On Wednesday, April 19, 2023, Mallam Garba Shehu, the Senior Special Assistant on Media and Publicity to President Muhammadu Buhari issued a statement excoriating Governor Samuel Ortom of Benue ‘State, celebrating his loss of senatorial electoral contest in Benue state and generally mocking him for what could be called or better captioned ‘the Buhari’s last laugh in the Benue Debacle’.
For those who may not be acquainted with the Benue State debacle that is so important enough to attract the expenditure of presidential time and resources to issue a presidential statement mocking an outgoing governor by an equally outgoing president, on their respective actions or inactions in the insecurity ravaging Benue State, this is a summary of the story.
Governor Samuel Ortom was a governor elected un- der the All Progressives Congress, the party of President Buhari that was cobbled together in 2014 to seize power from the bumbling President Goodluck Jonathan in 2015 general elections. Benue State used to be a People’s Democratic Party (PDP) until the political earthquake that erupted in PDP as a result of the zoning problem. Some political stalwarts led by Atiku Abubakar, Senator Bukola Saraki, Governor Aminu Tambuwal and Governor Rotimi Amaechi rebelled and splinted the PDP, taking almost a half of it which they christened ‘New PDP’ and fused it into the APC. Governor Samuel Ortom having finished serving as legislator in Benue State and in one other positions have sought a migration to a greener pasture whereupon he contested for governorship under APC and won.
He instantly became a poster boy of the APC in the Middlebelt and he was almost a decimal currency in president Buhari’s foreign tours. The new party led by President Buhari won the Presidential election and to avoid the “dog and the baboon soaking themselves in their blood” as General Buhari had threatened in 2013 if he failed to win in 2015’, President Jonathan having quietly conceded defeat, Buhari and his APC gang took over Nigerian federal government and several states as the new managers of Nigeria. Governor Ortom as a principal member of the victorious party was luxuriating in the APC triumph and as said before was a poster boy of APC and in particular President was Buhari’s governor-friend.
It so happened that Governor Ortom inherited the problem of the Fu- lani herdsmen terrorist attacks on Benue State communities especially the Agatu and other villages in Obi, Apa, Ohimini, Ogbadibo, Oju, Okpokwu and Oturkpo local government areas of the state. These local governments are non-Tiv people.
Thousands of lives were wasted in these local governments and property destroyed in those communities that the local and international organisations concerned about the terrorist activities against the communities by the Fulani herdsmen counted the problem as approaching the latitudes of genocide. It was this Benue State debacle that Governor Ortom inherited from his predecessors and every hope was that President Buhari will solve this security problem which Buhari and APC had promised to solve in months if not weeks having accused bumbling President Jonathan as having neither the capacity nor the will to contain or stop the insecurity.
As Governor Ortom was ascending the governor- ship seat, the Fulani herdsmen having devastated Agatu and communities in Benue South or is it East senatorial district and rendered them desolate were migrating to Benue North and Central Senatorial district which are inhabited by the Tivs. But they met their equal in the equally ferocious militants operating therein and these militants’ activities slowed the Fulani herdsmen settlement and activities. The Tiv’s militants being both political thugs and rogues were difficult to dislodge except the state government cooperate with Federal Government security agencies.
So, the state government of Governor Ortom cooperated with Federal Government and offered the Tiv militants amnesty for their acceptance of disbandment and surrender of their weapons. This was achieved. Later the militants went back to their former ways of lives whereupon the Federals leveraged on the state apparatus to lure them especially their leaders out of their hideout and they were waylaid, arrested and killed in cold blood. Who are they to be given another chance of repentance?
Having wasted and demolished the Tiv militants, the coast was clear as the Benue River troughs (the rich basins of the Benue River) became the preferred settlement by the Fulani herdsmen. In no time, the Fulani herdsmen started sacking the Tiv communities across the entire Benue State and that devastation include killings-in-tens and hundreds. It was in one of the killings that attracted world attention when as Buhari puts it “the freshly dug graves” being receptacles for “the mass killings, the torture, and the litany of atrocities” that Governor Ortom hurriedly left Buhari in their foreign tour and scurried home to bury nearly hundred dead Tivs. Buhari in his statement acknowledges that “Benue security situation plummeted further” and that “they buried their loved ones while watching their careless, irresponsible and incompetent governor politicize on those freshly dug graves.”
As that killings continued, Governor Ortom ran to Buhari for help but met according to him empty promises and in one of such occasions the governor was told to go home and make peace with his neighbours. The neighbours the federal government asked him to make peace with are the same herdsmen that had challenged Ortom sovereign right to make law in his state and enforce it. Being frustrated by the Federal Government response, Governor Ortom retired home to design a home, remedy. The home remedy was the state law against open grazing. The Fulani defied the law and challenged the governor with organised defiance.
Governor Ortom cried from heavens and the earth but no respite came his way. He too started an open campaign against the Fulani and Buhari he thinks supports them. It was under this scenario that the Federal Government and political spokesmen find the Benue people’s vicissitudes as credible evidence of the governor’s failure of governance and having failed his senatorial bid became staples for federal gloating and mockery. When I read this news report in Vanguard newspaper (20/4/2023) I was appalled by the lack of taste in that presidential statement. How can a president celebrate the mere loss of election of a governor as if his own political mileage has been enhanced thereby?
This presidential gloating and mockery say so much about the frivolity of governance in Nigeria. The president finds time to gloat and mock a governor and by extension the people who by their own admission have suffered torture, deaths and devastation in the hands of terrorists for which the Federal Government has 100% responsibility. While gloating over the defeat of Mr Ortom, President Buhari mocks Ortom and by extension of Benue people for their troubles.
Blaming Ortom for the Benue State debacle is insensitive because I cannot imagine the security or intel- ligence reports Governor Ortom would have ignored to stem the Fulani terrorist attacks. In the same page of Vanguard (20/4/2023 at p.29) Ibrahim Hassan-Wuyo) report\s 1,266 people killed, 4,973 kidnapped in 15months as claimed by Kaduna State government. Is the Southern Kaduna debacle also as a result of Governor el-Rufai’s neglect or refusal to heed intelligence reports? Many states such as Enugu, Ebonyi, Plateau, Zamfara, Katsina, Edo, Delta and several others have been devastated by Fulani terrorist activities, and then the question is: are these states’ lots the results of their governors’ refusal or neglect of intelligence reports?
Let’s call a spade by its name, President Buhari has been a disaster to Nigeria especially security wise and in other matters of governance such as social justice as his nepotistic application of power has divided Nigeria almost beyond repairs and now all the gains of electoral reforms by President Yar’Adua and Jonathan have been rubbished by the fraudulent electoral tradition executed under President Buhari in 2019 and now in 2023. It is the prayers of Nigerians that this circus called government under Buhari should come to pass, for the last eight years have been hellish, and made more painful by presidential spokespersons especially Mallam Garba and Femi Adesina who interpret their presidential briefs as executing a daily browbeating the people to like Buhari and his government and that effort failing, mockery of Nigerians’ predicament and cries and anguish resulting from Buhari’s misrule.
God, willing’s May 29 remains the terminal date for these mockers and triflers.