On the escalating Fulani /Tiv crisis in the Benue Valley: An open letter

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Dear Mr. President, please permit me to also use this medium of open letter to communicate you and please consider all protocols observed as I crave your indulgence to excuse my matter of fact approach in this letter. Usually such a communication on issues of national concern should go through the structures of democratic representation, but for reasons worth reflecting on, open letters seem to be the surest way to bypass the familiar barriers in our country that disconnects the followers from leadership. I shall however make mine quite short so as not to take too much of your time.

Mr. President sir, perhaps I should start by mentioning that I was one of the many Nigerians in the Diaspora that took to the internet and television call-in programs to clamour for your confirmation as substantive President at the time our country was momentarily held hostage by a vested caucus following the passing of our then President Musa Yar’Adua. I took a position and went public with it out of my belief in due process and the conviction that institutions develop by precedence and it is only by that process that we can evolve as a true nation where systems are transparent and predictable. During that trying period, I criticised the wavering of individuals occupying institutions that could have risen to the occasion of that constitutional impasse, including major actors from my home State some of whom you have graciously reconciled with. Mr. President, the purpose of this preamble is to provide a background to the values I hold and a window onto my disposition as a progressive and detribalised Nigerian who believes in the maxim of truth and equity.

Mr. President, I do not need to take your time recounting the abysmal state of public and personal security of the Nigerian citizen and indeed foreigners we invite to invest in our economy. Today, the activity of the deadly Boko Haram has resulted to the listing of our country as a dangerous destination. We have also noted the effort and resources you have dedicated to tackling this insurgence and the lacklustre attitude of some influential individuals who should be actively voicing their condemnation and lending support to root out this extremism and senseless killing of defenceless citizens including innocent children. Mr. President, it is on the back of this that I turn to the main purpose of my letter and that is a crisis  of complicated dimension brewing in the middle belt region between the Tiv and Fulani, two people of distinct and distant ancestral habitats, but with a long history of friendship woven in a legendary folktale.

Mr. President Sir, while it is not my intention to speculate on the origin of this crisis, as I believe you have sufficient and capable intelligence at your disposal to acquaint with the facts, I can say without equivocation that the mass of Benue people are in complete quandary on the less than impressive response your government has shown to this crisis from the very outset. Going by the experience of our neighbours in Plateau state and the unabated menace of the Boko Haram insurgency across the north east region, one would assume that the last thing your government would allow to take hold is another crisis of a national security dimension. The reports of relentless attacks by armed bandits believed to be of nomadic extraction and or affiliation have continued to escalate in the Benue valley region for over a year now, inching deeper into villages and even major towns.

These attacks have not been met with any clearly defined response at State or federal level to determine their nature and scale or to investigate the use of illegal firearms such as AK47. It was only recently the IG announced the dispatch of a ‘special unit’ to in his words and as quoted in the Vanguard 26/03/2014, “checkmate the clashes”.  With due respect to the IG, the hubris in his appreciation and assessment of the dynamics of the crisis indicates clearly that the federal government still underestimates the enormity of this crisis in the Benue valley. Mr. President, the use of AK47 to terrorise local communities’ signposts the presence of hired mercenaries as the Fulani are not known to bear such firearms nor the expertise to effectively deploy them. There is good reason to believe the Fulani have engaged the services of their cousins from neighbouring desert countries facilitated by their unfettered and unmonitored trans- border migration. While this may sound speculative but common sense will tell us the Fulani and AK47 are strange birds and there is much more the IG will have to ‘checkmate’. There is now mutual distrust that has led to dangerous rumours and real danger that has led to the heightening of criminal activities and the fear of possible reprisals which has destabilised the daily lives of the locals including the Fulani nomads.

Mr. President, there is just enough time to stem the rapidly degenerating security situation. The Fulani and Tiv are one of the few ethnic groups that are distant yet very friendly. However, they are also known to be very assertive and uncompromising when it comes to protecting their interest and their history attest to a predisposition to prosecute unforgiving battles of attrition. It is with this in mind that I urge you as a concerned citizen looking to better days ahead for our country, to step up to the real challenge without delay. Three straight requests for your immediate consideration is to give a national broadcast urging an immediate cessation of attacks with specific directives to security agents to uncover the mystery surrounding Fulani and AK47s. Secondly, to determine who these bandits are and how they come to carryout raids in the heart of the Benue valley where they are complete strangers. Thirdly, to convene or cause a meeting of the security and intelligence operatives, chief executives and federal representatives of Benue, Taraba and Nasarawa states to determine what information they have on the matter and how to begin to build back trust as well as resettle the victims. In this regard, it will be worthwhile to invite and welcome civil society input as they have been active in consulting and working tirelessly to calm the situation and support the victims. There also needs to be daily briefings from the security units working to restore law and order so as to diffuse imagined and real fears that feed the apatite of rumours and social media.

Your Excellency, I have intentionally avoided to mention the issue of grazing reverses as I do not want to pre-empt the posturing of interest groups from both communities. It is however clear that there is a valid sense of apathy within the indigenous farming communities and a growing sense of cynicism about any project they believe will further expose them to the invasion and displacement they experience today. It is therefore important to first arrest the escalating violence, unmask the perpetrators to restore the broken trust resulting from the unfamiliar and strange conduct of the nomads. Mr. President, I will ask you to view this letter with the seriousness it deserves and consider it a moment in time when you can truly demonstrate to the Tiv people, Benue and indeed Nigeria that criminal groups cannot pursue and promulgate social dislocation with impunity. It will also be a welcome indication that you have not forgotten the overwhelming support the people of Benue handed you in the previous presidential election.

Mr. President Sir, please accept the assurances of the goodwill of the Tiv people in particular, even as we have since reconciled with the peripheral position we find ourselves in the current epoch. The people of the Benue valley shall continue to cherish and support the vision of a cohesive minority constituency in Nigeria.

 

Long live Mr. President,

Power and prosperity to Nigerians

 

Son Gyoh, Post-doctoral fellow

Development Education Research centre, IOE, University of London. UK/ Ireland sgyoh@ioe.ac.uk

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