Despite early reports and intelligence on planned herdsmen attack on the Odeni-Magaji community of the state, the ill-famed invaders had a field day, killing and maiming for 16 days in January 2016. Over 30 people lay dead in the wake of that avoidable attack. The governor’s apparatus of assault lay wanting when it had an opportunity to exert itself.
It was not exactly the same situation but Lois Iorhivi should have applied that Soyinkan wisdom. For driving in front of Governor Tanko Al-Makura’s convoy in 2015, she and her family received the mauling of their lives. An acclaimed performer in Nassarawa State governance, Al-Makura pollutes his own work with heedless arrogance and arrant persecution of dissent.
His thugs have been busy. Right from the inauguration ground in 2015, they hit the ground running, pummelling a Daily Trust journalist, Hir Joseph, to a pulp. Umar Mohammed, Rabiu Omaku and some other journalists critical of the government have been banned from covering the state house, and promised the Hir Joseph treatment should they defy the orders. In the state, journalists can report and have peace only when they sing Al-Makura’s praises. Ruqayyat Tijani Usman, a state counsel in the Ministry of Justice, was sacked in February 2016, over a Facebook post criticising the response of the state government to the outbreak of Lassa fever in the state.
“Even though you have facts, when you write something about the government and they feel that it does not go well with them,” says Umar Mohammed of The Punch, “they go the extra mile by threatening you; sending thugs against reporters who try to enlighten the people on government actions”. In his thugs and sometimes the police, Al-Makura’s government has a working instrument of coercion.
A useless instrument, when it comes to the rampage of Fulani herdsmen. Despite early reports and intelligence on planned herdsmen attack on the Odeni-Magaji community of the state, the ill-famed invaders had a field day, killing and maiming for 16 days in January 2016. Over 30 people lay dead in the wake of that avoidable attack. The governor’s apparatus of assault lay wanting when it had an opportunity to exert itself.
But to find a grander taste of state violence, one may look to Benue. August 2016, a joint military operation at the instance of the state government was unleashed on Gbishe, a sleepy community in Katsina-Ala. It was a manhunt for Terwase Akwaza, a notorious militant once granted amnesty by the state government. He had been indicted in the assassination of Mr. Denen Igbana, a senior special assistant to the governor on security. Gbishe community bore the brunt of that invidious aggression, in which over 100 houses were reduced to rubbles. For days, the siege lasted, subjecting residents to undue harassment, illegal detention, and pain.
Pockets of citizen harassment by law enforcement have also been reported. On June 1, 2016, the artiste John Edward was returning from a video shoot at night, when he was arrested and detained by the police. He was later bailed with N20,000 and, for insisting on collecting his confiscated phone, he was rearrested, handcuffed, and charged with homicide, robbery, and criminal conspiracy. The twist was as ridiculous as it was shocking. It took intense public pressure and media intervention to get him off the hook.
Joint military operations supervise frog-jump sessions with hapless citizens better than they combat untrained Fulani insurgents. Government summons more fervour to repress freedom than to sack poverty. So where is violence when you need it?
Notwithstanding reported cases of rights violations by law enforcement, there is relative freedom of expression, says Valentine Kwaghchimin of the Justice and Peace Development Commission. “But there is a lid on freedom of information and assembly”, he laments, adding that seven times he requested in vain for a copy of a bill proposed to address the farmer-herdsmen crises in Benue State. The state has been worst-hit in recent times by Fulani herdsmen disturbance, with woeful response from law enforcement. Such tardiness prompted some communities in the state to form the pan-ethnic Movement Against Fulani Occupation (MAFO).
The movement has been proactive, mobilising public support against Fulani occupation and organising non-violent protests to bring government to task on security. Nine months ago, it submitted to the Benue House of Assembly a bill seeking to prohibit the open grazing of livestock. That bill was left to gather dust on the Assembly’s shelves until MAFO, in January 2017, organised a protest march to the House. The police would not have it. It released 27 truckloads of operatives to scuttle the protest, which had already gathered momentum, its message reaching the intended quarters. The bill has now passed the second reading.
Police resistance to peaceful protest has been MAFO’s major setback to meaningful engagement. “Every time we make a move to take civic action it has always been resisted”, said Dave Ogbole, the group’s spokesperson. “We have always been intimidated and coerced to cancel all our civic actions but of course the blood and cries of our people are louder in our ears than the threats of our security agencies”.
Nonetheless, MAFO has instituted a N500 billion suit at the ECOWAS court against the federal government, having lost lives and property to government security neglect. No fewer than 15 communities in the state have been attacked, even as the state’s official bullying machine stood and watched. More annoying is the institution of a joint military task force against cattle rustling, a sad privileging of animal over human lives.
“Testamentary evidence points to a repressed civic space with restrictions on fundamental freedoms in Benue and Nassarawa States, amid the hounding of journalists”, reports Spaces for Change, an NGO that carried out a field work on liberty restriction in the North-Central region.
From Benue communities to Nassarawa, the story remains the same: government is far too eager to thrust naked official force upon law-abiding citizens, but somehow fails to extend that heinous muscularity to enemies of the state. The police produces emergency competence against peaceful protesters but are unable to fuel official vans to pursue crime. Joint military operations supervise frog-jump sessions with hapless citizens better than they combat untrained Fulani insurgents. Government summons more fervour to repress freedom than to sack poverty. So where is violence when you need it? Why is human intelligence or effort always better and more efficient in the performance of vice?
Immanuel Ibe Anyanwu blogs for Spaces for Change.