By Michael Onoja
Governor Samuel Ortom
I have lost trust and confidence in some states in Nigeria to execute a function, as basic and fundamental as securing the lives and properties of their people. Every State Chief executive in Nigeria is aware of this sacred provision in our laws.
But quite indiscernibly, some state Governors have proven over the months and years they have occupied such prime offices that the oath of office they took was not just a mere routine, but the final rite of passage for them to grab the reins of power.
I feel pained to come back to such basics in the leadership of our people, which some of our Governors hardly give a thought. Today, Benue particularly is in conflagration; the latest spurred by herders/farmers conflict, leading to deaths.
I am not so concerned with justifying the lexicology or semantics attached to the different phrases or words adopted in the instance of the herders/farmers conflict. My focus is the extent some state Governors, who are also the State Chief Security Officers consciously deploy such powers against their people.
Perhaps, as you read this piece, Benue is burying or must have buried its dead from that unfortunate encounter. May the souls of the departed rest in perfect peace.
However, there is every need to again appraise how some Governors handle security issues. I am specific about Benue state because it is the rage of the moment.
Quite pleased by the exhibition of the spirit of communalism by Nigerians and the world by the outpouring of emotions of sympathies/condolences with our people over these avertable deaths. But what else can I say, other than appreciate them for identifying with us in our moments of grief?
Frankly, the killings are condemnable and the acts by the perpetrators and agents, very repugnant and unjustifiable. Those covert and unmentioned forces displaying innocence in public space share in greater guilt.
We know it is damn wrong and traumatic to violently sniff life out of anybody without God’s consent. That’s the first point where we erred gravely. But it is also germane to stress, it is the cardinal responsibility of government everywhere and at all levels to hold the protection of lives and property of the citizenry, very sacrosanct for both God and humanity.
But in my country Nigeria, our people have come to strangely believe in the archaic Herbert Spencer’s theory of survival of the fittest. We operate like wild beasts in the jungle and we seem not to care about any consequence. And most irritatingly, even those we have elected to be sentinels over our souls and entrusted with state power get immersed in this game of devaluing our lives to pass the buck of blames.
The images we see from the incidents in Benue today, or elsewhere in Nigeria are gory, obscene and too painful. They can melt the hardest of hearts, even made of steel. I am sure the attackers and their sponsors must have been drenched in lethargic moments now, with the magnitude it has exploded beyond their control, by besmirching all bulwarks towards an early halt.
It should not have been in Benue state. It would not have been Nigerians or any other race in the world. But certain grave mistakes were made. Some persons; I mean, prominent politicians in Benue like the state Governor Samuel Ortom have abused the vulnerability and helplessness of the people they claim leadership into this mess.
Each time of hear or read of Benue state in the media since Governor Ortom assumed the mantle of leadership in 2015, it is all about tales of misfortunes, calamities, bloodbath, natural disasters, power supremacy scuffles’ in the state and the likes. It’s sad, to say the least.
Since he assumed the reins of power, the people have not been assembled for once to celebrate any positive impact of the government they elected on their lives. The cries have understandably accentuated. And I pity my brethren in Benue state so much for hoping for salvation in the wrong personage and leader like Ortom.
But it is precisely, what you get when a “drama king” is the Governor. He plots evil against his own people and wails loudest when the impact descends. When the famed “ weeping “ former Governor, Chief Sam Mbakwe of Imo state in the Second Republic, wailed at any plight of his people, it stemmed straight from an emotional heart arrested by pains. This kingly practice is in breach today with Governor Ortom.
So, during campaigns in 2015, Governor Ortom wept at the slightest opportunity. At his prayers and convocation to dedicate Benue state to God, at the IBB Square in Makurdi, the Governor dramatized the same action. I regret to say, these religiously moralistic actions by the Governor have not touched his heart. He comes across easily as a leader who plays more to the gallery than a genuine conviction about the fate and plight of his people.
Consequently, while Benue is eclipsed on the development radar and completely shut against all indices of prosperity under Ortom, his regime has not winked for once in advertising officially that life in the state is an exercise of crudity, very nasty and brutish.
The unanswered question quivering on many lips in the state is that, “where do we go from here?” Should people of the state continue to wallow in poverty and misery or bearing the pains and agonies of a government which delights in creating either more IDPs camps or burial graves for its citizenry? But the Governor is the least concerned and consciously initiate actions likely to deepen the dilemma of the people.
Perhaps, some other more experienced persons may know better. But I cannot decode the essence why Governor Ortom handles issues of state security with a numbing levity. This is a government which shouted to high heavens about restiveness in rural communities in the state because of prevalence of arms and ammunitions in the hands of youths.
It proceeded to launch the disarmament policy it tagged “Amnesty programme.” If the government dwells in truth, Governor Ortom would admit that the implementation of this programme failed midway, with the escape from its compass of the main gangster kingpin identified as Terwase Akwaza (Gana) pulling out of it.
A conscientious government would have channeled efforts to tame Gana and his clan of polarized boys first, before thinking of arming another set of youths in any guise. But Governor Ortom dilly-dallied over it and the matter fizzled out, as soon as public focus on it waned.
Surprisingly, what Governor Ortom considered indispensible was the reconstitution or revival of another sect of youths under the auspices of Civilian JTF and Livestock Guards for community policing. Reports oozing out indicate that the Benue State Government founded, warehoused, armed and funded these deviants, ignoring conventional security.
The reprehensible actions of the Governor amounted to unleashing rival armed sects, with arms on Benue communities. So, inter-sect rivalry, mischief and uncontrolled madness became inevitable. And today, Benue communities are experiencing invasions and killings, which source has remained conflicting, as government’s position opposes the findings of conventional security deployed to curtail the menace of violent invasions and deaths.
Governor Ortom must necessarily be reminded of this misstep, which many believe was a conscious move to protect and in masked forces, secure his political ambition in 2019. Many will dispassionately agree with me that Benue is not the first state to launch Vigilante groups in conflict zones. But I have not seen a State Governor who sealed such assemblage without the inputs and support of security agents in his domain, as traditional means of combating crimes.
In Borno state, the CJTF is assisting the military battle insurgency. Though established by the Borno State Government, but it has been registered and closely monitored by the military. They have not deviated from their mandate and from time to time, members of the CJTF are briefed by security agents as partners on security.
The contrast is that the traditional vigilante groups created by Governor Ortom are independent of security agencies. Even the military operating in the axis they were arrested with arms and the burst into their secret camp, housing nearly a thousand of them, if not more are not aware.
Obviously, the strange bedfellows on security were arrested by the military like common criminals. While not jumping into hasty conclusions, but some investigations still needs to be done to establish the basic facts about these armed vigilante groups and also, Governor Ortoms intention for concealing their existence from the prying eyes of security agencies.
It is good, but not enough reason for the Benue State Government to argue that the State Assembly has passed a law, establishing the Vigilante Groups. But at the point of domesticating the law on Vigilante Groups to the extent of arming the members, security agencies ought to have been brought into the picture.
But Ortom failed and felt contented to unleash them into the field and could no longer even pay their monthly stipends. This approach was extremely faulty and dangerous ab initio. It is the wrong way of handling a youth, empowered with a gun or arms in whatever guise. But this is another script handed down to us from the “King of Comedy” himself, Governor Ortom. If Benue communities are robbed of peace and respite from restiveness, these are worthy contributory factors.
Onoja , a political scientist wrote from University of Abuja.