Benue Killings: The Owl’s Howl And Shadows of Quislings’?
Literary Artistes hardly die. We know after the physical transmutation from life to divine communion with ancestors, their spirit lives, dines and wines with us, through legendary, timeless and impactful works.
The last few days have got me both sad and moody. What enlivened me were the fond memories of the lyrics of the Late Afro-beat legend, Fela Anikulapo Kuti about the death of Dele Giwa. The mysterious death of the ace journalist and co-founder, Newswatch Magazine, Dele Giwa, in 1986, sent jitters to every Nigerian and fear assailed every lip.
To even guess who was responsible for Giwa’s death was as difficult as the Biblical camel passing through the eye of a needle. The mysterious passage of this iconic reporter to eternity under the military junta of President Ibrahim Babangida (IBB) caused serious commotion in the country, as Nigerians were even afraid to publicly interpret the glaring circumstantial evidence alluding to his death. Anything could happen to you, the braggart. Silence was more golden.
But the prodigious Fela partially broke the silence with some insights with his lyrical composition. As youngsters then, we loved the song and innocently chorused the enchanting verses on play fields with mates, but never knew its connotations.
We constantly bellowed the soliloquy in the verse; “Na who kill Dele Giwa; na Baba. If you add Gida, na you sabi.” It was an artistic prophecy in its generic sense to soothsayers of the time. Only years later, would Nigerians discover the clue into the tragic incident Fela offered decades back.
Of course, we are aware of the secret killings in the Benue valley. We have also not forgotten the international attention it has generated in Benue state particularly, with the 2018 New Year Day massacres of peasant farmers and the state organized mass burial of 73 victims in Makurdi.
Since then, it has surprised Nigerians why the killings have defiled all cessation remedies. This is in spite of the efforts of President Muhammadu Buhari, through the Nigerian Army and other security agencies to extinguish the fire of bloodbath or rage of fury.
The cacophonies of wailings have been loud and trenchant each time the killers come visiting. At the mass burial of the two catholic priests and 17 parishioners May 22, 2018, who were similarly attacked at St. Ignatius Catholic Church, Mbalom in Gwer East LGA of the state, Governor Samuel Ortom reeled frightening statistics of the attacks and death toll. He pegged the cumulative number of deaths to about 492 victims and nearly 200,000 displaced persons, housed in IDPs camps within the state.
What has added to the mystery of the incessant attacks on farming communities and deaths in Benue state is the difficulty of ascertaining the attackers or masterminds. Most times, I stumble over commentaries on the tragically unfortunate crisis and it stuns me infinitely.
All opinions on the crisis, whether on social or traditional media, marketplaces, pubs and any other congregation of people in Benue, points to Fulani herdsmen’s heartlessness and cruelty. The idiosyncratic justifications and its linkage with “armed” Fulani herdsmen gain currency everywhere, the sermon is echoed.
It reminds me of the Sunday morning invasion of St. Philip’s Catholic Church, Ozubulu in Ekwusigo LGA of Anambra State in 2017. In this instance too, unknown gunmen laid siege and opened fire on worshippers in the church during a morning mass. The tragic incidence claimed the lives of about 47 persons and critically injured several others.
Consistently, social and traditional media buzzed with discomforting one-dimensional conception of the identity of the attackers as Fulani herdsmen. It was convenient for majority of analysts to conclude that Fulani herdsmen on Jihadism mission perpetrated the attack on the church and the gruesome murder of worshippers. No one, neither allowed reason to prevail nor was patient enough to wait for security investigations to run conclusions.
But the truth eventually came out and it exonerated the much vilified herdsmen. Later revelations of the masterminds and independently confirmed by the community, pointed to a year-long drug war between two of the community’s sons operating in South Africa. It spiraled in the village and a rival camp hired an armed gang to eliminate the father of his opponent, who could easily be sighted in the church. The deal was done.
Nigerians hate the truth. So, once all credible sources exculpated the Fulani herdsmen of complicity in the Ozubulu church invasion and killings, the matter was nicely and silently handled indoors, as family affairs. The Fulani herdsmen so defamed were not deserving of a simple apology from their crucifiers even for decency or morality sake. It has shocked me that the beats of hate and hurt have to continued straddle in effervescent lights adorning more deserted wildernesses.
Back and nearer home, every soul, intellectual or expert analyst has tied the Fulani herdsmen on the cross of Golgatha as singularly responsible for the recurring gruesome bloodbath in Benue and around the Middle Belt. As usual, no one is ready to spare a thought or explore the possibility of other forces, such as armed robbers, cultists, kidnappers or traitors veiling on the already defamed name of Fulani herdsmen to commit unimaginable atrocities in Benue.
But a Police officer and Prosecutor, Edward Imo has opened our eyes to some other possibilities, which can only be discerned if dispassionately decoded. A few days ago, Officer Imo arraigned leader of the Benue State Livestock Guards, a Boko Haram member, sympathizer and escapee, Alhaji Aliyu (Tershaku) Tashaku, as he is popularly known in court, along with five others.
Gov. Samuel Ortom has advanced conflicting explanations on how and why Tashaku came to lead the state informal, but armed Livestock Guards. And we all know Tashaku is his kinsman from Nongov clan of Guma LGA of Benue.
In Gov. Ortom’s doublespeak on the matter, he claims inheriting Tashaku from his predecessor, former Gov. Gabriel Suswam, as leader of the Joint Task Force (JTF). But the Governor is suspiciously silent on why he has retained him, having upgraded the JTF or retained it as Livestock Guards.
We also know Ortom has discarded a lot of Suswam’s policies and even state projects repugnant to his convictions. He either cancelled or reshuffled everything inherited from Suswam which ran contrary to his beliefs, like the Chieftaincy Law and the first class chiefs Suswam appointed on the eve of his exit from office. But curiously, Gov. Ortom embraced wholesale and retained Tashaku.
Quite sadly, and conscious of prejudicial comments, the violent invasion and killings in the Catholic Church at Mbalom drew the ire of everybody, including pagans. To us, it was a direct affront on God and the church. So, the anger flowed freely in the land against Fulani herdsmen.
But the first suspects of six, including Tashaku arraigned by the Police at a Chief Magistrates’ Court in Benue and remanded in Makurdi Prison for the alleged attacks on St. Ignatius Catholic Church, Mbalom , where two priests and 17 worshippers met their untimely deaths posted fresh reflections. They were named as Husseini Manga, Ngyohov Shin, David Akenawe, Agada Tseaa, and Tarzan Orvanya, with Tashaku added.
Even an imbecile would instantly detect through vernacular language registers that the names of home boys (Benue indigenous) are clearly five, including Tashaku or Tershaku outnumber the single alien in their midst. Tashaku was picked by security agents at his fortified abode in Kwararafa Quarters, a middle class settlement area in April, 2018.
But preliminary interrogations of Tashaku and others by security agents and discreet investigations unveiled a mindboggling sum in his private bank account. Some versions say its N1.4 billion or N1.6 billion. But the baseline is that Tashaku, with no known business investment to yield him profit, suspiciously boasts of such fat bank account, which would make even the children of Aliko Dangote, Africa’s richest man, green with envy.
To my bewilderment, just a name of one of the suspects, “Husseini Manga” sounded alien to Benue and perhaps, the surname “Manga” could possibly emanate from the Plateau. But courts do not judge suspects on ethnicity. So, may I be excused to suspend further analysis of the identification nomenclature of the suspects.
Police Prosecutor alleged in court that the suspects all members of the Benue State Livestock Guards, “unlawfully and illegally secured guns… to terrorize and kill farmers.” Anyway, the Presiding Magistrate Isaac Ajim ordered that the accused persons be remanded and adjourned the case to July 17, 2018 for further hearing.
We wait with bathed breathe, as this yet another sordid drama, with semblance and tenor of the Ozubulu saga unfolds to finality as would be decided by the courts. I wish it should not be true that our own fraternal blood and kinsmen are the quisling shadows behind these agonies and sorrows on the land. Oh Lord! May this never be true, but let your will be done through your anointed Lords in the temple of justice.
Agada, PhD is a Benue citizen and contributed this piece from 3rd Avenue, Festac Town, Lagos.