Tears of blood flowed freely from blood shot eyes in Makurdi, the Benue state capital when 73 dead bodies, victims of the New Year day massacre by fulani herdsmen were given a mass burial by the benue state government last week. Notable benue sons and daughters graced the occasion including the governor, Dr Samuel Ortom and as expected there was widespread condemnation of the massacre with some like Chief Paul Unongo, second republic politician and leader of the Northern Elders Forum, who is also the spiritual and ancestral leader of the benue people, issuing a threat to raise an army to defend the benue people from such senseless killings by marauding herdsmen in the future.
Some of the developments on this issue of the benue killings is quite troubling and worrisome. The proposed plan by the Federal Government of Nigeria to establish cattle colonies in all states of the federation to prevent open grazing by fulani herdsmen has drawn flak from several quarters. The sentimental attachment that most Nigerians of all tribes have to land has made many to rightly or wrongly interpret this move as an integral part of Buhari’s plan to Islamize Nigeria. The Movement for the Actualization of the Sovereign State of Biafra (MASSOB), has issued a warning to the federal government and all Igbo politicians not to attempt or support any attempt to establish cattle colonies anywhere in the south east. I have a problem with the word “colonies” as not only does it connotes the subjugation of a group of people but it is also reminiscent of the evils of colonialism that Nigeria suffered under Britain. Why is it so difficult for the government to call it cattle ranches which is the universally accepted name? Could this be a subtle confirmation of the alleged plan by Buhari to continue the 19th century jihad of his forebears towards southern Nigeria until they dip the Sword of Islam into the Atlantic Ocean? Cattle ranching is a private business both in Nigeria and overseas and even President Muhammadu Buhari himself owns a ranch in Katsina. Does it make financial sense for the government to use taxpayers money to empower people who are engaged in a private business which is neither a significant contributor to our GDP nor a staple which Nigerians cannot do without?
The statement by Anthony Sani, National Secretary of the Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF) concerning the benue killings is regrettable and should be condemned by all and sundry. He said “The ACF has set up a committee on how best to handle the anti-open grazing law which has been a bone of contention. The constitution of the committee became necessary because it strongly believed the clashes bordered on occupation rather than ethnicity or religion”. He went ahead to blame governors for enacting laws which are not implementable and fulani herdsmen for not forgiving those who offended them. To begin with, his statement on the killings attempted to make it look like a quarrel among brothers which it is not. It is a crime committed against the benue people and in order to prevent a repeat of such killings in the future, the perpetrators of this dastardly act must be fished out and prosecuted. He also referred to the killings as a clash which it also is not. Rather, it was one-sided as heavily armed fulani herdsmen descended on innocent and helpless farmers whose only offence was carrying out their legitimate business. Finally, he blamed both the governor and the fulani herdsmen. In response to that, let it be known to all that Governor Ortom was duly elected by the benue people to serve and protect their interests. He was not elected by fulani herdsmen neither is he supposed to protect their interests. I am not even aware of any fulanis who are indigines of benue state. Is it wrong for the governor to make a law which is in the interest of the people who elected him? Can the governor of kaduna state make a law which is against the interest of the hausa/fulani but in the interest of non-indigenes just because of the presence of a sizeable number of non-indigenes who live and work in the state? What does Anthony Sani mean by saying “laws that are not implementable” bearing in mind that he is referring to a state governor and not the Senior Prefect of a secondary school?
I condemn the statements attributed to the governors of Nassarawa and Plateau states, Messrs Umaru Tanko Al-makura and Simon Lalong, that they warned Governor Ortom not to implement the anti-open grazing law as it would lead to unnecesary crisis. They easily forget that it was an attempt by Governor Ortom to put an end to the unending massacres of the benue people by fulani herdsmen since 2011 that precipitated the anti-open grazing law in the first instance. Moreover, i consider them as nothing but meddlesome interlopers who rather than focus on governance in their states are more interested in the non passage of a bill that had over 90% of the benue people supporting it.
The statements of leaders of Miyetti Allah betrays insensitivity and blackmail. What exactly do they mean when they say “We condemn the killings but oppose the anti-open grazing law in benue”? Let me attempt an interpretation. “The killings in benue are as a result of the anti-open grazing law. Repeal the law and there will be peace.
When news of the killings first broke, the Inspector General of Police, Mr Ibrahim Idris said it was a communal clash and only 20 people were killed. It later turned out that it was not a communal clash but an invasion by an armed group and 73 people were killed. When Governor Ortom said that fulani herdsmen had a camp in Tunga, Awe local government area of Nassarawa state from where they launch attacks on farmers in benue, the IGP responded by saying that there were processes for arrest and that he would send an investigative team to Nassarawa to verify the governor’s claims. Till date, nothing has been heard and no action has been taken. I think the IGP and the police need to recuse themselves from this case as they are incapable of addressing the security challenges in benue.
The solution to the ongoing genocide is for the military to be drafted in to restore peace through the establishment of a military base in benue. Governor Samuel Ortom and prominent benue indigenes both at home and abroad should reach out to the International Community in order to stop this pogrom. Media evidence (voice recordings, video recordings tweet, e.t.c) of threats by leaders of Miyetti Allah to annihilate the benue people should be filed in the prosecutor’s office of the International Criminal Court at the Hague, in the Netherlands charging them with crimes against humanity and genocide against the benue people. They should also write to and meet with the leaders or the representatives of the leaders of the United Nations, European Union and the five permanent members of the UN security council namely U.S.A, Britain, China, Russia and France seeking the labelling of Miyetti Allah as a terrorist group including travel bans and asset freezes on their leaders.
It is a sad commentary on the state of affairs in our nation that the value of human life is next to zero. It is so cheap that to some people the lives of cattle has a greater value than human life. We need to regain our humanity.