Ortom vs Fulani irredentists

With the overwhelming support and goodwill of Nigerians after President Buhari’s victory in 2015, the late Kano elder-statesman had predicted Buhari had the potential of becoming the best Nigerian president ever if he governed with justice. Reacting to Maitama Sule’s admonition, this column had argued on these pages that the only thing that could threaten Buhari’s claim to statesmanship after his presidency would be his Fulani ethnic group. This was because, no sooner did he win the election than ethnic irredentists who ironically never supported his aspiration during his struggle for power lionized him as the new Fulani hope to complete Uthman Dan Fodio’s dream of planting the sword at the sea. For them, with Buhari in government, might become right.

But perhaps because his cause is right, Governor Samuel Ortom of Benue State has in the past five years withstood their might and by extension that of the state. Among the northern governors, Ortom has largely been treated as an outcast. In Ortom’s own words: “When I talk I am being castigated, there was nothing bad that was not said against me”. The contempt for him was such that in the midst of the RUGA controversy, some power-drunk people, falsely swearing in Buhari’s name, ignored the land use provisions and started erecting a RUGA illegal settlement in the middle of the night on a land never ceded to them by the governor.

The legitimacy of his government was undermined. Miyetti Allah’s godfathers including Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, the deposed Emir of Kano, directed Fulani settlers in Benue to disobey their host state. His people came under vicious attack by herdsmen resulting in periodic harvest of deaths. Villages were pillaged by those described as land grabbers by the governor with subsistence farmers driven from their land to IDP camps. The president’s defence minister even blamed the victims, asking that ‘what did people expect when grazing routes established by the colonial powers were taken over by states’?

In all these, Ortom has continued to vouch for the honour, integrity and sense of patriotism of the president. He insists the president was shielded from knowing the true tragedy that has occurred in Benue and elsewhere in the nation by those the president describes as “loyal gatekeepers’.

Sadly, the impression from security men deployed to protect the helpless farmers was that the herdsmen killers who often disappeared into the thin air after each deadly attack were ghosts. But that was before the recent confession by some Fulani leading lights in the country.

Sheikh Gumi after conferring with killer herdsmen and bandits inside Niger’s Tegina forest and Birnin Gwari forest in Kaduna State confirmed the bandits were invited by our own aggrieved vengeance-seeking Fulani compatriots. Governor Bala Mohammed of Bauchi who declared: “I have attended one meeting where the bandits were there and I cannot imagine myself as a governor and chief security officer of a state sitting down and negotiating with them,” also confirmed “Nigeria was experiencing infiltration of criminals from neighbouring Benin Republic, adding: “The bandits are Fulani that has no one to control them, even their parents.”

With this new reality, Ortom, recently defending his person against another vicious attack by Governor Bala Mohammed of Bauchi insisted his only offence was trying to prevent Benue State from being turned into a sanctuary for criminal herdsmen. His state and his people according to him “are not against any tribe, especially the Fulani people, but rather against terrorists, killer herdsmen, bandits, kidnappers and all types of criminals within the state”.

Dismissing Bala Mohammed’s attack, he had declared “I am beginning to think that my brother, the governor of Bauchi State is part of the terrorist Fulani organisation that is terrorising this country”. This according to him was because the constitution which Bala Mohammed of Bauchi State swore to protect “does not leave room for allowing foreign herdsmen to come in without valid papers”. Yet Mohammed has not only defended the right of herdsmen to illegally carry AK-47 but has also defended illegal invasion of other federating states’ reserved forests.

But Ortom did not stop at that. Following the pronouncements of Dr. Gumi and some Fulani leading lights after their encounter with bandits and criminal herdsmen in their hideouts in the forest, it became obvious bandits and killer herdsmen, contrary to tales by the police and military are not ghosts. The encounters also seem to have also confirmed Ortom’s narrative that herdsmen siege on Benue land was not about cattle but about land grabbing by imported Fulani from outside Nigeria. Ortom for the above reasons decided to drag his political foes and those waging war against Benue to the court of public opinion.

At a recent interaction with journalists in Government House Makurdi, he called attention to various press conferences held by disparate Fulani groups to confirm that RUGA was a ruse by the president’s ‘loyal gatekeepers ‘ to pave way for take-over of land by immigrant Fulani. He specifically called attention of Nigerians to the Kano Press conference of January 14, 2018 where some of the following declarations were made by some arrogant leaders of these disparate Fulani groups.

First, they described the call for restructuring by Nigerians as “irresponsible”. The president is opposed to restructuring and power devolution. Nigerians however understand his position was informed more by his military background than his ethnic affiliation. They also declared Nigeria as “God-ordained place for Fulani”; that the killing of 86 in Benue was well deserved because it was a revenge attack over the killings of Fulani in Nasarawa State; that because the federal government was incapable of protecting the interest of Fulani in Nigeria, Fulani in West Africa have been invited to raise funds and prepare for war.

Finally, they made it clear Fulani is prepared for war except the anti-grazing laws by various states are abrogated and replaced with federal government cattle colony policy with Fulani allowed to settle anywhere they desire in line with their culture. The statements were jointly Signed by Salisu Ahmadu, national president and Umar Shehu , national secretary.

We have no evidence that the two men have been questioned by the police despite the observable parallels between their declaration and foreign Fulani herdsmen’s invasion of states’ forests and mindless killing and kidnapping across the country. The Minister for Information and the president’s two spokesmen, paid by the taxpayers to protect him even against himself have not come out to distance him from such reckless statements by enemies of the nation who have no qualms exploiting the president’s mismanagement of our crisis of nation building to achieve ethnic agenda.

Ortom however did not end his interaction with journalists without “calling everyone’s attention to the general insecurity being propelled by herdsmen from the Northwest, Northeast, North-central, Southwest, Southeast and South-south”. He also did not forget to once again appeal to the president to act fast by arresting Miyetti Allah because according to him “These are people who have taken responsibility that they have killed, maimed, raped and committed all sorts of atrocities and yet their leadership is in Abuja and nobody is confronting them”.

Beyond public relations coup against his political foes and the president jointly accused of incompetence by foreign killers who play the victim and their real victims currently taking refuge in IDP camps, Ortom has in spite of the stress and strains he went through in the hands of those who want to give a dog a bad name in order to hang it, proved the president’s Fulani compatriots are the real enemies of our nation.

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