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Friday Adakole Elijah: Stop the orgy of violence in Benue

Currently, Benue appears to be soaked in bloodbaths. It is equally enmeshed in the orgy of violence. It has become a killing field as the killing spree continues unabated. And it doesn’t look like there are concerted efforts aimed at stanching this unfortunate menace.

From Zaki-biam to Agatu, Apa to Katsinala, Gwer to Konshisha, Ogbadibo to Makurdi and logo to Oju, there is free flow of blood everywhere. Benue State has been enveloped by wars. And the wars are from both within and without.

It was like the late Reggae maestro, Bob Marley had Benue State in mind when he rolled out one of his hit songs in the eighties, “until the philosophy which holds man’s race is insignificant than the colour of his eyes, we said war…everywhere is war…”. Though his target was inequality of man but the song adequately captured the ugly situation in which Benue state is entrapped today.

Human lives are being stupidly wasted and property destroyed as peace and tranquility appeared to have taken their flights. Sanctity of life has been obscured. Everywhere is wailing, tears streaming down our cheeks uncontrollable with gnashing of teeth.

As things are, we are like the “Down Presser man of Peter Tosh. Where do we run to? Like he said, “you run to the rock [Aso Rock], the rock will be melting. You run to the sea [IDP camp], the sea will be boiling. Do we resort to self-help as espoused by some protagonists sometimes ago? The state is whirling in grim situation.

Hardly was there a day in the last few months that people were not crudely and gruesomely murdered in the state. These killings no doubt have multiple sources. They were either orchestrated by Fulani herdsmen or militiamen or cultists or kidnappers or inter- ethnic or intra-ethnic strife.

Last month, the Governor of Benue State, Dr. Samuel Ortom was attacked by suspected Fulani terrorists. We politicized the attack and derided him because of his employment of onomatopoeia in recounting how fluky he was with hovering bullets.

That attack ought to have woken us to the sad realities that the marauders were back in their war trenches but we glossed over it.

And in the early hours of 27th April, 2021, these dare devils visited the campsite of the Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) at Abagena and slaughtered seven of them.

Some weeks ago, a community developer, Dr. Terkura Suswam, was sent to the world beyond in Anyiim by unknown gunmen. Few days after that, a reverend Father was killed somewhere in Katsina-Ala. Ditto to about 50 other persons that were killed in Tor Donga by suspected militia men whose mission and objectives up till this moment is still shrouded in secrecy.

I was in Katsina-ala and some other important towns of Benue North –East, some weeks ago and I can tell you for free that the situation in Sankera axis was not different from what was obtainable in the North – East Nigeria. The only difference is that, while Boko Haram has been identified and tagged as a terror group, the Katsina – ala militia group is yet to be branded as such despite the fact that their modus operandi looks similar.

The activities of these militia men no doubt have placed both social and economic activities of the affected areas in a state of quandary.

As it is, the distinction between the Sankera guerrillas and terrorism is very slim and that is why pragmatic effort should be deployed towards blotting this menace out of our territory.

Though I am not branding them as terrorists, this discussion will be inchoate if I fail to dwell on the concept of terrorism albeit tokenistically. Terrorism according to Sage Library of International Relations GLOBAL TERRORISM volume 1, edited by Brenda J. Lutz and James M. Lutz (2008, p. xxi) involves political aims and motives. It is violent or threatens violence. It is designed to generate fear in a target audience that extends beyond the immediate victims of the violence. The violence is conducted by an identifiable organization (like Boko Haram in Nigeria).

Similarly, Okpoko (2014) gave the etymology of terrorism as emanating from French word terrosime, from Latin: terror, “great fear”, “dread” related to Latin verb terrere, “to frighten” (p.26). The terror cimbricus was a panic and state of emergency in Rome in response to the approach of warriors of the Cimbri tribe in 105 BC.

The French National Convention declared in September 1793 that “terror is the order of the day”. The period 1793-94 was referred to as La Terreur (Reign of Terror). Maximilien Robespierre, a leader in the French revolution proclaimed in 1794 that terror was nothing other than justice, prompt, severe, inflexible. The committee of public safety agents that enforced the policies of “the terror” were referred to as “terrorists”.

And the Fulani terrorists too are of the faulty and fallacious belief that killing innocent and defenseless citizens of Benue State as a precursor to grabbing their land are just and good.

Harper (2007) adumbration of the concept of terrorism may be helpful here. According to the scholar, the word “terrorism” was first recorded in English-language dictionaries in 1798 as meaning “systematic use of terror as a policy”.

From the above depictions of terrorism, one could glean from the fact that the activities of local militia in Katsina-ala are gradually being clothed with the apron of terrorism.

While Katsina-ala was degenerating into another ‘Sambisa forest’, a story streamed unabated on the social media about the communal crisis between Konshisha and Oju . These very crises had regrettably seen the annihilation of many people. Soldiers were said to have been ambushed and decimated. And, in a reprisal attack, the military rolled out their tanks, guns and war planes and invaded some communities in Konshisha.

Consequently, lives were annihilated. Property worth millions of naira destroyed. And the areas deserted for fear of being gunned down by the military.

What an unjustifiable barbaric act?

In a civilized clime, the military will not vent their anger on defenseless innocent citizens for crimes committed by a few. They will act on intelligence gathering and fish out the committers of the crime and punish them adequately. Grueling the entire community for a crime perpetrated by few is to say the least, anachronistic, jejune, primitive and barbaric strategy that is no more in vogue.

Examples abound. When Osama Bin Laden was discovered to be behind the September 11, attack on the Twin Tower, the United State military took time out to exterminate him. They did similar thing to Iranian General Suleimani when they believed that he was behind several terrorist activities in the Middle East. They didn’t punish their entire community. Our military must embrace new strategies aimed at isolating perceived criminals from innocent people. The military ought to have known that we are not in a state of saturnalia where violence could be freely unleashed on defenseless people.

But what should we do to abate this needless war? Methinks that we all have roles to play in order to entrench the elusive peace to our land. We can appropriate strategies from within and without. One of the strategies that readily comes to mind was utilization of diplomacy. Here, everybody should volunteer to be a harbinger of peace. We must not leave only those affected by this heinous crisis to tackle. They may not be emotionally stable to cogitate on the way out.

Sometimes ago, Otukpo, the trado-political capital of the Idoma nation was enveloped in a bloodbath orchestrated by cultism. The killings were so horrendous that it became the concerns of all. The Otukpo District Traditional Council led by the Och’Otukpo Odu, Dr. John Eimonye went round his entire chiefdom and organized against cultism in his domain. He rolled out expletives against practitioners of cultism in his land. The vigilante group led by Major Enokela Ukwenya and the Otukpo homeland Defense joined forces with the traditional council to fight the nuisance. And the fight against cultism had the full imprimatur of the Executive Chairman of Otukpo Local Government Council, Chief George Alli.

Nevertheless, the most interesting part was the voluntary efforts by a group of young men and women which ultimately brought the needed reprieve. These young people floated a Non-Governmental Organisation (NGO) known as ‘Do Care Foundation’. Led by Chris Oga, the organisation was endowed with patriotic members such as Alhaji Illiya Hassan, Sam Agebe, Versace Agida, Ene Yusuf, Susan Oonye Ameh amongst others.

Their objective was simply to stanch out or minimize the irritation of cultism in Otukpo and its environs.

This group bestowed unto themselves the arduous task of advocacy. They went round all the nooks and crannies of Otukpo preaching in denunciation of cultism. They explored all institutions of learning in Benue South Senatorial District and expounded to the young boys and girls the evil of cultism.

At the end, the leadership of the ‘Do Care Foundation’ after identifying the core protagonists of the various sects organized a friendly football tournament to cement their relationship in such a manner that if truly the participants were members, there will be no need to kill anybody.

I was invited to the tournament and one or two of the various advocacy visits where I persuasively adumbrated the evil of cultism and urged them to shun cultism for their own personal good. I also took the match Kick-off. And today, cultism appears to be fading from Otukpo.

But while it looks like cultism is on the decline in the trado-political capital of the Idoma nation, other ancillary crimes are gradually gaining currency in Benue South. There have been several unresolved cases of kidnapping, abduction of school children as well as armed robbery. The most bizarre of it was the abduction of three pupils of the same parents of Army Children School, Otukpo who were returning home from school. Thank God, they have been found and reunited with their parents at Olena.

I strongly believe that if the strategies employed by the Chairman, Otukpo Local Government Council, George Alli, the paramount ruler of the Otukpo Chiefdom, Dr. John Eimonye , the Founder of ‘Do Care Foundation’, Chris Ogah and his team , are adopted and utilized, it might help in the Sankera case.

All we need at this material moment are men and women of good conscience to step forward and help to quench this orgy of violence. Nobody should shy away from this noble path. Benue State is our home. We have no other place to call our home. We must work collectively or individually to bring peace for without peace there could be no better tomorrow.

Dr. Elijah writes from Otada – Otukpo.

Friday Adakole Elijah: Stop the orgy of violence in Benue

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