Perspective On The Benue Security Conundrum, By Thompson Udenwa
People seem not to have critically examined the issues and gotten the feel on the ground: While not exonerating the parties here, it is rooted basically in politics, and the competition for resources.
Sen. Barnabas Gemade, the former party chairman of the PDP, Senator David Mark, and former Governor Gabriel Suswam all have connections to this. Being once members of the same political family, they previously jointly controlled the State as if it were their personal estate.
What we are seeing in Benue had shown its head in Rivers (where the Odili children, after parting ways began controlling different militia/ cult groups.) Former Governor, Suswam who hails from Loko, has a vicious militia; Governor Ortom from Goma, also has his own fiery militia – they all once had an understanding on the control of the Zaki Biam Yam Market, where about 200 to 300 Million Naira worth of business takes place daily. When ex-Governor Suswam and Governor Ortom parted ways, the first victim of the separation was the yam market. Both of them unleashed their militia in the bid to gain control over the market, this has thus been the kernel behind the increase in militia activities and proliferation of weapons across the state.
On the other end is the very firm but now benign militia, run by Paul Unungo, this militia extends up to the Cameroons. Paul Unongo is perceived to be with the government of the day and thus the militia is remarkably quiet.
There is no part of Nigeria that has the highest number of independent militias like we have in Benue State. It is the State with the highest number of ex-Service men.
From these, we can see the battle for the control of the State.
Benue has 23 Local Governments; it is the only state in the country whose budget bill for salaries is 90% of its income. The inherent problems of this, and the fact that salaries have not been paid for the past 9 months, are underlying causes of some of the conflicts we are witnessing.
There is the allegation that some of the attacks are being carried out by militia from Nassarawa state. Those arrested yesterday said they were given the guns by the Benue State Government.
A curious BBC interview on Tuesday reported that a 69year old Benue State indigene claimed that they have on their routes Fulani settlements that equally have their cattle there, and that they have not seen any herdsmen attack their lands.
The militias, as mentioned above, recruit mercenaries, some of these mercenaries are Fulanis – not particularly herdsmen.
It is important to note that the Miyetti Allah are split along political lines – some loyal to the previous administration, of which the former Commander in Chief is their Life Patron, some loyal to the present administration, others loyal to various political overlords in the country.
The conflict is multi-faceted, and largely a resource based conflict – populations have expanded, herders, farmers, etc. The appropriation of land has also formed a problem – as routes for the passage of cattle have been appropriated. And new ones have not taken off.
Governor Ortom, without proper consultation, implemented an anti-open grazing law. While saying the herders must ranch, adequate provision for the elements of ranching have not been made, such as water. Ranching is by its nature a capital intensive venture. You cannot expect people who live subsistent lives to ranch.
Dr Thompson Udenwa
It is unfortunate that the crisis is also being made to look like a religious crisis – this has been observed from the CAN President’s recent releases.
Dr. Thompson Udenwa