President Muhammadu Buhari yesterday replied critics accusing him of apathy towards the wanton killings in the country, saying there is no way he could overlook the carnages in Benue State or any other part of Nigeria.
Buhari who spoke while on an official visit to Benue State noted that his government is deeply disturbed about the incessant massacres on rural communities in the state.
At a meeting with stakeholders, including farmers, herdsmen and government officials in Makurdi, Buhari vowed to end the menace "very soon".
The president spurned insinuations that he is not interested in what has been happening to the North-central state.
"I cannot overlook the killings in Benue or any other part of Nigeria. I cannot do that. I am genuinely worried about the attacks in Benue and we are doing everything to end them," he declared.
He said that the insecurity in some states was a major concern to his government, adding that concerted efforts were being made to restore normalcy to every part of the country.
Recalling his Civil War era memories with military officers from Benue State, he noted that his nostalgic experience with such persons would never allow him to do harm to the state.
President Buhari said he was shocked at the disclosure that the Inspector-General of Police (IGP), Ibrahim Idris, did not spend 24 hours in Benue when he directed him to relocate to the state and remain there till peace was restored.
"I am getting to know this in this meeting. I am quite surprised," he said, adding however that the meeting was not the best place to expose the inefficiency of his appointees.
Noting that he is not in the habit of publicly rebuking his appointees as many would desire, Buhari said that he preferred to quietly "read the riot act" as he did to the Inspector General of Police (IGP) when the Benue attacks began.
The president disclosed that he even shared the IGP's security report on the Benue crisis with Senators George Akume and Barnabas Gemade from the state.
The president appealed to Benue people to exercise restraint and live in peace with their neighbours.
"The governor and I, and others here know that we will leave one day, but the relationship between farmers and herders will continue. I urge you to keep in touch with them and advise them to live peacefully. Nigeria has over 250 ethnic groups with different cultures and nobody can question God for putting us together", he stated.
Imploring the people to pay more attention to farming, especially rice cultivation, he noted that rice importation had dropped by 90 per cent since some states embarked on massive production of the commodity.
President Buhari, while thanking God for the good rains, the successful efforts of the Minister of Agriculture, Audu Ogbeh, an indigene of Benue State, whom he described as "a great asset in my government," said his administration would continue to empower farmers with loans by the Central Bank of Nigeria.
Expressing delight that the agricultural policy of his administration has led to 90 per cent reduction in rice importation, he commended Ebonyi, Lagos, Kebbi, Jigawa and Benue States for "doing extremely well."
Reacting to what he called a "shopping list" by some stakeholders, the President enjoined them to pray for the economy to improve, noting that he would not make any promises during this trip. He, however, stressed that, "When coming back on campaign, if coming back on campaign, I may promise."
Earlier, Governor Samuel Ortom appealed to the president to upgrade the ongoing military exercise in the state tagged "Ayem Akpatema", to a wider operation to effectively curb herdsmen attacks.
"If the exercise is upgraded to a wider operation, it will assist greatly in ending the incessant attacks and senseless killings by herdsmen," he said
He urged Benue people to learn to live in peace with other people.
The governor reiterated his call for the arrest of the leadership of Miyetti Allah Kautal Hore, alleging that the body is responsible for the killings in Benue.
Ortom maintained that ranching remains the best option for cattle breeding in Nigeria, and advised herdsmen to embrace it so as to minimise the clashes caused by open grazing.
He also called on the federal government to take over the management of the Benue University Teaching Hospital, College of Education, Katsina-Ala and Benue Polytechnic, Ugbokolo.
Malam Shetima Mohammed, a representative of Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association of Nigeria (MACBAN), Benue Chapter, however, denied responsibility for the Benue attacks.
"Our association is a peace loving one and the exact opposite of what is being portrayed," he declared.
Also speaking, retired Army General, Atom Opera, who described the president as a man of his words advised him to replicate what he did in other states like Zamfara when cattle were rustled to Benue and faulted the IGP who was earlier deployed to the state for performing below expectations.
President of peasant farmers in Nigeria, Chief Terlumun Akputu disclosed that over 160,000 famers were displaced, attributing the inability of farmers to defend themselves during the attack by herdsmen to the amnesty progrmme of the governor.
Akputu appealed to the president to compensate and rebuild the homes of the displaced farmers to enable them go back to farming, now that the rain is approaching.
Also speaking, the Tor Tiv Ochivirigh, Professor James Ayatse, called for the re-designing of security architecture in the country, such that will involve state and traditional rulers who are more closer to the people.
He expressed dismay over responses of some service chiefs in the country on security issues, saying people in such position should restrain from making statements that can trigger crises, especially as it relates to security.
President Explains Why FG Negotiated With B'Haram
In another development, President Buhari said yesterday that Nigeria prefers having the schoolgirls abducted by Boko Haram from Chibok and Dapchi communities back alive.
This, he said, was the reason why the federal government chose negotiation with the sect rather than military option.
Speaking when he received the American Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, in audience at the presidential villa, Abuja, President Buhari added that Nigeria is working in concert with international organizations and negotiators to ensure that the girls are released unharmed by their captors.
"We are trying to be careful. It is better to get our daughters back alive," a statement by his special adviser on media and publicity, Femi Adesina, quoted the president as saying.
He thanked the United States government for assistance rendered in the fight against insurgency, noting that Nigerian forces are good, "but need assistance in the areas of training and equipment."
President Buhari promised that his administration would continue to do its best to secure the country, adding that he would be in Yobe State, from where Dapchi schoolgirls were abducted later this week "as part of my condolence and sympathy visits to areas where we have had unfortunate events."
The president pledged free and fair polls in 2019, recalling that the then American Secretary of State, John Kerry, had visited before the 2015 polls.
"He (Kerry) told the party in government then and those of us in opposition to behave ourselves and we did", he noted.
The visiting Secretary of State commended President Buhari on his strides in the anti-corruption war, to which the Nigerian leader responded that moneys recovered are being invested on development of infrastructure.
Mr Tillerson said Nigeria was a very important country to the U.S, stressing: "You have our support in your challenges. We will also support opportunities to expand the economy, commercial investments, and peaceful polls in 2019."
US Pledges To Assist In Rescue Of Dapchi Schoolgirls
Also, in a press briefing after meeting the president, the American Secretary of State said his country will assist Nigeria in the rescue of the remaining Dapchi and Chibok girls.
He said the United States government will provide assistance in terms of equipment, sharing of intelligence and training of the personnel of special operations.
Tillerson said, "First, we respect the responsibilities of the government of Nigeria and the territorial integrity of Nigeria. But the way we support is in providing them capability capacity with equipment and also training of the personnel of special operations and sharing intelligence to ensure that they have all the information available to carry out the recovery effort.
"But I think it is also important to put this in a broad regional context as well, Boko Haram is a threat to other region and this has been the subject of my meetings elsewhere and in Africa as well.
"In my discussion with President Derby in Chad earlier today, we spoke about the threat of Boko Haram and I think it is important and it's really been powerful, the collaboration between the joint task force which Nigeria is a part and Chad is a part, to respond to this threat of terrorism which Boko Haram is one of the organizations. There are other threats that the leadership of this country has to deal with.
"So, the United States is ready to engage and coordinate efforts as well. But we have been supporting, equipping, training and when we can provide information. I think that is the best way we have been helping the government of Nigeria secure the release of the girls, which we hope will be done in a peaceful manner. We hope that something can be worked out and they can secure the release of these girls quickly".
On his part, Minister of Foreign Affairs, Goffery Onyeama maintained that as a conventional military threat, Boko Haram has been completely degraded.
He also dismissed insinuations that the federal government took a week to acknowledge the abduction of the Dapchi girls.
He said, "With regards to the kidnap of the girls in Dapchi, it is incorrect to say we too a week to acknowledge. It was acknowledged immediately everything was being done and we were strategizing.
"Other people might have made comments but those comments do not represent any government coming out with the acknowledgment. Fighting terrorism is a new challenge globally. When we talked of having degrading Boko Haram, we were referring specifically to the situation that we were confronted with when the government took over.
"That was a situation where you have a classical military confrontation and Boko Haram were capturing territories, holding unto territories and hoisting flags. So, as a conventional military threat, Boko Haram has been completely degraded.
"Now, there is a challenge with regards to sporadic suicides and bombings and of course largely, there is kidnapping of the girls.
"We don't by any stretch of imagination minimize those but it's really a different kind of warfare as it is and the government is sparing no effort in addressing that".