ZAMFARA AND BENUE VALLEY – A TALE OF TWO COMMUNITIES

Emmanuel Yawe

Last week the Fulani herdsmen who have been terrorizing the Benue valley carried out a massive operation bringing death and destruction to the national table. It reminded me of an article I published on this Page 6 months ago. It is reproduced below.

I expected my friend and Presidential image maker, Garba Shehu to deny the story published by the Daily Trust on Sunday July 10 that President Buhari was deploying troops to protect cattlemen in Zamfara. The story even went on to say that the President would travel to Zamfara himself on Wednesday 13th July to launch the military operation. As it turned out Garba who speaks with authority on presidential matters kept mum.

The Daily Trust was right. On Wednesday 13th July the President dusted up the military uniform he wore last in 1985 and headed to Zamfara to launch a major military operation dubbed ‘Operation Harbin Kunama.’ It draws officers and men from virtually every army unit in the country to flush out armed bandits and cattle rustlers who have been terrorizing farming and herding communities in the state.

I share the Presidents concern for the victims of the terrorists operating from the thick forest between the southern border of Zamfara State with Katsina, Kaduna, Niger and Kebbi States. I also identify with Senator Saidu Dansadau who said in a letter to the President that terrorists have turned the forest into “a national park of criminals and killers, worse than the nation has ever witnessed.”

In that letter Senator Dansadau pointedly accused the governor of the state, Abdulaziz Yari of truancy and abdication of his constitutional duties. He called on the President to declare a State of Emergency in Zamfara:

“I wish to bring to the attention of Mr. President that since the incumbency of the Governor of Zamfara State, Alhaji Abdulaziz Yari Abubakar, began five years ago, he spent 80 percent junketing from one part of the country to the other and shuttling around the globe. All matters of State that require action are kept waiting until he returns,” the Senator charged.

As much as I share the security concern about the horrors going on in that part of the country, I expected my President to be a little bit circumspect in putting up his boots as a general and Commander in Chief as he journeyed to Zamfara. The political realities in Nigeria today should have dictated a more cautious public show of support to Fulani herdsmen by my President.

At the elections last year, the candidate Muhammadu Buhari won an unusual pan Nigerian mandate. Out of the six so called geo-political zones in the country, he won clearly in four. Of my immediate concern here is the ability of candidate Buhari to catch the votes of the legion of tribes that inhabit the Benue Valley, popularly known as the Middle Belt. No politician of note from the far north of Nigeria – not Shehu Shagari, not even the powerful Sardauna of Sokoto – ever enjoyed such a generous show of electoral support from this conglomeration of ethnic groups the way Buhari did last year.

Of the votes garnered by Muhammadu Buhari in the north in that election, the Middle Belt votes were the most hotly contested. President Jonathan openly and shamelessly played the religious card to stop the minority tribes who are mostly Christians from joining the Buhari train. The Christian political leaders who stood for Buhari were portrayed as Judases of our modern age – treacherous disciples who sold Jesus the Christ for some coins. I was not told. I was on the ground. I saw this happen.

Thank God, partly because of their savvy and resilience, Buhari won the Middle Belt.

Sadly however, the country after the initial euphoria of Buhari’s triumph is taking the slippery road, headed to the same destination as it was under Goodluck Jonathan. The scramble for spoils of victory – ‘juicy offices’ – is pitching one elite group against the other and has brought us to this sad stage. This bewildering struggle for limited access to state power and wealth will certainly not favour the people of the Middle Belt who have been caught between the shabby division of the country between a Muslim north and a Christian south. We have even reverted to the pre 1914 map of north and south.

That the elite of the Middle Belt have lost out in the scramble for ‘juicy offices’ is bad enough. Sadly still, the ordinary folks of the Benue Valley are today faced with the aggressive onslaught of the Fulani herdsmen. The relationship between the roving cattlemen who migrate to the region seasonally for cattle grazing and the sedentary farmers of the region has not been smooth in recent times. The ferocity of attacks on sedentary farming communities by the herdsmen has however gained momentum and has reached an alarming proportion since Buhari came to power.

The Benue State Governor, Samuel Ortom has described it as ‘genocide’ against the people of his state. In Plateau, Nassarawa, Taraba and Kogi states, the story is not very different.

Those who campaigned against Buhari in the Benue Valley are today moving around with the pride of prophets whose predictions have come to light in their life time. I have attended Church services where preachers, using the Fulani invasion as empirical evidence, openly told the congregation that Buhari has come to complete what Othman Dan Fodio was interrupted by the Middle Belt from doing: dipping the Qoran into the sea.

At this time that the minds of the people of Benue Valley are being poisoned on a daily basis by those opposed to Buhari, using the unchecked Fulani onslaught to support their point, it was rather insensitive for Buhari to do what he did in Zamfara on the 13th July.

He told us at his inauguration on May 29 2015 that “I belong to everybody and I belong to nobody”. At his outing in Zamfara, he demonstrated that he is for the Fulani herdsmen and not the undefended sedentary farmers of the Benue Valley.

Published 7/01/2018

Categories: Opinion

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