A dangerous trend is fast emerging in Benue State which, if not checked, could, like a smouldering fire, explode in an unprecedented conflagration. In what is obviously a reprisal for the killings that have been going on in that part of the country, the police confirmed last week that seven people of Fulani extraction were killed and their bodies set ablaze by some irate youths in Gboko, Benue State. The police statement said, “Initial findings revealed that the unfortunate victims were passengers in a commercial vehicle, heading to Okene, Kogi State, from Jalingo, Taraba State.”
Reports also said two occupants of the vehicle were still missing and two others hospitalised. This is an unacceptable occurrence in an environment that has already witnessed too much bloodshed from gratuitous killings. It is a mark of downright barbarism that innocent travellers could be extra-judicially killed and their bodies burnt in a country that is not at war. There should be no justification for such bestiality in a society that lays claim to civility and the rule of law.
Yet, this is an incident that could probably have been averted if the security agencies had been discharging their duties diligently, creditably and without fear or favour. But from all available evidence, this has not been the case. Perhaps the question that should be asked is: where were the police and other security agencies when the killings and hurried “cremation” of the Fulani travellers were being perpetrated? That question has become even more pertinent given the fact that the atrocity was committed at a motor park, in an open glare.
Of particular interest here is the cavalier manner in which earlier killings in the state were handled. Why is it that more than one month after hoodlums suspected to be Fulani herdsmen visited untold hardship on the people of Benue State, no concrete step has been taken to find the perpetrators? What has been coming from official quarters instead is the setting up of a committee and the comment by the Inspector-General of Police, Ibrahim Idris, that it was a “communal clash.” Others have also taken it to the ridiculous extent of claiming that the perpetrators were foreigners.
Does a government need a committee to enforce orderliness in the society? For instance, should a committee be required to arrest an established kidnapper? Or does the fact of being foreigners grant people the immunity to saunter into the country, kill and maim her citizens, and then stroll back again, without any consequences? The New Year’s Day attacks that triggered the current crisis claimed over 70 lives, left many others injured, while houses, farmlands and other valuable property were laid to waste.
While it should be stated that the law of an eye for an eye is outdated and cannot be a solution to a problem, it must also be stressed that the idea of picking on innocent people as targets of reprisal is even worse. If there could be some justification in defending one’s life and property in the face of an attack by some heavily armed Fulani herdsmen, there is no way the killing of innocent travellers could be rationalised. If there are Fulani herdsmen terrorists, it does not make every Fulani person a terrorist.
But in trying to find a solution to the criminality that is being perpetrated in Benue State, it is important to note that the Gboko reprisal may be the beginning of a vicious cycle of killings, followed by reprisals, unless the security apparatus is put to effective use. Instructively, President Muhammadu Buhari said he had deployed additional resources to all affected areas to maintain law and order. He vowed that the attacks by suspected herdsmen and other bandits would not be tolerated. Without mincing words, it should be stated that the challenge of keeping the peace will be even more taxing now than ever before. If what has been happening in Southern Kaduna is anything to go by, maintaining peace and security in Benue and the surrounding states has to be a round-the-clock affair. This is the time for the use of intelligence to know when attacks are about to be unleashed so that they can be stopped before they happen.
No matter what other efforts are being employed in settling the lawlessness that has cost so many lives in Benue State, it should not be forgotten that the ultimate solution lies with the effectiveness and vigilance of the security. It is a good thing that the police said some arrests had been made in connection with the Gboko killings. This is an expected development because, if crime cannot be prevented, then those who commit it should be arrested and prosecuted. This is why the gunmen, who have been ransacking villages in Benue, and the adjoining states of Nasarawa and Plateau, should also be apprehended and made to face the law. That is what is done in civilised societies; the same should be done in Nigeria.