A mixed voice of co-operation, protest and contestation is coming over from Makurdi, the Benue State capital in Nigeria in the wake of Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo’s on-going visit to the state. While the visit is for the opposition People’s Democratic Party, (PDP) window dressing for a political mission, a number of civil society platforms in the state are saying it is looking forward to seeing the president himself visit several communities in the Benue Valley who have also suffered terror attacks even as it expressed relief that the Presidency has, in their own words, remembered its duty to all peoples in Nigeria, especially in the Benue Valley. “We stand solidly behind the Government of Nigeria as it seeks justice for those killed in the Benue Valley and rebuild the affected communities and are committed to working with all stakeholders to bring about lasting peace and prosperity to the region and Nigeria” the loose collectives said.
But that is as far as the co-operative gaze goes. Otherwise, the platforms are collectively calling the remembrance a belated empathy and expressing doubt that there could be lasting peace if justice was not seen to be done, calling on the Federal Government and the international community to, in that regard, fish out the funders of those behind the killings across the Benue Valley.
Taking note of the sum of NGN10billion the Presidency said it has set aside for rehabilitation of affected communities, the platforms are emphatic that the sum is not a substitute for a single Nigerian life and is nowhere near enough for the sheer scale of loss of life, injury, trauma and damage to the lives of the Benue people and their communities. Connecting the sum to the on-going contest for power, they expressed hope that it is “not an effort to buy the votes of a people in difficulty who have been impoverished by the triple devils of poor governance, floods and terror”, adding that a responsible, empathetic and proactive government but not money would bring about security.
The list of demands stretches to the call on the Federal Government to allocate more resources to Benue and other affected states to rebuild affected communities and to work directly with communities, CSOs, the international community and other stakeholders to ensure that such funds are not diverted by federal, state and local government agencies for elections and private interests. These are in addition to more efficient, proactive and impartial security measures to be put in place to protect the lives of farmers.
They are equally calling on the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the Benue Valley States’ Emergency Management Agencies and the international community to assist the affected communities by publishing the exact numbers of those displaced by these attacks, including the figures in the Displacement Tracking Matrix for Nigeria. Without accurate data, we cannot address the problems, it said.
Sesor Empowerment Foundation; Benue Valley Professionals Network; CEE-HOPE and the Benue-We-Deserve Foundation, the platforms which signed the statement expressed want the Vice-President and his team to also visit communities such as Agila, Agatu, Omusu which have recorded killings and speedily address the breakdown of law and order arising from what it puts to cattle roaming on farm fields across the communities and destroying their livelihoods in spite of an anti-grazing law. Doing so, says the organisations, would help to address the suspicion of a genocidal agenda against the people of the Benue Valley voiced at the stakeholders meeting and vehemently denied by the Vice-President.
It points out the contradiction in how the visit was handled by a flight into Makurdi with a Nigerian Air Force plane, the same Air Force and all its arsenal that it says could not be deployed to protect and to provide surveillance to protect the lives of the hundreds wasted by terrorists who “presumably travelled by boat and on foot over terrain that could be easily seen from the air”. They are, calling on the Federal Government and the International Community to launch an inquiry into the Nigerian Air Force’s failure to take all steps necessary to prevent and forestall the attacks, failure which they are holding to explain the loss of many lives and the displacement of tens of thousands. Expressing gladness that the Makurdi airfield is still functional, it is hoping that part of the rehabilitation for affected Benue communities would involve the operation of commercial flights to Makurdi to open up the state for the receipt of sorely needed aid and to grant easier access to farmers for rebuilding of the state’s devastated economies.
Insisting on the Federal Government paying compensation to the affected communities, farmers and families who have suffered loss and deprivation, the platforms also want a register of all those we have lost their in the Benue Valley and memorials to the banditry as a NEVER AGAIN signature tune from across the Benue Valley.