Never before in my life have I experienced this depth of frustration and helplessness. With all my innate sense and knowledge of what is right and wrong, with all my experience as a lawyer of international repute for the last 33 years and experience and extensive contacts in the Federal Civil Service for the last 19 years at the highest levels, never before have I felt this level of helplessness and anguish, the continuing pogrom against the Tiv people.
My heart bleeds, that once again, within a short period of three months, I am compelled to write on what seems to be the genocide and ethnic cleansing being methodically and systematically conducted against us, the Tiv people – inhabitants of the Benue valley, and as it’s becoming increasingly clear, based on recent happenings, with the Nigerian Army not doing anything.
On January 8, 2018, in response to the invasion and killing that occurred in Tiv land, I wrote an article entitled, “Weeping and Wailing for Benue,” wherein I cried: “where is our standard bearer, who, like Moses in the battle against the Amaleks at Raphidim, will hold up his arms for us to prevail or like Joshua, will stretch out his spear toward Ai (for Joshua drew not his hand back, wherewith he stretched out the spear, until he had utterly destroyed all the inhabitants of Ai)? Who is the standard bearer at this time of our travails, when a mighty army surrounds us and is about to overwhelm us? How can we even sing our Lord’s song in our own land? Alas, our elected leaders have slunk into their shells with flimsy and pitiable excuses. At a time like this, we need leaders to stand up and radiate energy, exude confidence and hope of a better tomorrow, onto a pulverised and traumatised people and not slink into hiding like some vermin or other creepy creatures afraid of the sunlight. Where is that leader? Where is that standard bearer?”
In spite of the national and international outcry and global condemnation, the pogrom has continued unabated. General Theophilus Danjuma, a former Army Chief of Staff and civilian Minister of Defence, had alleged that this pogrom is with the active connivance, collusion, collaboration and participation of the Nigerian Army. And is a deafening conspiracy of silence from the Nigerian political leadership.
My question is: Where are our elected leaders? Hundreds of Benue citizens are being killed on a daily basis, one of the deadliest being the attack on the Catholic Church in Gwer East, wherein two Catholic priests and the lay faithful were killed at their morning Mass. Numbers, in terms of deaths, no longer shock even the people of Benue. There appears to be a well-designed, orchestrated and approved plan to systematically and methodically exterminate the Tiv race from the face of the earth.
Since the murder of the Catholics, hundreds more have been killed in Gwer West and East, Guma and the Logo local government areas. There is no official word from any authority in Nigeria. Not the police, not the army, not the Presidency. There is a seeming conspiracy of silence throughout the nation. If you weren’t a Tiv and does not personally feel the pain and anguish of the Tiv people, you would not believe that this magnitude of murder is being conducted on a daily basis in Nigeria in this 21st century.
The bandits have sacked and taken over all Tiv ancestral homes and land in Nasarawa State, comprising Obi, Awe, Kiana, Adudu, Nasarawa Toto, Doma and the east side of Lafia. Large groups of armed marauders are camped in those villages, from where they move into Benue to plunder, maim and kill, with government doing nothing to stop them. In Benue State, the killers have taken over and now occupy most of Guma, Logo, Gwer West and East local government areas. On Sunday, April 22, I personally had a horrendous encounter with these killers. I had attended a thanksgiving service at the NKST Church, Naka organised by the Benue Society for the Blind and to also commiserate with the victims of the Army attacks on Naka. On my way back to Makurdi, I was advised to go through Taraku-Aliade road, as against the Naka–Makurdi road. This, according to the residents, was because that countryside had been taken over by the killers. Because I did not completely believe that in this 21st century, a government, with coercive powers of the police and the military, would stand idly by and watch one race exterminate another and occupy their land, I chose to ignore the advice and proceed on this route. It was only the grace of God that brought my team and I out of that occupied zone alive. The entire countryside, stretching from Naka town to Adeke in Makurdi had no single living Tiv soul. All homes, houses and farms were deserted 100 per cent and in their place I saw cattle spread over the entire countryside, like water on land, with guards slinging AK47 rifles on their shoulders in broad day light without a single police or Army presence. Half way through this valley of death, one of the gun-toting bandits decided to take aim at us. It was the quick reaction of the police guard on my team, who quickly aimed and cocked his gun at him, that caused him to beat a retreat.
I can confirm that the bandits have taken over more than 40 per cent of Tiv land, farms, villages and cities and still occupy them at present without as much as a whimper from the relevant authorities tasked with the responsibility of our security.
What was the objective of the Army operation conducted in March, called “Operation Cat Race” (Ayem a Kpatema) and what did it achieve? I suspect that it was aimed at confirming or completing the disarmament of the Tiv people begun by the Benue State government under the so-called ‘amnesty programme’ and paving the way for unrestrained slaughter of the Tiv people and the plunder and occupation of their ancestral lands. I believe that the exercise achieved its objective, as the army, while in Benue territory, did not disarm the invaders, but proceeded from house to house to search and seize even farm implements that looked metallic, not to talk of locally made tools, like bows and arrows. Thereafter, the Army moved out and the mercenaries moved in killed our people like chickens.
The Tiv race is now hamstrung between the devil and the deep blue sea. Where do we go from here? Where do we run? Where can we hide? Who can rescue us? Who will speak for us, like Danjuma did for Taraba? These killings cannot continue. Our governor should continue to speak out, to shout to the high heavens until the world takes notice of the on-going genocide in Benue and do something. The Benue State government should compile material evidence and organise lawyers to file charges against the Federal Government at the International Court of Justice (ICJ). The Federal Government, through the Nigerian Army, should begin ‘a cordon, search and rescue’ of Tiv territories taken over by the killers, beginning from all Tiv territories in Nasarawa into Benue and beyond and to permanently station security outpost thereafter in the recovered territories. The Federal Government should offer compensation and ensure speedy return of the displaced to the affected communities.
Yes, the government must prove itself responsible for the security of our state and nation by bringing to book those responsible for these atrocities and ensuring the rule of law. Each human life must count. All Benue citizens wherever they may be should stop running, stand and defend their inheritance (the land of our fathers as they defended it against the jihadists in 1804) if the government cannot defend them. Ultimately, they must arm themselves with PVCs and ensure that this government, which has failed abysmally in its singular duty of providing the welfare and protecting our people, is voted out of office in 2019. As former President, Chief Olusegun Obasonjo said, “you don’t sustain failure.”
• Dr. Angya wrote in from Abuja.