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Benue governor’s attackers must be unravelled

Treasonable assassination attempt on Governor Samuel Ortom of Benue State is an insurrection against the state and deserving the full weight of the law. To treat as contrary and buy-time under the pretense of a police investigation amounts to aiding and abetting known criminal gangs. To leave the dastard crime unprosecuted to its logical conclusion is to embolden a repeat onslaught that may tip the country’s beleaguered unity off the precipice.
   
Brazenly, barely 24 hours after about 15 gunmen made an unsuccessful attempt on Ortom’s life in Benue, a group known as Fulani Nationality Movement (FUNAM) claimed responsibility for the crime. Ortom at a thanksgiving service referenced the group as he narrated how gunmen suspected to be Fulani bandits charged at his convoy along Tyo-MU Makurdi/Gboko road. In a statement by one Umar Amir Shehu, FUNAM, affirmed that the attack was an assassination attempt on the governor and claimed that the assault was revenge against the governor’s perceived anti-Fulani actions. It recounted that 11 of its members executed that attack, and that the governor only escaped because of a slight technical communication error. “Our courageous fighters carried out this historic attack to send a great message to Ortom and his collaborators. Wherever you are, once you are against Fulani’s long-term interest, we shall get you down. This is a clear warning. We hope those who take us for granted will get the indisputable message,” FUNAM boasted.
  
The daredevil threat speaks to the crux of perennial crisis in the region and the seemingly complicit Nigerian state. Benue, much like Ortom, is no stranger to herder and farmer crises. Mutual distrust between rural crop farmers and cattle herders that are armed with AK-47 rifles has over the years led to mass killings and thousands displaced. Ortom, who is the chief security officer of the state, on paper, had introduced the Open Grazing Prohibition and Ranches Establishment Law 2017 to quell the crisis. Rather, the law escalates tension across the Middle Belt. In a rare expression of helplessness, Ortom had lately told displaced farmers to return home and defend themselves even with stones and cutlasses when attacked by herders. The near fatal attack on Ortom himself and acclaimed responsibility by FUNAM showed that the problem is the same and has left everyone helplessly unsecured.
   
But the Muhammadu Buhari presidency is not known to suffer subversive fools gladly, as evidenced by the crackdown on unarmed EndSARS protesters in Lagos; and exploits of the military, of which he is commander-in-chief, to quell agitation of the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) and self-help initiative of the Eastern Security Network (ESN). Lately, the Chief of Army Staff, Lt. Gen. Ibrahim Attahiru, said the army would soon move against separatist agitators such as Sunday Igboho and Asari Dokubo, describing them as “security threats confronting the nation.” The question is: why is FUNAM and other groups that are linked to the farmer-herder crisis being treated as sacred, despite years of consistent havoc in Benue and the Middle Belt region? They have consistently threatened to make states that are unreceptive to open grazing and Rural Grazing Area (RUGA) ungovernable, and are freely having a go at it. Why have they gone unchallenged by the security operatives? Why has the Department of State Security (DSS) been unable to unmask criminal elements hiding under FUNAM or any other murderous group to give the entire Fulani people, including the president, a bad name? Why is the president unperturbed too?
  
The Nigerian Police this week dispatched a team of investigators from Abuja, just after Ortom briefed the president on the assassination attempt. The special team has also “invited” Umar Amir Shehu for questioning. It calls to question the level of intelligence, if not insincerity, of the Nigerian Police investigation, and functions of the police command in Benue State. What is clear as the daylight is the one-too-many ploys to deploy ad infinitum police investigations to buy time and wish away heinous crime. The public is convinced that this is another police excursion that will produce a whitewash report; and therein lies the grave danger for a deeply fractured country. But it needs not be so.
  
A state that is bent on protecting unity should not be seen to be encouraging criminal gangs and terrorist groups, irrespective of their ethnic affiliation. The Buhari’s presidency and security operatives cannot afford to be complicit, or seen as such, at this crucial time. Should this administration continue to look the other way, it will further fuel that expediency for ethnic groups to defend themselves against perceived enemies, creating an atmosphere of widespread tension and anarchy in the land.
  
But Nigeria cannot afford such an expensive situation that has made Syria, Afghanistan and Libya the war-torn and sorry entities that they have become. Sadly, the country appears headed in that direction. Yet, the Federal Government has an utmost duty not to denigrate the largest Black Country in the world. And it should begin with calling terrorists by their names, make the necessary clampdown and prosecute to serve as deterrence to all others. Nigeria is lucky that Ortom was not killed. The country may not be twice as lucky should there be a reoccurrence and regicide as FUNAM has threatened. Hence, the urgency to nip the recklessness in the bud before it is too late.

Editorial of Guardian

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