Editors’ Note: The writer, Buchi Obichie, uses the Benue attacks as context to compare the actions of Governor Samuel Ortom against that of Governor Ayo Fayose on the issue of killer herdsmen. She notes that while Ortom expressed disappointment with the federal government for not coming to his rescue even after he had raised an alarm before the attacks were carried out, Fayose took active measures to protect his own people. She advises the Benue governor to take some lessons from his Ekiti counterpart.
In May 2016, something truly historic took place in Nigeria. Governor Ayo Fayose of Ekiti state became the first governor in the entire country to ban the grazing and rearing of cattle in his state.
Following the spate of violent activities reportedly carried out by suspected herdsmen, Fayose defiantly proclaimed that anyone interested in rearing cattle in his state should get their own private cattle ranch!
In Fayose’s words: “I have directed that cattle rearing and grazing should stop in Ekiti state and those interested in cattle farming should henceforth do so in their own cattle ranch.
“No more movement of cattle from one location to another in the state and any cattle seen anywhere in Ekiti state apart from the ranch created for them by their owners will be confiscated by the government and their owners will be prosecuted.
"It is our duty to protect our people and we are going to do that without fear or favour."
Now, Fayose as a politician is not someone I’m particularly fond of. I see him as a showman and an excessive talker who oftentimes makes misleading statements on purpose.
However, in spite of Fayose’s gargantuan political flaws, it is pertinent to note that on the issue of killer herdsmen, the governor has been firm, and his decision has helped greatly in restoring calm to his state.
Now that I have juggled your memory about Fayose’s decisive action, I would like to juxtapose his words against the statement made by Governor Samuel Ortom, following the New Years Day killings in his state.
Following the tragic incident, Ortom stated: “I saw the attacks coming and we wrote several letters of complaint to the police and complained to the presidency, yet nothing happened.
“We called for the arrest of Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association (MACBAN) but nobody responded; we have facts that can be used against them.”
Hmmm…weighty words indeed. But my question is this: If you knew that something so disastrous was in the works, and as you claimed, the presidency did not do anything about the alarm you raised, why did you not take action to protect your own people?
Let it be clear that I am not advocating for any action or decree that would fall outside the confines of what is legally acceptable. In other words, I am not calling for any ‘illegal action’. I am simply trying to understand why the Benue governor could not take a cue from his Ekiti counterpart and explore all other legal avenues to protect his people, since his alarm had not been acted upon by the federal government.
In the case of Ekiti, Fayose asked the local hunters to step in. He did not just proclaim a law; but he backed it up with some security measures and showed enough resolve to do as he said, that everyone knew he was serious!
He told the hunters last year: "Nobody will take Ekiti away from us.
“This killing of our people must stop. It is deliberate and we must take all actions to stop it."
And just to make it clear that he was not advocating anything illegal, he stated recently: “On the herdsmen's menace, I met with local hunters in Ekiti State and charged them to protect the people since I won't run to anyone in Abuja for help that is not available.
“They must not take laws into their hands, but they should defend Ekiti & its people.”
As I always say, it is an embarrassment to government if it cannot fulfill its constitutional duty of protecting the lives of its citizens…and that goes for the federal and state governments.
I am glad to see the presidency moving its feet on the issue of the killer herdsmen - the president recently dispatched the IGP to Benue - even though I am still quite frustrated and greatly irritated when I hear some individuals who should know better, trying to justify why the herdsmen carry out such violent actions.
Whether or not Nigeria’s population size has increased exponentially over the decades as land mass remains static, leading to fewer grass for cattle to feed on; or the fact that previous governments did not establish ranches which would have helped to limit contact between herdsmen and farmers, there can never be any justification for the senseless killing of innocent individuals! Period!
However, regardless of the recent moves by the federal government, we can never be over-prepared. Ortom himself has to act as well. There must be preventive measures…and more ‘active’ preventive measures.
So, what kind of ‘active’ preventive measures would I also urge Ortom to implement in order to prevent a re-occurrence? I would simply offer the advice given by another prominent Nigerian.
Prof Itse Sagay, a legal luminary and Chairman of the Presidential Advisory Committee on Anti-Corruption, recently spoke on the matter, saying: “Under criminal law, every Nigerian has a right of self-defence.
“There is no reason why Ortom shouldn’t have organised the people of Benue state into a state of collective self-defence in which he will totally arm them to face these murderers.”
Now, I do not think that translates into arming every citizen of the state. That is not what Fayose did in Ekiti afterall! However, he worked something out that has so far brought peace to his state.
Would it be out of place to call on Ortom to work out something for his own state as well? I would let the governor work out that answer for himself.
In conclusion, I cannot say it frequently enough, that Governor Samuel Ortom has a constitutional responsibility to protect his citizens; and he hit the nail squarely when he stated: “I cannot be a leader over dead people.”
He cannot keep on acting powerless and shedding tears as his people meet their deaths in the most grotesque manner. To quote a phrase made popular by the late American president Harry Truman, “The buck stops here.” At the end of the day, on issues regarding his state, ‘the buck stops with Ortom’.
The duty of protection of lives and property is about the most important duty of government. As the late great Chinua Achebe stated: “A government that fails to safeguard the lives of its citizens has no claim to their allegiance.” (Paraphrase mine)
The Benue state governor may just need to take a ‘learning trip’ to Ekiti at this point…I think it’s about time!
This opinion piece was written by Buchi Obichie.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent the editorial policy of NAIJ.com.
Mass burial organized by Benue state government for victims of herdsmen attack.- on NAIJ.comTV: