The herders-farmers’ clash in Benue State, which left 73 people, including children, dead penultimate week, will go down in history as one of the defining moments of this administration, not because of the number of casualties – germaine as this is – resulting from such perennial conflicts from Benue, Kaduna to Taraba and Adamawa but because of its politicisation and perhaps over dramatisation.
The narrative shifted from the impacts of the tragedy on the affected communities to ethnic, religious, sectional and political coloration, and by the time the dust settles in no distant future, the tragedy would have claimed a lot of casualties, this time in government houses across the country. Some other people who have made political gains out of the killings to shore up their sagging popularity might also have their recompense in no time.
In this category is the chief mourner himself, the governor of Benue State, Samuel Ortom, who before the anti-open grazing law, was in the bottom rung among non-performing governors – governors who are notorious for owing workers’ salaries, who allegedly diverted or mismanaged bailout funds and were at loggerheads with organised labour.
Some people even insinuated that Ortom instituted the anti-open grazing law, as a populist stunt to divert attention from his poor performance and failure in governance. However, in the aftermath of the killings and his seeming antagonistic and non-reconciliatory stance, Ortom is gradually emerging as a symbol of the struggle to ‘free’ Benue people from the menacing marauders.
Thus in all his press interviews and television appearances, Ortom has become combative, ready to take on anyone and even his governor-colleagues, like Almakura over Benue State refugees in Nasarawa State and Simon Lalong of Plateau State, who claimed he warned Ortom not to enact the anti-open grazing law until Lalong apologised, and despite the fact that they belong to the same ruling party.
He equally defied the president and his minister of Agriculture, Audu Ogbeh, also from Benue State, on their proposed colonies in place of ranching or open grazing. Today, I am sure, if there is an opinion poll to determine the popularity of governors in the North-Central, it will return a positive verdict on Governor Ortom. This is how our politicians sometimes profit from miseries and deaths, depending on where the pendulum swings.
While Almakura and Lalong rushed to castigate Ortom, obviously to be seen to be in the good books of the Presidency, El-Rufai and his gang took a daring path of earnestly asking President Buhari at such an inauspicious time to run in 2019.
Suddenly, politicians are playing to the gallery to either empathise with the Benue people or defend the APC administration at the federal level, depending on the side of the divide you are, or simply taking advantage of a bad situation. While Almakura and Lalong rushed to castigate Ortom, obviously to be seen to be in the good books of the Presidency, El-Rufai and his gang took a daring path of earnestly asking President Buhari at such an inauspicious time to run in 2019.
During a visit to the president after last Friday Jumma’at prayer, seven APC governors led by Nasiru El-Rufa’i and others like Yahaya Bello of Kogi State, Abdullahi Ganduje of Kano State, Abubakar Bello of Niger State, Jibrilla Bindow of Adamawa State, Simon Lalong of Plateau State and Ibrahim Geidam of Yobe State, visited and endorsed the president to run in 2019 because “continuity and stability” are important. Coming on the heels of the Benue crisis, these governors simply capitalised on the pot-shots being thrown at the president over his cold handling of the security challenge to outsmart their colleagues. Rub my back and I do same to you, you may say.
Recall that most of these governors rode on Buhari’s popularity to become governors in 2015 and they probably think the same scenario can be re-enacted in 2019. Again, almost all of them, with the exception of Lalong, are in the midst of political battles for survival in their home states, and jumping the gun to endorse the president, they probabily felt, could save them from their impending Waterloo.
Although time will tell, how are they sure the president will run and if he will scale through, if he decides to contest. I do not blame them either – a drowning man will clutch at any available straw; and for the embattled El-Rufa’i, Yahaya Bello and Ganduje, all of them serving their first terms and highly unpopular in their States, Buhari is that straw. Almakura has less trouble to cope with being in his last term, but he had to add his weighty voice because in the political chess game, being relevant at all times is the first rule of the game, and don’t forget that he might be eyeing the Senate too.
For Fayose, everything is politics and politics is everything, and politicising the Benue killings in the way he did, though his usual style of playing to the gallery, is dangerous because we are not at war and hopefully will not fight another civil war.
Other rabble-rousers playing to the gallery have also seized the day to make disparaging remarks or engage in odd things in a show of counter-force against Fulani herdsmen. In this group are Reno Omokri and Governor Fayose. Omokri, the former personal aide to ex-President Goodluck Jonathan has put a curse on anyone asking Buhari to run, justifying the same with the killing of Christians. Describing the call for Buhari to run as “a betrayal of Christ”, Omokri said “all Christians who campaign for a second term for Buhari who’s done nothing concrete to stop the slaughter of Christian communities by his radical Muslim Fulani herdsmen brethren…will one day answer before a righteous God for their betrayal of Christ”.
Omokri forgot to add that many Muslims in Taraba, Kogi, Kaduna and Nasarawa were at one time or the other casualties of senseless ethno-religious conflicts. In any case, does he not know that not all Fulanis are Muslims and the criminals have no respect for any religion? Omokri has taken the discourse in Benue beyond the madness it is to the realm of politics and religion because emotions are heightened when it comes to religion; it is an unfortunate and unhealthy dimension in a doctrinally divided country like Nigeria.
Governor Fayose’s parley with local hunters and their display of paraphernalia of prowess to counter what he called Fulani invasion is the most ridiculous of them all. Fayose, who was decked in camouflage to ‘reflect the mood of the nation’, said intelligence report available to him indicated that the ‘Bororo herdsmen’ had infiltrated the State.
Talking tough and obviously in a war mood, he told the hunters to go home and defend their communities. For Fayose, everything is politics and politics is everything, and politicising the Benue killings in the way he did, though his usual style of playing to the gallery, is dangerous because we are not at war and hopefully will not fight another civil war.
The government must act swiftly to curb the herdsmen challenge and other security issues, but resorting to ethnic, religious and political sentiments out of a mishandled security issue, is nothing but mischief and opportunism, and for all you know, El-Rufa’i may be flying a kite to get the support of the president and governors in the first step towards his anointing, if Buhari does not run.