By Emmanuel Aziken
It is now understandable why some senior officials of the Muhammadu Buhari administration were agitated when they got news of plans by the Benue State government to give the 73 victims of the herdsmen attack a televised mass burial.
Hours before the mass funeral of the victims on January 11, very high-level officials in the Presidential Villa Abuja through telephone calls tried to persuade Governor Samuel Ortom to call off the mass burial, but their efforts were stoutly rebuffed. The only concession was to cancel the nationwide live television coverage of the burial.
What the presidency officials feared most now seems to be materialising with the venue of the mass burial in Makurdi turning into a damaging political testimonial against the All Progressives Congress, APC federal administration given the increasing pilgrimage to the site by political fortune hunters.
Governor Nyesom Wike of Rivers State who just months ago was in feisty combat with Governor Ortom visited the burial site last Wednesday and dropped N200 million for the care of the refugees from the herdsmen attacks.
He was followed on Thursday, by Governor Ayodele Fayose of Ekiti State who also visited the burial site and left his donation of N10 million. Remarkably, President Buhari was also on Tuesday in the neighbouring state, Nasarawa where he went to commission among other signature projects, a secondary school built by the state administration.
While the death of a single person is something that is extremely saddening, emerging truth is that the spate of recent killings by herdsmen may not have been wholly restricted to Benue. Similar killings and sometimes even more monstrous killings are alleged to have also taken place in Taraba, Zamfara, Adamawa and to a lesser extent on the Plateau.
But how Nigeria turned into a killing field in an administration headed by a general with a famed reputation for law and order is a saddening commentary on the failed expectation of many Nigerians from the Buhari administration.
With the Tuesday visit of the president to neighbouring Nasarawa State and the irritating comments by some of the administration’s senior officials, notably, the Inspector General of Police, Ibrahim Idris and defence minister, Brig. Gen. Mansur Ali (rtd.), it is not surprising that many in Benue are expressing a feeling of abandonment.
Even though Wike, Fayose and recent PDP visitors to the APC controlled Benue may have dressed up their visits as essentially humanitarian, there is no doubt that the visitors were also not unmindful of making political capital from the foibles of the APC leadership in Abuja.
How the rage plays out in the political arena is one thing that those monitoring events from the Presidential Villa and the stream of PDP visitors are hoping to swing to their benefit.
The pilgrimages to Benue underline the key position of the state in national politics. No one has ever won the presidential election in Nigeria since Shehu Shagari without winning Benue State.
The killings and the belated Federal Government response have also reopened the bitterness among some of the Tiv population whose vote helped to swing the state for the APC in 2015. They now recollect that after their massive vote for the APC, that the key appointments from Abuja including the ministerial slot went to the Idoma who ironically voted for the PDP.
Nonetheless, for the first time in a long while, the suspicions that cloud political permutations of the Tiv and the Idoma are being put aside as the two dominant ethnic groups join hands together in collective mourning.
The political fallouts will be consequential if a formidable opposition to the APC materialises ahead of 2019.
Ortom did the near impossible in December 2014, when he won the APC governorship ticket within two weeks of his defection from the PDP. In his first two years in office, his failure to clear the arrears of salaries owed civil servants almost destroyed his political sagacity. It was thus not surprising that almost a year ago, he endorsed Buhari for a second term, maybe believing that he would ride on the president’s coattails to his own second term.
Now with the president’s political capital greatly diminished in the state, the governor has been quick to move with the sentiments of his people. He has even regained his political balance. What it means for Buhari is another thing!