By Nathaniel Ikyur
In a well-crafted editorial comment on August 9, 2022, the influential Guardian newspaper reminded the ruling All Progressive Congress, APC, of one of its numerous (and mostly unfulfilled) election campaign promises in 2015. The party had loosely promised to “establish a well-trained, adequately equipped and goals-driven Serious Crime Squad to combat terrorism, kidnapping, armed robbery, militants, ethno-religious and communal clashes nationwide.” They had also promised to begin widespread consultations to amend the constitution to enable states and local governments to employ state and community police to address the peculiar needs of each community.” That was a strategy of deceit. It was merely a decoy to win votes. They never planned to honour it. They only did to make the Nigerian people go to sleep why they allowed their kinsmen wreck havoc on hapless citizens.
It is therefore not difficult to dismiss Is’haq Modibbo Kawu’s “FIELD MARSHAL” SAMUEL ORTOM, BENUE GUARDS AND THE FULBE” as another puerile Janjaweed propaganda designed to further humiliate victims of terrorism and vicious Jihadist criminality. It is a careless piece written to weaken our resolve to protect ourselves, considering that there is presently neither the willpower nor strategy by the Federal Government to protect anybody anywhere.
No victim of premeditated violence should however fail to respond robustly to any form of gratuitous insult by those who defend their violators. He who feels the pain knows where and how it hurts. Is’haq Modibbo Kawu and his fellow herdsmen intelligentsia are at liberty to mock responsible, elected public officers like the Governor of Benue State, Samuel Ortom, who prefer to take the rather painstakingly rigouros, legal and justifiable action to protect their citizens from the murderous campaign of their Fulbe kinsmen. But what do they care? To them, non-Fulani blood is like pond water. It can be wasted. How much is it worth?
In case the herdsmen intelligentsia is not aware, Benue people are traditionally peace-loving but they also have a long and proud history of taking the battle to their oppressors; they will always fight back. Is’haq Modibbo and his co-travellers are at liberty to go to the history books to confirm.
Is’haq Modibbo Kawu may be the voice heard in the open, but he’s certainly speaking for his ilk. They’re gravely pained that Governor Samuel Ortom has established Community Volunteer Guards as the first line of defence against the terrorists Herdsmen marauders. For more than a decade, the Fulani herdsmen have turned Benue into a killing field. Available statistics have so far confirmed that over 5,000 innocent people; men, women, and children, the young, old and weak, have been senselessly slaughtered either in their sleep or on their ancestral farms by this itinerant, pillaging killers on a genocidal mission across the Benue valley.
The Benue State Community Volunteers Guards is a local vigilante, a home-grown first-responders’ safety outfit designed to protect local communities and share intelligence with security agencies. It came from extensive political and legal consultations with critical stakeholders, including traditional, religious, political leaders, elected and appointed representatives of the people at all levels. It was a holistic engagement that alao had the buy-in of members of the State House of Assembly and the executive branch. In fact, the new outfit was thoroughly debated in the State Security Council meetings with heads of federal security agencies represented in Benue state. This is not Samuel Ortom’s militia (by the way, the Governor will leave office in less than a year) as many want others to believe. It is a grassroots initiative. It is the Benue people’s army.
As it is often said about politics, effective security is local. The Community Volunteer Guards scheme is of the people, by the people, and for the people. It is also voluntary. Enlistees underwent and those coming after this first batch will undergo rigorous training anchored by the Benue State Police Command. They volunteered to protect their communities and families from those who came to kill them. It will henceforth be fire for fire. Their operations will be a game changer in the security equation in Benue state.
Now, should their would-be attackers be afraid? Yes! No force can protect a community better than its youth. They will protect their mothers, fathers, siblings, and families from foreign killers. If this is a worrisome development for Kawu and his co-travellers, it is a loud declaration that their victims have risen in one body to protect themselves. The hunted is fighting back and it is the turn of the hunter to weep. And that’s what Kawu is displaying.
Obviously, Kawu and his co-conspirators are unimpressed and unhappy. Of course we don’t need to please them. As it is in their character, Kawu mocks Governor Ortom whom he cast in the mould of the late Central African Republic dictator, Jean-Bedel Bokassa. Kawu wrote, as if he was editing a comedy script for a Fulbe village act in Kwara state: “And to show how determined he (Governor Ortom) was to give the praetorian guard a semblance of martial seriousness,” ‘”Field Marshall” Samuel Ortom, did an inspection of the Guard’…. He further derides Governor Ortom’s efforts, describing the Community Volunteers as ‘Praetorian Guards. What impudence.
So, how will Kawu describe Kano’s Hisbah? How will the Community Volunteers compare against the notorious Hisbah? One will fight crime, criminals, and criminality irrespective of tribe and creed; the other is a Religious Police which is zealously targeting tax-paying Christians, destroying their legitimate businesses and disrupting their livelihoods.
Those who make excuses for Hisbah’s excesses have no moral credit to degrade any effort by Governor Ortom mobilizing his constituents to protect themselves from rampaging killer herdsmen who, from all intent and purposes, have a licence to kill, destroy and possess our ancestral lands, especially against non-Fulani populations. No member of the killer herdsmen apologist groups has ever condemned the genocidal mission of their kinsmen. They would have been singing Governor Ortom’s praises as a man of peace and a unifier if he were the weakling they wanted to make of Southern and Middle belt political leaders.
But how does Samuel Ortom want history to remember him? Is it as a Fulbe hero or an ‘unpopular’ defender of his people when they faced extermination? Definitely no. Governor Ortom has already made his choice. He has sided with the Benue people, and this decision is both irrevocable and historic. It’s a game-changer too. As a commentator noted on social media, “the plan to render the rest of the non-Fulani areas of Nigeria irrelevant and subjected to the North has simply backfired. The actualization of the Fulanization of Nigeria has simply backfired under the strain of bad leadership and vision. We have seen how under Buhari’s watch, violence and other crimes have toppled the world the North of Nigeria thought they had solidly built.”
Governor Ortom’s summation of the Fulani terrorists unmitigated havoc in Benue is instructive: The genocidal terrorists have consistently attacked hundreds of Benue communities burning, killing, raping, and maiming thousands of persons and committing other unspeakable atrocities. Their reign of terror has led to the displacement of over a 1.5Million persons from their ancestral homes and communities who are now living in Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) Camps.”Is’haq Modibbo Kawu offers no solutions to the ongoing extermination of Benue people on their ancestral lands. How many more Benue lives will be snuffed out to justify the ‘new normal’ or before Benue lives begin to matter?
It does not bother Is’haq Modibbo Kawu and his sponsors that setting up a Community Volunteer Squad is, in principle and practice, in line with the concept of Community Policing, which the Nigeria Police has so often canvassed without offering a broad outline for implementation or an operational structure. However, it should bother him if he desires to be taken seriously.
What should State Governments and local communities do when, like Benue, they are overwhelmed by security threats while waiting for Buhari’s incredibly dysfunctional Federal Government to live up to its constitutional responsibility of protecting lives and properties? As at the last count, states like Niger, Kaduna, Plateau, Sokoto, Zamfara and many more have been overran by these terrorists. Many of these states have taken the lead in establishing their community vigilante outfits by whatever name or code. A good example is the Igbomina Community in Modibbo Kawu’s Kwara State, which, like most of Benue state, is also at the receiving end of Fulani barbarism.
Unable to sit idly by while the Fulani terrorists were systematically killing their people, the Igbomina Traditional Council took drastic measures to stem the influx of the Fulani immigrants, noting, “We have already agreed that those who have already settled on our lands are enough and that we do not want any more of them here. If we cannot send those already here back, we would not allow any new Fulani settlers in our land.” The Olupo of Ajase Ipo, Oba Ismail Atoloye II, reportedly told the Igbomina professionals who came to complain to him that the local traditional and community leaders are doing their best to secure the areas. The traditional ruler added, instructively, that “any community that is devoid of security is in peril because insecurity will eventually wipe out that community.”
The Southwest States have their Amotekun and the Southeast states have their Ebube Agu. Hunters Associations are active local vigilantes in many north central and North Eastern states. Why is Benue being ridiculed for doing what other states have already done?
Let the likes of Kawu and their sponsors, protectors, and promoters know that Governor Ortom has chosen to side with the Benue people against the killer Fulani terrorists, who, in addition to their tribal, chauvinistic inclinations and bigoted vituperations, is seeking to dodge damning corruption charges brought against him and for which led to his disgraceful removal as the Director General of the National Broadcasting Commission. Kawu thinks he will attack and denigrate Governor Ortom so as to earn for himself, another place at the table of the establishment. However, it is their spurious lies against stubborn truth.
In Benue, where every vote counts, Governor Samuel Ortom was re-elected with an overwhelming majority, despite running against the might and power of the APC Federal Government. And his sterling achievements as Governor are too numerous to mention. He has prioritized the security and safety of Benue citizens and all lawful residents of the state. This is paramount.
Kawu has plied the same old tune sang by agents of the federal government when he talked about salaries and other sundry issues. Apart from some arrears, Benue civil servants have been paid monthly since 2018. Except for the last two months when allocations to states dwindled because the NNPC did not remit its statutory contribution to the FAAC. And situations like this is not peculiar to Benue alone.
Under Ortom’s administration, the National PENCOM Law has been effectively domesticated. As we speak, Benue State has saved more than N5bn from the contributions into the fund, making it easier for civil servants to draw from when they retire. This is a way of solving the perennial pension liabilities that had plagued previous administrations.
The education sector has also witnessed a new lease of life with the reconstruction of the School of Nursing now under School of Health Sciences of the Benue State University; more than 700 school blocks of classrooms have been constructed across the state with the provision of thousands of plastic chairs and tables for primary and secondary schools; the reconstruction of the special school for exceptional children, in Aliade; and the provision of computers to schools across the state. The Ortom Administration has also undertaken massive infrastructural development, boosting the state’s socioeconomic and physical space outlook.
A legacy project like the digitizing and upgrading of the land administration through Benue Geographic InformationSystems, BENGIS is underway to change that sector. Ortom’s administration has established skills acquisition centers in the three senatorial districts; completed the Benue Shopping complex in Karu; and reconsteucted Mama Abayol Orphanage home. The Benue State traditional institution is being repositioned with the reconstruction of an ultra-modern Tor-Tiv and Och’Idoma Palaces to meet with contemporary times. And despite its lean resources occasioned by the numerous security challenges it has faced, the Ortom administration has completed strategic road projects in Makurdi, Gboko, Otukpo, Zaki Biam, Agatu, Guma and many more to accelerate economic development and improve the land transportation sector and also aid security.
Governor Ortom has been able to record tangible impacts with the construction of roads including the Aper Aku Road, the Captain Downs road, Martin Dent road, Ahmadu Bello way, and the J.S. Tarka way, all in Gboko. In the state capital, Makurdi, the following roads have been constructed: the Mobile Barrack-Yaikyo road, the Akpehe -Iorhon road, Gabriel Suswam Road, Bam-Bam road, and the Tse Poor-Apir Road. In Otukpo, the Armstrong Road, Otukpo, the Och’Idoma road, and the Commercial Road have all been reconstructed. Other newly built roads include the Odoudaje-Aondona road, the Oshigbudu Obagaji road, the Utonkon-Igumale – Apa Agila road, and the Origbo-Imande-Akpu-Gbajimba road with many streets completed or ongoing. So we don’t know where Kawu got his warped understanding of how the Governor has not performed from. After all, security of lives and properties too is a key component of statecraft.
Impressed by the level of development witnessed in Benue State under Governor Samuel Ortom, and in defiance of the security crises inflicted on the people by the Fulani terrorists, which has negatively affected all aspects of lives and physical development, a first-class traditional ruler and classmate of the Governor, HRH, Alhaji Aku Egbaje, The Ejeh of Ofu, in Ofu local government, on a solidarity visit to the Governor had this to say: “Myself and some of our classmates that came around, we were impressed. And I remember telling him (Governor Ortom) that he is doing what Napoleon could not attempt and it was not an exaggeration. We went round and we saw a lot which he had done for his state. We only beg him that he should keep it up. Those who criticise him now will see the benefits of some of the hard decisions he has taken for his state and by extension Nigeria. Let him keep up the good work.”
So, let Ishaq Modibbo Kawu not use Governor Ortom in his desperation to re-endear himself for a space at the king’s table after an unceremonious exit from the high heights. For the avoidance of doubt, the Benue people have elected a leader who, like Moses in the Bible, will lead them out of the hands of the terrorists Fulani and to the promised land. We are emphatic that let the Benue people find their peace because our lives matter.
Ikyur is the Chief Press Secretary to the Benue State Governor