By Zacharys Anger Gundu
Like former President Olusegun Obasanjo, President Buhari should have mustered enough courage and sympathy to go and lay wreaths at the site where the more than 70 victims killed by herdsmen were buried after all; these were slaughtered in their sleep by ‘bad neighbours’
President Muhammadu Buhari was in Makurdi the Benue State capital on 12th March 2018 reportedly on a condolence visit to the State over the recent mass murder of over 73 citizens of the State by Fulani herdsmen. The President seemed to have been coerced into the visit, otherwise the mass murder took place 68 days before and any leader sufficiently concerned would not have waited for more than two months to make the visit. The visit could not have been genuine for in truth, the President did not seem bothered when the mass murder was first reported. Even after Governor Samuel Ortom led ranking Traditional Rulers and elders to report the incident to the President, he was rebuked and asked to return and ‘learn how to live with his neighbours’. The President had no words of restraint to the killer herdsmen and did nothing to convince Nigerians that he took the oath of his office seriously. This President has shown time without number that the safety of cattle takes priority over the safety of citizens. We can recollect how after taking over the reins of power from Goodluck Jonathan, he quickly went to the forests of Zamfara to personally flaggedpp off a military campaign against cattle rustlers led by Buharin Daji.
Anyone who cares to go down memory lane will know that the President had the matter of grazing reserves on the front burner when he took over from Goodluck Jonathan. Two months into his administration, he inaugurated a Grazing Reserves Committee to develop a strategy for mapping grazing reserves and stock routes across the country. The Committee was mandated to use the blue print drafted by the defunct Petroleum Trust Fund (PTF) to resolve the incessant clashes between herdsmen and farmers in the country. It can be recalled that General Muhammadu Buhari as Chairman of PTF had held a Round Table in April 1998 on herdsmen and farmers at which he argued that the clashes between herdsmen and farmers were over land and water. His thesis was that since it was impossible to increase ‘either land or water, the only solution to the incessant clashes was better management and an acceptable sharing formula’ of these scarce resources. At the close of the Round Table, the General canvassed for the amendment of the Land Use Decree of 1978 ‘to meet the demands of Fulani herdsmen and help them acquire grazing reserves’ across the country.
The General wanted a PTF intervention, in which grazing reserves would be identified in each state of the Federation, mapped out, gazetted and rehabilitated with suitable infrastructure including pasture, water supply, schools, clinics and access roads.
President Olusegun Obasanjo scrapped the PTF in 1999 and refused to progress the Fulani pastoral agenda. In 2007 when President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua took over the mantle of leadership from Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, he resuscitated the Fulani pastoral agenda by commissioning the survey and demarcation of grazing reserves across the country. The National Livestock Project Division (NLPD) in Kaduna updated this exercise in 2012. Attempts by Senator Zainab Kure to introduce a private bill for the establishment of grazing reserves and stock routes in the country and the amendment of the Land Use Act during the Goodluck Jonathan years were a build up on these earlier efforts.
President Buhari seems very anxious to ‘finish’ what he started during his PTF days. As a strategist, he must have urged the Fulani of the ‘whole world’ to invade and choke Nigerians into accepting the idea of grazing reserves as an alternative to death. He must have seen the Benue mass murders as a mere irritation. When on a similar visit to Taraba State, a few weeks back, he argued that the killings in Taraba were greater than the Benue killings. In a meeting with Governor Ortom at the State House in Abuja, he asked how Ortom’s herdsmen were doing. It has become clear that Mr. President is not only mocking the people of Benue, he is actually blaming them for being unreasonable.
Because of all these, no right-thinking person would accept President Buhari’s condolence visit as a genuine attempt to commiserate with the people of the State. If it were genuine, he would have sought private audience with the Tor Tiv and other ranking chiefs. In our socio-cultural milieu, the Tor Tiv is not only the chief mourner but also the Chairman of the State Council of Chiefs and could have been saved the indignity of appearing in public with every other person to receive ‘condolences’ of Mr. President. Then there is the other issue of why the President on a genuine condolence visit would avoid going to the site of the mass burial and the camps of Internally Displaced People (IDP). It is true that the President and those close to him did not want the mass burial of January 11th, 2018 yet; it was this mass burial more than anything else that drew national attention to the atrocities of herdsmen in Benue State. These killings had been going on for a long time without notice; the mass burial compelled the nation to take notice of herdsmen’s criminality in the country. Nigeria is not a unitary state where a President would dictate how a people can bury their dead.
Like former President Olusegun Obasanjo, President Buhari should have mustered enough courage and sympathy to go and lay wreaths at the site where the more than 70 victims killed by herdsmen were buried after all; these were slaughtered in their sleep by ‘bad neighbours’. A President with human feelings would also have gone to at least one IDP camp to physically connect to the suffering of children, women and the aged forced to flee their ancestral homes by rampaging herdsmen. A visit to even one IDP camp would have been enough support and assurance that Government is doing everything possible to flush out herdsmen to make way for the return of IDPs to their ancestral lands. Because the President did not do this, it would be difficult for the Governor and the ‘President’s men’ to convince the ordinary people in the State that he means well and is doing his best to end the incessant attacks by armed herdsmen in parts of the country. While the President continues to advise farmers in public to live peacefully with herdsmen, he has never advised herders to do same and because herdsmen have continued to attack without restraint, one has no choice but to conclude that his government is actually emboldening herdsmen.
The Inspector General of Police (IGP) has repeatedly spoken the language of herdsmen and attempted severally to change the narrative in favour of herdsmen. He has often argued that the Benue crisis is the result of the anti open grazing law, even though everyone knows the crisis predates the law. A good police chief would also have known that the courts are open to hear those dissatisfied with any law and it is not for such people to begin to kill ‘their neighbours’ in their sleep because they are opposed to the law.
The visit also gave us a peep into the President’s style of governance. In Makurdi, the President was told that the IGP disregarded the presidential directive to relocate to Makurdi on account of the crisis. The President’s claim that he knew this for the first time beats the imagination and could only be possible if he was not sufficiently concerned on the matter. The President also curiously confessed sharing the IGP’s security report on the crisis with Senators George Akume and Barnabas Gemade. What could have been the motive for this? Does it not make more sense to have shared the report with Governor Samuel Ortom who remains the Chief Security Officer of the State? Could this have been an attempt by the President to break the ranks of political leaders in Benue and entice some of them to step over the blood of their kith and kin to join the Fulani side? Only time will tell.
The President also had very generous complimentary words for Chief Audu Ogbeh, the Minister of Agriculture, whom he described as a ‘great asset in my government’. While the President commended Chief Ogbeh for empowering farmers with loans from the Central Bank, he forgot that under Chief Ogbeh’s watch, thousands of farmers in Benue State had been murdered in cold blood and could not have benefitted from any loans from the Central Bank.
Reacting to demands by some stakeholders, the President refused to make any promises saying he would promise only when he returns to Benue on another round of campaign. It would be interesting to know what the President promised to do in Benue State during this tenure and whether he has done it. The state is worse for it today and every sane person is regretting casting his vote for the President.
President Buhari has the dishonorable distinction of embarking on a condolence visit, without soothing words to bereaved families and those affected by the crisis. How does the President expect people affected by the crisis to relate to him knowing that he came to Makurdi and had no comforting words for them? What will be their reason for wanting to vote him again?
The presidential visit to Makurdi has shown clearly that our President is contemptuous of anyone who stands in the way of Fulani hegemony. His expectation is that Benue State should have not attempted to regulate livestock production. From antecedents, he has always wanted an unregulated Fulani monopoly of livestock production in the name of pastoralism. Times have changed and it is no longer possible to allow herders free and unregulated access across the country in the name of pastoralism. It is also not acceptable for Nigerians to be indiscriminately attacked by cross border gangs on their ancestral lands in their sleep. Benue is a wake up call and we must all rise to recover every inch of our country taken by Fulani herdsmen.
Anger, a professor of archaeology is of the
Department of Archaeology,
Ahmadu Bello University,