By Williams Ayooso

Governor Samuel Ortom of Benue State has demonstrated unequal concern for the plight of his people in the state. He has been unequivocal in engaging the presidency on the pastoral regulations and policies, even as he is unrelenting in accusing the presidency of complexity on his state’s security situation. This is after he has initiated a promulgation of a law that criminalizes open grazing of cattle, or livestock on the Benue soil.

With the consistency of crisis between herders and farmers, which often leads to colossal loss of lives, mostly of the Benue people, the law is supposed to be a panacea.

Another milestone is that, the Governor has provoked a national conversation, where most states in the country are adopting the Ortom’s model of ending the herders’ farmers’ crisis, as well as other criminal traits that are sprouting on the country’s social political environment. It is on the template of his unyielding position that the Southern Governors, in a recent meeting, unanimously settled for the promulgation of a law that will outlaw open grazing of livestock in their domains. With these, Ortom is deservedly patronized with names, variously, as defender of the Benue valley and the voice of the voiceless.

In his wisdom, just as it is the perception of some of his people, girding oneself with an amour of courage, carrying out expressions that are accentuated with a military bravado and acerbically tongue-lashing the Presidency is the best way to defend the people of Benue State. This might be a wise approach after all. However, there are some visible gaps in the stream of this Ortom’s celebrated wisdom.

Here is a Governor who, by his utterances, has created a conflict situation with the Presidency, but still relies absolutely on the Presidency for the protection of his people. This is akin to slapping his village’s juju priest, yet expecting some positive incantations that will drive away evil spirits in his family.

Already, Benue State has become a punching bag of the wild herdsmen. It is not only a guinea pig for experimenting their military proficiency, but it is now being test run as a possible part of the country to occupy. The number of people killed by herdsmen, since Ortom professes his role as the defender of the Benue valley is quite staggering. There is no official figure on the Benue State Government site in respect of people killed so far in the spate of the herdsmen attack. However, there is no month that passes by without news of herdsmen attack, which in most cases reveals devastating casualties on the Benue people. The Benue population is being decimated. So far, there is nothing to show that the carnage will stop any day soon

Meanwhile, this obnoxious situation continues to bourgeon, with its attendant critical humanitarian situation. As at last count, there were over 1.8m people in the state’s IDP camps, if the report of the Vanguard Newspaper, as authored by Peter Duru is anything to go by. To make matters worse, the vulnerable camps are under the mercy of herdsmen attack.

The 2006 census recorded the population of Benue people as 4,253,641. Aside from the constant depletion, close to two million people are confined in the IDP Camps. Meaning that half of the Benue state population is either annihilated or incapacitated.

There is another casualty ground that is hardly captured in the state government’s estimate of loses. This is the Sankera axis of the state. At the time of going to press, some clans, spanning across Mbayongo, Mbatyula and the Mbajir in Katsina Ala LGAs of the state are deserted. Some of their places are being occupied by Fulani herdsmen. Since no IDP camp is being contemplated in the area, victims of this crisis are taking refuge in the homes of people on the fringes of Ukum LGA of the state, while some have relocated to Chanchanji environs in Takum LGA of Taraba State. The situation is as bad as that.

Another fallacy in the Governor Ortom’s wisdom lies in his security policy. What measures has he put in place to protect the lives and the property of the people against the multiple facets of killer sources in the state?

During his democracy day address, on June 12, this year, many people expected that the Governor will talk elaborately on the state government’s investment in security matters. But all he said was that he provided vehicles, security gadgets and other logistics support to the Nigeria Police Force and other security agencies to enable them perform their duties efficiently. The next achievement, as he emphasized, was the Open Grazing Prohibition and Ranches Establishment Law 2017 and the number of people convicted for violating the law.

In places, like Adamawa State, the contribution to security is visible. Hilux Vans with inscriptions such as operation Farauta, Vigilante Group and various models of motor circles with similar inscriptions are common site. It is on the domain of public knowledge that Governor Fintiri of Adamawa State procured 54 Hilux Vans and hundreds of Motor Cycles for security surveillance in his state.

Again, Ortom in his wisdom placed a ban on motorbikes and a brand of Toyota vehicle popularly called Duck-Nyash in the Sankera axis of the state. The rest, he did not care. But the people continued to die, even as the economic prospect of the zone continuous to shrink into the abyss of infamy. There is no mechanism to review the impact of the ban?

Recently, Ortom led government, with the connivance of some political leaders in Sankera, added another dimension on the zone’s security architecture. The Machete men. With their cutlasses, they extra judicially machete or butcher to pieces, any individual, who in their perception is a criminal. Theirs is an instant judgement. No mercy. No appeal. No opportunity to express one’s innocence. It is only a government with a responsibility deficit that will create such an outfit in this age of modernity. Meanwhile, the vicious killer gangs of that community are still carrying out their nefarious activities, and also targeting mostly the Machete people and their relations for vengeance. With these multiple facets of security imbroglio, people are dying almost on a daily basis.

With the scenario in the area, especially in that part of the Katsina Ala LGA, nobody is safe. For those that live there, it’s like sojourning between the red demons and the deep blue sea. One might escape the marauding killer herdsmen, with their kill and occupy agenda, or the trigger happy gangs of that community, but might not be lucky if the machete people come calling. It is a gridlock.

Now, the zone is breeding in pains. An eerie ambience of foreboding and uncertainty hover around it. If Governor Ortom cares about the plight of these people or what is happening around them, he has not shown.

Outside security matters, the Governor in his own wisdom has set aside Thursdays and Fridays as work free days, to enable the Benue civil servants engage in farming activities. This means that Benue State has only 12 days in a month to run the affairs of governance. Some states with a vision for a greater economic transformation will not allow this to happen. With no farm implements for modern farming, couple with the insecure nature on the farms, most Benue people idle themselves at home.

Now, where is the wisdom? What are the incentives that government is providing? A government that flaunts such an unflinching love for agriculture should demonstrate the zeal by procuring implements and modern farming tools, making it up with a deliberate policy that will migrate the citizens from subsistence farming to mechanized agriculture. There is nothing on ground to show commitment.

Creating a crisis situation with Presidency, but still counting on him for the protection of the Benue people is the dreary platitude and worst fallacy. Until Ortom looks inward and create a security architecture that is within his fiscal and constitutional means, his Benue people will continue to die. Until Ortom stops the flaunting of his ego and openly confronting the President, who is also a herdsman, his people will continue to die.

“If you have no power to defend or protect, reserve your power to provoke and attack.” There is wisdom in this saying.

Ortom’s defender of the Benue valley approach is instigating the herdsmen to profile the Benue people for elimination. Making emotionally laden statements anytime his people are killed is exposing the weakness of the people and making them a laughing stock.

Ortom needs to change the approach, else, he might end up with a record that at no time in the history of the Benue, did the people died or dehumanized more than his tenure.

Williams Ayooso, Jalingo based Media Practitioner


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