Seeing the exclusive interview Governor Samuel Ortom of Benue granted Premium Times was God sent. I had come across the story of one Tashaku and the connection between Fulani herdsmen, governed-sponsored vigilantes and criminal elements in Benue State some months ago.
The information I got from hours of research showed the crisis in Benue State was a clear example of doing the same thing over and over again and hoping for a different outcome.
To be honest, I did not read the interview. For a while now, I had developed a deep apathy for the things politicians say. I’m more interested in what they do.
I have learned that given a platform, even the most crooked politician would unashamedly whitewash their image. I knew Ortom would try to come across like his shit doesn’t stink in that interview.
So I simply skimmed through it very fast not allowing the words to really register. I was hoping a name would show up.
And just about the middle, without any specific prompting from Premium Times, he mentioned Tashaku (it was spelled Tishaku in the piece).
I read that part. Ortom somehow found a way to make himself look really saintly even after acknowledging that Tashaku was employed by the state government.
Basically, according to the governor, it wasn’t his fault that a known terrorist was in the employ of his government. He passed the buck to the previous administration and the Federal government; even name-dropping President Buhari in the conversation to justify his helplessness.
These are the known facts about Tashaku. He is a Tiv from Benue State and a former Boko Haram commander.
He was among the original group of Boko Haram that went on a killing spree after the extra-judicial murder of Mohammed Yusuf, the Boko Haram founder, in police custody in 2009.
Some reports say Tashaku shared a cell with Yusuf after scores of Boko Haram members were arrested in 2009.
Along the line, Tashaku was granted amnesty and came back to offer his services to his state, Benue.
Since a leopard never changes its spots, Tashaku did not stop his murderous activities. This time though, he had the backing of the government under the state-sponsored vigilante, the Civilian Joint Task Force (CJTF).
CJTF was established by the government as a vigilante group to combat organized crimes in the areas that make up the boundary between Taraba and Benue states.
Apparently, a rogue aide to the governor, Terwase Akwaza aka Ghana, and his group had been unleashing havoc in these areas. It was because of Ghana and similar groups that the CJTF was established.
However, the CJTF also murdered a lot of innocent people with impunity. They were a law unto themselves in rural communities far from the glare of the media.
Consider this petitions written in January 2017 by the Shitile community of Katsina-Ala LGA in Benue State.
The petition accused the CJTF of among other things, ethnic cleansing, brigandage, arson and threat to life and property.
One of the specific cases mentioned in the petition was the murder of several people in Tse-Igbe and Abaji over a period of one week.
The CJTF, dressed in military camouflage and armed with sophisticated weapons, had destroyed and burned down houses, and ‘brutalized’ scores of women and children.
Some men were arrested in these raids and tortured, sometimes to death, in unknown locations. Some of the arrested men were never seen again.
The petitioned specifically mentioned Tashaku.
He was singled out as one of the vilest commanders in charge of these raids along with the leader of the CJTF, Aondana Tor-Abaji.
All these happened in 2017, long before ‘killer herdsmen’ became a phrase for every act of brigandage committed in Benue state.
To understand the Benue crisis, you have to go back to the early months of Ortom’s tenure as governor of Benue state.
Samuel Ortom had withdrawn the state protection he had bestowed on some political thugs, aka government aides. The most notorious of them was Terwase Akwaza.
Akwaza blamed the Denen Igbanah, who was the Ortom’s security adviser. Igbanah was assassinated in May 2016. Many believed Akwaza was responsible.
There are reasons to believe that theory because several gunmen arrested since then had confessed to the crime on the orders of Akwaza.
Since that murder, Akwaza had become the most wanted criminal in Benue state. At the moment, there is a N50 million bounty on his head.
In the interim though, Akwaza and his group have gone on a rampage killing, burning, kidnapping in settlements along the border between Taraba and Benue State.
All these have been going on since 2016. The CJTF was a response to Akwaza and criminal groups in those areas.
Predictably, the conflict devolved into battles of supremacy between CJTF and the criminals. Innocent communities were the collateral damage especially if any of the gladiators suspected a community of aiding one group.
It is noteworthy that any time people are arrested in connection with the crimes, they are either affiliated to the Ghana’s group or the CJTF.
Somehow, the media don’t see the need to update the public that following the arrests made, new information had come to light about those responsible for some of those unfortunate killings.
For that reason, the public is still left with the deeply-held but largely erroneous view that ‘killer herdsmen’ were responsible for all the atrocities in Benue State.
This is not to exonerate the herdsmen though. After all, their activities in Plateau State which predated the current crisis by over a decade was a clear testament that some Fulani herdsmen do kill innocent people.
Samuel Ortom must take responsibility for many of the killings in Benue State. His administration and predecessors are guilty of creating monsters.
The Benue case is reminiscent of the Niger Delta crisis. Peter Odili, ex-governor of Rivers state, and some politicians had armed thugs to help them win elections. These people later became the criminals euphemistically referred to as militants.
Peter Odili and his friends have refused to own up to the part they played. Nigeria is still trying to unscramble that problem.
Now we have ourselves another set of budding ‘militants’ in Benue State to deal with. Don’t be surprised if they start calling themselves middle-belt militants (or some fancy name) in the future.