IT is tragic and unfortunate that though the 2023 general elections have come and gone, won and lost, yet precious lives of Benue people are mindlessly still being wasted.
Although no one is pretty sure of what may be the immediate trigger to the current bloodbath, many are beginning to disbelieve the narrative of diabolical Fulani narrative against the backdrop of intense politicking between the powers that be in the Peoples Democratic Party in the state and the All Progressives Congress (APC). While the motive in trading precious human lives on the altar of mundane politics may not be clear, what is not a hidden secret is the intensity of political animosity and clash of egos which inevitably and inexorably had impacts down the rank and file of their ardent, in fact, cult-like followership.
Prior to the elections, the APC perpetually accused the PDP-led State government of causing the killings through cattle rustling, using the State Livestock guards amongst other alleged causative factors. The APC had on that basis promised to stop the killings and return Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) to their ancestral homes if they won the gubernatorial seat.
Shortly after the Presidential and National Assembly elections, the killings intensified again especially in the Tiv speaking areas of the state. This made the APC to allege that PDP was behind the killings to use it as a campaign strategy to prove that it (PDP) remains the only the party capable of protecting the Benue Valley through the Open Grazing Prohibition and Ranches Establishment Law, 2017 enacted by the State House of Assembly and signed into law by Governor Samuel Ortom.
After the governorship and state Assembly elections, there was actually a break in the pogrom. Following the truce, the APC concluded that the killings stopped because the electioneering campaigns were over and the chief accomplice, the state government, was known. A recent video in which the APC leader in the state, Senator George Akume, who is also the Minister of Special Duties and Inter-governmental Affairs, granted interview to the media is a solid proof to this.
Within few days after Akume’s interview video went viral; the killings again resumed with fresh viciousness, and in less than three days, over one hundred persons were reportedly massacred in Otukpo and Guma local government areas of the state.
Could it be that these killings were inspired so as to disprove APC’s narrative? If the APC is a Fulani party as often alleged by the PDP in the cause of the electioneering, would it not be against logic or common sense for the so-called Fulani militia to continue the killing spree when obviously their alleged candidate won the governorship election and would soon be crowned? Will the Fulanis not be fighting against their interest if the killings were to continue, or are they so bloodthirsty?
Another pointer to the political undertone of the killings is the body language of the PDP members/social media handlers. Whenever people are killed, instead of mourning, they quickly post with smiling emojis on Facebook that Governor Ortom and the PDP have lost elections but the killings have continued. They also use the killings to prove the point that the killings are real, not propaganda as painted by the APC.
There is no gainsaying the fact that attacks and killings are real! But it is also now crystal clear that these killings are politically-motivated. Many discerning minds in Benue State may have come to the realisation that there exists somewhere a nexus between these killings and the overall quest for power and control of the political economy of the state, which unfortunately are easily and conclusively blamed on Fulani herdsmen with little or no concretely evidence other than the shouting of ‘Allah hu Akbar’ in the course of the killings.
Another worrisome scenario is the perceived intention of the PDP, made noticeable through their expressions. Having lost elections, PDP members are likely not ready to cooperate with the APC-led state government under Rev. Fr. Hyacinth Alia, to protect the lives and property in Benue even while the governor-elect is calling on all hands to be on deck to collectively tackle the multiple challenges facing the state.
For some observers, the PDP may not be disposed to patiently wait to see Fr. Alia fulfilling his election promise to end the killings and return the IDPs to their ancestral homes. This school of thought believe that these elements are not willing to fold their hands and watch Alia achieve the promise, hoping that failure to quell the insecurity and quickly too, will ultimately attract criticism against Alia and a sense of nostalgia for the Ortom’s style of confrontational leadership.
Fr. Alia had on several occasions stated that he will ensure coexistence between herders and farmers for peace to reign. According to him, the Ikyogen Cattle Ranch and other ranches in the state will be resuscitated to be used by herders as enshrined in the Open Grazing Prohibition and Ranches Establishment Law, 2017, that pivotal ranches will be established as models to be emulated by the herders.
But will ranches end the herders/farmers conflict? The conflict has lingered since 2011, years before the passage and signing of Open Grazing Prohibition and Ranches Establishment Law whose original goal is to foster peace between herders and farmers.
When the crisis toughened in 2014 to the extent that all mortuaries in Tiv land were filled with corpses, the state government under the then governor, Gabriel Suswam, announced that people of the state should hastily bury their deceased relatives without depositing their remains in morgues for befitting burials when the crisis would have abated.
Fr. Alia had in a recent video re-echoed that goal stating that Fulani herdsmen will coexist with Benue people as it was in the past before the open conflict began twelve years ago. Some are of the view that under the existing fragility in the state, it will be a herculean task managing a peaceful coexistence between many communities and the Fulani herdsmen, as there still exist sizeable population of Fulani herders in many parts of state.
Those who doubt any success in relationship easily point to the attempt to do so during the Suswam leadership when he set up a reconciliatory committee which resolved that Fulani herdsmen should be allowed to live together with farmers for peace to reign.
Notwithstanding the current scenario of frayed nerves caused by a collective sense of siege and distrust between and amongst Benue people vis-à-vis the herders, and the consequential challenges these pose for a harmonious future, there is no better and viable option other than the restoration of peace.
One of the most positive steps to take in evolving peace is to convoke a peace conference drawing key stakeholders in Benue to a roundtable discussion. Apart from the top government functionaries in all the arms of government to constitute the nucleus of membership of the proposed conference, representatives of local government tier, traditional councils down to the grassroots, security agencies and relevant federal agencies and civil society organisations should be co-opted as members.
This is necessary because the conflict has festered and therefore it is not likely to be resolved by any shortcut measure to an intended solution. The prospect for peace, fortunately, is high, against the fact that there is a huge goodwill and popular believe that the governor-elect has a package of solutions to the multiple problems facing the state. Apart from seeing him as a true man of God, a priest who prays and gets answers from God without delay, judging from his reported miraculous healing powers and prayers that set many people free from misfortunes in the past, many certainly repose confidence in him because he is not seen as a conventional politician whose words are never trusted.
So, it’s believed that the killings would come to an end once Alia is sworn-in as the Governor of Benue State come May 29, 2023. Those who hold this belief assert that it was the same Fr. Alia’s powerful prayers that caused a serious quarrel amongst PDP members in Benue State leading to their woeful performance at the polls.