President Muhammadu Buhari has blamed the increase in the attacks by herdsmen and the accompanying loss of lives and property in some states of the federation on the influx of armed men from the Sahel region.
He described them as men trained and armed by the late Muammar Gadaffi of Libya.
The spate of killings by suspected herdsmen in the country and the inability to stem the tide has been considered to be the Buhari administration’s weakest point.
Critics have accused the president of looking the other way while the herdsmen, said to be the president’s kinsmen, continue to attack innocent citizens.
But speaking when he received the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, in London on Wednesday, Buhari explained that the herdsmen-farmer clash had been in existence before he came to government.
He however said the situation was worsened by the influx of gunmen from the Sahel region.
According to him, the gunmen were some of those who escaped with arms when Muammar Gadaffi of Libya died.
His words: “The problem is even older than us. It has always been there, but now made worse by the influx of armed gunmen from the Sahel region into different parts of the West African sub-region. These gunmen were trained and armed by Muammar Gadaffi of Libya. When he was killed, the gunmen escaped with their arms. We encountered some of them fighting with Boko Haram.
“Herdsmen that we used to know carried only sticks and maybe a cutlass to clear the way, but these ones now carry sophisticated weapons.”
The president said the problem was not religious, but sociological and economic.
He however assured that the government was working on how to stem the tide.
“The problem is not religious, but sociological and economic. But we are working on solutions,” he assured.
The president also said “irresponsible politics” had been brought into the farmers-herders’ crisis, but stated that enduring solutions would be found, and justice done to all concerned.
On Leah Sharibu, the schoolgirl from Dapchi still being held by insurgents, reportedly because she refused to renounce her Christian faith, the President said:
“We are managing the matter quietly. Making noise would not help. We are collecting as much intelligence as possible, working with the Red Cross and other international organisations. There are too many fraudulent people around, who claim they can do this and that. We won’t deal with them. That was how we got the Dapchi girls back, and the Chibok girls.”
During the meeting, Buhari also explained why he declared his intentions to run for another term in office on Monday, during the National Executive Committee (NEC) meeting of the All Progressives Congress (APC).
“I declared before leaving home because Nigerians were talking too much about whether I would run or not. So, I felt I should break the ice. We have many things to focus on, like security, agriculture, economy, anti-corruption, and many others. We needed to concentrate on them, and politics should not be a distraction. The majority of Nigerians appreciate what we are doing, and that is why I am re-contesting,” he said.
He recounted some successes of the administration to his guest.
“We have cut the importation of rice by about 90%, saving billions of dollars in the process. People who rushed into petrol money have now gone back to agriculture. Even professionals have gone back to the land. Nigeria should be able to feed itself comfortably soon. I am so pleased,” the president said.
In his statement, Archbishop Welby said it was always a delight to see President Buhari, “whom I have tremendous respect for.”
He added: “You have my best wishes on your recent decision. I read your declaration speech. We are neutral as a church, but we will pray for you. Great statesmen are those who run for the good of their country. We will be praying for you.”
The Archbishop presented President Buhari with a copy of his recent book, ‘Reimagining Britain. Foundations for Hope.’