Gabriel Suswam stilled his look at me and took a deep sigh and said “Doc, I am certain that Buhari will arrest me very soon, not because of any corruption but because he knows I know too much about these killings. He won’t stop the killings”.
This was in 2016 but first a background.
I was just settling down in London in 2016 as a Chevening Scholar at the London School of Economics when I got a desperate call from a friend who is from Benue.
She was weeping and told me stories of ongoing massacres in her village by Herdsmen with no one reporting them while CSOs and influencers went silent.
She said no one wanted to speak up because they all supported the new government of President Muhammmed Buhari. I informed her that I also campaigned and support the government but that was no reason to condone the kind of murders that she just described.
I promised to get back to her and started surfing the net for any information on ongoing killings in the Benue. True to what she told me, information was scanty with only untrustworthy blogs and citizen reporters alluding to anything of the sorts.
The Benue state Governor, Samuel Ortom himself was singing the praises of the new government. Knowing who this friend was, I knew she was not one to raise a false alarm especially when she had told me that five of her uncles in the village had already being hacked to death.
She sent me picture evidence via WhatsApp. I made some calls back home but most of the usual vocal voices were not interested. The opinion then was that the out-gone government of Goodluck Ebele Jonathan messed up and it would take time for things to come back to normal, especially as there were signs that the Boko Haram terrorists were being repressed and overwhelmed by the new admin.
However, when I saw more pictures and videos, this time, of pregnant women being disembowelled by the herdsman and some local youths engaging in Cannibalism (roasting and eating a herdsman), I knew I had to act. I flew into Nigeria the next week and started putting in place A CSO Colloquium on the crises.
My approach was to use my networks and connections to get prominent figures from both divides to come speak in a nationally televised event. The Secretary-General of the Miyetti Allah is someone I have known very closely for over 20 years.
I then reached out to some Benue citizens and that was how I contacted Gabriel Suswam, the former Governor of Benue state. After a few hiccups, we finally met late one night in his home.
What he told me was chilling. Due to National Security concerns I will not reveal certain aspects of our discussion, but he was very bitter. He said during the transition between GEJ’s government and the incoming PMB administration, he was summoned to the Villa and Jonathan took him to the then President-Elect.
GEJ told PMB in Suswam’s presence that he wants only one favour from PMB.
He told PMB that he didn’t care if he was probed or if his administration’s efforts at national development were reversed, but PMB should please do something for him.
According to Suswam, GEJ informed PMB that the brewing Herdsmen crises could eclipse the BH insurgency in all ramifications, and that, if not tackled with expediency Nigeria may not recover.
He said he had set up a committee chaired by Suswam to travel round the world looking for solutions and that they now fully have a plan that can resolve the issue.
He begged PMB to invite Suswam for talks and to look at the recommendations of that committee.
Suswam told me that he was made the Chair of the committee for an incident that happened in his state. Sometime in 2014, herdsman had sacked whole villages, killed, raped women and burnt farms and homes of communities in rural areas in Benue.
He said he didn’t believe the reports he was getting until he started seeing refugees pouring into Makurdi.
One day, he mobilized his entourage which included police men, press, soldiers and others and proceeded to see things for himself in those communities.
He said when they got to a few kilometres to the village the soldiers in his convoy, acting on instructions from Headquarters refused to proceed any further but he insisted on continuing.
Ten minutes into the trip all hell was let loose. They were ambushed by Herdsmen and a battle ensued. A barrage of gun shots was unleashed on them from all sides. He said there were over 100 well armed Herdsmen shooting at them.
Those in the convoy retreated but he was already in the middle and so decided to fight for his life. He took an AK from one of the retreating mopol men and with a few others that remained with him faced the Herdsmen fire for fire.
He told me he was a trained marksman having lived in the US. In the process, two of his security aides were shot but they continued fighting until the Herdsmen retreated.
He said he left for Markurdi and returned the next day fully prepared and saw how villages had been taken over by cows. This time, the Herdsmen didn’t shoot him and some of them pulled out their phones and were snapping him.
He decided then and then that, if he did nothing Benue would be overrun. He took actions that saw to a curtailing of the actions of these killers. It was against this backdrop that GEJ made him the chairman of the Committee.
To be continued…