Insecurity: Revisiting Ortom’s epistle to Buhari

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By Dirisu Yakubu

Governor Samuel Ortom of Benue state is one of the country’s few leaders who always muster the courage to speak truth to power, sometimes against his own interest. 

This is hardly surprising though, considering the man’s rise to national limelight from relative obscurity. For a man who knows the true meaning of deprivation and abundance, solidarity with the common cause comes across as a bounteous duty.

Years ago when he appeared before the Senate Committee as a ministerial designate; Ortom’s rich resume featuring personal pull by the bootstraps to conquer a disadvantaged background, culminated in a unanimous decision by the lawmakers to ask him to take a bow. As it were, this, alongside his insatiate appetite for the promotion of his people’s cause saw him elected as a state governor in 2015 and again in 2019.

A few weeks ago, the governor called on the President Muhammadu Buhari-led government to moot the possibility of licensing Nigerians to bear arms, arguing that with the difficulty in running killers out of town by the combined forces of the Nigerian Police and military; such a move could help put criminal elements who see killings as sports, in check.

The governor’s “call to arms,” won him an army of supporters than enemies, who considering the incalculable human casualties occasioned by Boko Haram’s deadly campaign in the past eleven years, agreed almost entirely with Ortom.

Recently, the governor in a letter addressed to President Muhammadu Buhari, decried what he saw as a lack of official eagerness to bring the perennial herdsmen/farmers’ clashes to an end. Titled, “Appeal to Act before Herdsmen Drag Nigeria into a Civil War,” Governor Ortom wondered why it had become increasingly difficult to arrest some members of the Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association who had times and again, claimed responsibility for the death of many innocent Nigerians in the state and elsewhere. This deliberate refusal by government to pick these self- confessed murderers, according to Ortom, is largely to blame for the worsening insecurity in the state and some parts of the country.

An excerpts of the letter read: “Your Excellency, these security challenges have assumed new dimensions where the now emboldened assailants and armed herdsmen daringly enforce their will on legitimate owners and occupants of ancestral lands. There are many areas of concern over the federal government’s actions and inactions, including the widely discussed concern over inequalities in key appointments. These have reinforced the perception that the administration is not fair and just to all Nigerians.

“Mr. President, please recall my earlier letters drawing your attention to the murderous activities of Miyetti Allah Kautal Hore and other armed Fulani socio-cultural groups and their leaders who publicly and brazenly claimed responsibility for the killings and destruction of property across states of the country. These groups and their leaders have also boasted that Nigeria belongs exclusively to them. 

The letters alerted you on several challenges and called for the arrest and prosecution of the leaders and proscription of the organizations in question.”

Despite drawing the attention of the Commander-in-Chief to the mindless human-induced tragedies, the governor reckoned that “rather than being censured, these leaders and organizations have been emboldened and intensified their atrocities.

 They have received encouragement in the process through various actions and inactions by the federal government, including (i) Open Visa Policy which has promoted unprecedented influx of Fulani herdsmen carrying sophisticated and prohibited weapons into Nigeria; (ii) Non-compliance with the Economic Community of West African States, ECOWAS, protocol on transhumance; (iii) Swift condemnation of any perceived or real threats on Fulani while maintaining silence over their atrocities and admonishing victimized host communities to accommodate their oppressors and learn to live at peace with them; (iv) the failure to arrest, disarm and prosecute armed herdsmen and Fulani militia; (v) disarming other Nigerians who have licensed weapons; (vi) continuation of open grazing and support for grazing reserves, stock routes, cattle colony and Ruga despite nationwide acknowledgement that this practice is unviable; and that ranching is the global best practice for livestock production as well as the non-implementation of the National Livestock Transformation Plan despite its approval by the National Economic Council and its acceptance by pilot States.”

As a way out of this, he recommended the proscription of the Miyetti Allah Association as well as the prosecution of those who had at one time or the other owned up to the mindless killings, saying, “Mr. 

President, this call for justice is the heart cry of every patriotic Nigerian. It is not a call against the Fulani race or any other ethnic group, but a call to make Nigeria work for every Nigerian in line with the Oath of Office we took as leaders and your pledge to be a President for all Nigerians and to be for everybody and for nobody. Unfortunately, you seem to be tilting towards the Fulani at the expense of other nationalists.”

We need compassionate leadership now- Fayemi

Ekiti state governor and chairman of the Nigerian Governors Forum, Kayode Fayemi, appeared to have put politics aside to jump in same ship with his Benue state counterpart when earlier in the week, yearned for a compassionate leadership to deal with the insecurity challenges in the land.

Speaking at a virtual programme featuring him and Kaduna state governor, Nasir El-Rufai, recently, Fayemi had this to say: ”When you have lost somebody or you know someone who has lost someone, it’s no use telling the person to be rational about the ill that has befallen them and the bereavement they’ve suffered. The truth of the matter is that we also need compassionate leadership in order to help deal with these issues, in addition to all the substantive things we need to deal with.

“Our forests have now become a huge menace and a space for criminal elements to perpetrate their business. We need a forest management framework to ensure that those who don’t have business in the forests must leave the forests.

“Governors are very committed to the need to modernise grazing practices. There is a national livestock transformation plan, which should be implemented by now, so as to promote ranching and modernised livestock management practices.”

Ortom is right- Capt. Aliyu

Reacting to Governor Ortom’s letter to the President, retired military officer, Capt. Aliyu Umar Babangida said the Benue state first citizen deserves commendation for standing up to be counted as a leader who didn’t keep sealed lips when his domain was on fire.

“When something starts and you don’t manage it well, people will jump on that idea, exploit it and allow you to take the blame. What Governor Ortom is doing is exactly what any governor who has been pushed to the wall will do. You are looking at very right indicators from Benue state that if care is not taken, going forward, we will help ourselves and the President’s silence is not helping matters,” he told Saturday Vanguard exclusively.

According to him, “the biggest blow the President’s silence has dealt is on his own ethnic nationality. Can you begin to project going forward if tomorrow a Fulani man emerges to run for the Office of the President? That Fulani man will have work to do because even in the North among the over 100 ethnic groups, people are fed up and Miyetti Allah has already branded and rubber stamped these crimes as Fulani crimes.”

He continued: “Arresting and prosecuting criminals in the country is the right thing to do but short of being idealistic, how confident are Nigerians in our own judiciary that when these arrests are made, and cases taken to court, that the cases will not die naturally? Nigerians have more confidence in the Police than the judiciary as they would rather take their case to police station than to court. We have seen menial cases taking up to ten years to resolve in court.

“I have said it before that Miyetti Allah unwittingly decided to become the face of a problem that is not their own. When these people started coming out to protect, defend and take sides in the herders/farmers clashes, I warned that the problem was not about Fulani but about the crimes being perpetrated. When a virus emerged at Wuhan in China, the world started stigmatizing the Chinese but the United Nations came out quickly to say it was not Wuhan virus but Corona virus. That is, they took the people out of the problem and faced the virus.

“If the Chinese government had come out to defend China, the country would have become the face of that virus. That is what Miyetti Allah unwittingly did. What Miyetti Allah ought to have done was to have taken a bold step by saying, ‘no son of ours is allowed to rape women, or kidnap for ransom, loot villages and kill people’ in a manner that tractors were even used to bury them. We saw that in Agatu, Benue state. But they started antagonising and in their apprehension, they came out and were seen to be defending these bandits and insurgents,” he noted.

Ortom, not Buhari, should arrest, prosecute bandits in Benue- Rafsanjani

Taking a slightly different position on Governor Ortom’s epistolary intervention is Ibrahim Auwal Rafsanjani, Executive Director, Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre, CISLAC. 

While agreeing with the governor that criminals ought to be arrested and brought to book, Rafsanjani said the governor and not the President ought to take the lead in doing so, stressing that the nation’s laws were on the side of Ortom on this.

He told this medium: “Let us not take advantage of the situation on ground to seek political gains. The constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria is very clear. Section 14 of the constitution has imposed duty on the local, state and federal governments to invest in the security of lives and property of every citizen. The killings and kidnappings going on in Benue are state offences and the perpetrators should be arrested and prosecuted by the state attorney general.

“So when the governor is abandoning his own duty to carry out arrest of suspects and try them through the attorney general of the state’s office, it is simply an abdication of responsibility. 

If Miyetti Allah is involved in any criminal activity, the constitution of Nigeria has empowered the governor to arrest and prosecute them in accordance with the law. It reeks of lack of honesty and sincerity on the part of some of the political leaders in the country to start shifting responsibilities. The governor should avoid sentiments and tackle the issue headlong. He should not look for another person to do his work,” he argued.

Proscribing Miyetti Allah, wrong- Sani

For Anthony Sani, immediate past secretary general of the Arewa Consultative Forum, ACF, Governor Ortom’s call for the proscription of Miyetti Allah Association is not the way to go. In his words, amongst Fulani are farmers who also have their fair share of troubles in the hands of criminal elements in the nation’s food basket.

“I do not share the sentiments reportedly expressed by Governor Ortom of Benue state in his letter to President Buhari that the president should proscribe Miyetti Allah as solution to clashes between farmers and herders. I say so because by making the suggestion in the letter, the governor has singled out the herders as the sole culprits whereas this is not the case. This is not correct and not fair.

 ”I have said it over and over again that there are Fulani people who are also farmers and that ethnic or religious profiling of crimes cannot lead to solution to the clashes at hand. This is because by ethnic coloration, we unwittingly provide platforms for criminals to stand and perpetrate crimes, knowing it is not possible to prosecute ethnicity. What is more! By ethnic profiling we offend sensitivity which can bring about ethnic conflagration,” he told this medium.

 The way out of this perennial unrest according to the ex- scribe is for government to identify criminals and punish them whether they are herders or farmers.

 ”Governors should therefore handle the methods of overcoming the challenges of the clashes by herders and farmers with tact lest they stoke the problems at our collective peril. For example, outright banning of open grazing at this point in time in the absence of know-how and capacity is selfsame with asking peasant farmers to stop subsistent farming with hoes and cutlasses in favour of modern farming despite knowing that the know-how and capacity are not in place for the modern farming to blossom.

 ”Suppose herders who are landless nomads and who lack the know-how and capacity for ranches insist that farmers should fence their farms; would that be a viable resolution to the clashes? Certainly not because the know-how and capacity for ranches and modern farming are not there for both the herders and farmers; so governors should be savvy and be more considerate in their attempt to supplant ranches on open grazing and in replacement of primordial farming methods with modern farming.

 None of these modern methods can find expression through on and off system as if operating a television set,” he stressed.

 Regardless of differences in political affiliations, President Buhari should take another look at the recommendations proffered by the governor in a bid to address this insanity stoking the land. It is the path to walk as leaders explore options aimed at restoring peace, North and South of the Nigerian divide.


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