Last Saturday, Governor Ortom of Benue State was attacked by a group he described as armed assassins and had to run 1.5 kilometres to save his life. I am glad he was able to outrun the assassins although I did wonder why his close protection squad allowed him run into the dangerous forests over such a long distance rather than keep him protected in his bullet proof vehicle while they dealt with the attackers.
Shortly after the attack, a press release was allegedly issued by the Fulani Nationality Movement, ( FUNAM) claiming they carried out the attack on behalf of Millions of Fulani people in 15 countries. The statement added:
“It’s a case of vengeance against an infidel who has used his time and money, deployed in destroying the Fulani values and inheritance…
Our intention is unequivocal: TO KILL HIM. That mission will one day be fulfilled and very soon too.” Signed – Umar Amir Shehu
I have seen such statements so many times without any evidence that such a group exists outside the computers of conflict manufacturers fabricating dangerous narratives. I recall that during the first week of January 2018, a crisis erupted in Benue State resulting in the death of dozens of people as herders and farmers clashed. Concerned with the grave dangers the events and the passions it generated posed for national safety and cohesion, the Nigerian Bar Association decided to send a fact-finding mission to the State to investigate and seek to intervene and I was invited to join as an expert adviser. The crisis followed the passage and implementation of the Benue State Open Grazing Prohibition and Ranches Establishment Law 2017.
The Delegation was in Makurdi on the 19th and 20th January 2018 led by then NBA President A. B. Mahmoud, with some members of the executive committee and a representative set of lawyers. The Delegation was told that before the said law was enacted; there had been 49 attacks on Benue farming communities by “Fulani terrorists” engaged on a genocide mission that is coordinated by the Miyetti Allah. Governor Ortom waved a press release by a certain Fulani Nationality Movement, (FUNAM), claiming to have been issued in Kano on Saturday, January 13, 2018 and signed by one Badu Salisu Ahmadu, National President and Umar Amir Shehu. The “press release” was extreme provocation and stated as follows:
a) That the killings in Benue of Tiv is well deserved. It was a revenge attack on the series of onslaught on the Fulani….
b) We condemn the media propaganda being waged against the Fulani and supported by Yoruba, Igbo and their bigotry allies in the Middle Belt.
c) That we are aware of plots by the minority ethnic groups in the Middle Belt to attack Fulani settlements.
d) That we have asked all Fulani across West Africa to raise money and arms to prosecute the oncoming war. We call on all Fulanis to prepare for this Holy War…
This so-called press release really sparked extreme anger against the herders and put the entire Benue community on a war footing. At this point, it is worth pointing out the same so-called FUNAM, with the same signatories reportedly issued a very similar message on 25th June 2018. This was shortly after people had been killed in Barakin Ladi in Plateau State. The statement asserted that: “The killings in Barkin Ladi was motivated by previous killings of FULANI men and women by Birom youths in collaboration with certain minority ethnic groups in PLATEAU. We hereby justify these retaliatory attacks and warn that we shall continue to defend ourselves and uphold the FULANI heritage now and in the future. Let it be known that the Fulani Special Force coordinated the attacks.” The statement added that: “Plateau is an indigenous territory of the FULANI people. We are the first to settle in Plateau-Benue axis thousands of years ago. We shall take and possess every inch of this land.” Then came the punch line: “This was the destiny bestowed on Uthman Dan Fodio which would have been fulfilled since 1816 if not for the obstruction of this great assignment by the British…. Insha Allah, we shall take this battle across the sea, on the land, in the air, on the mountains, in every territory currently occupied by the Kafirs.”
These two press releases of 2018 were timed to appear days after communal clashes had led to the killing of people, mostly farmers in the two States. They were clearly crafted as dangerous speech produced to intensify anger against the killings and push people to do more killing. The technique used is that of extreme provocation by threatening to take over the land of people and forcibly convert them to Islam. The technique also draws from history – drawing parallels from the history of slave trade and the Jihad threatening to re-enact the events of the past. I have investigated the organisation and no one knows it, they have never given a press conference and its signatories are not known. They simply circulate their write up on the internet and on WhatsApp and unfortunately, many people believe them to be true spokes persons for the herder community. The reality is that mischief makers who want to exacerbate violence and killings circulate such material and they have been very successful in persuading people to engage in killings and revenge killings, deepening the cycles of bloody violence in our society.
Every time Governor Ortom sets out to mobilise anger against the Fulani community, a provocative press release allegedly from FUNAM will appear and it will generate emotions against the community. So many people have been killed because some people genuinely believe that these press releases are true statements coming from the Fulani pastoral community. The level of threat, arrogance and provocation in the statements is so high that there is no surprise it always generates more violence. The security agencies should investigate this matter as it has become a major driver of hate and violence in or society.