By Erasmus Ikhide
It emerged yesterday against the earlier supposition that Governor Samuel Ortom of Benue State values his selfish political destiny over and above the unremitting killings and the worsening humanitarian turmoil President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration visited on Nigerians for doing nothing about Fulani herders’ genocide — the type never witnessed since the end of the country’s Civil War.
It doesn’t need retelling that majority of Benue people heaved a sigh of relief when Governor Ortom appeared on a national television militantly — saying that the leadership of the APC in the state had waved a red card in his direction. Not done yet, the Governor quipped thus: “the life of my people is more important than anything else”. Governor Ortom’s celebrated ‘exit’ from the blood embracing political party was immediately followed by the resignation of Mr Agbo Terkula, the APC Publicity Secretary.
Like Mr Ortom, Mr Agbo roared: “The APC, which controls the government at the centre, does not represent the yearnings and aspirations of the people of Benue State,” he claimed in his resignation letter. He regretted the “unprovoked killings” of rural farmers by herdsmen, displacement from farmlands and the plight of the Internally Displaced Persons in the state.
He added that some of the “reckless comments” by top political appointees of the Federal Government had exacerbated the killings. He claimed that overtures had been made to him not to resign his membership of the party, but stated that to remain in the party would amount to “trading his life and conscience and the future of the state.”
But just a few hours after his televised exit from the APC, Governor Ortom returned to his vomit to the chagrin of his people and Nigerians who had thought his exit from the central ruling party would step President Buhari up to the plague and rein in his murderous Fulani herders that adopted him as their grand patron.
One would have thought that the sweeping ethnic cleansing in Benue State and elsewhere — coupled with the humanitarian crisis at the Benue overcrowded eight IDPs camps of over 100,000 refugees — where several of them died recently of alleged starvation and rape would have be sufficient a reason for the directionless governor to seek the salvation of his people and political solution out the APC.
For the record, the north-central part of the country has been the hardest hit where herders invade and overrun people’s farmlands without compensation from the federal government. Yet, the same federal government has dedicated N179 billion naira to build cattle colony for private businessmen because the Fulani pastoralists are of the same ethnic group as President Buhari.
This year alone, hundreds of people have been killed and houses destroyed in Benue, Kogi, Nasarawa, Plateau, Taraba and Zamfara States. Not heard of this? That’s the problem.
On February 20, the Nigerian Army launched operation ‘Ayem Akpatuma’ or ‘Cat Race’ in Tiv to halt the violence, yet attacks in the farming communities by the herdsmen have continued. Statistics has shown that between 2015 and now since Mr. Buhari took office as Nigerian President, more than 1,600 innocent Benue farmers who toil the earth day and night without any help from the federal government have been slaughtered by Fulani herders in cold blood!
The killings in Benue and nationwide prompted Theophilus Danjuma, Nigeria-Biafra Civil War veteran, former Chief of Army Staff and former Minister of Defence to accused the army of bias in curtailing the violence. “Every one of us must rise up,” he said at the time. “The armed forces are not neutral. They collude. They collude with the armed bandits that kill people, kill Nigerians. They facilitate their movement, they cover them.
“If you are depending on the armed forces to stop the killings, you will all die one by one. The ethnic cleansing must stop in Taraba State, must stop in all the states of Nigeria. Otherwise, Somalia will be a child’s play. I ask every one of you to be alert and defend your country, defend your territory, defend your state. You have nowhere else to go.”
Gen. T. Y. Danjuma is not far from the truth. According to the Global Terrorism Index, Fulani herdsmen were responsible for more deaths than Boko Haram in 2016. The Fulani militants were named the fourth deadliest terrorist group in the world in 2014 and the Global Terrorism Index shows that the Fulani extremists have killed over 5,000 people in Nigeria between 2012 and 2016.
A knee-jerk reaction by the Federal Government has given rise to speculation of a sinister plan by the Fulani pastoralists to dispossess inhabitants of their ancestral farmlands. President Buhari’s media adviser has on two occasions told Nigerians in a televised program to give up their ancestral lands or get killed by the terrorist Fulani herders.
Mansur Dan-Ali, Minister of Defense, had also blamed farmers and anti-open grazing law for the crisis. “Since the nation’s Independence, we know there used to be a route followed by the cattle-rearers because they are all over the nation,” he said. “You go to Bayelsa, Ogun, you will see them. If those routes are blocked, what do you expect will happen? These people are Nigerians. It is just like one going to block shoreline, does that make sense to you?”
The cattle route, if it existed as the defence minister described, is certainly no longer visible in the states where clashes between farmers and herders have been frequently occurring. Or rather, the herders have not been adhering to the route. The herdsmen are certainly everywhere – in cities and villages – grazing their cattle indiscriminately and criminally, destroying farms.
It’s clear that a few crocodile tears that forcefully squeezed out of Mr. Ortom’s eyes over the relentless slaughtering of Benue people were merely to mock the death or disdainfully dance on their grave. Governor Ortom is aware that all his efforts to bring the rampaging Fulani herders to subjection have been met with resistance by the Inspector-General of Police Mr. Ibrahim Idris and the Minister of Defence who have told him to forget the anti-grazing law passed by Benue House of Assembly. The Defence Minister and the IG of Police are both Buhari’s Fulani ethnic brothers with a mandate to see through the success of the ethnic cleansing across the country.
The troubling aspect is President Buhari’s pretentious vacillation. Today, the President will tell Governor Ortom to go and embrace the killer herders because they do not carry weapons. At another time, Buhari will tell the global community that the killers are from Libya who do not wish Nigerians well.
The victims of this ethnic cleansing in Benue and elsewhere, who are mostly peasant farmers in remote communities, abandoned and neglected by the Federal Government can only extricate themselves from the agony of Buhari’s and Ortom’s mindless government, comes 2019 — if they’re unable to defend themselves as Gen. T. Y Danjuma advised.
As for Governor Samuel Ortom’s un-turning point of indiscretion, listlessness, waywardness and deceptive betrayal of Benue people, it’s the actual age of Nigerian political life where both the leaders and the led alike sell their souls to the devil.
Erasmus writes from Lagos
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