Billows of smoke, lifeless bodies, charred cars and deserted streets best describe the scenarios in Buruku, Ukum, and, to a lesser degree, Kwande Local Government Areas recently attacked in Benue State of North Central Nigeria. For some time now, the people of Benue have been under heavy attacks from different fronts ranging from militia herdsmen, marauding gunmen and other sources in between. An estimated 200 lives have been lost with many more maimed or wounded. This situation has left the people, especially Women and Children, as the main victims of these unfortunate attacks.
The chief role of every government at all levels is the protection of lives and property of its Citizens. Nigeria is no different as specified in the 1999 Constitution in chapter 2 section 2b: “the security and welfare of the people shall be the primary purpose of government.” This provision however, seems to look much better on paper than it does with regard to implementation in Nigeria as a whole. With the return to democracy in 1999, wave after wave of violence has been meted out on the people by a range of faceless groups. Until very recently, Boko Haram terrorists held sway in Nigerias north east having almost totally crippled the Borno state government.
But these attacks have not been limited to any one part of the country.
On Friday the 17th of March 2017, reports have it that a platoon of gunmen believed to be nomadic Fulani Herdsmen, numbering over 50 stormed the sleepy town of Buruku and opened fire on unsuspecting residents. The attack is said to have lasted over three hours. At the end of the unanticipated onslaught, over 60 people lay dead, most of them Women and children.
Three days later, on Monday March 20 2017, an unknown number of gunmen, in four vehicles and 12 motorcycles invaded the town of Zaki Biam in Ukum Local Government again opening fire on defenseless people at the popular yam market and killing an estimated 80, leaving in their wake a trail of destruction. Reliable reports of the Zaki Biam incident are few and far between. Rumors and speculations, however, abound ranging from suggestions that the killing spree was the aftermath of intra-ethnic bickering to external attacks from a neighboring state.
Be that as it may, Lawyers Alert has been able to glean information from reliable sources indicating that the Zaki Biam attack also lasted well over three hours from about 5pm to 8pm. Now, the question begging for answers is, where was the Police? The failure of the Police in the local government areas to quickly counter the marauding gunmen can only be described as unfortunate. Especially in light of the prior attack on Buruku.
The true situation of the Kwande incident remains unclear. For now all we know is that lives have been lost and another group of citizens displaced.
The state government’s response has however been swift. Governor Samuel Ortom made personal on the spot visits to ascertain the true status of the attacked localities and consoled the bereaved. He also ordered the prompt expulsion of all Fulani herdsmen from the state, a stance which drew nods of approval from the people but also attracted the ire of the police chief in the state who considered the action inappropriate and illegal. The Governor and the Comissioner of Police were soon caught in a standoff that left a sour taste in the mouths of many.
The dismay expressed by many at the turn of events might be traced to the fact that Security agencies who ought by now to have put preemptive strategies in place were caught napping as the marauders came, saw and conquered without challenge from them. Indeed, not a single person has been arrested in connection with any of the attacks so far, rather reports reaching us have it that Jato Aka in Kwande LGA is currently on lock down by the same security agencies who seemed powerless in the face of what can be only be described as a terrorist attack in other parts of the state. And yet the state government’s efforts at curbing the menace were seemingly being thwarted by those actually given the mandate.
Without a doubt, the onus for keeping the Police well equipped, armed and trained lies on the shoulders of the Federal Government. There has never been a time in the history of the Nigerian nation when a need has ever been as glaring as this one currently is. Intelligence gathering is a necessity and can easily be achieved with the current advancements in technology. Security has gradually evolved from a place of reactiveness to pro activeness. These coordinated attacks are randomly unleashed on unsuspecting members of the public by hoodlums some of who actually are Fulani herdsmen (as seen in their own confession regarding the Agatu massacres). Whether all of these attacks can truly be traced to marauding herdsmen however, remains a matter for thorough investigation.
Be that as it may, regardless of who the killers are eventually (hopefully) identified to be and no matter what their motives are, the Nigerian state has witnessed one death too many as a result these unknown murderers. The political will to unmask the brains behind these attackers must be drawn from whatever reserves of inner strength the Federal Government still has left. The masterminds and their financiers must be located and brought to book.
Certainly, the state government also has a major role to play and we commend Governor Samuel Ortom for his untiring efforts to return peace to the state. Shortly after assuming office, the arms buy back project reduced the quantity of small arms scattered across the state as many turned theirs in. The process went smoothly and reports have it that up to 700 such arms were retrieved. All this achieved without the shedding of a single drop of blood.
The Ortom administration has also done its best to halt the activities of a local power monger known simply as Gana who had become a law unto himself and had been named in connection with many murders one of which was that of a close aide to the governor himself. Though still on the run, Gana arguably no longer has the chokehold he once did on the state. This is another commendable gesture as Benue has no interest in contributing its own quota to the pre-existing mix of locally bred terror mongers.
That said, much still remains to be done as we are sure Governor Ortom himself is fully aware.
In line with the state governments efforts at finding a lasting solution to this seemingly never ending tide of violence, therefore, Lawyers Alert recommends the following steps:
The Federal Government:
The Federal Government should set up a panel of inquiry to investigate the immediate and remote causes of the Ukum and Buruku slaughters with a view to bringing the culprits to book and compensating the victims.
The Federal Government should, as a matter of urgency, send a ministerial delegation to assess the situation in both Ukum and Buruku LGAs and forward their findings straight to the Presidency for immediate action.
The deployment of a special TAC team to Benue is welcome.
The Benue State Government should synergize its Security position with the Security Agencies in the State especially the State Police Command.
The State Government should set up its own panel of inquiry to investigate the immediate and remote causes of the armed conflict with a view to finding lasting solutions to the problem and compensation of the victims.
The Benue State Government should strengthen peace building committees across troubled spots to include herdsmen, farmers and other critical stakeholders.
The State House of Assembly should carefully go through the anti-Grazing Bill currently before it which the state government has requested be sped up. In their bid to reach a quick conclusion, the people of Benue should not be saddled with a law that could work against the interests of the people as feelers seem to indicate at the moment.
In Conclusion, Lawyers Alert considers all extrajudicial killings as a gross violation of fundamental Human Rights. All lives are sacrosanct and where any life is taken for any reason beyond judicial spheres, the responsibility lies on Government at all levels to remedy the situation and bring to justice the perpetrators of such dastardly acts.
Borno must never be replicated anywhere else in Nigeria. Enough is enough. The time to act is NOW.
Rommy Mom Esq
President, Lawyers Alert