Despite losing hundreds of people to a bloody herdsmen/farmers crisis in 2018, President Muhammadu Buhari told residents of Benue State that the country has done much better in security than when he was sworn in.
The killing of hundreds of residents, mostly in rural areas, allegedly carried out by cattle herders have been considered to be an escalation of lingering conflict between nomadic herdsmen and local farmers, especially in the Middle Belt, over the access and control of lands.
Tensions between both parties have long ago resulted in the armed conflicts that have been coloured by ethnic and religious sentiments that have worsened the problem.
In January 2018 alone, 73 men, women and children were buried at a mass burial ceremony organised by the state government after several attacks carried out by suspected cattle herders. Thousands more have been displaced by the crisis.
While speaking at the presidential rally of the All Progressives Congress (APC) at the Aper Aku Stadium in Makurdi, the state capital, on Wednesday, February 6, 2019, Buhari failed to acknowledge the killings at all.
Instead, he said the state was "very lucky" to have been peaceful when he assumed government in 2015. He then went on to talk about how his government has defeated terrorist group, Boko Haram, in the neighbouring northeast region.
He said, "On security, you are very lucky Benue State was relatively peaceful then, but the people of the northeast, they know what they were going through.
"Boko Haram used to occupy at least 17 local governments. We thank the military, they (Boko Haram) are now holding no single local government.
"They have reverted to arming young girls and boys and sending them to churches, mosques, market places, motor parks and explode and kill everybody within their range. We're doing much better."
Benue was devastated by violent killings in 2018
According to the 2018 Global Terrorism Index (GTI), which measures the impact of terrorism across the world, nearly 1,700 violent deaths were attributed to Fulani herdsmen in attacks carried out between January and September 2018.
The report noted that they killed six times more people than those killed by Boko Haram in 2018.
The GTI report noted that the large-scale violence was perpetrated by herders and farmers "who engage in mass village raids" that involved wanton violence.
The report also noted that the escalation was as a result of population growth, desertification and the distribution of arms throughout Nigeria.
It also described the conflict as an economic plight which has forced herders to aggressively push into the south to feed their cattle.
Benue, Plateau, Kaduna and Taraba were identified as the worst-hit states in Nigeria for these clashes.
At the height of the crisis, the president, a Fulani man himself, notably rejected the insinuations that the killings had ethnic motivations. He made several claims that herders don't arm themselves with guns and blamed the killings on the invasion of armed gunmen from the Sahel region spreading violence in Nigeria and other parts of West Africa sub-region.
The president's comments attracted widespread outrage as he was accused of shielding his kinsmen from the fallout of the attacks.
Benue State governor, Samuel Ortom, dumped Buhari's ruling APC for the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) last year allegedly for lack of support and the Federal Government's inadequate response to the killings in the state.
Buhari confident of Benue's support
During his brief address on Wednesday, Buhari said the turn out at the rally convinced him that residents of the state believe in what his government is doing and has their support.
He declared that he's done very well in improving the nation's economy and vowed to continue to fight corruption.
"We'll do the roads, we'll do the railway, we'll bring power with whatever money we can recover from the looters.
"I assure you, I am not going to change. I am going to be consistent, I will remain steadfast. Anybody who abuses trust will be exposed and dispossessed," the president said.
Buhari, 76, is seeking re-election with the PDP's Atiku Abubakar, a former vice president, considered his most formidable challenger.
They both face competition from 70 other candidates including Donald Duke of the Social Democratic Party (SDP), Kingsley Moghalu of the Young Progressive Party (YPP), Fela Durotoye of the Alliance for New Nigeria (ANN), and Omoyele Sowore of the African Action Congress (AAC).
Others are Tope Fasua of the Abundance Nigeria Renewal Party (ANRP), Eunice Atuejide of the National Interest Party (NIP), Adesina Fagbenro-Byron of the Kowa Party (KP), Chike Ukaegbu of the Advanced Allied Party (AAP), Hamza Al-Mustapha of the People's Party of Nigeria (PPN), Obadiah Mailafia of the African Democratic Congress (ADC), Gbenga Olawepo-Hashim of Peoples Trust (PT) and many more.
Source: Pulse Nigeria