By Nathaniel Ikyur
Governor Samuel Ortom of Benue State is not the usual Nigerian politician. He’s not given to pretensions. And he does not massage anyone’s ego. He speaks as the occasion demands, moreso, when it concerns the wellbeing of the people he swore to protect and preserve. And he’s careful in his choice of words. When he does, he flows with ease and clarity but full of sound punchlines.
A few days ago, Governor Ortom stirred the hornest nest on the raging security challenges in the country. Coming straight from isolation, after he had tested negative for COVID-19, the governor was obviously fed up with the Federal Government for paying lipservice to insecurity in the country. This is not the first time the governor will be shouting from Benue. From Benue to Plateau, Taraba, Nasarawa, Katsina, Sokoto, Ogun, Zamfara, Ondo, Ekiti and the south eastern states, Nigeria is under siege by Fulani herdsmen. It’s obvious they’re on a conquest mission.
What the governor said was nothing unusual. It was a wake-up call. And it’s been on the lips of every patriotic Nigerian. That it’s time the Presidency act before the country collapses on all of us. The general insecurity in the country is now being propelled by the territorial conquest of Fulani herdsmen. They’ve continously invaded communities, killing, maiming, raping and destroying everything in sight. It is the politics of conquest energised by Fulani socio-cultural organisations like Miyetti Allah Kautal Hore and MACBAN rather than the economic benefits of rearing cattle. They seek to subjugate communities and eventually conquer them. And this is compounded by the loud silence from the central government.
In June and October 2017, Governor Ortom first alerted President Buhari on the threats by the leadership of Miyetti Allah against Benue state because of the law prohibiting open grazing the state passed in July 2017. In the correspondences, the governor highlighted the threats by the leadership of the group. The Association through their national President, Alhaji Abdullahi Bodejo and National Secretary, Saleh Alhassan threatened to wreck havoc on the state if the law was not scrapped. They were quoted widely in national news mediums and online media platforms. They promised to “deploy every means and mobilise their people to resist the implementation in the state.” No arrest was made even after the governor had called for their arrest.
Rather, the governor was castigated and called names. Members of his former party, the All Progressives Congress, APC, disowned him. They even attempted to impeach him but failed woefully. Shortly after that, the inevitable happened.
On January 1 and 2, 2018, there were deadly and coordinated attacks by armed Fulani herdsmen on several communities in Logo and Guma Local Government areas of Benue State. At the end of that invasion, 73 innocent Benue citizens were murdered in their sleep.
After this attack, Governor Ortom in another letter in late January 2018 to the President, re-recalled the inflamatory statements by the National Vice President of MACBAN, Husaini Yusuf Bosso, who had vowed at a world press conference in Abuja, that, “More blood will be shed in the state if the Anti-Open Grazing Law” introduced was not completely scrapped. Fulani Nationality Movement, FUNAM in a separate press release by Badu Salisu Ahmadu and Umar Amir Shehu dated 13th and 14th January 2018 also threatened that “the cattle colony is the only solution to the crises.” Again, the governor specifically called on the Federal Government to arrest these gentlemen to avert this calamity. No action was taken. Rather, another deadly attack was carried out on the Catholic Church in a sleepy community in the state in April 2018.
Two Catholic Priests, Rev Fr. Joseph Gor and Rev. Fr. Felix Tyoloha alongside thirteen worshippers were murdered during a morning mass at St. Ignatius Catholic Church, Ayar-Mbalom in Gwer local government area of Benue state. Governor Ortom again demanded that the leadership of Miyetti Allah be arrested. It fell on deaf ears. None of them was ever invited by any security agency for questioning for making inflammatory and emphatic declarations supporting violence and encouraging a violation of laws enacted by state governments. The only ‘soothing words’ Benue got from the President and his appointees were that Benue should learn to live with their neighbours. Neighbours indeed!.
One of such uncouth comments was by former Defence Minister, Brig Gen Mansur Dan Ali. He had ignorantly insinuated that Fulani were killing in Benue because the Anti-Open Grazing Law blocked grazing routes. There has been no such law in Benue between 2013 and April 2017, yet herdsmen invaded communities and killed citizens on their ancestral lands. There are also no such laws prohibiting open grazing in states like Katsina, Zamfara, Plateau, Ondo etc, yet the Fulani herdsmen have continued to kill. Why?
Make no mistake, Ortom is not against Fulani who are indigenous in Nigeria but against those French speaking militia Fulani herdsmen from Mali, Niger, Chad and Senegal who are here to conquer.
It is the same story of conquest in Zagon Kataf and Kachia local governments in Kaduna state. In 1987, a 70,000 hectare grazing reserve was created. By 1990, it was changed to Laduga Grazing Reserve. It is said that Laduga is a Fulani word. The natives can’t access the land.
It is truly amazing the level of recognition the federal government accords the association of cattle rearers. Can pig or goat farmers get same attention? Or do groups need to threaten and practice violence to attain this level of recognition? It’s clear some form of undeserved recognition is promoting violence in this country.
So, what Governor Ortom is asking the President is simple: can the President “do right to all manner of people, according to law, without fear or favour, affection or ill-will” as he swore on oath?
Ortom, like many other patriotic Nigerians are worried about the inability of the federal government to contain the excesses of the herdsmen. Professor Wole Soyinka too is afraid the conflict between herders and farmers could degenerate into a civil war if not quickly checked. Soyinka have asked President Buhari to address the nation “in stern, unambiguous terms that, as a patron of cattle rearers, he ran his business on tidy business plans and not by kidnapping, killing and raping of Nigerians.” But will he do it?
Things are really getting out of hand. And it’s because we’ve allowed this to fester for too long. Those who should speak out are hiding, pretending that all is well. All is not well. That is why Governor Ortom has chosen to be the voice. So the earlier the president takes steps to salvage this situation and restore our dignity that’s being rubbished, the better.
Let the federal government listen to what Governor Ortom and others are saying. For how long will it take to arrest those behind the murderous activities whose identities are not hidden? In this 21st century, is it not ripe for the federal government to endorse ranching as the best form of animal husbandry as a panacea to the farmers/herders conflict? Can’t the Presidency feel the suspicion, distrust, fear and anger from all parts of the country that’s capable of degenerating into violence and break up of Nigeria? Will they listen to this patriotic call by Governor Ortom and act now? I pray they do before it’s too late.
Ikyur is the Principal Special Assistant on Media to the Governor of Benue State.