The Presidency says it is both unfair and unkind for anyone to keep insinuating that President Muhammadu Buhari is condoning the spate of killings in Benue and other neighboring states.
The Senior Special Assistant to the President on Media and Publicity, Malam Garba Shehu, said this in a statement on Tuesday.
He said Buhari had been concerned about these conflicts each time he received those very gruesome pictures of mayhem from several parts of the country, especially as it affected Benue and neighbouring states.
Shehu said the president was equally worried about some public pronouncements and finger-pointing that were, in most cases, very unhelpful to peaceful coexistence of the nation’s diverse peoples.
"The President is conscious of his duty to Nigerians, not least because he is held accountable for everything that goes wrong. He deeply sympathizes with the families and all the other direct and indirect victims of this violence. He is determined to bring it to a permanent end.
"While there are many Nigerians who see the conflict between the nomadic herdsmen and peasant farmers as an ethnic problem, others point to religious differences and agenda. The President does not subscribe to such simplistic reductionism.
"President Buhari holds the view, as do many experts, that these conflicts are more often than not, as a result of major demographic changes in Nigeria. When Nigeria attained independence, the population of the country was estimated at about 63,000,000.
Today the population is estimated at close to 200,000,000; while the land size has not changed and will not change. Urban sprawl and development have simply reduced land area both for peasant farming and cattle grazing," he stated.
He added that Buhari had publicly condemned the violence at every turn and that "he is prepared to permit every possible step that can lead to the stoppage of the killings."
He said it was on account of this that the president brushed aside an opinion that the federal government should challenge the constitutionality of the anti-open grazing bill.
The presidential spokesman explained that Buhari wanted to give a chance to the state government to succeed in stopping the senseless killings.
"It will be recalled that as he did in dealing with the Boko Haram insurgency in northeast Nigeria, which required sustained action from the government before it was finally curtailed, President Buhari gave the relevant mandates to the country’s security agencies to put a stop to the Benue killings. The killings must stop and the security agencies have the President’s support to do this as quickly as possible," he said.
Shehu cautioned that whipping up hate might captivate the public and score political points on social media, but it would not bring an end to the crisis.
He said every stakeholder should instead sit down with the government and security forces and carry everyone along in finding an all-embracing solution.
"As a father, a military General and a statesman, President Buhari has maintained lasting relationships with Nigerians, Muslims and Christians among every ethnic group. It is also a known fact that the young people who trek the whole distance of thousands of kilometers tending the cattle do not own the cattle.
"In fact many of the cattle are not owned by Fulanis or Muslims. The point is that it is too simplistic to see the conflict as ethnic or religious," the presidential aide said.
He said the president sought the support and cooperation of all citizens and the media in particular, to join hands with his administration to find permanent solutions and not to aggravate or escalate tensions in all conflict areas of the country.
According to him to find short term and long term solutions to frequent conflicts between farmers and cattle rearers, the Presidency is coming up with a conference of stakeholders on infrastructural and agricultural development to put in place a plan for immediate relief and long term plan for the expansion of agriculture in the country.
He said the conference would tap into experiences and best practices to draw up a planned development 20-30 years ahead based on population and development projections and would take into consideration environmental impacts.