By Ikechukwu Amaechi
Ortom (right) discussing with Buhari before the gate of Aso Rock was shut against him
In the last couple of weeks, Benue State Governor, Samuel Ortom, and President Muhammadu Buhari have been embroiled in a war of words.
At issue is the security of lives and properties of Nigerians, the primary responsibility of government, and who to blame for the worthlessness of human life in Nigeria today.
An utterly exasperated Ortom, who has buried, perhaps, more citizens than any other state governor – victims of the mindless carnage by terrorists – was the first to fire the salvo.
Ortom has the unenviable record of having well over 1.5 million of Benue’s estimated six million population living in Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) camps. Most of these IDPs are orphans and widows and they may well live permanently in those camps because their ancestral homes are presently occupied by terrorists, most of them, non-Nigerians.
The governor, who identified the villains as Fulani, in a desperate bid for solution, led a high-powered delegation of Benue indigenes to Buhari, the President and Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces. But rather than finding succour, the President admonished them to go back home and accommodate their neighbours – the same people killing them.
Thereafter, the people mandated their government to enact an anti-open grazing law, which prescribed cattle ranching as a solution to herdsmen-farmers clashes. The Benue State House of Assembly obliged them and passed the bill in May 2017.
When Ortom signed the bill into law in November 2017, all hell was let loose. Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association of Nigeria (MACBAN), the umbrella trade union of Fulani herdsmen, rejected the law and threatened violent resistance unless it was repealed.
They urged President Buhari to call Ortom to order, adding that “his actions are a fundamental threat to peaceful coexistence and food security in Nigeria.”
How? They didn’t say.
When Ortom refused to budge an inch, Benue State became a slaughter house, literally. The governor ran back to the Presidency but met a brick wall. He was told, just as Miyetti Allah insisted, that the law must be repealed.
Ortom took his predicament to the court of public opinion. But the terrorists were not deterred. When they got tired of killing in the hinterlands, they went to the IDP camps. On Monday, April 26, 2021, they invaded a camp in Abagena, a suburb on Makurdi-Lafia road with 8,620 displaced persons and killed seven.
The governor, who visited the camp after the massacre, lamented that over 70 persons had been killed in two weeks in Makurdi, Gwer West and Guma LGAs, and urged Buhari to address Nigerians.
“Mr. President must speak out and not Garba Shehu, his spokesman,” he said.
“Mr. President must rise up as he is the President of Nigeria with over 200 ethnic nationalities. He has taken an oath of office to protect lives and property and cannot afford to be aloof. He must address the nation and tell us where we are going.”
Expectedly, the President not only ignored him but also denied him access, henceforth.
And when Buhari approved recommendations of a committee to review “with dispatch,” 368 grazing sites across 25 states in the country, “to determine the levels of encroachment,” Ortom forcefully called him out.
The governor, like many Nigerians, found the presidential committee’s recommendations like production of maps and geo-mapping/tagging of sites, designing of appropriate communication on grazing reserves and operations, rather impervious and offensive.
On August 24, Ortom, a guest on Channels TV, took very strong exception to the president’s open grazing policy, calling his administration the worst.
“Mr. President is pushing me to think that what they say about him, that he has a hidden agenda in this country is true,” Ortom agonised adding, “because it is very clear that he wants to Fulanise Nigeria …. Buhari is the worst President when it comes to issues of security and keeping his promises.”
On Wednesday, the president fired back through his spokesman, Garba Shehu.
Defending his principal on the same Channels Television, he stated that Buhari has no connection with the killing of innocent Nigerians by criminals.
“President Buhari does not kill people; he is not a cultist,” Shehu said.
Clothing Buhari in borrowed robes, he described him as compassionate, just and fair to all.
That is a false portrayal. No leader with Buhari’s nepotistic inclination can at the same time be fair and just. As the former military governor of Kaduna State, Colonel Abubakar Dangiwa Umar (rtd), noted recently, at the core of the country’s problems is Buhari’s poor skills in managing the country’s diversity. This inability explains why the Federal Government, as Umar aptly noted, is according undue attention to the threats of separatist movements in contrast to the more daunting ones posed by bandits, kidnappers and insurgents in the Northwest, North Central and Northeast.
And the only explanation is his inability to step up to the table of equity, fair play and justice.
Before the interview, Shehu had also issued a statement, accusing Ortom of having “few political principles.”
“We can see this from the fact that he has changed political parties five times during his undistinguished career,” the presidential spokesperson claimed, accusing Ortom of inciting hatred against the Fulani.
“Specifically, Ortom stirs up hatred by targeting one single ethnic group in Nigeria – using language reminiscent of the Rwandan genocide,” Shehu wrote.
The Presidency’s response is sheer puerile tantrum that has nothing to do with the crisis threatening to consume Nigeria.
If Ortom has few political principles because he has changed political parties five times, Buhari has not fared better on that front. It is on record that he contested the presidency on the platform of three different political parties.
But the most laughable is the claim that Ortom has an undistinguished political career.
It is a misnomer to say that the career of a man who has been a local government chairman; state treasurer of a party; state secretary, deputy chairman, and national auditor of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP); federal minister and now a two-term governor, is undistinguished.
But most importantly, whether Ortom’s political career is distinguished or not is beside the point. The issue is that Nigerians are being kidnapped for ransom, raped, maimed and killed in their hundreds everyday and Buhari’s government has no coherent response. Today, embattled governors, including Aminu Bello Masari of Katsina, Buhari’s home state, frustrated at the government’s impotence are asking the people to defend themselves.
That is the loudest vote of no confidence in the Buhari Presidency. Coming from his state governor makes it more jarring.
The fact that most of these atrocities are committed by the Fulani and the inability of Buhari, a Fulani, whose Islamist and ethnic irredentism is well known, to be decisive in dealing with them as, indeed, he does when dealing with even less malignant groups, fuels the perception of a Fulanisation agenda.
For instance, before he became President, it was reported that Buhari said an attack on Boko Haram was an attack on the North. It, therefore, came as no surprise that when the terrorists opted for dialogue with the Goodluck Jonathan administration in 2012, they nominated him a mediator. Buhari profiteered from the overwhelming perception in the North that he was an avatar, the guardian of the Islamic faith in Nigeria.
These are the issues. Any other thing is mere red herring. Life has become worthless under Buhari’s watch and he must be called out because the bulk stops on his table. He cannot enjoy all the presidential perquisites without living up to the responsibilities of the office.
Those who blame Ortom for the mayhem in Benue simply because he chose to speak truth to power rather than fawning on the powers-that-be forget that in the same Middle Belt region, there is a state on the Plateau, whose governor, Simon Lalong, a lawyer, chose from the outset to play the quintessential house slave.
He was praised by the slave masters as a worthy apostle of peace and rewarded with the chairmanship of Northern Governors Forum. Yet, Plateau State is also a killing field.
Ortom is not inciting Nigerians against the Fulani. What will be his benefit? If anything, it is the belief, reinforced by Buhari’s body language, that they are above the law and can do anything and get away with it as long as Buhari remains president, that is pitching them against other ethnicities. Rather than point fingers of blame at others, what the situation requires is introspection. If Ortom is stirring hatred against the Fulani, is the Emir of Muri, Abbas Tafida, who gave fellow Fulani 30-day ultimatum in July to vacate the forests or be killed also inciting ethnic hatred against his own people?
It will be foolhardy for anyone to expect indigenous peoples to roll over for the Fulani who are not even citizens to take over their ancestral lands for keeps.
For the few who are wondering why Nigerians are obsessed with the Buhari misadventure in power, my response is: why not?
Buhari’s presidency has become, without exaggeration, an existential threat. Nigeria, dangerously fractured, is tottering on the precipice largely because of the actions and policies of the President.
His handling of the “Fulani Question” is the reason why Nigeria is plumbing the depths of death and despair.
So, the President is the issue. It is tantamount to playing the axiomatic Nero, who fiddled while Rome burned, to ignore Buhari’s foibles in office while looking for solutions to the country’s myriad of problems.