Alia: What about Benue’s plots of land occupied by herders?

Alia: What about Benue’s plots of land occupied by herders?

By Peter Awunah, PhD

In a baffling turn of events, the Governor of Benue State, Rev. Fr. Hyacinth Alia, has issued a directive aimed at halting the cultivation of crops on empty plots of land and house frontages within Makurdi metropolis. This decision, according to the Governor, is to “beautify Makurdi” and make it a great city. Wonderful idea!

The Governor further warned that “any person caught farming on any portion of land in the state capital, will be made to answer certain questions.”

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This ban means that people will no longer be allowed to cultivate those small portions of land in front or at the back of their to even plant maize, okro, pepper and tomatoes to fight hunger Wow!

The anger which Governor Alia has shown over undeveloped plots of land within Makurdi has never been seen whenever the issue of herdsmen attacks on Benue people is reported. In fact, he does not mention the attacks in his speeches at any event. If at all he is to mention anything about security in the state, he would always say peace has returned to the state.

Fulani herdsmen are fast taking over Benue communities. Last week, a popular secondary school, Fr. Angus Frazer Memorial High School was attacked right in the state capital. We are yet to read any statement condemning that attack from the Governor. Over two million people have fled from their ancestral homes leaving the lands in the hands of the enemy. The once admired Food Basket of Nigeria is becoming empty as the farmers can no longer access their farms. The blood of innocent farmers slaughtered by terrorist herders is flowing in River Benue. Yet, what is of paramount importance to Governor Alia is small plots of land within Makurdi.

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While I have no problem with the Governor’s decision to develop the state, the seemingly well-intentioned idea pales in comparison to the urgent crisis plaguing the state – the relentless attacks on Benue people by armed herders and the illegal occupation of their ancestral lands.

At one point, I was tempted to assume that Governor Alia is not receiving sound advice as the cause of his numerous misplaced priorities, but those who know him well say that the man does not entertain advice. He is said to have all ideas by himself and does not listen to anyone. His aides can therefore not be blamed for his many failures. But I’m surprised that in the face of such a grave threat to the safety and livelihoods of the people of Benue State as the attacks by armed Fulani terrorists, the governor doesn’t seem to be bothered and is more concerned about revoking certificates of occupancy on undeveloped plots in Makurdi.

While beautification of the state capital is undoubtedly important, the primary duty of any responsible leader is to ensure the security and well-being of their people. Governor Alia’s failure to take decisive action to halt the attacks and reclaim the lands occupied by herders is a grave dereliction of this duty.

Those close to the Governor should find a way to tell him to immediately shift his focus and resources towards addressing the attacks on Benue people. What has happened to the 14-day ultimatum that he issued to herdsmen to leave the state? I don’t want to believe the insinuations that the Sokoto Caliphate made him to reverse the ultimatum. Such speculations are becoming increasingly true with his inaction and silence.

Alia must work tirelessly to secure the lives and properties of his people, confront the menace of armed herders head-on, and reclaim the lands that rightfully belong to the indigenous communities of Benue State.

Governor Alia needs to remember Operation Feed the Nation which was a national agricultural extension and mobilization programme instituted by the military government of Obasanjo in 1976 and the Green Revolution programme inaugurated by President Shehu Shagari in 1980. Both programmes were aimed at achieving self sufficiency in food production and inspiring a new generation of Nigerians to return to farming. Our people need to be supported to go back to the farm, and this has to start with retrieving their lands being held by gun-toting Fulani terrorists.

The people of the state deserve a leader who stands with them in their time of need, a leader who is uncompromising in his commitment to protecting their rights and preserving their way of life. Governor Alia must heed the calls of the masses, openly condemn the attacks on Benue people, and take concrete steps to restore peace and security to the troubled communities across the state.
He should make the marauding herders to also answer questions!

If indeed Governor Alia is not dancing to the drum beats of the Caliphate, let him rise to the occasion, set aside his misguided priorities, and demonstrate true leadership by safeguarding the lives and lands of the people of Benue State. Anything less would be a betrayal of his sworn duty and a disservice to the very people he was elected to protect.

Dr Awunah writes from Durumi, Abuja.