Benue, a North-Central Nigerian State becomes more prominent in recent times for so many wrong reasons. It is a state with a population of 4,253,641 as of 2006 census. With farming as the main occupation, the state can be credited for cash crops such as potatoes, cassava, soya bean, guinea corn, flax, yams, sesame, rice, groundnuts and palm nuts. Its closest neighbour to the north is Kogi State and to the east, Enugu State.
In the past, the state has been plagued by flooding during which the dailies and social media were full of gory details about how 100,000 were displaced. In that time, Nigerians, young and old, straight and gay, black and white united to save these 100,000 human beings because it was the most humane thing to do. Everyone was reaching out through any means – from social media campaigns to radio discussions – to send relief materials across. By February 10, 2018, the first revealing story hit the paper stands. Fraud after Flood: How Relief Materials for Benue Victims were Diverted. In his usual unsteady and uncanny behavior the governor dismissed that on the ground that it was the work of his opposition.
Well, from 2017 to 2018, this same state has been home to stories about alleged Fulani herdsmen attacks. But we all know that the ‘alleged’ is just another play on words and another excuse to derail from taking proper action against the culprits. From a mass burial held on Thursday January 11, 2018 for 72 people killed in fighting between nomadic herdsmen and farmers in Makurdi to the victims of January 1, 2018 attack that also left 500,000 persons displaced, the state was filled with fear and tears.
As if that was not enough, on April 24, 2018, worshipers at the St. Ignatius Quashi Catholic Church Parish in Ukpor-Mbalom in Gwer Local Government Area of the state were attacked and killed by suspected herdsmen. This time, at least 19 people were killed including two priests.
The latest attack came barely four days after the murder of 10 persons by herdsmen in neighboring Guma Local Government Area and the destruction of 300 houses by men suspected to be military personnel in Naka, Gwer West Local Government Area of the state. There were reports that several persons sustained bullet wounds, while the invaders also sacked part of the village – razing close to 60 houses, huts, and farmland, economic trees as well as food barns of their victims. Let’s not even forget the 29 persons who were massacred on March 5, 2018 in an attack at Omusu village in Okpokwu Local Government Area of the state. 14 of the victims were women while two were children killed on their way back from school.
These killings are callous and unfortunate, some say, but what is even more unfortunate is the possibility that there must have been several unreported attacks by suspected herdsmen which have left hundreds of people dead in various communities within the state in recent months. And on the premise of all that has been said, someone would have expected the legislators and the executive of the state to rally round in building frontiers and making stricter laws that will keep Benue residents safe – especially since the governor had accused the big wigs in power of ignoring several warnings of the impending attack on communities in Benue by herdsmen in a January 13, 2018 meeting with the Senate Ad Hoc Committee on Security.
The Committee was in the state on a fact-finding mission on the attacks and the governor told them: “We wrote to the vice-president on the planned attacks on parts of Benue by Fulani herdsmen, because the threat was everywhere on the streets, but he refused to reply. However, when Mr. President returned from the United Kingdom, I intimated him through a letter. The documents are here”.
On the governor on May 29 exonerated President Muhammadu Buhari from the herdsmen killings in the state stressing that those linking the president to these attacks were being mischievous. He said: “2018, Buhari will definitely come here for campaigns. I cannot pre-empt what he will say or what Benue people will say. But as you know in politics, there are no permanent enemies or permanent friends but permanent interest… That the herdsmen are killing Benue people do not mean it is Buhari who is responsible. There are still reasonable herdsmen who still live here in peace with their neighbours.”
A confused Ortom! Being neither here nor there: Standing between the devil and the deep blue sea. Personal/political survival, even at the cost of the lives of his own people! Here is a governor who was accused by the military of sponsoring and arming a militia responsible for reprisal killings! Here is a governor who has written to Buhari several times on these crises, without getting a reply! Here is a governor who identifies Miyetti Allah as the culprit, but fails to hold the Miyetti Allah patrons responsible for the continued genocide! What a shame.
In 2014, former president, Goodluck Ebele Jonathan signed into law a bill criminalizing same-sex marriage in Nigeria. It was called the Same Sex Marriage (Prohibition) Act. Now, with all these killings happening in Benue, Governor Ortom and members of the Benue State House of Assembly have pushed a lousy same-sex prohibition bill into law. Jonathan in his time signed the bill into law so as to seek favour among Nigerians who were dissatisfied with his government and whom he knew would be easily swayed in the name of morality and religion. Ortom has followed suit and now it’s obvious that if any politician wishes to run for another tenure in office all they need do is legislate a law against the LGBTQI community.
The community is always a perfect scapegoat. So because Ortom has intentions of running for governor again in 2019, he is after the LGBTQI in Benue State instead of pushing for laws to keep the people safe and see how to ameliorate incessant killings in the state. One would have expected that the lawmakers will be more concerned with fixing this porosity in their security system. Rather, they choose to pass a Bill prohibiting a marriage contract or civil union entered into between persons of same sex in the state. This was passed on May 30, 2018; just few days after countrymen and women had observed The National Mourning Day. What happens to passing a more stringent arms law? There’s not even any law on disarmament. Is this bill the first step to protecting Benue citizens? Would the passage save or endanger more innocent lives? Who are these governor and lawmakers?!
After the first attack, the governor of the state had claimed that the presidency had abandoned them and don’t care about them only for him to turn around on Democracy Day to say that the presidency has no hand in the attacks and has no idea of what is happening to them, and how the attacks happen. This is when the presidency argued they are implementing a combination of security, humanitarian and peace-building measures in the North Central region of Nigeria that has suffered banditry and bloodshed and has also approved N10 billion for the rebuilding of affected communities. But the declaration as usual was a very interesting maneuver to distract people from what is really happening. So with all the killings, that’s what they could come up with? Oh dear. How does that even influence the herdsmen killings? In the midst of all the chaos, all the house could come up with is the passage of Same-Sex Marriage Prohibition Bill as if the all the killings in the state were the fault of the LGBTQI. It is obvious the Legislators are confused and are all as clueless as the executive.
If you are a young person and from Benue or any part of Nigeria for that matter get up, get ready because it is time to send all old clueless beings out of our legislative houses. We need to prioritize our issues and stop politicizing human lives. With the passing of Not too young to run bill, every young person has to get involve and start building a future for ourselves and generations to come. Active participation, mobilization and citizen engagement should be the anthem every civil society organization should focus on. As young effective leaders we need to understand the bigger picture, because we don’t know or agree with someone’s lifestyle, beliefs and philosophy is not enough to sign off on their deaths. What happens to building a virile economy and combating terrorism and youth restiveness? The world is changing so should us all, we should begin to produce change that promote acceptance of gender and sexual diversity, the ubuntu ideology teaches quality that includes the essential human virtues; compassion and humanity, let’s embrace it, let’s empower ourselves to speak to critical issues and that are relevant, impactful, and empowering. Right here, right now safety for all irrespective of political affiliation, gender, sexual orientation, education qualification and location is our top most priority, we have had enough deaths for this is our land, our home, our Nigeria.
Ekene Odigwe is a multiple award winning Nigerian talk show host at Coal City 92.9FM. He is also a Radio & TV Content Developer, Human Rights & HIV Advocate, a fellow at the YALI network and an activista with 7 honours and 3 fellowship awards. He is a 2017 BAF Media Justice fellow.