Benue killings: A ‘drowning’ governor and his ‘sleeping’ president

By Ugoji Egbujo

They didn’t tell President Buhari that if he weren’t sleeping on duty he would have known his Inspector General of Police disobeyed him. The noise Governor Ortom generated over that issue was enough to rouse a drowsy man. The governor was so agitated, so breathless, the police labeled him a drowning man. If the president didn’t know the Senate wanted the Police PPRO sacked then it must be more than a mere nap. Benue leaders were polite. They let him tell them he was awake but heard nothing.

Everywhere President Buhari has been in the country recently the crowd has defied his opponents and the bleak projections of their social media army. In Makurdi, there were no crowds. There was no one cheering him on the streets. That was the state he won against huge odds three years ago. If the crowds had been allowed to gather, they would have come with their grief and sticks and stones. If Buhari wasn’t asleep when he entered Makurdi, he would have heard the silence and felt the stones not thrown. He should have been angry.
In that Makurdi town hall the truth was hidden from him. They didn’t want to embarrass him. So they chose their words. He ought to have listened to their twitching bodies and audible sighs. No one broke loose and let fly the truth. They writhed and writhed, and spoke tongue in cheek. Atom Kpera, Tor Tiv, Akume, Ortom. They contained themselves. They praised his character. They said he has a reputation for honesty and forthrightness. They didn’t tell him public confidence in him in Gboko has been eroded. But he should have seen it in their tired eyes.

They said they had expected salvation when they voted him. But they didn’t announce their regrets with insolence. When they managed to find blames, they politely left him and heaped it on his aides. The Inspector General of police became the scapegoat. He should have relieved them of that burden. He should have owned up to his failings. If Buhari wasn’t asleep in that hall, he would have heard all the things not said. They made excuses for him so that he would go home and weep. He ought to have started weeping in that hall.

They counted the lives the violent herdsmen had consumed. They told him they now have eight wretched IDP camps. They told him they have 170,000 fractured and dislocated people in the IDP camps. They told him they now have many shut schools like the North East. So he couldn’t commission the schools they have just built. They told him they have too many idling children. They didn’t tell him guns have grown like weeds.

They didn’t tell him that in the affected villages and other vulnerable places people have taken to self help. They didn’t tell him that the impunity of the herdsmen have broken hearts and bent minds. Charred villages, tattered families, mass graves, trampled livelihoods. They could have told him more.

They reeled out the numbers. 73. 60. 26. All dead. Many, very many, still being slaughtered. He shook his head and bit his lips. He was sad rather than angry. They wanted him to be assaulted by the sheer weight of the death toll and come to grips with his incompetent handling of the crisis. And shed helplessness. It is true the crisis predated him. But he is Buhari, the reliable one. They had put their faith in him to deal ruthlessness with the menace as he had dealt with Maitasine sect in the 80’s.

They told him he acted speedily. They humoured him. They told him it was the indiscipline and lack of integrity on the part of the people he sent that led to the deterioration of the crisis. They were polite. They wanted him to understand by himself he hasn’t been fully awake.

The Police PPRO had described the Benue governor as a drowning man on television. The governor had lampooned the Inspector General for choosing to hibernate in Nassarawa rather than work in Benue to stamp out impunity. The altercation between the police and Benue government lasted a whole week. Market women marveled at the temerity of the police PPRO. But the President remained unaware of Inspector General’s location and the scandalous conduct of the police.
The Governor Ortom of Benue owes huge amounts in workers’ salaries. The people aren’t happy with their governor. The violent herdsmen came to complicate an already tense situation. The governor is a member of the president’s party. And nearly every Tiv man believes the conspiracy theory of a deliberate presidential dereliction of duty. Ortom’s political future would be in jeopardy if he continued with political correctness in the face of the heinous murders. He has been labeled incompetent. If he is labeled a traitor, he would be finished.

Ortom has thrown party politics aside. He has shouted aloud his frustrations with Abuja. He has spared nothing, sensationalism and all. The banner over the grave site of the murdered 73 says it all. Killed by Fulani herdsmen. A few months ago, that would have been gravely unpatriotic. All politics is local. And anything in Benue done to rouse a sleeping Abuja is now virtuous. Ortom is fighting for his political life.

Ortom may have been drowning. The herdsmen crisis could be a political lifeline. But it’s a piece of opportunism no one in Benue would begrudge him. Miyetti Allah Kautal Hore has been brazen. Their leaders are known. Their pronouncements were loud and clear. The massacres were premeditated. No leader of that organization has been questioned. Ortom and Benue have left the riddle for the president. They didn’t tell him he is clannish. But why are the leaders of Miyetti Allah Kautal Hore such sacred cows?

Ortom believes the president hasn’t shown leadership. But he didn’t spell it out that day. He needs the president. He needs a loan to offset huge workers’ salary arrears. So he blew hot and cold. He needs the president to energize the army. So he told him they were his children. And a good father never fiddles while his children are slaughtered.

Buhari may not be asleep. But Ortom believes an awake unsentimental Buhari would have noticed that his red-line had been crossed recklessly by that Miyetti Allah group. Militias are sprouting and spreading. Who can stop them? The governor openly claims that Fulani herdsmen have seized and occupied Benue land. Benue’s IGR has slumped. Benue is poisoned by violence. Demagoguery has been engaged. Perhaps to rouse a drowsy Abuja. But until Abuja finds wakefulness and anger, Benue may not know peace.

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