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Benue traditional rulers’ SOS – NIGERIAN TRIBUNE

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LAST week, second class traditional rulers from the 14 local government areas of Tiv extraction in Benue State raised the alarm over alleged plans by Fulani herdsmen to eliminate Tiv people from Benue, Nasarawa and Taraba states. The traditional rulers, who made the allegation during a courtesy visit to Governor Samuel Ortom in Makurdi, the state capital, called on the Federal Government to immediately take necessary actions to ensure that displaced Tiv people currently in different IDP camps in the state returned to their ancestral homes. The group’s spokesman, Chief Daniel Abomtse, alleged that the Tiv people were constantly being “chased away from their ancestral homes in those states” by herdsmen of Fulani nationality, and with the approval of the authorities. The traditional leaders thus appealed to President Muhammadu Buhari to put in place necessary measures to ensure the recovery of Tiv lands from invaders. Responding, Governor Ortom lamented the incessant killings in Benue by militia herdsmen, adding that the injustice perpetrated by the Federal Government against some parts of the country was uncalled for. According to him, the continued stay of over 1.5 million people in IDP camps had led to a food crisis in the state.
This is, of course, not the first time that traditional authorities have complained about the atrocities of herdsmen in the state. For instance, in March 2016, leaders of ethnic nationalities in the state urged President Buhari to declare Fulani herdsmen invasion of the state and gruesome massacre of the people as acts of terror, and label the perpetrators as terrorists to be routed out by the military. In a communiqué issued at the end of a unity meeting held in Makurdi and attended by the leaders of Tiv, Idoma and Igede, the elders noted that the meeting became necessary following the armed invasion and occupation of their land by Fulani herdsmen and the wanton killing of their people, destruction of homes and farmlands, and the rape of their wives and daughters in 15 local government areas in the state, including Agatu, Gwer East, Gwer West, Makurdi, Guma, Tarka, Buruku, Katsina Ala, Logo, Ukum, Kwande, Oju, Obi and Konshisha.
In a  communiqué jointly signed by Chief Edward Ujege, President-General of Mdzough U TIV (MUT); Dr. Okopi Momoh, President of Idoma National Forum (INF), and Chief Ode Enyi, President-General of Omi Ny Igede, the elders observed that the invading herdsmen had been allowed to wield sophisticated assault weapons unchallenged. They also deplored the assertion by the then Governor Tanko Al-Makura of Nassarawa State that the attacks were mere “skirmishes” that could not be tagged genocide. Then in April 2018, leaders of ethnic groups in the state alleged that there were plans by Fulani herdsmen to attack Makurdi. Chairman of the ethnic groups, Chief Edward Ujege, alleged that 360 military assault rifles had been acquired  by the herdsmen to facilitate the attacks. He noted that similar threats had been issued to Tiv communities in Nasarawa State, with the herdsmen eventually executing the threats, leaving behind sorrow, anguish and lamentations.
Are the Benue elders and traditional rulers merely crying wolf? We think not. Communities in the state have been theatres of bloodshed for years. The genocide perpetrated in Benue communities by the rampaging herdsmen have not only been regularly reported in the media, they have been amply documented by human rights organisations locally and internationally. What is more, the outcries by different groups in the state regarding alleged impending attacks by herdsmen have almost always been followed by the anticipated attacks, evidencing the fact that the threats foreseen were real. It is distressing to realise that with a government in place, Nigeria’s democracy, particularly under the current administration, has become criminally dotted by ethnic supremacy and blatant injustices. It is doubtful that any democracy can thrive where members of certain ethnic groups are considered superior to others and operate with impunity. Even if the powers that be in such climes can give a false impression of unity through suppression of dissent, history proves that such efforts ultimately result in futility. The truth is that no group of people can be held down forever.
The foregoing notwithstanding, it is important to recognise that the constant outcries by leaders of ethnic groups in Benue State will not bring peace to the state. There is a sense in which it is possible to say that if people’s homes and ancestral lands are being taken over at will, it is because such people have enabled such takeovers by their own docility. The Benue elders and traditional rulers need to take charge of their environment by being proactive. They cannot continue waiting for help that will never come: self-defence is recognised by international law. Sitting idly by while herdsmen take over their ancestral heritage is not a viable strategy. That said, it is a shame that the Buhari administration has failed to respect its oath of office to protect the people of Benue State. It has failed to act in the face of an obvious  ethnic cleansing agenda by Fulani herdsmen against the people, leaving them with no option outside self-defence. It has blatantly refused to declare the herdsmen as terrorists despite their rich history of genocidal activities. And it has consistently opposed means such as state police, by which the people could protect themselves. This can only engender anarchy with time.
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