The murderous arrogance, which the perpetrators of the New Year Day massacre in Benue State have been displaying, has finally received official endorsement. The Minister of Defence, Mansur Muhammad Dan-Ali, placed the stamp of approval on the massacre on behalf of the government of President Muhammadu Buhari. The minister said the bloodbath took place for two principal reasons. One was the anti-open grazing law enacted by the government of Benue State. The other was the blockade of grazing routes. For these reasons, the minister is incensed that people are angry about the killings. He had this question for critics of the Benue massacre: “If those routes are blocked, what do you expect will happen?”
For the minister, therefore, blood had to flow freely in Benue because the law enacted by the state government was aimed at preventing the Fulani herdsman from plying his trade.
Dan-Ali was not done with his justification. He reminded us of the insensitive remarks of the Inspector-General of Police, Ibrahim Idris, who, in the midst of the outrage and consternation that greeted the massacre, told Nigerians that what took place in Benue was a communal clash. The police boss has since withdrawn the statement and apologised over the faux pas. But Dan-Ali is reinforcing the Inspector-General’s earlier position. The minister is insisting that what took place was a communal clash. He said the herdsmen were not the sole culprits. There were also militias and forest guards who participated in the killings. So, according to him, “the killings are not done by any particular group. It’s a communal issue.”
That was Dan-Ali, our country’s minister of defence. That is the way he sees the bloodbath in Benue that has put Nigeria on edge. The minister does not regret the killings. Those who perpetrated the dastardly act have not done any wrong. They have their reasons, and the minister has accepted and endorsed the reasons. The massacre is, therefore, justified and justifiable. If someone blocks your grazing route, you do not have to employ dialogue or complain to the authorities or seek redress in court. You will be right if you take up arms against the person.
If you thought that what should take the centre stage in this matter was the sanctity of human life, the minister has asked you to drop the idea. What matters here is the business and expansionist interest of the Fulani. Human life can wait. It can be trampled upon, if and once the Fulani herdsman is not satisfied with any situation around him.
Dan-Ali is certainly not alone. He is a dyed-in-the-wool Fulani irredentist who places trade over and above human life. Their principal, President Muhammadu Buhari, was the first to endorse the Benue massacre. He did so through his actions and inactions. His silence in the face of the killings was very suggestive. His refusal to visit Benue State and see things for himself was much more so. It spoke volumes. It was a classic case of action (or inaction) speaking louder than words. The President has no sympathy for Governor Samuel Ortom and his Benue people. Rather, he mocked them, albeit silently, over what befell them. The President must have muttered inwardly to Benue people thus: “It serves you right. This is the bitter lesson you have to learn from your foolhardiness. How dare you? Who told you that you can stop my people?”
President Buhari’s silent sentiments were shared by Fulani governors, led by Mallam Nasir el-Rufai of Kaduna State and Alhaji Kassim Shettima of Borno State. They showed and expressed no sympathy over the Benue killings. They did not visit their counterpart in Benue State to commiserate with him. Like the President, they must have had a good laugh over the foolhardiness of Ortom’s Benue. When they eventually chose to go to Benue weeks after the organised massacre, they did not go there to condemn the murder. They went to join issues with southern leaders who had used the occasion of their visit to Ortom to reiterate their call for a restructured Nigeria. The Fulani governors would take none of that. They lashed out at advocates of restructuring.
Essentially then, Dan-Ali is a true representative of the Fulani world. He has mirrored the position of the Buhari administration on the Benue killings. He has also given us insight into the prevailing mood in Buhari’s security apparatus. Buhari’s security agencies, peopled almost exclusively by the Fulani, are not perturbed by the national outrage over Benue. Rather, they are at home with it. That is why the perpetrators of the act are heady about it. That is why the leadership of Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association of Nigeria has not regretted the killings. Instead, they are busy talking to the press on why they will not accept the anti-open grazing legislation in Benue and Taraba states.
The complicit disposition of the Buhari security apparatchik in matters of this nature has since reinforced the agitation for a restructured Nigeria. Part of what advocates of restructuring want is the institution of state police. The argument against the present order is that state governors who are regarded as chief security officers of their states are not really so, strictly speaking. Commissioners of police are not answerable to them. They do not take instructions from the governors. Yet, the states of the federation cannot raise their own police force because the Constitution does not vest such powers in them. This leaves the states at the mercy of the central government. And where the central government, as in the case of Benue, refuses to protect life and property, the state runs into a dilemma. This is the case in Benue at the moment. If Benue State had its own police, it could deploy them to take charge of internal security. Under the present circumstance, Benue is in a state of double jeopardy because it cannot protect itself and the central government, which has the instruments to do so, is not prepared to protect the state. This leaves the people of the state and any other in its shoes vulnerable to attacks.
Our dilemma in this matter is deepened by the partiality of the federal government. If you ask Dan-Ali to disarm the Fulani herdsman, you will be wasting your time. The minister has said that the herdsmen are not the only Nigerians bearing arms illegally. He has also pointed at militias and forest guards. For the minister then, the issue is not about disarming anybody. His concern is that we should spread the blame. We should not heap it on the Fulani herdsman alone. This is his own idea of managing the security situation in the country. Arms must meet arms and nobody should blame anybody, if one armed man outguns the other. It is a case of the strong trampling upon the weak. For the minister, might is right and it may well be a state policy. That is the new narrative that has been brought to bear on the concert of blood in Benue State.