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Herdsmen Attacks: Governor Ortom And His 'Committee On Snakes'

By Ushakuma Anenga
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Two days ago, a deadly snake was killed by a student at Benue State University medical school. According to eyewitnesses, the snake was lurking around the male hostel, trying to enter one of the rooms when a student saw and killed it. The student could have as well left the snake alone so that he will report what he saw to the school authorities the next day.

I believe the Provost of the medical school, seeing the “urgency” of the matter, would appoint someone to look into the issue. That person will advertise for companies to tender bids for the contract to fumigate the entire school in order to exterminate all snakes and other pests. That will take weeks or even months and after everything is done, the snake of that day will be killed, but only God’s knows how many students will bite before then.

By killing that snake on sight, the lives of medical students were protected. They could go on and take further measures to protect against future occurrences but first things first, the index snake that posed real time danger was killed. This is why Ross Perot said, “If you see a snake, just kill it – don’t appoint a committee on snakes”.

Benue State is a sorry tale as far as security is concerned. The people are not safe from threats, both within and without, resulting in several deaths. Many of these incidents are not reported in the media. Just last week Monday, unknown gunmen attacked Tor Donga in Katsina-Ala local government, burning houses and shooting sporadically with scores, especially women and children, feared dead and many injured. Nobody has said a word about it.

The state is also a hotbed for attacks from Fulani herdsmen who descend on communities with thousands of cattle to graze on the ancestral landed heritage of indigents by force. Whoever challenges them is sent to join their ancestors, or chased away and rendered a refugee in his fatherland. This scenario has played out for years unabated. Our leaders instead of killing the snake, set up “committees on snakes” year in, year out with the same results. I will talk more on this further down.

It’s unfortunate that the people are defenceless. The government has done little or nothing to solve this perennial problem. Several administrations have come and gone, yet nobody has learned enough to take proactive steps that will ameliorate the situation. It is even worse now that we have a Fulani man, Muhammadu Buhari as President. He has remained silent over the issue. At best, he includes the matter amongst other security issues in the country just for completeness, with no specific actionable plan to solve the problem. With over 1,000 lives lost to bloodthirsty herdsmen since Buhari became president, not one person has been arrested. The Vice President, Yemi Osinbajo, when quizzed by western media said 800 herdsmen are in custody. That remains on paper as nobody has been displayed by police or charged to court to this effect.

Miyetti Allah, the strong umbrella organisation of herdsmen worldwide who usually are not shy to claim responsibility for the massacre of farmers, often giving reasons to justify their actions, has never been called to order. In fact, President Buhari is their lifelong patron so your guess is as good as mine.

You will agree with me that Fulani herdsmen are the only people that have refused to modernise the modus operandi of their business. Farmers have since abolished the farming method of shifting cultivation; slave trade and other crude methods of trade have long been prohibited and laws promulgated to prevent same, but Fulani herdsmen are still practicing 17th century nomadic farming in this jet age, whipping cattle from Sokoto to Porthacourt, selling unpasteurized milk and shedding blood in their wake.

All these notwithstanding, President Buhari and his northern comrades in the National Assembly have squashed all efforts to bring civility to the business of cattle rearing as practised by Fulani herdsmen. Senator Barnabas Gemade’s bill that seeks to establish National ranches across the country came to a dead end last week. The Senate decided that the bill, along with others that bothered around the Fulani herdsmen issue, should be withdrawn and states allowed to deal with the situation individually. Let me quote them: “… unfortunately, we do not have powers to legislate on matters relating to livestock in this Assembly. It is a matter reserved to the states.” Can you imagine that the highest decision-making body in the country that has the power even to impeach the President, don’t have powers to legislate on livestock matters?

You’ll be thinking the reference of the matter to individual states is an advantage as leaders will take decisions in best interest of their people; not until you are from Benue State where good strolls at snail-speed and evil orchestrated at the speed of light.

Earlier this year, Benue State Governor, Samuel Ortom set up a meeting with his Nassarawa State counterpart, Alhaji Tanko Almakura in a bid to end the incessant invasion of communities in Benue State. Nassarawa State is renewed for harbouring and providing passage for Fulani herdsmen into communities in Benue, especially those along the river where the grass is most juicy. There they graze, wreck havoc on farmlands and kill with reckless abandon.

Governor Ortom, therefore, signed an agreement with the Nassarawa state. In that agreement, which I possess a copy, Benue State government for whatever reason agreed to grant unhindered access to Fulani herdsmen across the river Benue and it’s tributaries to graze. Nassarawa state also made some pledges, however, no sooner had the ink dried off the agreement, gunmen struck Agatu local government and over 500 people were killed in one night. Thereafter, violence engulfed communities in 14 out of the 23 local governments of the state with hundreds killed and thousands displaced. Governor Almakura was the first to jump to the defence of the herdsmen. He joined others in playing down the number of casualties, denying that it was a mere farmers/herders clash rather than a massacre. That agreement failed woefully.

That Fulani herdsman were the ones behind the massacre is not debatable. Miyetti Allah claimed responsibility and said they struck because Agatu youths stole their cattle. Governor Ortom confirmed as late as last week when he appeared on Channels TV that, “I am aware that there is a militia group maintained by the herdsmen because each time there are incidences of cattle rustling or attack on herdsmen, militia people come and attack.”

No wonder the thunderous ovation when the Governor Ortom rejected the idea of grazing reserves and forwarded the bill against open grazing and for the establishment of ranches to the state House of Assembly for onward passage into law. With this law, Benue State government, just as Enugu, Ebonyi and Ekiti, will have the impetus to arrest and prosecute nomadic herdsmen and other indigenous livestock rearers who fail to ranch their animals.

Unfortunately, for whatever reason, the state Assembly under the “disable” leadership of Hon Terkimbi Ikyange is more suited and at home with being a rubber stamp for approval of loans, scandals of misappropriation and embezzlement of funds, circumventing established democratic laws and globetrotting in the name of “legislative studies” than their primary assignment of representing and protecting the people. From reliable sources within the assembly, the bill has not been mentioned on the floor of the house even once. What a shame!

Now, Benue State government has resulted in methods that have failed in the past; same old methods while expecting different results; what Albert Einstein calls insanity. He said, “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results.” Governor Ortom has set up a snake, sorry, security committee to look into the Fulani herdsmen issue and is billed to meet with Governor Almakura for another round of meetings and signing of agreements. Same formalities that failed us, just to prepare ground for another onslaught this year.

Rather than beat around the bush, it will be logical to think that if there were no herdsmen trespassing our farmlands, there will be no altercation with them necessitating militia invasion of our communities and therefore, it will be more worthwhile to impress on the Benue State House of Assembly to do the needful about the anti-grazing bill with the same measure of pressure and urgency that usually forces them to approve loans worth billions in one sitting. If the Governor and his executives refuse to do this, we the ordinary people will.

Ushakuma Anenga is a Medical Doctor and Managing Editor of Benue dot com dot ng.

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