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Published On: Fri, Mar 9th, 2018

Benue and the politics of mass burial

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Chief Dr Samuel Ortom

Benue state governor, Samuel Ortom

Nigerians, far and wide, have continued to condemn the mindless killing of their vulnerable compatriots by suspected herdsmen across the country. Apart from the killings by the Boko Haram through suicide bombings in their hey days, the progrom ongoing in Benue and Taraba remains incomparable in the number of persons, mostly women and children, mauled in their cold blood.
There are reported killings in Borno, Kaduna, Taraba, Rivers and some other volatile states in the country but the affected states have always bore their pains and silently buried their dead without emotionalizing their grief through mass burial of their victims.
One can however understand the frustration of the Benue state governor, Samuel Ortom, whose citizens are being daily killed even when the military had been drafted to provide security for the people.
Only recently, about twenty four lives were cut short in their primes by the marauding herdsmen who remained undeterred by the presence of the military in Benue. And the governor has cried his voice hoarse calling on the authorities to arrest those he alleged were the sponsors of these lawless and blood-thirsty men who are being generally referred to as herdsmen.
One must also not forget that harmless herdsmen legally plying their trades are being killed too by indigenes without much mention in the media. For instance, over 800 Fulani herdsmen were alleged to have been wasted in Mambilla Plateau, Taraba state and were buried in unmarked graves.
This is not however to say that any one person has the right to take another’s life under whatever circumstance as spilling of blood is the greatest sin before God and man. Every single life is important and killing in whatever guise is criminal.
But from creation, men of perfidious generation relish in murder. And this is why there are laws to regulate human behavior. Where there is a breakdown of law and order, the organised strong begin to predate on the helpless weak. This seems to be the situation obtainable in those states being ravaged by itinerary killer herders who strike with military precision leaving behind trails of tears and sorrow wherever they chose to operate.
Painful as the mass killings are, continuous mass burial for victims would only deepen the pains and emotionalize the issue the more. While one may not begrudge the Benue governor for choosing to organize mass burial for the second batch of herders’ killing, one can only plead with him to allow the people bury and mourn their dead.
Mass burial will no doubt attract sympathy to the state and portray the governor as a helpless Chief Executive, but advertising the dead to the world in a country not officially at war will only paint the country in bad light.
A country with its citizens being mass buried in their hundreds will definitely not attract any investor. The image being cut by a state carrying out mass burial of its citizens is that of a country where life is short, hopeless and brutish.
Yes, Ortom will succeed at attracting sympathy with donations from well meaning local and international figures for the numerous Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) camps; yes, he could be seen as one sympathizing with his people and showing to the world that authorities at the Centre have abandoned them; yes, he may even ride on this sympathy to win a second tenure even when he had done less for the welfare of his people, the fact however remains that governing a state preoccupied with mass burial of its citizens does not portray him and his ruling party in a good light.
Killing and mass burials are not part of the electoral promises the All Progressives Congress (APC) made to the people both at the state and federal levels. When a governor of a ruling party begins to carry out mass burials, then he has become an agent of the opposition doing a good job in de-marketing his party.
Nonetheless, the government must demonstrate its capacity to protect the people and do the needful by fishing out the killers in every Nigerian community and making them face the wrath of the law. Impunity is an elixir.
Where those persons identified as sponsors of mass killings are allowed unchecked, there may be no end to hostilities among the nation’s ethnic groups. For as long as there are mass killings, there are likely to be mass burial with the image on the country suffering untold consequences.

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