By Rotimi Fasan
THREE full months after the Benue killings, long after the bereaved had buried their dead, mourned and cursed in sackcloth, President Muhammadu Buhari finally deemed it fit to visit the people of Benue State in commiseration for the New Year Day’s killings. At least, 73 Nigerians were murdered in cold blood by persons suspected to be armed herdsmen. The ethnic cleansing committed by the murderous herdsmen was the gory welcome that ushered the people of Benue into 2018. It was a brutal episode that left the whole world worried about the dimension the murderous campaign of the herdsmen of mostly Fulani origin had taken. Already labelled one of the deadliest terrorist groups in the world, the inhuman activities of the herdsmen across several communities in the central states of Nigeria reached a new low with the New Year’s killings. That this happened at peace time was beyond comprehension. But what was more baffling was the apparent shiftlessness of the Nigerian government in the face of the helpless grieving of Samuel Ortom, the governor of Benue State.
The outrage across the country and the rest of the world would force a tepid response from the Buhari administration. President Muhammadu Buhari, exhibiting an aloofness that could only be interpreted in only one way as a total lack of concern or interest in the sordid affair did no more than issue an order to his self-appointed lackey in the Police, the Inspector General himself, Ibrahim Idris, to proceed to the troubled region to oversee the restoration of peace. Following precedents during similar crises situation in the past, that order was for the IGP to remain in Benue until normalcy returned. We saw this during one of the many onslaughts of Boko Haram in parts of the North-East. Buhari simply ordered his military chiefs to relocate to the North-East, taking the war to the insurgents. Even if he remains home-bound, President Buhari has been trying to make a virtue of his peculiar way offering leadership from behind, issuing orders to surrogates who make what they will of the orders.
In this instance, Mr. Idris simply chose to ignore more or less the president’s words. It should be said in fairness to him that he probably didn’t see his action as one of disobedience of presidential order. Rather, it reflected the mood of the times when the president either genuinely didn’t know what to do or simply could not be bothered about the loss of human in return for animal life. Long story short, however, Mr. Idris made a show of leaving for Benue in a reluctant move at obeying the president. But even before he made the first move out of Abuja, he showed his partiality by declaring the killings a result of communal clash between the affected communities and the Fulani herders. He offered his unsolicited piece of advice, one he has continued to repeat like a deaf-mute wherever opportunity presents itself: the enactment of the anti-open grazing law was the reason Fulani militias were and have continued to wreak havoc in and around the Benue confluence. This was at a time even the herders themselves declared theirs was a punitive expedition into the Benue heartland, an act of reprisal for the alleged killing and rustling of their cows.
The raw anger of Nigerians, not the least that of Samuel Ortom, the governor, trailed Ibrahim Idris into Benue where he somehow reported unwillingly. But he ensured he did not spend even a night to say nothing of a whole day in the state. Perhaps, his anger at the disapproving words of Nigerians for his unsolicited remarks was such as would not permit him to think clearly or stay long in Benue. He visited some obvious locations like palace of traditional rulers and other dignitaries and thereafter shook the dust of Benue off his feet. A lot was happening at the same time so nobody commented on the fact that the IGP only spent some hours in Benue contrary to Buhari’s order. Even if anyone had said anything, it would probably be drowned in the hot words that were being spewed in the wake of the killings. Such observation would have been written off as mere propaganda. Thus, Idris turned what was practically a temporary transfer to Benue into a whistle stop irrespective of any woebegone killings. But nothing came out of his visit and the killings in the central states especially Benue and Taraba, have continued if not escalated in spite of any presence of security personnel. What the people and leaders of Benue continued to insist on was the intervention of the president who nevertheless chose to lock himself inside Aso Villa against all entreaties. His minders offered countless spins for his behaviour but the man was unmoved.
Came March 12, 2018, three months after the fact of the multiple murders, the president made his way to Benue in what many now see as a move to soften the ground for the campaigns for next year’s elections that are soon to begin. It was during this round of trips that he, in a blaze of glory, made a triumphant entry into Dapchi where school girls had only recently been abducted. Talk of leaders who are too tone deaf to know what constitutes inappropriate conduct. Only a short while before this visit, the president converged with others in Kano at an extravagant marriage ceremony of two governors’ children. But Buhari had his time with community leaders in Benue. And yes, it was during his meeting with them he learned of the treacherous disobedience of his police chief. And Buhari said he was surprised his order was flouted.
Now he has summoned the IGP and demanded a comprehensive report of his visit to Benue- three months after. Just how timely our dear president acts! If Buhari is surprised at Idris, why are the rest of us not surprised by the president’s belated request for a report he should have read and digested three months ago? We know this has become the president’s slow coach ways, his typical approach to governance- sit back and do nothing in the name of delegating responsibility. He does nothing in time and is never in earnest. He gave his orders and literally went to sleep thereafter, asking for no explanation and apparently expecting none. He has issued orders and his body language would do the rest. Otherwise, why did he not ask the IGP the outcome of his visit to Benue? What has the president or his minders who never cease to read his famed body language, relied on in their comments on the killings in Benue and other parts of the country when there was no report whatsoever from the chief police officer of the country?