Emmanuel Onwubiko: War on Benue State and governance


How leaders effectively manage conflicts is a scholarly piece that was beautifully written on Jun 27, 2018 and is still receiving rave reviews around the World. There’s no doubt or gainsaying the fact that Conflicts are some of the most dangerous threats to good governance and the sustenance of States around the World. Conflicts reporting have therefore occupied a central position in contemporary journalism just as so much of the Countries located in the developing world are some of the most affected places on Earth whereby humanity has come under increasing dangers of extinction.

In Africa, Nigeria and the rest of the Sahel region are the hotbed of terrorism and wars even as Nigeria has continued to face its overwhelming share of serial conflicts and terrorism. Sadly, within Nigeria and especially in the last six and half years of the administration of the Daura, Katsina born retired Military dictator Major General Muhammadu Buhari, there have been pockets of needless conflicts that are stoked by persons identified as belonging to the Fulani ethnicity which is the nationality of President Muhammadu Buhari.

The war on Nigeria by some well armed and motivated Fulani militia has become widespread, extensive, very deadly but the promoters of this war are protected by the powers-that -be in Abuja just as groups supporting these conflict entrepreneurs are persons who parade the media space of Nigeria and are issuing general and specific threats without so much of accountability on their part for the mere fact that powerful persons embedded in the administration of President Muhammadu Buhari have thrown their weight behind these war mongers and supporters of terrorism.

The Nigerian conflicts zone has Benue State as the hottest spot alongside Southern Kaduna and Plateau State just as a nexus between all of these places facing bloody attacks and violence by armed Fulani militia is that they are almost one hundred percent Indigenous tribes and are Christians. Since the last six years there have been so much of bloodshed in Benue State. The luck the people of Benue state have is that they have someone who is outspoken and who says it as it is as their state governor in the person of Samuel Ortom. His outspokeness and his robust defence of the fundamental right to life of his people have earned him a lot of enemies within the current central government of President Buhari that has focused so much on cows and Fulani herdsmen to the collective detriment of national security.

On many occasions, the Benue State governor have had close shaves with death and most recently, he missed death by the whiskers when some daredevil terrorists attacked him. Ironically, few hours after he survived this attack, a group openly claimed responsibility but the Muhammadu Buhari’s administration did not take steps to arrest, investigate and prosecute this person and his members but instead the President has continuously verbally attacked governor Ortom only because he said the state won’t concede any land for the construction of the Cow settlements for Fulani which has been the brainchild and political ambitions of the President elected by Nigerians but who has so far showed more keenness to advance the tribal and private interests of his ethnicity over and above the public interests and the constitutional oath of office administered on him at inception.

As I mentioned earlier, a Fulani group identified as Fulani Nationality Movement, FUNAM, had claimed responsibility for the attack on Governor Samuel Ortom of Benue State.

FUNAM said it planned to kill Ortom on Saturday, but its plan suffered a setback due to a slight communication error.

A statement by one Umar Amir Shehu said Ortom stood against open grazing and Fulani interest in the country.

The statement entitled: “Why we attacked Ortom” reads: “Our attention has been drawn to media reports today speculating about who attacked the Governor of Benue State, Samuel Ortom.

“Yes. Yes, We did. The Fulani Nationality Movement, (FUNAM) carried out the attack. We have genuine reasons. We acted on behalf of Millions of Fulani people in 15 countries.

“It’s a case of vengeance against an infidel who has used his time and money, deployed in destroying the Fulani values and inheritance.

“Our courageous fighters carried out this historic attack to send a great message to Ortum and his collaborators: Where ever you are, once you are against Fulani long term interest, we shall get you down. This is a clear warning. We hope those who take us for granted will get the indisputable message.

“Our intention is unequivocal: TO KILL HIM. That mission will one day be fulfilled and very soon too.”

“Eleven of FUNAM operatives were involved in the attack. Ortom escaped today because of a slight technical communication error. Next time, he will not be lucky. We can assure him and his supporters.”

As I recalled earlier, herdsmen had attacked Ortom on his farm at Tyo-mu village, along Makurdi – Gboko road.

Reacting, the governor had alleged that linked the assassination attempt to Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association of Nigeria, MACBAN.

The governor claimed that MACBAN had concluded plans to assassinate him over his position on open grazing.

Ortom alleged that the Myetti Allah took the decision to eliminate him during a meeting they organised recently in Yola.

He noted that his life is in the hands of the Supreme God and no Fulani man can kill him, said he received intelligence that the Association planned to kill his security aides and subsequently capture him alive.

Several months after this personal brush with sudden and preplanned execution by the Fulani terror network, the Benue State governor has continued to become a torn in the flesh of the political authorities in Abuja only because his administration passed a law banning open grazing of cattle which the President finds unacceptable even when the extant Land Use Act of 1978 ceded the powers over land ownership in states of the federation to the state governors.

President Muhammadu Buhari through his spokesman Garba Shehu spends a lot of public time and resources to attack the Benue State governor. Even the last time the governor was interviewed by a privately owned television station Channels Television, the station came under scrutiny by the National Broadcasting Commission which is the attack dog of the current administration against media pluralism and media freedoms. My reading of the many attacks sponsored by the Federal government against Benue people when evaluated side by side with specific threats made against Benue State people and the many bloodcuddling violence carried out by armed Fulani attackers show that there is indeed a declared war on Benue State and for the fact that the President doesn’t even conceal his partisanship in all of these shows of shame is a glaring evidence to lead any rational observer of conflicts to assert without fear of contradictions that THERE IS A WAR AGAINST BENUE STATE and this war became ferocious since 2015.

In all of these premeditated attacks and the conflicts against the people of Benue State by notorious conflict entrepreneurs, the governor has demonstrated an uncommon resilience as a good leader and an excellent manager of conflicts. Only this morning, I read a piece on Conflict management published sometime in 2018 and the following were what the authors told us.

“Conflict management is defined as the ability to identify and handle conflicts efficiently and fairly. Leaders must deal with conflict management on a daily basis. It is important for leaders to remember to deal with the situation and be tempted to become involved in nonrelated issues. Leaders must ensure they continuously communicate with their team as well as articulate a vision. The impact of conflict in the workplace can result in a disruption of the effectiveness of employees and slow the achievement of organizational goals. Leaders are often challenged with navigating seamlessly through conflict. Identification of the conflicting source using a thorough assessment of the situation is essential.

Some important leadership strategies for dealing with conflict management include the following:

Act Responsibly. A leader must act responsibly when handling conflict. If the leader is not responsible, respect for the leader may be affected.

Diagnose the conflict. Diagnosis of the conflict begins with a thorough assessment of the situation. It is important for leaders to remember not to avoid the issue. The leader must make attempts to minimize or neutralize the conflict. The leader must remember they are not in a popularity contest and not all decisions will be supported by everyone. Before acting, the leader must ensure there is proof of wrongdoing. It is important not to create unnecessary conflict and not to wait until the situation is beyond repair. If the leader waits too long to act, others will feel the leader is hesitant to make decisions.

Maintain boundaries. A leader must assist and support others in maintaining boundaries. Additionally, the leader must possess enough self-awareness to keep themselves from crossing lines. An ongoing awareness of boundaries will help assist in establishing standards to prevent further conflict.

Respect differences. As opposed to influencing, the leader must respect the unique skills of those. Far too often, a leader sides with those they trust the most and do not venture out to capture the diverse skills of their employees. A leader must work to appreciate the gifts everyone brings to the workplace.

Identify a goal. Leadership includes doing things others do not like to do. This includes conflict resolution. The leader must be careful when addressing only one person’s point of view. The leader must gather information, develop their own self-awareness, and be ready for the unexpected. A goal for managing conflict should be identified and strategies specific to achieving the identified goal should be implemented. This strategic approach can assist the leader in staying on task and resolving the issue at hand.

Conflict management is an ongoing job duty of a leader. Developing skills in managing conflict in the workplace through self-awareness, communication, respect, and appreciation for others skill set are important aspects of the leader’s role in ensuring conflict is managed and organizational goals are prioritized.”

In the last six years, the Benue State governor Mr Samuel Ortom has led his people with courage in the face of needless war against his people by those bent on taking over their ancestral lands.

The crude fact is that hundreds of Benue citizens including Catholic Priests have been killed in the last 6 years by armed Fulani herdsmen. To even remember that the Special Adviser on media and publicity to the President Mr Femi Adeshina admonished Nigerians on a live television programme to instead relinquish their rights to their lands and be alive than to fight over their lands and be buried under the lands’, makes me cringe in overwhelming imagination on how low Nigeria’s Buhari brand of politics has sank.

Tragically abysmal .

The Benue State governor has however remained resolutely determined to protect his people and to speak for them and has continued to come under attacks from the Muhammadu Buhari’s administration including even from certain persons from Benue State who are holding Federal government’s positions. It is important to say that the position of a Cabinet level is a statutory right of every state and so for the man occupying the slot of Benue State to work against his governor all because the governor is working to defend the lands of their people is clearly not the sort of politics that should be encouraged. That brand of self destruction isn’t the type that has any potential to deliver development to the good people of Benue State. Fortunately, all rationally minded Nigerians have applauded the Benue State governor for distinguishing himself as an expert in conflicts management.

Recently, the Benue State governor openly and publicly gave out some snippets of some ways he has promoted good governance and I managed to bring out some concrete and tangible milestones.

On SECURITY he said thus: “Benue State under my watch has been providing vehicles, security gadgets and other logistics support to the Nigeria Police Force and other security agencies to enable them perform their duties efficiently. The Open Grazing Prohibition and Ranches Establishment Law 2017 is regarded as the most famous legislation initiated by the Executive Council during our time. In spite of the resistance from Miyetti Allah groups, the Ranching Law is being faithfully enforced with over 400 people who have violated the legislation arrested and many of them already convicted. The entire country has today accepted the Ranching Alternative which I have been talking about since we assumed office in 2015. The National Economic Council was one of the first bodies to adopt ranching and declare that open grazing is no longer feasible in the country.

In February this year, the Northern States Governors’ Forum banned open grazing and adopted ranching as the best method of animal husbandry. Just recently, the 17 Governors of Southern Nigeria also made a declaration in Asaba banning open grazing in the region. Recall that in my lecture at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka in 2019, I predicted that one day, Ranching will be embraced and celebrated in this country the same way June 12 is now being celebrated.

I must commend our security agencies such as the Benue State Police Command, Department of State Services (DSS), Operation Whirl Stroke and the entire military, Nigerian Security and Civil Defence Corps, our Livestock Guards and other agencies involved in the task of guaranteeing peace in the state. Many security personnel have lost their lives in the course of protecting our people. My heartfelt condolences once again to their families and relations.

They remain the heroes and heroines of the fight against crime and terrorism, and they will forever be in our hearts with fond memories.

A few weeks ago, Benue stakeholders met and gave this administration the mandate to activate and implement the Community Volunteer Guards Law enacted in 2000. We have already commenced the process of recruiting responsible people of fifty years and below into the Volunteer Guards also known as Vigilante. The duty of the Volunteer Guards is to support and complement conventional security agencies in defending their communities. We have cried enough. We will cry no more!

Let me remind those who think that sustained attacks on Benue people will force us to repeal the Open Grazing Prohibition and Ranches Establishment Law that they are making a mistake.

This law has come to stay and no amount of intimidation can make us to repeal it. Instead, we will soon amend the law in order to increase the penalties against offenders.

On IDPs AND THE HUMANITARIAN CHALLENGE: “The security threat from armed herdsmen, bandits and other criminals in our communities which has resulted in wanton killings and the displacement of people in large numbers across the state. Today, Benue State has over one million IDPs with many of them living in the camps we have set up and others staying with their relations. The situation has created an unprecedented humanitarian crisis in the state. Our administration has been spending huge sums of money to cater for the Internally displaced persons. Let me commend the good spirited individuals, corporate organizations and civil society groups for their support which has complemented government’s efforts in giving care to the affected persons.

My desire is to ensure that the IDPs return to their ancestral homes. Most of them are farmers, and the longer they stay in the camps, the more food production is affected. We hope that the Federal Government will also fulfill its promise to assist Benue and other states in the North Central which have been badly affected by the attacks to resettle the victims.

ON Agriculture, the governor rightly said “it is the main driver of the Benue economy, and our administration has placed the sector on the priority list of development. It is for that reason that in five cropping seasons, we have given forty percent subsidy on fertilizer to Benue farmers. Last year, we acquired and sold fifty tractors at sixty percent subsidy to the farmers.”

We have built Agro Processing Factories in six local government areas under Sustainable Development Goals, SDGs.

In Collaboration with organizations such as International Fund for Agricultural Development, IFAD, we have improved productivity in the state through training, demonstration and the use of improved seedlings. More civil servants have become farmers through our three-month scheme that makes Fridays work-free during planting and harvesting seasons. The Fertilizer Blending Plant has been revived, and now supplies part of the people’s fertilizer needs.

On EDUCATION he said: “In the education sector, our administration, in partnership with Universal Basic Education, UBEC, has executed over one thousand primary school projects across the state. Other projects completed in the education sector are the upgrade of facilities in the following schools: Government College Makurdi, Government Girls College, Makurdi, Government Girls Model Secondary School Aliade, Special School for Exceptional Children, Aliade among others.

The State Scholarship Board is undergoing comprehensive renovation at a near completion stage. To make the learning environment conducive for the children of our state, this administration has procured thousands of customized seats and desks for primary schools.

I similarly approved the conversion of Alfred Akawe Torkula College of Advanced and Professional Studies, Makurdi, and Akperan Orshi College of Agriculture, Yandev into Polytechnics as well as the engagement of additional academic staff at Benue State University, Makurdi and other tertiary institutions in the state. The State Executive Council recently approved the design and development of an e-learning and virtual education software and hardware for the Benue State E-Learning Centre. The programme, which is in partnership with Standtall Africa Initiative, includes donation of books with other instructional materials and the training of teachers.

Importantly on HEALTH the governor stated that: “In the health sector, we have sustained the support and attention given to the Schools of Nursing and Midwifery Makurdi, as well as the School of Health Technology Agasha. You are aware that our administration revived the affected health institutions to make them regain accreditation which they previously lost. The Benue State University College of Health Sciences has continued to graduate qualified doctors as a result of our intervention which led to the accreditation of the college.

I recently signed the law for Benue State Health Insurance Scheme which is to cover the formal and non-formal sectors. The scheme is one of our flagship programmes to provide healthcare to Benue people at all levels. In collaboration with Sustainable Development Goals, we have established and fully equipped forty-two health centres in different communities of the state.

We have also established the Primary Health Care Board which is making significant impact on the people. We have equally supplied ambulances and other medical equipment to local governments in the state.

We need not overemphasize our efforts in containing COVID-19. The devastating impact of the pandemic led to a global lockdown which for the most parts of last year crippled the economies of countries and states forcing us in Benue to also downsize our budget to be able to cope with realities of the time. I must once again commend the Deputy Governor and the entire COVID-19 State Action Committee for working tirelessly to prevent the spread of the virus.

We have already commenced the process for the establishment of Infectious Diseases Centre under the School of Health Sciences, Benue State University.

The Centre will open a new vista in our fight against deadly diseases such as COVID-19.

On INFRASTRUCTURE he said: “In infrastructure, this administration has executed numerous road projects in the three senatorial zones of the state. Only recently, prominent Nigerians, among them Governors of Enugu, Nasarawa, Sokoto and Rivers States accompanied me to Gboko to commission township roads and the state-of-the-art new Palace of the Tor Tiv. Among the roads commissioned were Aper Aku road, Professor Martin Dent road and Chief Isaac Shaahu road. We had earlier reconstructed Ahmadu Bello Way, JS Tarka Way and Captain Down’s Road in Gboko with drainages done for proper flow of water during rainfall. We equally constructed the Tse-Poor to Apir road and Igbor-Ikpa-Mbatyerev- Wannune road.

Within Makurdi the state capital, we have constructed several new roads and opened up layouts. These include the Customary Court road now known as Senator Gabriel Suswam road, Mobile Barracks-Welfare Quarters road, Terwase Agbadu-Yaikyo road and Federal High Court road North Bank Makurdi. We have also constructed and commissioned Imande-Akpu-Origbo-Gbajimba road, while work is progressing on Taraku – Naka road. Work is also progressing on Daudu-Gbajimba road as well as Abuku-Jingir-Tyogbenda-Wombo road.

In Benue North Senatorial District, we commissioned the 47-kilometer Zaki-Biam-Gbeji-Afia road among numerous other projects in the area. The construction of Ge-Ikyobo-Agbeede-Anshagha road is also ongoing.”

As someone born and bred in Kafanchan, Kaduna with vast travelling history and experience of Benue State, there is no doubt that these verbal claims by Governor Samuel Ortom have practical, pragmatic and concrete veracity and are factually accurate. It is therefore only right to loudly demand that the Federal Government stop the needless war against Benue people forthwith.

* EMMANUEL ONWUBIKO is head of the HUMAN RIGHTS WRITERS ASSOCIATION OF NIGERIA and a former National Commissioner of the National Human Rights Commission of Nigeria.

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