It trickles from Adamawa, flows down to Taraba, and from there down to Benue, where it forms into a big river – and I’m not talking of River Benue. This new river is a river of blood. It regularly draws from tributaries in Niger, Nasarawa and Plateau.
And suddenly, the very heart of Nigeria’s famed Middle Belt, which until now served to weld the North and the South, the Middle Belt that supplied us with some of the bravest soldiers and most colourful politicians this country has ever seen, and which provided a home for all, has become a drowning sea of red. A land that devours its inhabitants. Non-natives are fleeing, while natives who are stuck with the inheritance have become refugees in their own land, sleeping in open fields, not knowing whence cometh the next attack, and, most of all, abandoned by those who should protect them.
Yet, Benue is alleged not to be at war. So, what would happen if there were to be war?
In fact, as I write, I’m also in a big dilemma.
My friend and former colleague, Francis Ottah Agbo, Chief Press Secretary to Governor Seriake Dickson of Bayelsa State, is burying his mother this weekend in Ijigban, Ado council of Benue State, and I have since made up my mind to attend the burial.
But the problem is: how do I convince my loved ones to put their minds at rest, while I go to Benue?
How do I convince them that Benue State is safe for any sane persons, who does not have a gun pointed at his head, to want to visit right now?
How do I explain that I’m not under some kind of spell, to want to embark on this trip?
If my aged mother hears of this planned trip, wouldn’t she conclude that her enemies are at work again? She would probably begin to cast and bind – that the witches and wizards playing ludo with my brain should go back to sender. Or fall down and die.
Meanwhile, that’s only a fraction of the apprehension. There is still the problem of getting to the village – the journey through our kidnapper-and-armed-robber infested highways. Suddenly, the bad federal highways are now the least of our worries as we embark on any road journey these days.
Now, if I, a Nigerian, am so scared of going to Benue, I can only imagine what prospective foreign investors would be feeling. The fear of herdsmen is now the beginning of wisdom.
But, how come we seem to be treating this newest form of terrorism with kid gloves? Why is it that that it is only when killer herdsmen are involved that our otherwise potent military lose their erection? How come it is only with herdsmen that our ministers suddenly become apologetic, telling us how our governments have not done enough for herdsmen and their business?
Pray, what did government do for the businesses of fishermen? Cocoa farmers? Media, school owners, bakers, transporters, artisans, etc? Why aren’t we all slaughtering other people?
I wouldn’t know if other people noticed the dispatch with which security operatives went after Don Wani (Wane), the militant leader alleged to be the mastermind of the New Year massacre in Omoku, Rivers State.
How many people have also noticed the alleged systematic annihilation, by military personnel, of the Bayelsa community where a soldier was recently beheaded by another set of militants? An Ijaw group recently alleged that the demolition of that community is almost worse than what was visited on Odi (and Zaki Biam) during the days of President Olusegun Obasanjo.
Do a further rewind to the Operation Python Dance that was unleashed on Nnamdi Kanu and IPOB in the South East! How many IPOB and MASSOB people are on trial today for unarmed protests and unguarded utterances?
Now, fast-forward to Benue, Southern Kaduna, Enugu, Ondo, Edo, Adamawa, Taraba, Zamfara, Niger, and back to Benue again, and to all the places where marauding herdsmen (whom we have been admonished not to address as Fulani – even when they are) have been visiting with mayhem and mass murder since the last couple of years. Why haven’t we responded to these atrocities as promptly and decisively as we have attended to other crises?
Why do we seem more eager to prove that the perpetrators are not Nigerians than to address the problem? And if they are not Nigerians, what have we done to the land borders and the people we pay to man them?
Why is it that people in positions of prominence mount national platforms to tell us that the attacks were a repraisal to earlier attacks? When did this attack the herders are supposed to be avenging take place?
How come we never hear of the alleged ‘communal clash’ that led to these latest attacks?
How come it is the crop farmer, who is in one fixed address with his farm, that is now accused of going to look for the trouble of the herder who herds his animals right into the crop farmers’s farm? It just doesn’t add up!
But come to face it, I thought there was more land in the North than the South? With or without desertification, isn’t there always grass to graze livestock?
How come the elite and retired Generals of the North cornered all the land in the North for themselves, leaving their kinsmen landless and roaming abroad? Aren’t these killings a way of encouraging the poor peasants and serfs of the North to continue waging a meaningless war abroad, to distract them from asking the right questions about their own inheritance back home?
Is this why the idea of ranching does not seem to cut the ice with some of our northern compatriots?
How come this idea of Fulani being free, like all other Nigerians, to live and do business in any part of the country is loudest in the Middle Belt and the South?
How many other Nigerians who do business in other parts of the country take the land by force – as if we are fighting some medieval war of expansion of territory?
Why is the Miyetti Allah in Nigeria, for instance, inadvertently defending and rationalising the atrocities committed by these blood-thirsty herders, whom it maintains, on another hand, are not Nigerians? Who is fooling who?
How many of all the people who appropriate these herdsmen, and overtly and covertly back them, have their children herding cattle all over the country? Or don’t our Fulani elite and politicians and businessmen own cattle? Where do they rear their own cattle? Or are all these gun-wielding herders actually working for our big men?
Finally, what is the cardinal sin Governor Samuel Ortom and his people committed for which there is no forgiveness, and for which they must be put to the sword in the most cruel way possible?
I remember I asked myself this same question a few years back, when it was clear that the powers that be deliberately abandoned the then Governor Jonah Jang of and his Plateau people, as murderous religious-cum-ethnic bigots held the once peaceful Jos by the jugular.
Why is it that all we get to hear, when the herdsmen attack, are heated orders (not backed up by any force) that the perpetrators should be fished out and brought to book. Which book? Whose book?
Many other ethnic groups in the country engage in one business or the other that takes them outside of their traditional areas, so how come we don’t hear of people forcibly erecting shops on the ancestral homes of their hosts, for instance?
Don’t people do business in accordance with the laws of the host communities?
Very soon, there would be no blood left to shed in Benue. Very soon, too, the land would have been rid of all these ‘pesky’ Tivs, Igedes, Idomas, etc. and Benue would become one vast grazing land, everybody having been either butchered or forced to flee.
Funny enough, a new narrative is also rearing it’s head: Some emergent historians now tell us the Fulani settled in the present Benue long before the Tor Tiv and the Ochi Idoma and their ancestors arrived. It appears more trouble still lies ahead. God forbid!