By 2017, the mindless killings of Benue people by rampaging herdsmen had reached an apogee. The bloodletting had become an embarrassment to a government that swore to protect life and property. Scandalised by the wanton destruction of life and property in its territory by murderous terrorists masquerading as herdsmen, the government in Makurdi decided to set sail. The people, guided by their government, decided to take their destiny in their own hands.
After a painstaking review of the situation, it became clear to the people and government of Benue State that they had lost hundreds of their loved ones through the murderous acts of the invaders. To stem the tide and, possibly, put an end to the killings, the government of Benue State, led by Governor Samuel Ortom, had to put its foot down. The first major step in this direction was the enactment of the anti-open grazing prohibition law. With the law in place, open grazing was effectively outlawed in Benue State. The position of the state government was that those who want to engage in cattle-rearing in the state should go into ranching as it is done elsewhere across the globe.
But the Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association of Nigeria ( MACBAN) would have none of that. It joined issues with the government of Benue. It said it was not prepared for ranching and would, therefore, not obey the law. It dared the government of Benue in its own territory. Since government cannot be intimidated by a mere corporate citizen that is supposed to subject itself to constituted authority and the laws of the land, Ortom and his government went ahead with the law prohibiting open grazing. Then Miyetti Allah beat a retreat. It dissolved into a neighbouring state and issued threats from there. It told Ortom to prepare for war. This was how the stage was set for the ongoing confrontation.
Fully aware of the murderous disposition of Miyetti Allah, Ortom reported the threat to the life and property of Benue people to the security agencies in the land. They said they had taken note. Then Benue went about its normal business. Little did they know that the very special day of January 1 would be desecrated. On that day, Miyetti Allah struck. It sacked some six villages, killing many and destroying property. There was outrage in Benue but the federal government, which controls the security agencies that ought to have risen to the occasion, could not be bothered. The Inspector-General of Police, Ibrahim Idris, even assaulted the sensibility of the people of Benue State. He said what took place was a communal clash. Then President Muhammadu Buhari, who swore an oath of office to protect life and property, would not be bothered. He did not express anger. He did not visit the affected communities to see things for himself. There was nothing urgent to worry about.
But Ortom would not be deterred. His capacity as the governor of Benue State is being tested. How he handles the emergency will say a lot about him. So far, he has not disappointed. He has asked the relevant authorities to arrest the leaders of MACBAN. Of course, that is the right thing to do. An organisation that issued a threat and carried it out ought to be held to account. Its leadership ought to be invited over by the security agencies to explain what it knows about the massacre in Benue. But nobody is doing that. Rather, they are emboldened the more by the federal government’s complicit disposition. Since the New Year Day massacre, they have struck at least twice in other communities of Benue State with attendant casualties. That is effrontery of the highest order.
The way it is, Miyetti Allah has become an alternate government. It can dare any government, people or group and nothing will happen. In April 2016, it massacred scores in Enugu State and nothing happened. There was no consequence. Its members were never fished out for questioning or punishment. Significantly, Benue, the state that is bleeding now, provided them with a safe passage. Today, Ortom is accusing the neighbouring state of Nasarawa of harbouring and providing a safe haven for the terrorists. He has also accused the security agencies of abandoning the state. That was why the killers waded through army and police checkpoints undetected. The Benue experience mirrors what took place in Enugu earlier. Everything that Ortom has accused the federal government and the security agencies of is also true of the Enugu incident.
Our experiences in this regard tell the ugly story of this country. The federal government of Nigeria is never for us all. It is always for a section. The government of Nigeria protects those it is interested in and aids one section to undo another section.
Let us go back in time. In 1966 and 1967, the Igbo and the Hausa/Fulani were at daggers drawn. What did the federal government do? It deployed government’s instruments of coercion and suppression against the Igbo. That was what made the pogroms of those trying years possible. The federal government was against a section of its own population. This was what led to the rise of Biafra.
After the bitter experience of the Biafran war, you would think that Nigeria had learnt one lesson or the other from the events of that period. But history has continued to repeat itself. In June last year, Arewa youths issued a quit notice to the Igbo to leave northern Nigeria on account of the activities of the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB). The Arewa youths did not stop there. They said they would, from October 1, 2017, begin a process of disengagement from Nigeria, where they are lumped together with the Igbo. Their declaration was an affront. It was a threat to the corporate existence of Nigeria. That being the case, well-meaning Nigerians called for the arrest of the leadership of the Arewa youths. But government looked the other way. Weeks later, the Arewa youths withdrew their quit notice conditionally. They asked the federal government to go after the leaders of IPOB. Government quickly obeyed. In September 2017, the Nigerian Army invaded Umuahia in search of Nnamdi Kanu. They killed many IPOB members in the process. Government did not stop there. It went ahead to outlaw IPOB and declared it a terrorist organisation, in spite of the fact that the organisation does not carry arms. Consequently, IPOB was decapitated and anybody seen in public parading himself as an IPOB member may be killed instantly. And so, IPOB became the whipping boy and Arewa youths had a good laugh.
Now it is the turn of Benue. Miyetti Allah has killed and maimed. Yet they are going about freely. Nobody will arrest them because they are sacred cows. They did it in Enugu and went scot-free. Why won’t they do it elsewhere and still get away with blue murder?
That makes Nigeria a country of double standards. What is sauce for Miyetti Allah may be poison to Ortom’s Benue.