The heightened state of insecurity across central Nigeria played out yesterday when pandemonium broke out at the landing at Okpoga, the Okpokwu Local Government Council Headquarters of the helicopter conveying Mr Habila Joshak, the Deputy-Inspector-General of Police in charge of Operations to a peace effort in the LGA following a clash between locals and herdsmen the previous day. In the most dramatic manifestation of that mental state of siege and uncertainty which has engulfed Benue State since the January 1st, 2018 killings, Intervention has learnt how the sight of the DIG’s helicopter sent a wave of rumours to surrounding villages in the nearby Edumoga District from where villagers took flight into the depth of the populous Edumoga District. The helicopter might have been misinterpreted as another form of militia invasion or a police crackdown as it was coming on the heels of what appears the opening of another front of the herdsmen-farmers crisis two days ago at a Fulani settlement. It is understood that the worst hit villages are Ingle, Ojapo, Ollo, Akpoga where men and women have all fled, leaving only elders and children.
What might have provoked this particular clash remains unclear but Intervention stringer on the spot as well as some local notables said a herder was killed along with many cows. Casualties on the other side remain unknown yet as some people who are feared to have been shot have taken flight. In the end, DIG Joshak appealed for peace in the area at a security meeting with the leader of the Fulani community in Okpokwu LGA, local notables and the LGA authority. The DIG’s arrival, it was learnt, was preceded by a surveillance process although the nature of the surveillance is also not clear whether this was from the air or by some intelligence team. The dynamics of this flashpoint are as fussy as it can be but senior citizens of the area appear to be working on a consensus for peace in the area.
Benue State has been transformed into the theatre of herdsmen violence following what the media has now dubbed the Benue Killings during which over 70 persons were killed in a New Year day militia attack. In 2016, a similar violence ensued in Agatu. What has become known as Fulani militia and their raids on communities has accentuated fault lines to breaking points in Nigeria, particularly that the government has been unable to stop the trend or arrest any set of the perpetrators since 2009 when the trend took roots in and around conflict sites in Plateau State.
The Northern Elders Forum, (NEF), for instance, has suffered a rupture with Dr Paul Unongo, its first convenor from the Middle Belt, an action that suggests a contradiction between his local commitments at the moment vis-a-vis the commitments of NEF. In any case, Unongo’s stepping down is coming on the heels of an earlier statement that his deputy and eventual successor, Sani Zangon Daura, criticised openly and dissociated the forum from. Unongo’s statement was that Atiku Abubakar, former Vice-President is a sponsor of Fulani militia. The former Vice-President has since slammed Unongo with a N200b suit.
Discordant tunes have emanated from the governors of the Middle Belt area, with some challenging their counterparts on key issues involved but only to apologise even while restating the same argument. It signals how confusing and divisive the conflict has been. The Fulani identity of the incumbent Nigerian president has also compounded analysis of the conflict as quite many perceive that to have constrained him from acting as decisively as they expect on a security challenge that contests state authority in a militia overrunning any territory of a sovereign state, no matter the provocation. Some political leaders compounded the issue by internationalising the trend in the claim that they went to pay compensation to the killers so as to stop the practice. This has brought about the question as to what manner of state in the world would identify perpetrators of violence in its territory who are not its citizens without making it a case of inter-state complaints within the UN system?
The greatest fear, however, is the capacity of the badly fragmented Nigerian elite to arrive at a consensus on the issue especially at a time a campaign for restructuring is strong on the ground.