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Farmers/Herders Crisis: Buratai’s Advice To Benue State



Something inspires me about Lt. Gen. Tukur Yusufu Buratai. This Chief of Army Staff (COAS) and helmsman of the anti-terrorism operations in Nigeria is a leader, naturally endowed with immense talents.  He inspires courage, patriotism and the spirit of togetherness. In the trenches, he measures fully as a unique tactician and strategist. On the administrative plank, he is a soldier, a leader with initiatives and policies. He thinks, speaks and acts insightfully.

Last week, Gen. Buratai was at Gbajimba, a remote village in Guma LGA of Benue state. Guma is one of the areas worse hit by the herdsmen/farmers skirmishes.  And Nigerian soldiers have been stationed there to extinguish the conflagration. He paid his troops a solidarity visit in the trenches to encourage them. His message to the troops was clear, that they must remain steadfast and move expeditiously to end the herdsmen/farmers crisis and restore peace.

I saw a boss in a passionate and friendly engagement with his troops in the battle line.  No doubt, he electrified the mood with appeals and extracted an unwritten commitment from soldiers to end the crisis. Gen. Buratai also uttered a reflective statement. It was, somewhat, an advice or appeal over the crisis to the political leadership of the state.

He was apparently downcast at the needless bloodbath in the state. So, as he counselled his troops he also made a plea to the Benue State Government to review certain laws to give room for people to accommodate their brothers and neighbours in the State. The Army Chief was referring to the anti-open grazing law in the state, which has ignited the recent spate of killings in the state.

Only someone who loves you, would burden himself with an advice to you. Unlike other leaders in Nigeria, known to us,  the Army Chief did not stay in the comfort of his office in Abuja or elsewhere to arrogantly ‘spite’ the people with an advice. He came into the interior, the epicentre of the conflict to make the plea. He was speaking from the point of view of a leader who has come face to face with the harsh realities of the crisis and knew that peace, rather than war was desirable.

We have the proclivity to easily undermine, disregard and disparage advices of this nature. We are more at home in reading meanings and infusing very partisan interpretations to honest suggestions. And I do know that peace is not an item found in the shop or on the street and so, it cannot be bought.  Peace is earned and in dialogues over issues that have exploded into intractable wars, concessions are made for the restoration of peace. It could be painful, but also invaluable because it is not what the naira nor dollar can afford. It is just the ability to imbibe the spirit of give and take.    

Therefore, the worthy advice coming from a thorough bred military officer, who has seen and fought wars in his life time should deserve the attention of all.  It should be perceived as a non-partisan intervention, with the overriding motive of a peaceful society. In my view, Gen. Buratai’s advice is more sophisticated than the weapons soldiers wield in the field of battle, princely or richer than any other war strategy.  Peace is not earned with guns.

Gen. Buratai is a soldier and not a politician. So, it is pertinent for the political leadership in Benue state to deeply reflect on this advice. Ego, obstinacy and braggadocio are not the solutions in this context. It is obvious that the political leaders in the state may have pushed the people to the precipice with that law. The manner they have tenaciously held and defended this law, even in the face of bloodletting, only suggests that the reality of the law has other benefits that are not known to the people.

He flaunts it and prides himself with all manner of offending accolades and sobriquets, claiming the law is the desire of Benue people. So, has the Governor suddenly become responsive to Benue people only as it concerns the anti-open grazing law and has he yielded to the appeal of Benue people over the mass sack of workers, he terms, “ghost workers?”

The insistence on the law, in spite of its seeming unworkability, maybe likened to pursuing an anti-people’s agenda and personal interest. But many have no doubt that the anti-open grazing law in Benue is an injustice to those whose only occupation is cattle rearing. The bloody resistance on all sides is the signpost of this law and I think, any sensible leader ought to have reconsidered the contents of the law and its draconic implementation.  It’s naturally expected that every man should resist and oppose any attempt to render his source of livelihood useless.

I think the responsibility of leadership is to foster unity and harmonious co-existence among people under its jurisdiction. But to posture and work in a style that rather strains this relationship, as demonstrated by the government in the anti-open grazing law is outright spiting of the values of peace and progress.

When governments lay the template for groups to understand the value of peace, a lot of things work out positively and seamlessly. A friend told me about an incident in Oju LGA of Benue State recently.  He said, the Fulanis resident in the area had to alert their hosts to flee when the external trouble makers were approaching for an attack.  They acted in favour of their hosts. This synergy is possible elsewhere, if there is cordiality among different groups.

Truth, they say is bitter. But it ultimately salvages an otherwise precarious situation. Let the government be told this bitter truth. And the bitter truth is that it needs to review the anti-open grazing law and implement it only at a time that the state is able to provide land for all its farming citizens. It’s impossible to put the cart before the horse and expect the cart to move.

Many leaders in the state are aware that people like Alhaji Dash, Nalaraba among others, are people who were born in Benue and have lived all their lives in the state. Is it morally right for a government to ask them to leave without providing an alternative? This is exactly what the anti-open grazing law says indirectly. And it is hurtful and painful.  I commend the reasoning of Gen. Buratai extremely.   He has shown the people of Benue tremendous love and concern since the beginning of the crisis, necessitating the deployment of soldiers. I also subscribe to this advice.

The Army Chief loves Benue and its people as much as any other part of the country, as evidenced in his automatic enlistment of five Benue indigenes into the Nigerian Army. He is just interested in peace from all angles, like the rest of us.  We all need peace and Benue must first win the peace for herself. And the time is now!

– Ikpa wrote from Otukpo, Benue State.