Root and remedies of the Benue crisis
Forgetfulness, and I would even say historical error, are essential in the creation of a nation-Ernest Renan
Ibegin this intervention on the raging tragedy involving the Tiv and the Fulani in my home state of Benue with Renan’s theory of anthropological “forgetfulness”. Not forgetfulness in the nihilist sense of altering moral values, religion, tradition and ethnics differences, but the kind of forgetfulness that rises above conflict and the reasons there in.
I am a Benue indigene, but a part of my formative years were happily spent in Keffi, the then Plateau State, and now Nasarawa State. I shared my eventful childhood with the Fulani and several other ethnic groups; a veritable melting-pot situation that we took for granted
As Renan’s disquisition on the subject of forging differences into nations found, some of the greatest countries in the world today are peopled by citizens who do not share lineages.
For the purpose of this opinion, I would like to say there are two kinds of forgetfulness: the one that makes nations and the other that destroys unions long forged by trade, politics and other means.
The latter kind of forgetfulness is the reason for the senseless and unabated killings in Benue State at the moment. It is shocking that in less than three decades of a carnage wrought by the Maitatsine in parts of the North East and Kano State, a second round of Maitatsine is with us and leadership appears to be lacking to quell it.
The persistence of this unprecedented crisis feeds on the acute lack of leadership, competence and decisiveness. Like the Maitatsine in the 80s, and unlike earlier land disputes between the Fulani and Tiv, these latest killings appear to be done by mercenaries from the neighbouring countries of Cameroun, Chad and some studies suggest from Mali, sponsored by highly placed individuals in the country.
This time, the situation threatens to consume not just my beloved State, but there is a frightening possibility that this would soon spread to the neighbouring South-South State of Cross River and even the South-east through Enugu, which is just a few miles from the Southern part of Benue.
Taraba State, another Benue neighbour, is already revving to take the cue.
Already, pockets of skirmishes have been recorded between the Tiv, Fulani and Jukun in the area, with the possibility that Jukun-associated ethnic groups like the Etulo and the Nyifon in Buruku and Katsina-Ala local governments would soon join the fray.
The tragedy is taking no prisoners. Not even the Benue people of the GumaMakurdi-Gwer axis who have had long association with the Fulani dating back to 1943, through Mallam Audu Afoda are spared.
I n only three months, more than a thousand deaths have been recorded, with properties and crops worth billions of naira destroyed by the rampaging herdsmen and foreign mercenaries hired to torment, kill, torture, destroy our civilization and reduce our economy which began to pick up last year to rubbles.
These sponsored marauders and cahoots with Fulani herdsmen, have gone as far as even attempting to take the life of our Governor Gabriel Torwua Suswam while he was on his way to one of the affected communities.
The mercenaries and their internal collaborators have also taken their merchandise of blood to the Agatu, the first part of Benue State to embrace Islam and the Hausa-Fulani, long before 1928, when some part of Idoma was excised from the South-east and joined to Benue.
The vestiges of our long association with the Fulani are there: for example the Yelwata area in Makurdi is named by the Fulani, same for Wadata and several others. But the politics underlying the wilful forgetfulness of our political leadership would not allow sleeping dogs lie.
These bandits and terror merchants working with powerful people in the country and outside it are threatening to break the legendary will power, courage and resilience of the Tiv in particular and the Benue people in general. They are bent on demonizing Islam and rubbishing the basis for a long association of peoples of the Benue valley and their neighbours.
The economy of Benue State continues to slide, as death toll rises even with the recent intervention of the Federal Government. My own village in Guma Local Government has been sacked, same for the village of our paramount chief, Dr Alfred Akawe Torkula. Makurdi, the state capital has become a huge refugee camp.
As a member of the House of Representatives representing Makurdi/Guma Federal Constituency since 2007, I have worked with other lawmakers to end the crisis in the state, but in the course of this patriotic and very necessary duty, I and my dutiful team, have found that there are underlying reasons for this conflict beyond the reasons of grazing routes.
Some of these reasons are disunity among the Tiv and Agatu communities affected, lack of planning and the sheer vulnerability for such attacks, because of lack of adequate security measures by the state and federal governments.
The National Assembly must also enact a law on cattle grazing and vest the powers of enforcement of the law on veterinary officers and district authorities in all parts of the country, in line with the Uganda model.
The East African country is one of the earliest in the world to enact a far reaching legislation on cattle grazing.
The Cattle Grazing Act of Uganda was enacted on October 31, 1945. The law prescribes punitive measures against indiscriminate grazing of cattle on unauthorised lands.
Section 2(1) of the Act states inter alia: “no person shall cause or permit any cattle belonging to him or her or under his or her control to graze on any land in respect of which there is in force an order made by a veterinary officer prohibiting grazing or in respect of which there is in force any order or rule made by a district administration prohibiting grazing”.
Another subsection goes further to prescribe for the impoundment of offending cattle by a veterinary officer or district authority. In the case of Benue in particular, or Nigeria in general, it could be a second class traditional head.