No State outside the former Eastern Region of Nigeria lost as many of its indigenes as Benue in the bloody civil war Nigeria fought between 1967 and 1970.
Not only did the outbreak of hostilities take place at Gakem, a town located a walking distance from Vandeikya in Benue, on the border between the Northern and Eastern Region, the people of Benue accepted General Gowon’s battle cry that “to keep Nigeria one is a task that must be done.” Many, many of them enlisted to fight on the Federal side against Biafra. If the people of Benue had not stood up to be counted on the federal side at that time, the outcome of the war would have been different.
I read a disturbing reaction to the massacre of rural folks in Guma and Logo Local Governments of Benue on January one this year on the facebook page of an Ibo man. The writer gloated openly that the massacre served the Benue people right. He argued that when the Hausa Fulani ‘vandals’ decided to carry out a pogrom against the Ibos in the 1960’s, the Tiv and Idoma of Benue joined them to massacre the Ibos. Now the chicken had come home to roost and the Benue people should face their Hausa Fulani ‘vandal’collaborators and not disturb the rest of Nigeria.
Not many Nigerians, not even his fellow Ibos share that heartless view of the senseless massacre on January one. Nigerians of good faith have stood up in open condemnation of what was a barbaric and cowardly display. The sympathy for Benue people came from even the most unexpected quarters.
In 2001, Olusegun Obasanjo as President of Nigeria ordered a massive military operation in a Senatorial Zone of Benue. That operation has been wrongly tagged as the ZakiBiam massacre by the media. It was the reaction of the Commander in Chief to the murder of his soldiers in ZakiBiam. At the National burial of the murdered soldiers in Abuja, Obasanjo had announced that he had authorized security men to fish out the perpetrators of the crime. No operation could have been easier. The criminals had posed for photo sessions with the soldiers before slaughtering them. The pictures with the faces of the murderers were widely published in Nigerian and international media.
But Obasanjo had a secret plan. The invading soldiers under his command were on an indiscriminate revenge mission, killing scores of women, children and unarmed harmless men in the whole senatorial zone. Hundreds of local peasants were killed. Apart from the local folks, the soldiers specifically targeted the modest homes of the most prominent indigenes of the zone – Hon Benjamin Chaha, former Speaker of House of Representatives and General Victor Malu, his chief of Army Staff whom he had fired because of disagreements on policy issues. Both houses were bombed and reduced to rubbles.
Obasanjo remained President of Nigeria after the attack in 2001 until 2007. He never for once went to Benue after the massacre to sympathize with the people. Instead in 2005, he loaded a large contingent of his army generals in an ill maintained aircraft which crashed in the zone. Ten generals died on the spot. Many more generals would have perished but for the intervention of some humane and civilized local folks. Even in a war situation, the death of ten generals in one day at a war front would have attracted the attention of their commander in chief. Not President Obasanjo. He never went to Benue to mourn the generals and or thank the local folks who rescued the surviving generals.
The same Obasanjo found it expedient to travel to Benue to lay wreath on the graves of the 73 local Tiv tribesmen who were massacred on January 1 2018. He even found the spleen to pontificate on the sacrilegious act of spilling innocent blood. Human memory they say is short but that of Obasanjo is indeed very, very short.
Before he went to Benue, Obasanjo had written an open letter to President Muhammadu Buhari calling on him not to contest next year’s presidential election. His visit to Benue was carefully timed to take place a few days before Buhari who had inexplicably remained tardy in paying a condolence visit to the state. He stole the show away from Buhari
The carnage in Benue on New year day has offered an opportunity to opponents of Buhari to run him down. The Ayodele Fayoses, the NyesonWikes and their ilkare all over Benue state. These are people who a few months ago openly ridiculed the people of Benue and their governor, Solomon Ortom. Today, they come to Benue in style, making statements that ridicule president Buhari.
Exactly one week ago, Buhari was in Benue to pay a condolence visit. It was a good opportunity for him to turn the tables. Again, his spin doctors failed him. There are many opinion leaders in Benue who love Buhari and would have made him look more presidential than what I saw. In planning the visit, these opinion leaders were roundly ignored. The streets were deserted or at best lined up only by his uniformed and plain cloths security men. I was not told. I was there in Benue.
At the town hall meeting in the Benue Peoples House, speaker after speaker made the government of Buhari look lame. They did it courteously and in the most diplomatic way – no insult, no name calling, no hate speech. They spoke like civilized leaders of civilized men.
In response, President Buhari made a speech which lasted less than two minutes. There was no single word of condolence to those who lost their dear ones. The most quoted part of his speech is his confession that he never knew that his Inspector General defied his order to go to Benue and make sure that he put an end to the carnage. Nigerians have been wondering what manner of a commander in chief is this who could be defied so openly and who is even incapable of knowing that he is being defied.
He has launched exercise AyemAkpatuma to stop the carnage. I was at the launching of that exercise in GumaLocal government of Benue last month. But the carnage goes on and is fast spreading to Kogi and Plateau, states that are supposed to be covered by AyemAkpatuma. Could it be that another of his appointees like the IGP is defying him again?
I have always maintained that Buhari is poorly served.
But all hope is not lost. With proper guidance, Buhari could still regain lost grounds in Benue. Those who point at the mammoth crowds that come out to welcome Buhari elsewhere and tell him that the Benue vote is insignificant miss the point.
Benue may not have the population to vote Buhari out of office in 2019. But knowing Nigeria the way I do, I can say without fear that he will pay a heavy political price if he does not stop the ongoing carnage in Benue State. [myad]