By: Benjamin Ngutsav
For a very long time, Benue State has suffered gruesome attacks by Fulani herdsmen on farmers. Just recently, over 40 people were reported to have been killed by armed Fulani herdsmen in Gbeji, Logo Local Government Area.
These attacks have had effects on the people and the State’s economy in different ways unimaginable.
According to Governor Samuel Ortom, over two million Benue people have been displaced as a result of persistent Fulani attacks, thereby creating a huge humanitarian crisis. The food production of the food basket State has also been depleted, as most of those displaced are farmers.
Fulani attacks on Benue farmers took on a dangerous dimension when Miyetti Allah groups and the Fulani Nationality Movement, FUNAM, opposed the Benue state Open Grazing Prohibition and Ranches Establishment Law of 2017 and called that the law be repealed or else. Consequently, the Miyetti Allah Kautal Hore and other groups threatened to launch more attacks if the law was not repealed. One of their threats, culled from the Herald newspaper, said: “More blood to flow in Benue unless …. Miyetti Allah.”
They lived up to their threat. In January 2018, the Fulani herdsmen attacked Guma and Logo local government areas, killing over 72 people who were given a mass burial.
Unfortunately, these attacks have been unhindered, and no one has been prosecuted for the killings, even as those who made threats that came to pass could not be traced. The killings continue.
Sadly, in the last seven years, President Muhammadu Buhari, who is also of Fulani ethnicity, has done nothing to stop the killings. Rather, he has emboldened the attackers to be more vicious than they had been. He has always spoken in their favor.
For instance, Buhari has always described the attacks in Benue State as communal clashes or crises, implying that the marauding Fulani herders are legitimate indigenes of the state and are only attacking the Tiv farmers as a result of communal disagreements. However, reports have shown that in most places where these attacks occur, Fulani people have never lived in those communities. At best, they have pastured their cattle in those communities but never settled enough to earn them a communal entitlement.
In one of Buhari’s messages to Benue people when Benue traditional leaders visited him, he asked Benue people to learn to live with their brothers, the marauding Fulani. “I ask you in the name of God to accommodate your countrymen, “said the president.
With Buhari’s statement he had given those wandering Fulanis from Mali, Chad and other neighbouring countries the impetus to kill and occupy other people’s ancestral lands. However, recall that Buhari has himself confirmed that those Fulanis carrying out killings in the country are not Nigerians. So, how could Benue people and Nigerians accommodate people they did not know and who had come to kill?
Buhari has rejected ranching policy; instead, he has advocated for grazing routes, cattle colonies, and RUGA, all to find a place for the armed Fulani herdsmen, who have no place in this country.
Similarly, the presidential candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, has shown in words and actions that he would not be different from Buhari in handling killings in Nigeria. He will do far worse than Buhari.
To start with, Atiku is more of an ethnic jingoist than Buhari. He is a green snake in green grass. For instance, because of his presidential ambitions, Atiku made a Facebook post condemning Deborah’s death, who was killed by some Muslim youths in sokoto; When Muslims came hard on him for taking side with Deborah, for fear of losing their votes, he pulled down his post. What sort of leader could prefer religious bigotry over truth? It means if he becomes president of this country, the cruel attacks of his people will be overlooked.
Atiku has never clearly advocated for the ranching policy. He has never supported the ban on open grazing.
To be explicit, Atiku does not support the ban on open grazing and the laws for it. In January 2019, Atiku kicked against laws passed by the state banning open grazing. He described them as unconstitutional.
He said: “We have to look at the constitutionality of those laws. I’m not sure whether they come with the provisions of our constitution which guarantees freedom of movement, the right to reside wherever you want in the country and so on, and so forth. So we have to look at that.
“The constitution does not restrict the movement of people in Nigeria, so any law that restricts people from moving freely and doing their legitimate business can’t be upheld.”
So with Atiku as president, the gains of the Benue State and other states’ ban on open grazing will suffer.
Very recently, Atiku reminded the Benue people of Buhari’s messages “to live with their killer neighbors.” He was categorical in his shameful condolence message to Benue people over the killings in Gbeji, Ukum Local Government.
Atiku described the killings as “communal clashes,” just as Buhari had done.
“I am saddened by the sustained clashes between farmers and herders that led to the loss of lives, including those of police officers, in the Gbeji community, Ukum local government area of Benue State.
The continuous escalation of intercommunal violence does not bode well for our national unity and stability. Our diversity should not be a handicap but a significant strength if we endeavour to walk in love and brotherliness.”
Atiku continued that there cannot be peace in Benue and Nigeria until those marauding Fulani herdsmen are integrated into the communities they have been attacking, which is almost the same as Buhari’s words, “Live with your neighbours.”
“One way of harnessing our diversity is the envisaged constitutional reform that will emphasise inclusiveness. When our people are well integrated into the communities where they live, work, pay taxes, and raise their children, they’d be obligated to reciprocate the love and acceptance.”
I see no hope in Atiku’s presidency. I see a man with an ethnic agenda in search of political power to actualize it. Benue people and other Nigerians must not be deceived. If Atiku wins, which I pray he doesn’t, the present woes of continued killings would persist. Atiku is an extension of Buhari; make no mistakes.