From Rose Ejembi, Makurdi
Last Saturday, an assassination attempt was made on the life of Governor Samuel Ortom of Benue State by suspected bandits of Fulani extraction. The incident occurred as the governor was returning from his farm at Tyo-Mu community in the outskirts of Makurdi, the state capital.
The governor narrated how he had innocently gone to his farm located by the bank of River Benue, but was attacked as he was returning to the main road, where he had parked his vehicles:
“You know, today is Saturday and it is normal that as a farmer, I go to my farm, along Gboko Road (Makurdi). On my way back, we started hearing gunshots from the opposite direction. We sighted people in black and from my experience; I knew they were Fulani bandits.”
He fingered Miyetti Allah Kautal Hore (MAKH), a Fulani socio-cultural group for the failed attempt on his life. He accused the group of meeting in Yola, of Adamawa State, where they resolved to eliminate him.
The attack presented a fresh chapter in the narratives of insecurity in Nigeria. It was condemned by several groups and interests, including the Presidency and the Governors’ Forum. They all showed sufficient solidarity with Ortom.
Security around the governor has also been strengthened ever since the shocked attack on the governor as the people of the state expressed their gratitude to Almighty God for saving his life.
Police and the DSS have since commenced investigations into the incident and a few suspects may have been quizzed by these security agencies in the last few hours.
However, the truth remains that Ortom has been on the frontline, battling so many real adversaries. His current travails may be an attempt by his opponents to hit back at him for standing on the side of his people.
In an unverified statement circulated on the social media, the Fulani Nationality Movement (FUNAM) not only accepted responsibility for the attack, but gave reasons why they struck. The statement entitled, “Why we attacked Ortom” reads:
“Our attention has been drawn to media reports today speculating about who attacked the Governor of Benue State, Samuel Ortom.
“Yes. Yes we did. The Fulani Nationality Movement (FUNAM) carried out the attack. We have genuine reasons. We acted on behalf of millions of Fulani people in 15 countries.
“It is a case of vengeance against an infidel who has used his time and money, deployed in destroying the Fulani values and inheritance.
“Our courageous fighters carried out this historic attack to send a great message to Ortom and his collaborators: Where ever you are, once you are against Fulani long term interest, we shall get you down. This is a clear warning. We hope those who take us for granted will get the indisputable message.
Our intention is unequivocal: TO KILL HIM. That mission will one day be fulfilled and very soon too. Eleven of FUNAM operatives were involved in the attack. Ortom escaped today because of a slight technical communication error. Next time, he will not be lucky. We can assure him and his supporters.
“Ortom has been leading the campaign against Fulani interests in the North. We have our operatives in all Southern states. Each will face our sword soon.
“We warn collaborators working against Fulani people across Nigeria: WE SHALL GET YOU irrespective of your hidden place.
“We state clearly, any state or individual that opposes RUGA will be confronted. Any state or individual that opposes ranching, we shall get you. Speak against ranching and RUGA even on the internet: Our noiseless fighters shall find and fix you.
“In the next few months, FUNAM will carry out attacks on strategic human and material assets of States and Non State groups or individuals known for their anti-Fulani campaigns.
“We shall hunt you down in your houses, in your work places, in your car, in your streets. It is a matter of time.” The statement was signed by one Umar Amir Shehu.
Benue’s Grazing Law
Much as the statement may be fake and may not represent the position of all Fulani or a majority of the Fulani people, it is incontestable that Ortom has unsettled some Fulani nerves by his policies.
In 2014, just before Ortom assumed office, his predecessor, Gabriel Suswam, raised the alarm that Benue State was already under the siege of Fulani herders, accusing them of undermining the security of the state.
During an assessment tour of villages sacked by herdsmen in Guma Local Government Area, Suswam came face-to-face with the extent to which the madness had gone unchecked as some buildings had just been set ablaze in one of the villages.
As the governor’s convoy stopped to determine what had happened, the herdsmen shot at him. It took the grace of God and the dexterity of his security aides to avert the tide.
By 2015, when Ortom became governor, herdsmen attacks had become prevalent and rampant. Daily, the people were left desolate and in tears of bereavement. When the situation became unbearable, the people were left with no option, but to pressurize the new government to initiate a law banning open grazing in the state.
In 2016, Ortom sent an executive bill on open grazing and the establishment of ranches to the state House of Assembly. The bill was passed into law and became known as “Open Grazing Prohibition and Ranches Establishment Law 2017.”
This did not go down well with the leaders of the Fulani community, especially Miyetti Allah Kautal Hore (MAKH), Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association of Nigeria (MACBAN) and Fulani Nationality Movement (FUNAM).
While Fulani exerted pressure on the governor to reverse the law, the people mobilized themselves in favour of the law, subtly threatening to turn themselves against the governor, if he reviewed the law. Benue Livestock Guards was eventually inaugurated to implement the law.
They were charged with the responsibility of apprehending offenders, to bring them to book as well as to impound their cattle, which will only be released upon the payment of a fine.
Fulani leaders saw the law as a veiled attempt to scuttle their cattle business and interests. Press conferences were held while meetings were scheduled to dissuade the governor from going ahead with the law. But all these efforts, in the end, were fruitless.
All these, perhaps set the tone for a deep-seated anger, which reached its peak with the 2018 New Year attack on some communities. That attack led to the death of 73 persons, caused uncommon pains and left a wave of sorrow.
At the burial of the deceased, Ortom was blunt. He called on the Federal Government to immediately arrest leaders of FUNAM, who had taken responsibility for the massacre as well as leadership of MAKH for what he described as their unguarded statement on the matter.
Ortoms ‘war’ with Bauchi gov
Recently, Ortom had a verbal confrontation with a fellow governor and Fulani sympathizer, Bala Mohammed of Bauchi State. At the peak of the brush, Ortom had to raise the alarm about his own safety saying that should anything happen to him, the public should hold Bala to account.
The governors’ differences were rooted largely in their different interpretations of the nations state of insecurity, including the appropriateness or otherwise of the herders to move about with their arms
Why Ortom was clearly opposed the strange and uncommon privilege extended to the Fulani cattle rearers, Bala was on the other side, defending the herdsmen, saying they carry those sophisticated arms to defend themselves.
This caused a public roar between the two PDP governors, each ably supported by their constituencies and ethic groups- until Governor Nyeson Wike of Rivers State waded into the matter and caused them to shield their swords.