Monday Column by Emmanuel Yawe
email@example.com | 08024565402
I had a memorable and sad encounter with General Victor Leo Malu sometime in 1995. He was then the General Officer Commanding of the 7th Mechanised Brigade in Enugu.
General Sani Abacha’s government had initiated a process of state creation in Nigeria at the time and as the Secretary of the Movement for creation of Katsina Ala State out of Benue and Taraba, I followed Hon Atoza Ihindan, the chairman of the movement to his office to solicit for his support. He was a member of the highest organ of the ruling military junta led by Sani Abacha which was going to take a final decision on the state creation exercise.
I always felt confident when I followed my chairman on such missions. As a newspaperman for these forty odd years, I have met almost all politicians of consequence in this country. I will rate the great Zik of Africa, Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe as the greatest orator I have ever met. Next to him will be Hon Atoza Ihindan who was unfortunately assassinated at his home in Katsina Ala Benue state in 2015.
As we were ushered into Gen Malu’s office that day, I knew my chairman was going to activate his magic wand and get the general to support our cause. Sadly, I was proved wrong. Our case for a Katsina Ala State was supported by facts of history. All through the structuring and restructuring of Nigeria since colonial times, what was known as ‘Wukari Federation’ was part of Benue. First, it was in Benue Province, then Benue Plateau State.
In the States creation exercise of 1976, the military government of General Murtala Mohammed removed Wukari Federation from Benue and merged it with Muri, Adamawa and Sardauna Provinces to form Gongola State. They took Nasarawa and Lafia away from Benue where they had always belonged and merged them with Plateau Province to form Plateau State. They then brought the Igala that had never been with Benue in history from Kwara and merged them with some Tiv and Idoma Local Governments to form a new Benue.
Explaining the rational for this strange state creation exercise, the government said that it was meant to separate the Tiv from the Jukun. Of course we also remember that in the national broadcast announcing the exercise, Murtala Mohammed in his usual thundering style warned that his government would not tolerate any “emotional outbursts or provocative demonstrations either for or against the creation of the new states”.
Soon after this speech, Murtala was assassinated and the “emotional outbursts and provocative demonstrations” he warned against erupted in Wukari. Relying on the governments stated rationale of taking Wukari away from Benue to Gongola, Local Government officials and traditional rulers in Wukari started evicting Tiv indigenes of the area with brutal force and telling them to go to Benue where they now had their state. That was the origin of Tiv Jukun crisis that has refused to go away up till date.
When the brutalized Tiv indigenes of Wukari took their case to Gen Obasanjo who was the then Head of State, he ordered Col Mohammadu Jega, the Military Governor of Gongola State to make sure the attacked Tiv people returned to their homes and were paid compensation. From that date, the Tiv who had always lived peacefully with the Jukun in pre-colonial times and under the same administrative umbrella under colonial and post- colonial era suddenly became implacable enemies. There were persistent attacks and counter attacks as a game of tit for tat persisted. Finally in 1990, there was an outright break of war between the Tiv and the Jukun. The war was prolonged and very brutal and the army had to intervene in 1992 to restore peace.
Our Katsina Ala state movement believed that the only way to restore peace was to reunite the Tiv and Jukun by carving the former Wukari Federation which was now part of Taraba and merging it with some contagious Tiv Local Governments in Benue State to form a new Katsina Ala State. This was nothing new we argued. In the past during the days of Indirect Rule under Lord Lugard, these Tiv Local Governments in Benue State were under the control of Aku Uka of Wukari.
That was our argument for a Katsina Ala State. My chairman Hon Atoza Ihindan was at his oratorical best as he presented his case to General Malu. Unfortunately, it was clear to me that the General was not paying attention to this orator. At the time of our visit, the General was leading a war in Bakasi to ensure that Nigeria restored her territorial claims over the disputed oil rich peninsular. His office was like an armory, littered with all kinds of guns. There were over a dozen telephone lines on his table and as he sat there with us, the phones kept ringing and ringing non- stop.
It was clear from his body language that our long political talk was boring. He wanted to be left alone with his guns and war games. I frequently overhead him as he spoke on phone, barking out orders to his officers at the war front: “Attack”, “hold your grounds”, “use maximum force”, etc. I never heard him shout withdraw or surrender to his troops.
That was General Malu for you. He enlisted into the NDA in 1967, a year after the military strayed into the politics of Nigeria. But unlike his peers who loved politics more than military life, Malu was a soldier who loved soldiering and nothing else. The military held political power from 1966 to 1999 except for the brief Shagari years 1979 to 1983. Victor Malu was there from 1967 and never for once held any political office.
General Malu led the fight to reclaim Bakasi for Nigeria. He also led ECOMOG in Liberia and subdued Charles Taylor. In all these campaigns, he did Nigeria proud. When democracy returned in 1999, he naturally emerged as Chief of Army Staff. General TY Danjuma, the Minister of Defense who was saddled with the responsibility of getting a new Chief of Army Staff said in public that General Malu had the best credentials for the job.
Sadly, the honeymoon between Malu and the Obasanjo government was short lived. Obasanjo signed a secret military pact with the US to give them uninhibited access to all our military secrets but General Malu refused to allow the Americans the access they wanted. They demanded his sack and Obasanjo complied.
Shortly after his sack, the perennial Tiv Jukun clashes – the basis of our demand for a Katsina Ala state that led us to the ill-fated visit to Gen Malu in Enugu – erupted again in 2001. Obasanjo used the killing of some soldiers in Zaki Biam as a pretext to visit mayhem on General Malu.
The General felt betrayed and shocked that a military he served creditably could descend so low – set ablaze his modest country home, murder his unarmed aged relatives, little children and subject his 80 year old mother to military drills. There can be no other explanation to the stroke he suffered which led to his eventual death.