Makurdi — It was a sorrowful day as representatives of women groups trooped into the Doo Palace Hotel, venue for a press conference by an all female group known as the Concerned Benue Mothers, to protest the constant attacks by herdsmen and bandits that have led to the death of hundreds of people, including women and children.
The venue was tensed and charged as the women dressed in traditional mourning clothes and tearful faces expressed anger over the heinous killings while the leaders of the country kept mute.
Leading the women at the conference which they tagged 'President Buhari is for somebody and not for everyone', Mrs. Rebecca Apezan, a former House of Representatives member frowned at comments made by the President's Senior Special Assistant on Media vowing that grazing routes as well as grazing reserves will be established in the 36 states of the country next month whether anyone likes it or not.
She recounted the spate of killings in Makurdi, Gwer West, Gwer East, Katsina-Ala, Ado, Agatu, Logo and Guma which left over a million people homeless in the state due to the inglorious activities of herdsmen and bandits and wondered why the president's aide who is not elected should make such a declaration, questioning if the country is still operating a democratic government.
"We are wondering if this is the same democracy that we all fought and got in 1999 leading to the emergence of Muhammadu Buhari as elected President in 2015. Has Mr President forgotten that this country is now being run by the Constitution and not decrees?
" What about the Land Use Act which vets all lands in the care of State Governors? Has the Act been repealed? From where is President Buhari deriving his authority that he feels he can impose draconian and dictatorial policies on Nigerians and expect us to applaud him?
"As mothers of this state and the nation, we owe our children the duty to voice our feelings when we see things going wrong and those who should speak have chosen the path of silence.
"We owe this country the duty to call its leaders to order and counsel them when it has become apparent that the leaders we elected are not doing what is right. We have no other country than Nigeria.
She called on President Buhari to urgently address the nation and caution the herdsmen to stop the killings. "We know that if he makes the address directly to them and mean every word of what he says, they will listen to him.
"The Federal Government should also throw its weight behind Southern Governors' Asaba declaration against open grazing.
"President Buhari should motivate security agencies and direct them to be professional and neutral in the discharge of their duties.
"We also expect Mr President to call his appointees to order to stop assaulting the sensibilities of Nigerians. What the Minister of Justice Abubakar Malami said comparing the ban on open grazing with spare parts business was insensitive, condemnable and akin to fanning embers of crisis.
"The other aide of the president, Garba Shehu denigrates anyone who holds an opinion contrary to that of the Presidency. This is gross negation of the tenets of democracy. In democracies where government is of the people and for the people, leaders of such countries listen to constructive criticism in order to improve.
"We call on the international community and lovers of peace across the world to show interest in what is happening in Nigeria, particularly in the Middle Belt region where killings of innocent people by herders have become a common sight.
"We expect the federal government to fulfill its promise to assist the Benue State Government in resettling the displaced people back to their homes. The longer the IDPs stay in the camps, the worse their plight will get.
"We also want to urge our sons and daughters who are still sitting on the fence to wake up and speak against the evil being perpetrated in our land. This matter is not only about Governor Samuel Ortom.
"Benue sons- home and abroad-, who think that they are not affected by the crisis must know that we are all casualties whether we are at home or not. They should raise their voices to condemn the injustice being visited on us. This is no time for politicking.
"They should send relief materials to those in IDP camps and also solicit the support of international donor organisations to come to the aid of our people.
"Finally, we wish to call on Nigerians who love justice, peace and equity, to rise and condemn what is happening to the innocent people of Benue State.
"The killer herdsmen are still here with us. They have resorted to guerrilla warfare. They now attack our people in their sleep and leave their familiar trademark of death. Enough is enough", she said.
Also lending her voice to the cry, former Vice Chancellor of Benue State University, Prof. Charity Angya, who spoke on behalf of Zone A women, called on the president to defend the people of Benue and the entire country.
"We voted the government in power because we expected good governance. We didn't expect that our lands would be taken away and they would kill us. We can no longer defend ourselves because all weapons of defence have been taken away from us.
"We are calling on the president to protect and defend us. Let the government stand up and do what they are supposed to do. We stand firmly behind the governor to say there is nothing like grazing reserve but ranching," Angya said.
Mrs. Lydia Anzam, who spoke for the Zone B women, decried the dangerous dimension the herdsmen's attacks had taken not only in Benue but the entire country.
Anzam said: "We, Benue Concerned Mothers, are crying for the whole country. This issue did not start today but it has aggravated because our president has been taking sides. We are calling on the president to come out and tell us why the herdsmen..(sic..) have waged war on the Middle Belt and the South, and who is defending us.
"The efforts the president has made in the past are not good enough. We want him to do more to defend us because we can no longer defend ourselves. War has been declared on us and he should rise up and fight for us. We commend our governor."
Also, Evangelist Owakoyi Egharuwa, a former chairman of Agatu Local Government Area, who spoke on behalf of Zone C women, also urged the president to intervene and stop the killings by herdsmen: "Our major cry is that the president should intervene. When it comes to crisis, women are always on the side of peace but when women begin to cry out, then people must act. The killings are still going on. We want to be heard and our President must come out and defend us."
Jennifer Gbishe-Igoh, who spoke on behalf of civil society organisations, lamented that, for eight years, she has not been able to go to her village to see the graves of her parents, all because her community has been occupied by herdsmen. She, therefore, called on President Buhari to intervene.
"I stand to speak for all those who cannot speak for themselves. I cannot see my father's grave, for the past eight years, because they have taken over our community and if you dare go there, you can be killed.
"We are crying because this is happening everywhere, including in the North. Come to our rescue. We do not have AK-47 but we have AK-God. We don't want to go to war because we are a people of peace but don't drag us to war. We will keep crying. We are not going to stop. We stand behind the governor to say we don't want open grazing but ranching," she said.