Benue Herdsmen Slaughter, While historians have disputed the account that Rome’s emperor, Nero, played away on a fiddle as the city burned, the phrase nevertheless has become synonymous with doing too little or nothing in a time of great crisis.
Nigerians had repeatedly accused the Buhari government of poor handling of attacks by herdsmen across the country. But with the recent Benue State massacre, it appears the criticisms are rising to a disturbing climax.
Last week, herdsmen in Benue staged coordinated attacks in three local government areas, killing about 50 persons and wounding hundreds. The incident followed an orgy of killings in Rivers and Kaduna states where dozens lost their lives.
Chief Edward Ujege, president of Tiv socio-cultural organisation, Mzough-u-Tiv, dismissed a statement credited to Inspector General of Police Ibrahim Idris suggesting the Benue tragedy was a result of communal clashes.
The IGP mocked the souls of children, pregnant women, old men and youths murdered in cold blood by armed Fulani herdsmen, Ujege said.
He insisted that facts on the ground did not indicate clashes between groups but rather a well-planned, foretold and unprovoked invasion by cattlemen who had vowed to resist the state’s anti-open grazing law.
“When the Benue State governor, Samuel Ortom, signed the law on May 22, 2017, officials of the Miyetti Allah Kautal Hore came out publicly to state that they would mobilise and invade the state, to resist the law,” Ujege said in a statement.
“They equally said the crisis in Benue was a struggle for natural resources, since their coming to the Benue valley predated the present inhabitants. Their position was widely published by media across the globe.”
Ujege called on President Buhari to direct security agencies to arrest and prosecute the National President and Secretary of Miyetti Allah Kautal Hore, Abdullahi Bello Bodejo and Saleh Alhassan.
Also, the National President of the Pentecostal Fellowship of Nigeria, Rev. Dr. Felix Omobude, yesterday, expressed concern at the lacklustre approach of security agencies in bringing persons behind the crises to book.
“PFN believes it’s time our security forces performed their primary duty of protecting the lives and property of Nigerians. Government at various levels should stop paying lip service to tackling atrocities committed by these herdsmen, suspected to be of Fulani extraction, nationwide. This decimation of communities with destruction of lives and properties must stop,” he said in a statement.
He, however, called on “all well-meaning Nigerians to continue to exercise restraint even in the face of provocative and unwholesome activities of armed herdsmen and keep praying for peace and unity of Nigeria.”
Pastor Enoch Adeboye, General Overseer of The Redeemed Christian Church of God (RCCG), also condemned the killings.
Represented by his aide, Pastor Johnson Odesola, during a church service at RCCG headquarters, Ebute-Metta, Lagos, the cleric said he was puzzled by “the silence of the government as regards various attacks by Fulani herdsmen.”
He said: “The government should do something as it appears that the will to take positive action on this unnecessary protracted problem is conspicuously lacking.
“My worry is that since the mayhem by these Fulani herdsmen is being treated with levity, with no single person brought to book, it translates to the assumption that the evil work is approved. It is not enough for the government to say something; it has to act decisively.”
But Vice President Yemi Osinbajo warned Nigerians against politicising the killings.
“We must recognise that as dangerous (Herdsmen Slaughter) and as deadly and heartless as these killings are, there is also the danger of allowing politics to play a part. This could lead to what we sometimes describe as ‘pouring petrol into an already burning fire’.
“We must not permit the politicisation of this tragedy. One of the reasons why, for years, Boko Haram thrived, was because of the politicisation of the insurgency. There were those who were planning to benefit politically from the tragedy and they painted the opposition, then, as the perpetrator,” Osibanjo said during an inter-denominational service commemorating the 2018 Armed Forces Remembrance Day.
Meanwhile, a farmer in Ojah, Akoko Edo Local Government Area of Edo State reportedly lost his wrist in an attack by five herdsmen at the weekend.
It came as a group, Ochie Igbo, yesterday held a meeting with the leader of the Hausa community in Ebonyi, warning: “We don’t want herdsmen invasion in the South East. We won’t tolerate any attack by herdsmen on our people.”
A traditional ruler in Demsa Local Government Area of Adamawa State, Gladstone Teneke, also expressed concern over a meeting Buhari held with some northern emirs leaving out Christian leaders from areas affected by herdsmen attack.
“Last year, my territory recorded more than four attacks with the killing of over 100 people. As president of Nigeria, if there is any issue, you should listen to both parties,” he said.
On the Benue incident, rights group, Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP), appealed to the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Prince Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, urging him to hold a special session to address the issue.
On his part, the Managing Director of Nigerian Export Processing Zones Authority, (NEPZA), Emmanuel Jime, in Abuja yesterday, called on security agencies to match words with action and bring the culprits to justice.