It is so difficult to understand why Nigerian authorities are unconcerned about the mass killings of the people of Benue State by terrorists and militia groups in almost a weekly basis. Children, women and even pregnant moms are slaughtered every now and then in many parts of the state by terrorists and ethnic militias in the plains and troughs of Benue.
There’s neither been a word from the Federal Government condemning the attacks nor any noticeable action from the law enforcement institutions to tackle the problems in recent months.
The state’s commissioner for Information, Mr Mike Inelagwu said in a recent interview that over 5,000 people have been killed in the state by militias and terrorists in the last seven years. Many have been displaced and are quartered in various IDP camps. Inelagwu states that the murderers come in from the neighbouring Nassarawa State and attack border communities like Guma, Agatu, Markudi, and Logo. Two weeks ago, 34 people were massacred in Guma. The motive of the killers is to subjugate the people, exterminate them and take over their lands for cattle grazing. The victims are hapless villagers who live in hamlets and cultivate the farms.
Benue, Taraba and Plateau are some of the nation’s main food producers, particularly tubers, grains and fruits. These killings have negatively affected food production and increased food inflation. While the killings seem to have subsided in Plateau and Taraba in recent times, there is no letting up in Benue. The killers are fighting back against Benue state government’s anti-grazing law which forbids herders from roaming around with their cattle. But the herdsmen prefer to wander around the cities and go into farmlands with their cattle. The state government wants the animals kept in ranches as is the practice in many other countries. To weaken the resolve of the government and have the law repealed, the herdsmen and the militias routinely launch nocturnal attacks against hapless citizens. These killings have become the most systematic and organized ethnic cleansing program ever launched against a people in this country since the pre-civil war pogrom of 1966 and 1967 in Northern Nigeria when Igbos and some southerners were murdered.
I am appalled that despite all these slaughters in Benue, the Buhari administration and the federal authorities, including the law enforcement agencies, are looking away. How could there be such mass murders of civilians in a country that is not at war, yet the authorities have never brought anybody to book? It is shocking and frightening that nobody has ever been interrogated, prosecuted or jailed for the killings in Benue State. Is this a conspiracy against the people? I do not know of any other country in the world where citizens would be mowed down daily by marauders and terrorists and the government appears unconcerned. It is shocking! As I indicated in a recent article, the weakness of our institutions, the dominance of powerful and influential people who appear stronger than the state and the absence of rule of law make a mockery of our democracy. Clearly, these killers must be enjoying some level of official protection or sympathy. The impunity continues to embolden them.
I note that in recent months, our military and police have recorded some successes against Boko Haram in the North East and IPOB in the South East. I commend them. Overall, our law enforcement agencies are always quick to deal with rioters and political agitators in the country. The DSS recently warned some politicians against actions that may undermine President Buhari’s transition to the new administration. Information Minister Lai Mohammed has even levelled accusation of treason against Peter Obi for daring to challenge the victory of APC in the last elections. Even Prof Wole Soyinka, renowned for always speaking out against injustice, has recently lashed out at certain noisy citizens (he calls them fascists, but they call themselves Obidients). Our lovely and indefatigable Chimamanda Adichie has complained about the elections to the White House and politely upbraided Prof Soyinka for his harsh comments about the Obidients. The political discourse has been quite animated, but, sadly, nobody remembers the poor villagers in Benue State. Why are our elites so indifferent to the atrocities in Benue? Why has it been so difficult for our military, police and DSS to rise up against the murderers terrorizing and killing people in Benue? Of what use is a government that cannot protect the most vulnerable members of the population?
A Reverend gentleman, Father Hyacinth Alia, has just been elected governor of Benue on the platform of APC. He campaigned on the basis of security of lives and property, and promised to establish “permanent integrated force operation bases for security men at all flash points’’ in the state. He also plans to rehabilitate and resettle displaced persons in their ancestral homes and set up emergency tollfree phone numbers and short codes to facilitate quick response from the security forces. He will not repeal the anti-grazing bill which the terrorists seem to be fighting against. I encourage Father Alia to work hard behind the scenes and collaborate with the security agencies to contain these terrorists. Gov. Samuel Ortom did his best to protect his people, but unfortunately, the killings have continued unabated. The next governor should leave politics out of security matters and work with the federal authorities to deal decisively with these problems. There should not be any form of appeasement; rather those who kill innocent people should face the full wrath of the law. President Buhari has been severely criticized for poor handling of the killings. Some claim that he condoned the herdsmen because they are Fulani like him. I look forward to seeing how differently President Bola Tinubu will handle the problem.
ETIM ETIM is a journalist, banker and author. He has been a member of the Editorial Board of The Guardian, a Regional Manager in Access Bank and is currently a Columnist in Prime Business Africa, The Cable and Businessday newspapers.
He is also the Chief Executive of Stein Meyer Communications, a major media consultancy and the author of the best-selling book, "Akwa Ibom Heroes: Inside Story of the Fight for Abrogation of Onshore-Offshore Oil Dichotomy" and co-author of another book, "Osinbajo Strides: Defining Moments of an Innovative Leader".