By OLUSESAN LAOYE
The recent assassination attempt on the Benue State Governor Dr. Samuel Ortom has again brought to the fore the security challenges facing the country, and further heightened political tension that has been simmering over the activity of Fulani herdsmen, who were allegedly the attack. Benue state has been on tinder box since the governor signed the Anti opening grazing bill in 2018 following the January first massacre which claimed 74 lives.
The governor was allegedly attacked in his farm last weekend by suspected herders and the governor was said to have ran up to a kilometre to escape his assailants, while his security details engaged the invaders in gun battle. The herders had vowed to make the state ungovernable unless the law is scrapped.
The governor’s attack, according to the former Deputy Governor of the Central Bank and the Presidential candidate of the African Democratic Congress (ADC), Dr. Obadiah Mailafia, must have confirmed the on-going suspicion that the Fulani have perfected plans to run over Benue and other parts of the Middle Belt and take over Nigeria, using killings and kidnapping to achieve this, by instilling fears on the people.
From all indications, it has shown that the areas targeted are the Middle Belt, and the entire southern parts of Nigeria, where they believe there is enough vegetation to feed their cattle.
What actually bothers the people of these areas, where the Fulani are eying to establish their colonies, has been the mode of their operations of trying to forcefully grab the land by destroying farm lands, kidnapping and demanding heavy ransom to cower down the people to submission.
Their actions have rendered the original owners of the villages, where the strike homeless because many, usually run away abandoning their farms and homes for their lives. The impunity, with which they carry out these dastardly acts without being apprehended, or prosecuted, has made many Nigerians and their victims to believe that there are some powerful element at the federal level behind their actions.
The attacks on the people by the Fulani who now roam about with sophisticated weapons un- challenged, began in the Middle Belt States of Benue, Plateau, Nasarawa,and Taraba but that of Benue have been more pronounced, because of the hard stance of the governor. For the past six years, Benue State has been at the mercy of the herdsmen who usually killed the people in the villages where they struck.
This actually made the people of the state to lose confidence in the President Muhammadu Buhari led All Progressives Congress (APC) government, which they had embraced overwhelmingly in 2015. Because the people rejected the APC, their Gvernor Ortom had to move along with them to the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).
Since then, he has been the voice of his people being constantly attacked by the Fulani without the Federal government considering their plights and complaints.
Also since the advent of the present government of President Buhari in 2015 Governor Ortom had suffered three attempts to his life. The latest being that of last weekend in his farm, which he claimed was carried out, after the Meyatti Allah’s meeting in Bauch, where the governor said he was singled out in the Middle Belt for assassination, and alleging that Governor Bala Mohammed should be held responsible anything happened to hm.
Governor Ortom according to feelers from the meeting was said to be the one standing against their interest and is encouraging other states they planned to take over to protest and subsequently drive their people away with Oyo State as an example.
Ortom, it was argued had no choice but to stand with his people because they have suffered a lot in the hands of the Fulani since 2001when18 farmers were brazenly killed.
Since then, it has been one attack or the other but that of 2016 which was unleashed on the people of Agatu where over 500 farmers were massacred and 7,000 displaced from their farms and homes, drew the attention of the international community which condemned it as genocide.
The worst and the most pathetic ever witnessed in Benue was the massacre of 2018, which led to the mass burial of victims in Makurdi by the State government. What the Fulani actually counted as Ortom’s offence for going after his life is his anti open grazing law, which they believed triggered off all the problems they are having across the country.
They further claimed that if not for Ortom, other states in the South, especially, South West, would not have enacted the same laws seen as counter-productive to the existence of the Fulani in those states.
Since the news of Ortom’s attack became public, the questions which have continued to run through the minds of Nigerians, is who is safe? If the attackers had succeeded what could have happened because it would mean an attack on the entire people of the Middle Belt.
Definitely, it was further argued that it would have posed a serious threat to the existence of Nigeria, since the Middle Belt Forum is part of the coalition of socio cultural groups, along with those in the Southern Nigeria, calling for restructuring. It was believed that they would not have been afraid to go to full blast war with the Fulani, a situation that could have spelt doom on Nigerian state.
Again, the implication would mean that no governor as Chief Security offers of their respective states would be safe anymore.
Although the Federal government may have looked at the incident as something minor in view of the way it reacted, political analysts and concerned citizens of Nigeria, did not take it lightly and they rose up to condemned the incident knowing the implications.
As the governor himself said “the attack was not on me alone but on the people of Benue and the entire Middle Belt region because they would not have taken it lightly if anything had happened to me”.
He alleged that the attempted assassination on his life was planned by the Miyatti Allah in their recent meeting, where he was singled out as the major hindrance against their plans to take over Nigeria.
According to Governor Ortom, “their plan was to over-power my security and capture me alive and kill me gradually”. He pointed out that he would continue to fight for justice and rule of law and as well stand by his people.
“I don’t have problems with any Fulani but my problem is with terrorists among them who believed that they are not ready to subject themselves to the rule of law in the areas where they are operating”.
He then promised to petition the Presidency and all Security Operatives, to properly investigate the matter, as the Inspector General of Police had dispatched a powerful team of investigators to Benue to look into the matter.
After a meeting with President Buhari on Tuesday, Ortom re-iterated his position on stopping the forceful annexation of their land. It had taken the Presidency over 48 hours to respond to the incident prompting concerns over the government indifference.
Reacting, former deputy governor of Central Bank Dr. Obadiah Mailafia, said that “those who wanted to kill Ortom should realise the implications of their actions. If a sitting governor is not safe in his state, then it means that no-one is safe in Nigeria. I want them to know that people of the Middle Belt are not afraid of the Fulani and I want them to know as well that if something bad had happened to Governor Ortom, the people of Middle Belt would never accept it.”
Former Senate President David Mark expressed sadness over the attack on Ortom, and warned the government not to push the citizens to self help which could lead to anarchy. Also, Governor Nyesom Wike of Rivers State argued that killing Ortom would have been the end of Nigeria because it could lead to a serious civil war.
Earlier, chairman of the Nigerian Governors Forum, Dr. Kayode Fayemi of Ekiti state, had condemned the attack, insisting that it should not go unpunished.
Also former vice President Alhaji Atiku Abubakar condemned the incident, saying it was time for Nigeria to re-jig its security system that would give room for individual state to control its internal security network.
As the controversies over the attack on Governor Ortom rages, a Fulani group under the aegis of Fulani Nationality Movement has claimed it was responsible for the attack, saying that it meant to kill the governor but the attempt failed due to some slight communication error in its plan.
Meanwhile, former Aviation Minister, Femi Fani kayode has identified the link of the the Fulani Nationality Movement.
According to him, the group has a strong link with ISIS West Africa and exchanges intelligence and joint operations with the organisations, which is foreign based.
He called on the Nigerian government to declare the Fulani group as terrorists, who should be treated the way Boko Haram is being treated.
The Federal government while reacting to Ortom’s attack, argued that it should not be politicised and condemned the incident.
The spokes man for the Presidency Alhaji Shehu Garba said any attack on a Nigerian is an attack on everybody and called for open and transparent investigations into the incident.