By Frederick Adebayo, Lagos.
August 4, 2022, will go down as a memorable day for the people of Benue State and indeed the Middle Belt region of Nigeria. It was a day a state Governor, backed by his people, decided to take their destiny into their own hands. It was a day a Governor made a bold statement of intent; a statement of determination; a statement of firm resolve to protect his people against a conquest agenda that has lingered since 1804 when Islamic scholar, Usman Ɗan Fodio led a Jihad to conquer the land now known as Nigeria and hand it over to his Fulani kinsmen.
On that bright Thursday morning, Benue State Governor, Samuel Ortom launched the State Community Volunteer Guards and declared, “As a State Government, this is one expensive investment that we would have preferred to avoid if it was not forced upon us by the perpetual siege that has been mounted on our land by vicious Fulani terrorists. Benue State, with a well-earned nickname as the Food Basket of the Nation, with its arable land and large bodies of fresh water, is now under threat of conquest and occupation by these terrorists. The genocidal terrorists have consistently attacked hundreds of Benue communities, burning, killing, raping, and maiming thousands of persons and committing other unspeakable atrocities. Their reign of terror has led to the displacement of over a 1.5Million persons from their ancestral homes and communities who are now living in Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) Camps.”
I have observed Governor Ortom for some years now and conclude that he is a man of uncommon valor. He is a man with enormous strength of mind and impeccable character. God knew why he brought Ortom to be Benue’s Governor at this time. Though I have not visited the state in the last few years, I am familiar with its terrain and peculiarities. Not all leaders have the courage to look oppression and injustice right in the face and spit into it as Governor Ortom has done.
Ortom has challenged the principalities and powers which have taken his people hostage and suppressed the development of the state for decades. Such powers and principalities want Benue State to remain as their annex perpetually. They want Benue to be their farm yard where food is produced to feed their children and cattle. They want to take Benue land for keeps. They don’t expect anyone from the state to have the courage to question them. Now, there has arisen a brave man who has not only questioned the proncipalities but also called their bluff.
Ortom is aware that he has marched on the tail of the tiger, but he is determined to tame the beast which, for years, has attacked his people and prevented them from accessing their homes and farmlands.
Samuel Ortom is a man who does not mince words or pretend about what he believes to be the right thing. He fears God but not man. He only respects those who earn his respect. Where other men of his ilk would have jerked in fear, he stands firm and resolute and shows the inner strength of a man of purpose and conviction who would do everything in his power to give his people direction.
With the bold and proactive step that the Governor has taken by setting up the Benue State Community Volunteer Guards, there is every reason to be optimistic that the issue of banditry, kidnapping, robbery, and most of all, the issue of terrorists Fulani herdsmen attack would be reduced to the barest minimum in Benue State. Equally noteworthy is the Governor’s assurance that operations of the Volunteer Guards would be strictly guided by the enabling law, with a warning that any person found operating outside the law would be shown the way out.
No one can dispute Governor Ortom’s statement that Benue State, bearing the well-deserved appellation of Food Basket of the Nation, with its arable land and large bodies of fresh water, is now under threat of conquest and occupation by terrorist herdsmen. What affects Nigeria’s food basket affects the entire country.
The terrorists have consistently attacked hundreds of Benue communities, burning, killing, raping, and maiming thousands of persons and committing other unspeakable atrocities. It is not surprising that Governor Ortom’s pacesetting initiative towards tackling insecurity with the establishment of Community Volunteer Guards has received positive reactions from Nigerians who see the formation of the security outfit as a compelling measure to guarantee peace.
Ortom is indeed the Lion of the Benue Valley. He has on several occasions spoken truth to power! He has been vilified, blackmailed, and even marked for elimination, but he has refused to buckle under the heavy weight of Presidential threats and attacks. Some of his people who are apologists of the Presidency use his name to curry favors at the Villa. They tag him as the only enemy of Fulani.
But is Ortom an enemy of the Fulani? The answer is a resounding No! Ortom is a friend of the Fulanis. I am aware that he has some Fulani people as his appointees. My understanding of what is going on in Benue is that the Governor only wants to help the Fulanis to embrace the modern global practice of animal husbandry and abandon their pre-colonial nomadic system of cattle rearing. But of course, he is against the foreign Fulani terrorists who invade Benue communities and kill people. The Governor has constantly distinguished the attackers from the Fulanis who live in Benue State and are law-abiding. He has no problem with those who obey the laws of the land.
Adebayo writes from Lagos.