“2023 is a different election season. Don’t jump in because you want power. Benue must be your passion. If you can’t say ‘no’ to the killings, withdraw NOW!”  -Peters Ichull.

It’s encouraging that today, one of Nigeria”s best brains, our very own Peters Ichull, has endorsed that position. And I am excited. For some who may not know him well, Ichull is a Reverend, Evangelist, Preacher, Polymath, Traveller, Wordsmith, Philosopher, Thinker, Nationalist and Tiv Patriot.

So, when someone like this aligns his thoughts with yours – even without possibly reading you, you know you are on track. Today, I go back to the piece principally because his alignment strengthens my conviction and further validates the Ortom stand: that Ranching is it.

But there are other reasons too. Since April, there has been a rash of brand new laws across the Southern half of Nigeria, prohibiting open grazing. Even up North here where stateholders have continued to equate cows with human beings or even value them higher, Plateau is warming up to the ban. I know you may want to faint, considering how Gov. Simon Lalong mocked Gov. Samuel Ortom and Benue people in the wake of the 2018 massacres of Benue state indigenes by foreign killer-herdsmen. But I implore you not to: just take it to heart that vision is not the gift of all.

And Katsina too. Yes: even Katsina, and don’t gasp! The Governor, Alh. Aminu Masari, is not only thinking of  banning open grazing in the state, he has courageously named the killer-herdsmen as “Fulani people!” And, mind you, he didn’t mention anything about them being “foreigners” or “Libyans” as we are often told.

The foregoing tells us that ranching is not only the international best practice as far as animal husbandry is concerned, it’s an idea whose time has inexorably come.

Small people, with colonised minds, may not want it spoken about as they gorge themselves ravenously on Esauesque delicacies, but ranching is unquestionably the biggest issue of the moment deserving of robust discourse. And it will remain so till 2023 and even beyond.

And yes, the simple-minded, perhaps congenitally so, may remain here, trapped or immobilized in their crumbling multiverse (universes) of petty obsessions, traditional hate, primitive jealousies and political arthritis, but Nigeria is moving! Anyone in doubt can ask Rivers, Bayelsa and Akwa Ibom (in the South-South); ask Enugu (in the South-East); ask Ondo, Lagos and Ogun (in the South-West); ask Taraba (in the North-East); and ask the now-persuaded Katsina (in the North-West).

But there is another reason for revisiting the April piece. The Abuja press conference of Benue-APC on August 30th and the APC rally in Makurdi, on September 6th, in support of President Muhammadu Buhari and Sen. George Akume have made a revisit of the topic, as we march towards 2023, a compelling necessity. I will, therefore, be quoting copiously from that write-up

I started by saying with discussions about Benue 2023 getting louder, it was needful to join the conversation so as to enrich it with fresh perspectives, expand the conversational space and provoke critical input. (And that is what I am still doing today).

First quote: “Elsewhere, 2023 may be just another election year or another chance at power-grab, but for Benue state, 2023 will be a revalidation of our right to life, our right to live on our ancestral land and our right to human dignity. Of course, it is understood by any perceptive mind that the first validation was in 2019.”

I clarified: “In other words, Benue 2023 will be squarely and categorically about checking the hydra-headed menace of herdsmen, and the regime of insecurity it has spawned by way of murderous bandits and criminal gangs across the state. And the principal instrument of achieving this will be the Open Grazing Prohibition and Ranches Establishment Law.”

Writing further, I stated: “Aspirants/candidates with grammatical sophistications, eminent preparations, vaunting ambitions, academic pedigrees, cognate experiences, stakeholder endorsements, godfather anointings and zonal arithmetic – whether individually or collectively – will be mere jokers if they detach themselves from this all-important law.

“Let the truth be told, and it is hereby told, the Open Grazing Prohibition and Ranches Establishment Law is not merely about agriculture or its value-chain economics – the law is further about the identity, the dignity and the survival of the Benue man beyond the decade.”

And that is where we are.  I make bold to declare that a hundred press conferences by the politically-castrated in Abuja or Abidjan, a thousand congregations of the walking-wounded, a million screams by the electorally-impotent and a billion alliances with foreign constituencies – no matter how seemingly powerful – cannot repeal the people’s law popularly enacted in 2017.

As the People’s Governor, Inyam-Ikyume Samuel Ortom, has said again and again, that law is cast in marble. This is not politics, and there is nothing political about it: the law seeks to provide security for all Benue indigenes or residents – be they in APC, SDP, APGA or PDP or even the apolitical farmers, who just want to cultivate their ancestral lands in the peace that is guaranteed them under the constitution.

Clearly, Benue-APC has not yet recovered from the wrenching hangover of its wholesale rejection by the Benue voters in 2019. Furthermore, the party is badly heamorhaging: partly due to the massive evacuation of its rank and file into the PDP; and partly due to its morbid insensitivity to the continuous killings of Benue people by killer-herdsmen. As it is, 2023 is looking increasingly grim for the party, and all hopes of a return to power are vanishing by the day.

So, every discerning watcher of Benue politics knows that the APC has been in growing pains. And every discerning person also knows that the party could not, hitherto, openly wail about its woes without attracting to itself the inglorious tag of a “Cry-cry Baby.”

So, what did the Benue APC do? It nursed its pains quietly, bidding its time for a moment of catharsis. And then, that moment came. That was when Gov. Ortom, grief-striken with the unending killings of his people, appeared on Channels Television, and charged the Buhari presidency with failing to protect Benue people.

Predictably, the presidential spokesman, Malam Garba Shehu, left the major issues that Ortom raised, and began dwelling, strangely, on minor issues such as Ortom changing parties five times or having no political principles! (Pray, does one need principles or political fidelity to feel pain or to speak the truth?).

Well, unconcerned with such questions, the Benue-APC saw the presidential opening as a good opportunity to openly vent its frustrations without drawing tearful attention to itself on account of its festering political wounds. Put differently, Garba Shehu provided Benue-APC – its juggernauts and minions all – a cathartic moment to vent its bottled up anger since its 2019 debacle; a convenient reason to let loose its impotent rage against those it holds guilty of architecting that reverberating debacle.

And this is why, like the presidency, Benue-APC didn’t try to take on Ortom on any of the issues he raised – rather, the APC also chose to, at best, major in minors or, to, at worse, obscure the issues that Ortom raised.

First, on the day of the Abuja press conference (30th August), Benue-APC shunned a scheduled Benue Stakeholders Meeting at the People’s House, Makurdi, to which it, like all stakeholders, had been invited.

The Benue-APC, led by Dr. George Akume (its leader and himself a former governor), shunned the Stakeholders’ Meeting in Makurdi. He gathered his henchmen for the press conference. And their venue was Abuja! Was the choice of Abuja, which is, incidentally, the seat of Federal power, a strategic choice to enhance their visibility to Aso Rock, thereby enlisting Federal support for their faltering Project 2023? Or given their crude distortions, their scandalous evasions, their deliberate obfuscations, their shameful euphemisms, the half-truths, their outright lies against Benue people …in fact, given the whole lot of their terminological inexactitudes – was the choice of Abuja a cowardly move to shield themselves from popular anger while their festival of shame lasted?

Whatever the reason that was behind the choice of venue – it remains the stakeholders’ secret. What is evident, however, is that the choice of faraway Abuja, advertently or inadvertently, boldly  emphasized the disconnection of the Benue-APC leadership from the Benue people whom it desperately wants to lord over.

This column doesn’t have the space to reply to every inanity of that Akume Press Conference or the one from “Ihyarev APC Elders” that followed – that is not even an objective. Besides, the responses of the Benue-PDP, the Ihyarev Elders, Nongov PDP Elders, the MINDA PDP Youth Forum, the Alternative View of Mike Utsaha (an independent-minded, Ihyarev APC stakeholder) etc have already demolished that inverted pyramid of lies erected by Benue-APC.

This column only seeks to expose the Benue-APC outing in Abuja for what it really was to every critical mind : A Festival of Shame, actuated by Treachery, decked in the garish colours of Opportunism and hosted by a desperate grouping of the Walking Wounded.

(To be continued)

…Imobo-Tswam, a Communications specialist and public space commentator, writes from Abuja.

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