Atiku, Ortom’s fight over Fulani degenerates
…as backlash against PDP candidate in Benue grows
There is no gainsaying that the blowback that greeted the statement by the presidential candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, on Governor Samuel Ortom may have finally cast doubts on the possibility of Benue people supporting the ambition of the PDP candidate in 2023 given the growing anger in the state.
Alhaji, who holds the highest honorific chieftaincy title for non-Tiv indigenes, the Zege Mule U Tiv, meaning the covering of the Tiv people, obviously drew the ire of the Benue people when, during the presidential interactive session organized by the Arewa Joint Committee in Kaduna, was quoted as saying: “I am angry with Governor Ortom for profiling Fulani as bandits and terrorists because I am a Fulani.”
That comment didn’t go down well with the people of Benue who, after close to six long years of mindless attacks by armed Fulani herdsmen militia that left thousands dead, many maimed with over two million displaced and living in dire conditions in close to 20 Internally Displaced Persons, IDP camps and host communities, have had to contend with the worst humanitarian crisis in recent time.
With an economy that is somewhat grounded and in shambles due to the ceaseless attacks that have almost crippled farming activities in the agrarian state, the people, irrespective of political party divide, will certainly not take kindly to any comment that tends to make a mockery of their ordeal or rub it on their faces.
The Convener of the Middle Belt Movement for Justice and Peace, MBMJP, Joe Bukka, said: “That is the general perception of the people as regards the comment by the PDP presidential candidate and the overrunning outrage and outburst was not unexpected as the people had, about four years ago, turned their backs on a prominent Benue son when he ran for a major election after having earlier exonerated armed Fulani herdsmen of killings in the state.
“Same fate may await Alhaji Atiku Abubakar in 2023 because the issue of herdsmen killings in Benue touches the very soul of the Benue man, woman or child and they are known to always stand and act in unison against anyone who dares to change the narrative or scorn them in their adversity; that is why they have all rallied round the Governor.”
This probably accounted for the angry reaction that trailed the comment by Atiku and the condolence message he sent to the people of Gbeji after about 39 persons were killed in that community and many others hospitalised.
The Tiv Youth Organization, TYO, worldwide and the Forum of Concerned Nigerians, FCN, were among the first that expressed resentment over the comment.
Reacting, the President General of TYO, Timothy Hembaor, stated that Atiku’s statement was not only an attack on Ortom who the Tiv people looked unto for protection from killer herdsmen but also an attack on the entire Tiv people who, years ago, bestowed on the presidential candidate the honorific title of Zege Mule Tiv (shelter of the Tiv race).
The TYO said by the comment, Atiku was not deserving of the title as “he has desecrated the chieftaincy title and therefore does not merit being addressed as such any further.
“The Fulani massacre of the Tiv has been the most important defining issue of Samuel Ortom’s governance in Benue.
“It is possible that the Tiv would have been annihilated if Samuel Ortom had not provided a robust defence of the state.”
On his part, the National Secretary of FCN,
Samson Ochono, who expressed shock at the comment, asked Atiku to tender unreserved apology to Ortom and Benue people.
He said, “We ask Atiku to tender an unreserved apology to Governor Ortom. His statement against Ortom is capable of setting the governor against Fulani and endangering him.
“We know Governor Ortom as one of the very few Nigerians who stand for justice and equity. Whenever he speaks, he speaks our minds. He is the conscience of this nation.”
Also, Ortom’s kinsmen and elder statesmen on the platform of MINDA Leaders of Thought expressed fears for Benue if the PDP presidential candidate emerged victorious in the coming 2023 elections.
The MINDA Elders, through their Chairman, Samuel Utoo, and Secretary, Charles Torbunde, said they took “exception to the public exhortation and profiling of Governor Ortom who has been globally recognized as a model in the fight against the annihilation of Nigerians by marauding pastoralists Fulani not only in Benue State but across Nigeria.
“Why did Alhaji Atiku fail his emotional balance by contextually dovetailing a general situation, which had more public appeal, into subjective personalism with Governor Ortom as a target?
“The MINDA Leaders of Thought find such baseless outburst and accusation unfounded, reprehensible and condemnable especially coming from a political figure laying claim to pan-Nigerianism in a nation with trappings of ethnic fragility.
“Alhaji Atiku’s outburst is comprehensively a product of bad taste and unfounded malice that is drenched in ethnic chauvinism against an ethnic group that looks up to him as a protective shield, having been accorded the rear privilege of an honorific chieftaincy title of ‘Zege Mule u Tiv’ the Paramount Shade of the Tiv people.”
Then came the people of Gbeji community in Ukum Local Government Area, LGA, of Benue State who, few days back, rejected the sympathy message sent to them by the presidential candidate over herdsmen killings in the area, describing it as a mockery.
Rejecting the sympathy message, the eldest child of Gbeji and Market Overseer, Elder Jonathan Gbeji, in a statement he signed on behalf of the community, rejected the condolence message which he said was meant to ridicule the people.
The rejection message read before leaders of Gbeji community at RCM Primary School, Ankyagher stated: “We members of the Gbeji community are disappointed with the statement by Alhaji Atiku Abubakar that there was farmers and herders’ clash in Gbeji which claimed lives including those of policemen.
“What happened in Gbeji last Wednesday, October 19, 2022, was an unprovoked attack by armed Fulani militia on the people.”
The Benue State Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice, Michael Gusa, was also quick to add his voice to the matter, stating that the people of the state were justifiably angry with Atiku for the hurting comment saying “our governor is not profiling the Fulani.
“Miyetti Allah has come out to claim responsibility for the killings in the state and has even taken us to court because of the law which was made to bring peace and order between crop farmers and herders.
“So I do not see any reason why anybody should be angry with our governor. If you are angry with the governor it means you are angry with the people of Benue.
“And an attack on the governor is an attack on the people of Benue in general.”
The leaders of the three main tribes of Benue State, on the aegis of Mzough U Tiv, MUT, Ochetoha K’Idoma, OKI, and Omi Ny’ Igede, ONI, also took a swipe at the presidential candidate and urged him to apologise to Ortom and Benue people.
Chairman of the leaders, and President General of MUT, Chief Iorbee Ihagh, who spoke for the leaders, said, “We call on Alhaji Atiku to apologise to Governor Ortom for the unwarranted verbal attacks he unleashed on Governor Ortom at the Kaduna meeting.
“We make this demand with emphasis because some of the Fulani cattle groups have owned up to the killings in the state, time and again.”
Youths on the platform of Benue Youth Forum, BYF, also hit at the former Vice President when the National President, Terrence Kuanum, urged him to tender unreserved apology to the governor and Benue people and also went further to advise the Tiv Traditional Council, TTC, to monitor the utterances of the PDP presidential flag bearer as they relate to killings in the state for possible review of the high honorific traditional title of Zege Mule U Tiv conferred on him by the Tiv people.
And Ortom, in his reaction, was of the view that the PDP candidate took a dig at him because he believed that the Fulani will vote him into power in 2023, noting that the dream would be unachievable.
The governor asked Atiku to tender public apology to him for the statement if he cared about Benue votes.
“He must do a retraction if he wants our votes. If he doesn’t, on the day of election, we are going to vote according to the election”, he said.
“Atiku has been very unfair to the people of Benue. His political ambition has blindfolded him and he thinks that the Fulani can make him President, it is impossible.
“Whether I go to the Senate or become anything or not, I want to assure him that what he said is unacceptable. Please apologise to us if you want us to remain in the same party and vote for you because
you have committed sacrilege against the Tiv people and Benue in general and it is unacceptable.” (Vanguard)