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Ortom: Will this be the turning point?

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[files] Benue State Governor, Samuel Ortom. Photo: TWITTER/GOVSAMUELORTOM

It is just as well that Benue people elected a healthy, agile man as governor.

Samuel Ortom never thought he had it in him to do what Olympic champions do but when he was confronted with the snarling spectre of an existential threat last week, he did what all men in such positions do – find in himself the strength and the agility he never thought he had to run for one kilometre to escape 15 men out to make him history. Had the people put say, Paul Unongo, in the state government house, there would have been no prize for guessing the predictable outcome of the assassination attempt on his life by the suspected Fulani herdsmen.

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May I add my droplets to the flood of congratulatory messages washing over his excellency? Happy escape.

No one need be persuaded that the insecurity in the land has deteriorated to the point where a state governor would wisely abandon his official bulletproof vehicles and security details and take on himself the primary task of protecting and saving himself. Nigeria, indeed, to quote the Minister of Defence, Major-General Bashir Magashi, “is in a critical situation occasioned by terrorist attacks, banditry and kidnapping.”

The next level appears to have put the country on the edge of a precipice. We are on the brink. If our rulers are not safe, none of us is safe. And if we, the people are not safe, our rulers are not safe either. We are no longer dealing with a passing phase in our security challenges. We are dealing with an increasingly entrenched situation in the face of an inept response to the security challenges by the Nigerian state. It is foolish to pretend otherwise and continue to live in denial.

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The routine of condemnations of Ortom’s attackers has run its course. All those who have the right to be heard and applauded for distancing themselves from evil, have had their say. President Buhari, on whose shoulders the burden of our security rests, led the chorus of condemnations and ordered that the incident be investigated. He never deviates from this solid traditional response to what challenges him and ails the nation. I tell you, the president did his duty. If you hear nothing more from him on the incident, you could not take away from him his leadership role in condemning Ortom’s attackers.

Benue State has been in the crosshairs of the herdsmen since Ortom outlawed open grazing in the state and forced the rest of the country to wake up to the clear and present dangers in allowing the herdsmen to continue the age-old tradition of open grazing. Scores of people have been killed by suspected Fulani herdsmen in parts of the state since then. The farmers are caged in by insecurity at home, on their farms and on the roads. Given the nature of our centralised federalism, Ortom, the chief security officer of his state, is not in a position to secure his state, being a general without troops. The people are all sitting ducks.

No one was surprised that a shadowy Fulani group, calling itself FUNAM, brazenly owned up to the attack. Its spokesman, Umar Amir Shehu, issued a public statement in which he said: “Our courageous fighters carried out this historic attack to send a great message to Ortum (Ortom) and his collaborators. Where ever you are, once you are against Fulani long term interest, we shall get you down.”

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It does not sound like an empty threat to me. If they did it once and failed, they could try again. Ortom is their enemy-in-chief but he is not their only enemy. I am sure Miyetti Allah has an enemy list under their watch.

It may sound cynical but methinks there could be a soul of goodness in the failed assassination attempt on Ortom. It could be the trigger needed to set in motion the essential process of rousing the Nigerian state from the luxury of Rip Van Winkle’s long sleep. For one, when bad things that have been happening to small people happen to a big man, officialdom perks up its ears in the face of public outcries. That is when the big people feel compelled to give some serious thoughts to solving the problem to save another big man from being a victim of a failed assassination attempt or a successful execution of the diabolical plan.

I am not so naïve as to believe that our rulers would seize the moment to appreciate our precarious security situation and get off their butts and collectively task themselves in a genuine search for solutions to a problem that began as a trickle but has now turned into a roaring flood, threatening to sweep the nation down the river. Leaders seize such moments as opportunities to address a deteriorating situation, but rulers are blind to them.

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Still, I see a few signs that point to a new appreciation of the existential threat to the Nigerian state by the big men who are in the first line of bearing the responsibility for what history will make of our nation under Buhari’s watch. Individuals and groups are speaking up and doing so loudly. It may have been a coincidence but a few days after Ortom ran his historical escape race, the minister of defence, Major-General Bashir Magashi, for the first time spoke about the fast-deteriorating security situation. He told a one-day summit on national defence and security in Abuja, March 22: “This summit is coming at a sobering time in the life of our dear nation. A time when merchants of violence are threatening to tear the very foundation of our nation; a time when diverse manifestations of security threats dot the landscape and impact individuals, communities and almost all sub-national entities in disconcerting ways; a time when fear and uncertainty pervade the land; and a time when global indicators of national security give room for serious concern.” He added, with a surprising measure of honesty: “We are in a critical situation…”
Indeed, so.

We would be right to take that as evidence that the blinkers and the earmuffs are off and our leaders are beginning to see and hear a little more clearly above the din of panegyrics from the professional praise-singers for whom all governments in power are always right, provided they have access to the crumbs from the high table.

Dr Abdullahi Ganduje, governor of Kano State put it rather matter-of-factly when he said, “Certainly, we are worried because a governor is supposed to have some security with him; what of an ordinary man who has no security? So, you can see how serious the situation is…”

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Former Senate President, Senator David Mark, echoed the same sentiments in his formal statement on the incident. He said, “If a state governor can be so brazenly attacked, what would they not do to ordinary citizens? If our government and security operatives can no longer guarantee people’s safety in their homes, farms or places of business, I am worried that the situation may compel citizens to resort to self-help.”

We should all be worried about the attraction of self-help. Already, the land is soaked in the blood of its innocent citizens because life has become cheap and minor altercations are settled with bullets. With over six millions small arms in circulation in the country and with the ready availability of AK-47, it is looking more and more attractive for citizens and communities to resort to such self-help to save their lives, absent the Nigerian state.

The Nigerian state can only remedy this by being present and fully protective of its citizens. After all, it bears repeating: security is the number one task the constitution imposes on the three tiers of government.

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The Northern Elders Forum has consistently warned that unless the president sits up and commits to a more secure nation, it would not take babalawo to predict that this house, this rainbow collection of beautiful tribes blessed with sonorous tongues, would more likely and eventually fall than merely continue to exist. In a statement by its spokesman, Dr Hakeem Baba-Ahmed, on the Ortom incident, the Forum said: “It is no exaggeration to say that our country has never been so threatened by a combination of weak and ineffective governance and a determined effort from many quarters to capitalise on this weakness to attack the foundations which give all citizens and communities some comfort that we are not headed almost for certain, irretrievable disaster.”

I take the preceding points as some evidence that the attack on Ortom might be the turning point in what we seek to make of our nation as either a safe, peaceful nation or one torn by citizens pulling in different directions in search of safety of lives and property. Let’s hope our rulers appreciate this delicate situation and can turn their expensive caps into thinking caps.

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