The on-going ruckus between Samuel Ortom, the Benue governor and Bala Mohammed, his Bauchi colleague (both incidentally PDP stable mates) isn’t surprising, given the primacy of identity politics.
Ortom is Tiv, and proudly so. Therefore, the farmers-herdsmen crisis is another umpteenth stage to stake the rights of Tivs (predominantly farmers) and other Benue people, in a Nigeria going through the throes of nation-building.
Mohammed is Fulani, and he’d be damned to fold his arms and watch others tar the entire Fulani as criminals and brigands, just because some of them are fingered as herdsmen criminals, leaving murder, rape, kidnapping and sundry violent crimes in their trail.
Both commit no crime by holding out for their ethnic nativity, though “nationalist” prudes would shift in discomfort. Still, such prudish discomfort begs the question: people are nothing without their cherished identities, and you can’t really build an organic and thriving Nigerian federation, without putting that into account.
But the danger comes when the two governors allow disagreement over public policy to degenerate into personal insults and name-calling. On this score, though, the greater blames appears Ortom’s and his gubernatorial spin masters, who appear to have reacted very badly to Mohammed’s really outrageous claim that the Fulani herdsmen had a right to bear arms, since their cattle — their common wealth, he called it — was unprotected by the Nigerian state, from cattle rustlers.
As in everything Nigerian, however, moral bristling seems to have plugged rival ears to contrary but unpleasant information, which nevertheless could hold the ace to a holistic resolution of the security crisis.
Governor Mohammed stumbled with emotions, when he argued herdsmen had earned the right to carry arms, and maybe the criminality, deliberate or inadvertent, that follows. That’s an anarchist’s push. It should never have come from an elected governor, and state symbol of law and order.
But you can’t fault his point that herdsmen are entitled to protection from cattle-rustlers; and that you can’t tar every Fulani as a criminal, simply because some herdsmen with criminal minds are Fulani. Both stands are trite in equity.
That such a mix-up in messaging, cresting in a needless gubernatorial brawl, when messages should be clinically segmented (trashing outrageous ones but using useful ones as pointers to putative solutions), is a function of a general Nigerian intolerance for dissenting views.
Read newspapers, listen to radio debates and watch TV chat shows. In probably nine out of 10 cases, folks are talking at themselves. Many times, they feel the other fellow is an idiot who should be scorned — or even shot. But pray, if you don’t exchange ideas, how do you resolve problems?
Both Ortom and Mohammed ought to listen more to each other; and rush less to demonize and excoriate. Perhaps such gubernatorial paragons of healthy exchange, without landing in name-calling, will foster better and healthier democratic exchanges, among the masses that look up to both.