Bloodbath at Benue valley

When that tumultuous crowd gathered that Black Thursday for the mass burial of over 70 souls slaughtered like rams on the butcher’s slab, the whole values that man represents went down more than six feet before the beautiful caskets with their ugly contents.

In Nigeria, life and its values have come down so low that animals have become the superior stock. When the effusive outburst of emotions at the burial ground and beyond went so high and temper sunk so deep, it was not only because death struck, but more because those to be buried were innocent souls that have been brutally sacrificed for ‘stolen’ cows.

In most societies, including traditional Africa, cows are mere animals at man’s beck and call. They are important to the extent that they can enrich man’s dining table. Otherwise, they are useless creatures fit to be slaughtered and buried or pushed and drowned in the deep sea.

But in Nigeria, it is a reversal of roles and values. This is the only country in the world where man is the cow and cow the man. So, man is killed for cow and not cow for man, leaving humanity with a classical case of bestiality too absurd for comprehension.

For the wrong reason, Benue State in the North Central part of Nigeria has been in the news and these are news of horror. The state has been under siege by Fulani herdsmen who have, in the course of grazing their cattle, caused mental torture to their host farming communities by allowing their cattle to destroy their farms and eat up the crops.

Any little complaint or resistance from the communities is met with killing, maiming, burning and destruction of their property. The most recent mass killing which precipitated the present crisis in the state was the most cruel, brutish, callous and lacked any attachment to the sanctity of human life.

People were killed, farmlands destroyed and homes desecrated and burnt as a reprisal for 1,000 cows which these killers claimed were stolen in the community. This was the claim by a group that calls itself Myeti Allah, an umbrella body of pastoralists/herdsmen in Nigeria.

Two things agitate the mind—the impunity and the initial silence and indifference from the federal government. Here is a group of people that kills and do not show any remorse for their action. The whole idea of killing innocent people for stolen cows is bizarre and questions the saneness of the perpetrators.

It also makes it difficult to categorise a people in that state of mind as the elder statesman and erudite professor, Wole Soyinka did ask in the Volume III of his Intervention Series. Soyinka recalls that The Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) which the federal government, in order to crush the group by branding it a terrorist group, never killed people, nor was it a violent movement.

But here is Myeti Allah whose members “swoop on sleeping settlements, kill and strut. They glory in their seeming supremacy; by contrast, how do we categorize Myeti? How do we assess a mental state that cannot distinguish between a stolen cow – which is always recoverable – and human life, which is not”.

The government’s initial silence was curious. It did not only fail to categorise Myeti and its action, but also refused to act. When eventually it decided to act following public outcry, international condemnation of the wanton killings and loud lamentations by the Benue people, it did so with false step.

Inspector General of Police was directed to move in and take care of the situation, an action which Umar Aliyu, a retired army captain, said was meant to punish the police because that was not their tuff. And to prove Aliyu right, before the IGP could settle down in Benue, two of his officers were killed by the serial killers and a third one badly wounded.

While the President of the federal republic maintained his studied silence, his minister of agriculture, Audu Ogbe, effortfully volunteered explanation and possible solution to the carnage in his home state. According to him, “The inability of the government to pay attention to herdsmen and cow farming, unlike other developed countries, contributed to the killings.”

Continuing, the minister said, “Over the years, we have not done much to look seriously into the issue of livestock development in the country; we may have done enough for the rice farmer, the cassava farmer, the maize farmer, the cocoa farmer, but we haven’t done enough for herdsmen, and that inability and omission on our part is resulting in the crisis we are witnessing today.”

This was not only a patronizing comment, but a simplistic way of ignoring a festering sore. At no time have the herdsmen complained of neglect from government. The leadership of their organization has at no time complained of neglect from the government. Their anger, as in the present case, is the anti-grazing law which the Benue State government put in place to save its farming population from the invading herdsmen.

Though he denied their responsibility in the killing taking place in Benue, Saleh Alhassan, the Myeti Allah Secretary General, did not, while on a national television programme, hide his group’s disdain for the anti-open grazing law in Benue, insisting it was a law against the pastoralists in the country. He also alleged that the herdsmen were being killed all over the country and their cows stolen. Alhassan also insisted that the Anti-Open Grazing Law was unconstitutional and would therefore continue to generate conflict.

This does not only demonstrate impunity, but a also lack of respect to constituted authority. Soyinka shares this view when he said, “The present national outrage is over impunity. It rejects the right of any set of people, for whatever reason, to take arms against their fellow men and women, to acknowledge their exploits in boastful and justifying accents and, in effect, promise more of the same as long as their terms and demands are not met. In plain language, they have declared war against the nation, and their weapon is an undiluted terror”.

The Benue people deserve more than they are getting from the people and that is adequate protection of lives and property. It beats the imagination that up till date, nobody, not even the leadership of Myeti Allah, has been arrested for the sacrilege in Benue. Government needs to wean itself from what is clearly double-standard in dealing with crisis in the country. Somebody has pay the price for the Benue killings.

Those in government, especially the president’s foot-soldiers, should not make the killing of innocent people of the state seem as if their lives are valueless. They also are humans. A recent comment attributed to one of the president’s spokespersons which compared the present killings to those at the time of former President Goodluck Jonathan was just unfortunate. Such a statement coming from a father, a husband, an uncle and a brother, was not only callous, but also ungodly.

 

CHUKA UROKO

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Author: CHUKA UROKO