I have always known Joseph Kennedy Nyikwagh Waku, better known as Senator JKN Waku as long as my memory can allow. His sudden death on February 3 2019 threw me off balance. For that reason, I made it a point of duty to participate fully in his final internment.
I was fully engaged in Abuja with the extensive network of his friends in the efforts to give him a befitting burial. From Makurdi came the reassuring words of the Benue State government that all we needed to do in Abuja was to deliver his corpse in Makurdi. The Benue State government promised to take over from there and give the late Senator a befitting “State Burial”.
In my itinerant life, working with many state governments in Nigeria, I have witnessed many state burials. But I have never seen one as shambolic as what Senator Waku was given on 14th March 2019.
The mess was comprehensive. For instance, I was excited to see Rotimi Akeredolu, the governor of Ondo State at the Church Service in Saint Marys Church, North Bank Makurdi. I had served one of his predecessors, Chief Michael Adekunle Ajasin who was Governor of old Ondo State (1979-1980). He often spoke to me about the relationship between Joseph Tarka and Obafemi Awolowo and the Tiv and the Yoruba race. Seeing Akeredolu at Waku’s burial brought to my mind these memories. Here was a big Yoruba statesman, sacrificing a great deal to pay respect to a departed great Tiv statesman. But the state governor who travelled all the way from Akure to Makurdi to pay his last respect for Waku was not even given an opportunity to speak. He left humiliated. A ‘state burial’ indeed.
But worse still, the ‘state burial’ almost cost me my life and those of my friends. Given the state of insecurity in Benue, we expected an announcement to be made about the most secured route to follow to the Waku Adanyi country home where the final interment was to take place. There was none.
In company of three other friends – a professor from the US, another professor from University of Abuja and a former top official of the Benue state government, we started driving by the road we know to the country home. We suddenly felt the road was too deserted, so we asked a young man if we could follow it. Speaking in Tiv, the excited youngman told us that Fulani herdsmen have taken over that half of Guma Local government. If we followed it, we would be ambushed and killed or kidnapped. No Tiv man, he told us “rushes” this road again. He spoke all along in Tiv but somehow managed to tell us that Tiv people do not ‘rush’ the road again in English. We thanked him, reversed our car and fled on top speed.
Ironically, both the late Senator Waku and Governor Samuel Ortom who rejoices in his self-awarded title of “defender of Benue Valley” hail from the same Guma Local Government. Here we were in the Local Government of the “defender of the Benue Valley” – a large stretch of country side that starts from Adamawa, crosses Taraba and Benue states and finally terminates in Kogi. That is what I know as Benue Valley – four states. The defender of these four states could not and still cannot defend his own lone local government.
For the past two years or so, it has been fashionable for the Benue State government to blame the parlous state of security in the state on the activities of marauding Fulani herdsmen. Not anymore.
A few days after Senator Waku’s burial, a communal clash was reported in Agatu where many people were killed and houses and other properties worth millions of Naira razed to the ground. The cause of the fight was said to be a disagreement over the ownership of a farmland and fish pond.
Four clans in Agatu Local Government were responsible for the war. The Agbaduma clan, which is the majority clan in the area was attacked by the allied forces of Egba, Abogbe and Ologbe clans who also hired militiamen to teach the majority Agbaduma clan a lesson in their ancestral home of Okokolo. The allied forces and their mercenary collaborators recorded major victories by sacking the whole community.
Then on April1, the perennial Tiv Jukun clashes reopened with renewed fury at Kente, a town in Wukari Local Government of Taraba that shares borders with Ukum Local Government of Benue. As tempers grew wild, both ethnic militias from Tiv and Jukun made deep incursions into ‘enemy territory’ bringing death and destruction. Many villages on the Benue side of the border, from Kente to Wukari and from Wukari to Jootar were razed to the ground and the villagers killed or chased away.
If the fight that broke out between the Tiv and the Jukun on April 1 could be considered an April fool’s story, then what happened in Katsina Ala town on a Good Friday cannot be said to be a good story. On that day, the Ikurav and Shitile – the two major Tiv clans that make up the Local Government unleashed full terror on each other – burning, killing, raping and looting. The state government slammed a 24 hour curfew on the town while the Tor Tiv, James Ayatse, issued a lame statement saying he was sad about the mayhem in Katsina-Ala.
Sadly, this looming anarchy is not limited to Benue. All over the former Northern Region of Nigeria, an area I have worked extensively in the past forty years as a news reporter, there is a sudden feeling of helplessness. Human life means very little today in our dear old north.
In Benue we were given sufficient warning about this imminent Armageddon that now faces the state. In his testimony to the Senate while been screened for appointment as Minister in 2011, Samuel Ortom proudly claimed that he was a school drop-out who started his career in life as a motor park tout. The Senators considered this confession as some sort of parliamentary humor and confirmed him as a Minister regardless.
If his fishy background did not show itself as a Minister, what has been happening to Benue since he became governor should be an eye opener. He has surrounded himself with many, many men of questionable background. The most notorious is a man by name Agwaza, popularly called Ghana, a well-known outlaw and murderer whom he rehabilitated in the name of amnesty. Not only was he rehabilitated, he was dressed with all the accoutrements of a high ranking security operative and given an open check to the internally generated funds of the state. It took the brutal murder of Mr Denen Igbana, Ortom’s Senior
Special Assistant on security for the governor to realize that some of the people he appointed into high office were unrepentant killers, murderers.
Old habits die hard.