should be laid on criminal elements.
He urged the federal government and the security agencies to immediately fish out the perpetrators of the heinous crimes and prosecute them.
"How is it possible for Fulani to attack settlements or communities to carry out killings of innocent people, destroy property and disappear without trace?" the Sultan asked.
Sultan Abubakar said the Miyetti Allah was formed over 32 years ago to cater to the welfare and advance the growth of Fulani businesses.
He said any Fulani man carrying arms was not a member of the Miyetti Allah because the group, which is now under his leadership as grand patron, was never a criminal group.
Abubakar, who deplored those calling for the ban of the group, asked them to also call for the proscription of other socio-cultural organisations in the country.
He said: "Miyetti Allah doesn't control any Fulani man. Calling for the proscription of Miyetti Allah is the equivalent of calling for the proscription of other ethnic organisations like Afenifere, ACF, Ohanaeze and others.
"It was formed 32 years ago and these crises were not there. I am the patron and we have never asked Fulani herdsman to kill anybody.
"Any Fulani man caught killing is a criminal and should be treated as such. What are the security agencies doing? If they have failed, they should accept that they have failed.
"What is going on is not an ethnic problem; it is not a religious problem. It is an economic problem."
The sultan further harped on dialogue, adding: "What we need is to sit down and dialogue. As religious leaders, we have to be very careful with what we say, because it carries weight and our followers listen to us very seriously.
"We must believe in one another, trust and love ourselves because that is what our two major religions advocate. We must continue to speak with one voice. We should not be labelling everybody a criminal because his brother is a criminal."
The traditional ruler also kicked against those who had advocated for the labelling of Miyetti Allah as a terrorist group.
"No, we are not terrorists and can't join terrorism," he said.
On the Benue killings, he said: "This thing didn't start today. In the past eight years, I have been to Benue many times to discuss this issue. We met for hours and agreements were reached, yet nothing has been implemented. Why? The former governors of Benue are still alive and they know all this.
"Even the present governor of Benue State, Samuel Ortom had written to me to come again on a peace mission, but we had not had the opportunity before this round of crisis.
"But we must get to the crux of this issue, how come these Fulani men are carrying guns without the security men knowing.
"I keep on repeating it, things are not okay, but they are not as bad as they are made to look especially on the social media. Let's go round and speak to one another, not just staying in our comfort zones."
In his submission at the event, the president of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) Dr. Samson Ayokunle accused some religious leaders of being insincere while commenting on the issue of the killing of innocent people in the country.
Ayokunle, represented by the Bishop of Yola, Bishop Stephen Manza, observed that as religious leaders, "we need to condemn evil in this country".
"We are seated here today as religious leaders, but how sincere are we in what we say? Christians at all levels believe in peace. This is a time for us to speak with one voice.
"But my concern is whether we are sincere in what we are doing. We religious leaders, we deceive people a lot. We say one thing when we have another thing in mind. Our tribal and religious affiliations have overshadowed our Nigerianness.
"The problem is that we keep mute once a person is killed and a member of our faith is not the victim. Another thing is that we identify with people of our faith even when the person is doing the wrong thing.
"We all know that President Muhammadu Buhari is not handling the security situation in the country well but certain persons are not talking may be because he is a Muslim.
"And when Jonathan was there, some Christian leaders kept quiet because he is a Christian."
The Archbishop of Abuja Catholic Dioceses, John Cardinal Onaiyekan, however, assured Nigerians that the problem of insecurity threatening the soul of the nation was surmountable if Nigerians built trust among themselves.
"There is nothing happening in this country now that is beyond us, it is within our hands. But just like the Bishop of Yola has said, we need sincerity.
"We shouldn't be praying for peace, when in the real sense, we are the ones causing crises everywhere. Seeking for peace will bring peace if there is truth.
So, we must learn to build trust, trusting one another. We must join hands to do what is right," he said.
Pregnant Woman Killed
However, as government and religious leaders tried to fashion out measures to stop the killings, a pregnant woman of Tiv origin was killed thursday by suspected cattle herders in Orin-Ekiti village, Ido-Osi Local Government Area of Ekiti State, barely a week after a herdsman was murdered in the Irele-Oke Ako axis of the state.
The woman, according to residents of the community, was shot dead before being hacked by those referred to by the locals as "Bororo (pastoralist) herdsmen" in the village's farm settlement in the early hours of thursday.
The woman was said to have been shot in the head and her eyes plucked out.
Fayose had on Wednesday held a meeting with Fulani residents and those of Tiv ethnic stock from Benue State on the need for peaceful co-existence.
The meeting was held after the discovery of the dead herdsman in the Irele-Oke Ako community.
An indigene of the town, who was a former chairman of Ido/Osi Local Government Area, Mr. Sanmi Olubummo, and confirmed the killing of the pregnant woman on the phone, disclosed that another victim of the attack was receiving treatment at a hospital.
Olubummo said policemen from Ido-Ekiti divisional headquarters visited the scene of the killing, saying the situation was calm.
"The incident happened inside the Orin farm settlement. Nobody knows what led to the crisis in the early hours of Thursday but our people said the Bororo herdsmen killed the pregnant woman."