By Emeka Alex Duru
By stroke of fate Benue holds out a lot to Nigerians. It has also mattered greatly in many strategic junctures in the country’s march to grace or grass. In fact, the entirety of its environment presents a paradox of sort.
Benue prides itself as the food basket of the nation and rightly so. With immense endowment on agricultural resources and arable land, Benue feeds Nigeria in a way. Aside the food products from the state, there is the strategic consideration of Benue playing a big role in the touted economic diversification programme of the federal government.
Involvement of its farmers in the recent effort at exporting Yam tubers to the United States of America, spoke a lot in the inherent potentials of the state in keying to the diversification agenda.
Benue has also borne the burden of actualizing Nigeria’s unity. Whether this has been realised or not, is however another story. But on occasions when the need had arose for the use of force to needle the country together, sons and daughters of the area, had answered the clarion call, at times, paying the supreme sacrifice.
From constituting the foot soldiers of the northern constabulary force that later metamorphosed to the Nigerian Army to the tasty moments of the 1967 – 1970 civil war, Benue indigenes have always stood up to be counted.
Why they found much attraction to the military, remains a running topic.
History ascribes some constituting elements of the state as traditionally warlike. Some also claim that they were merely coerced or lured to the profession, essentially to serve as buffer to the princes and princesses of the feudal core North. Whatever may be the reason, Benue and its people, are never known to shy away from service.
Whether this commitment to service which some say, tilts to servitude in some cases, has earned the Benue man commensurate reward from the system, is yet to be seen. Just as the land and the people have offered themselves at critical points of the nation’s history, they have also borne the brunt of injustice and brutality in the system.
The so-called Tiv Riot of 1963, readily comes to mind. The revolt was essentially an exercise by the Tiv to express disgust at the highhandedness of their northern feudal rulers and to seek some measures of independence.
But the move was seen as a brazen attempt to challenge the system and they paid dearly for it.
This time around, Benue is raising resistance to the menace of Fulani herdsmen. And the people are paying for it.
Relations between the indigenes and herders, have been on for decades. Given the agrarian nature of the state and availability of land, it naturally offers attraction to the herders and their cattle.
There is also the luxuriating bank of River Benue to boot. It is therefore expected that with harmless herdsmen plying their trade among friendly hosts, relationships must have developed. Marriages must have been contracted, aside business deals, in the process.
But all these instances and years of good neighbourliness, may have gone to the wind, following the early morning attack on Benue communities by murderous Fulani herdsmen on January 1.
Different explanations have been rendered on the cause(s) of the mayhem that left over 70 souls wasted in one fell swoop. Repeating the explanations may not serve much need here.
But what cannot be denied is that with the Benue massacre, Nigeria, as in similar instances elsewhere, continues to diminish in essence and substance. Watching more than 70 caskets bearing Nigerians, killed, not by any known natural cause or emergency but sadly, by the wickedness of their fellow citizens, lowered to their early grave on Thursday, January 11, rekindles the question on who really we are, as a people.
This is a question that has haunted this country for a long time and will continue to do, as long as we continue to treat one another with an attitude of disdain in our relationship.
Literary icon, Professor Chinua Achebe, had raised the issue in his book, “There Was A Country”, where he analysed Nigeria’s lost opportunities as a result of petty rivalries and other vices.
Karl Maier, former Independent Africa Correspondent, made similar allusions in his book, “This House Has Fallen”. He had in the book, painted an ugly picture of a supposedly giant Nigerian nation that had failed its citizens.
The result, in most cases, is that people resort to self-help in absence of clearly defined standards in relationship to one another. The immediate victim, in such a situation, is law and order.
This is why a marauding cattle tender, perhaps, acting at the behest of a vengeful and blood thirsty principal, would march into a sleepy community in the wee hours of the day and murder tens and hundreds of innocent villagers. Curiously, nothing happens, afterwards!
The murderous trademark of the Fulani herdsmen, had been felt in Enugu, Plateau, Nasarawa, Kogi, Adamawa, Taraba and lately, Benue. In all the areas that had borne the pains of this madness, hardly had arrests been made. Even where any had been made, none of the suspects is known to have been brought to justice.
This is why it pains that the latest victims of the Benue mayhem, like those before them, may have died in vain. And in them, Nigeria dies.
But one major fact remains clear. Even as Nigeria’s leadership chose to look the other way while the victims were buried, their blood will continuously haunt the country.