By Philip Agbese
A macabre dance is slowly unfolding in another section of the country and sadly we all wait to allow what was once an ember to fan into a billowing wildfire. The spate of killings going on in Benue state in what we for now label as Tiv/Fulani crisis is worrisome.
Let one turn again to the choice of weapons that survivors of these attacks narrated their attackers as possessing – automatic assault rifles. Are we missing a connection between the kinds of weapons that the herdsmen allegedly use and the ones that insurgents in other parts of the country are known to deploy in unleashing terror on innocent citizens? Are there similarities between the choice of targets in Benue and the ones in the North-east? How come that these attackers are able to strike deep within the heart of the country? Do these people have a larger agenda that the citizens of this country are unaware of? All these call for concern because confirmation of national or international dimensions to these crises would mean that we are dealing with a monster that is larger than we dare fathom.
That the problem seems intractable is another cause for concern. In the words of the Benue state governor, Gabriel Suswam, “I have tried to address the issue and set up committees, but when you think that the crisis is diminishing, something will happen and the crisis will erupt again. Now, because the communal crises are happening in Benue, the Fulanis, too, ran to Nasarawa state and launched attack on Nasarawa people.” The governor’s submission is a confirmation that the crisis has defied solutions so far proffered and it is also a confirmation of the potential of the killings to spread further afield to other states if not contained at this stage. And contain it we must because there is a parallel in the unfolding nightmare of Boko Haram insurgency that has today engulfed an entire geopolitical zone.
Tragically, where Boko Haram’s campaign of terror has crippled the economy of affected states, the Tiv/Fulani crisis threatens the entire nation with starvation. The warning from Suswam in this regard is stark and ominous as he intoned that “It is a very disturbing situation because our farmers are displaced and unsettled. I’m deeply worried because famine is imminent in the land if nothing is done quickly to address the issue,” What is implied but not expressly obvious in the governor’s warning is that the hunger in question is not for the people of Benue state alone. It is a hunger that would ravage the nation because if the people of Benue cannot farm or scale down their farming because of the crisis then it follows that there would not be any surplus to send to other states – the domino effect of this is best not contemplated. Apparently, what Boko Haram’s campaign of bombings and shootings has not achieved would become a reality when the crisis in Benue triggers a mass starvation.
This is why Suswam must see the security challenge as another test case for his person and his administration. It is noteworthy that he is urgently interfacing with the relevant security agencies in efforts to seek solutions to the crisis. The governor should continue seeking federal assistance to stem the tide of this crisis and should also continue the consultations he is already having with governors of neighbouring states. This Tiv/Fulani conflict is a crisis the governor can successfully put an end to and make it another feather in his cap and this has to happen before it spread beyond the boundaries of the state to become a national headache.
On its part, the federal government should not treat the problem as a Benue state affair as the problem is best dealt with now that it is geographically limited in scope. One must at this stage acknowledge and commend the intervention of President Goodluck Jonathan in detailing a top hierarchy of the police and army to take charge of the situation. However, these fine officers must rise above the comfort of government house and courtesy visits to face the attackers who are stationed in the bush with the determination to send people packing from their ancestral land.
Finally, for the people of Benue state and other peace loving Nigerians, there is need to rally behind the governor. This kind of support is vital for making headway in fighting this growing menace. Those with useful suggestions on how to tackle the problem should make themselves heard in this matter, which must not be viewed from political, ethnic, religious or geo-location prism. Treating the on-going carnage in Benue state different from the sheer terrorism that it is would not be in the interest of anyone.
Philip Agbese is on www.Facebook.com