Herdsmen violence in Benue State last week has thrown Nigeria into and kept it in a framing warfare which almost always leads to actual shooting war. This is more so that the framing war is over the sort of violence that experts say could be the eve of a civil war. They put their fears at the scale of arming said to be going on in anticipation of herdsmen attack and the strengthening of militias also said to be going on across the country. On the whole, the framing game is seen to be stretching elite fragmentation in the north to its upper limits in a dangerous drama on how identity is shaping citizenship in the context of severe underdevelopment, poverty, leadership crisis and declining stateness of the state in Nigeria. The last has, however, not been heard.
The latest entrant is Chief Edward Ujege, the President General of the Tiv cultural organisation, Mdzough u Tiv. Chief Ujege is slamming the Inspector-General of Police for classifying the recent Benue killings as communal clash. By Ujege’s schema, it was an invasion. Ujege is describing the statement by the Inspector General of Police, Ibrahim Idris on the renewed killings as not only misleading but also making “a mockery of the souls of children, pregnant women, old men and youths of the state murdered in cold blood by armed Fulani herdsmen in the last few days”.
The facts on the ground do not indicate clash between any two groups within Benue State but rather a well planned and foretold unprovoked invasion by a group that had vowed to resist the anti-open grazing law, he also said in his intervention in which he credited Miyetti Allah Kautal Hore or the Fulani herdsmen’s umbrella organisation with openly declaring planned mobilization and invasion of the state to resist the law when Samuel Ortom, the Benue State governor signed the law on May 22nd, 2017.
Pinning the IG down to it, the cultural leader said he expected the Inspector General to, as the chief police officer in the country, have a better grasp of the facts of the attacks on Benue people and relate it to what he claimed Fulani herdsmen reckon with the crisis in Benue as a struggle for natural resources since their coming to the Benue Valley predated the present inhabitants
Calling it contradictory for the Inspector General of Police to describe the situation as communal even after he has ordered investigation, Chief Ujege is lumping the Inspector General of Police with what he calls a conspiracy of the Fulani leaders about the crisis in Benue State. He insists on President Muhammadu Buhari directing security agencies to arrest and prosecute the National President of Miyetti Allah Kautal Hore, Abdullahi Bello Bodejo, and the group’s National Secretary, Saleh Alhassan, whom he said had repeatedly threatened to mobilize their members across the country to resist implementation of the Open Grazing Prohibition and Ranches Establishment Law enacted by the Benue State Government.
Chief Ujege’s comments are coming on the heels of a well aimed shot at President Buhari yesterday by Prof. Iyorwuese Hagher, US based former Minister for Power and Steel and a scholar of Tiv identity who threw charges of betraying democracy and promoting genocide at President Buhari. In the current letter to President Buhari, Prof Hagher charged President Buhari with acting irresponsibly by allowing what he constructed as the Benue genocide to take place. “You have also failed to lead from the front; giving the impression that centrifugal forces around you are dictating vicious anti-people agenda”, he further charged, indicating that many Nigerians think the president has failed the country “by the lack of a clear vision and a lack of capacity to provide needed infrastructure and a composite holistic development”.
Before finally asking the president to step aside and let someone else take up the mantle of leadership, the former minister said nomadic terrorists accelerated the ethnic cleansing in Benue State by strategically moving against the Tiv whom he describes as the largest minority ethnicity in northern Nigeria. The agenda, he said, is to be located in the belief of the perpetrators that nobody can stand in their way to possess the land and carve a new geo-polity and demography for the middle-belt if they could ethnic cleanse the Tiv.
The Presidency has, however, shot back almost immediately by digging up Prof Hagher’s similar attack on the Goodluck Jonathan administration in 2012 for doing “very little to address the issues that underlie the conflict and nothing to stop the war”. The war in question is what Prof Hagher called “a full-scale war of aggression against the Tiv in Benue, Nassarawa and Taraba states” which he traced as follows: “On March 5, 2012, scores of Fulani invaders, crossed river Benue into Benue State. Armed with AK47, Mark 4 and other assault weapons, the Fulani invaders sacked the Tiv farming community, marching through a distance of thirty kilometers from Tse Abatse Mbamegh to Tse Joo. They killed all men, women and children in their path. They also destroyed farmland, economic trees, and burnt down several houses, food barns and killed domestic animals. These communities have had neither previous quarrel nor conflict with the Fulani”
In seeking to portray the politician-don as engaging in rehearsed activism, The Presidency dug up the previous piece by the author in which he had also alleged conspiracy of top ranking Fulani elite with the Fulani herdsmen in an agenda to partition Tiv farmlands into Fulani cattle grazing reserves and resources through the acquiescence of the Jonathan administration. Prof Hagher cited the national grazing bill being introduced at the National Assembly at the time as part of giving legality “to this conspiracy of land dispossession, and usurpation”.
Much earlier on, Chief Paul Unongo, Second Republic Minister for Steel Development and Chairman of the Northern Elders Forum identified Atiku Abubakar, former Vice-President and presidential aspirant as financier of the umbrella organisation of the cattle breeders central to the on-going crisis. In a swift response, Atiku not only denied such, he also disclosed he has never been a member of the umbrella.
In what appears the biggest rift so far on the crisis, Alhaji Sani Zangon-Daura, Chief Unongo’s deputy has denounced Unongo for taking the forum into controversy which he said they never get into. His intervention suggests absolute disinclination of the forum to accept undercutting the former Vice-President. By implication, they are not nursing pre-ordained angst against him. On the other hand, by denying advising Buhari on the herdsmen violence which they condemn, Zangon Daura’s statement suggests the inclination of members to stay off what many see as an unfolding miasma.
It is a miasma in terms of the Buhari regime’s loud silence as the crisis was developing as well as ruling class failure to solve a very simple problem of modernising agriculture and removing the contradiction that has developed between traditional farming and transhumance. Some observers consider this to be more painful when they recollect that long before ever realising his ambition of a second time in power, President Buhari had said in a speech how contradictory it is for there to be any conflict between farmers who produce the food and herdsmen who provide the protein. Today, there are many parts of Benue, just to cite an example, where farming is absolutely impossible once cattle troop through any area because they end up compacting the farmland to the anger of the farmers. The question on the lips is if this requires any protest from the farmers before an intelligent government makes a move? And it is the failure of all Nigerian governments to make such move even as they claim to be agriculture reform minded that makes the narrative of expansionism and Islamisation to click to even its doubting Thomases. How lumpen can a bourgeoisie degenerate at a time when parts of the world are recording wonders in agricultural transformation?