Beginning from George Akume through Gabriel Suswam up to Samuel Ortom, each of these past and present governors of Benue had bitter experiences in the month of March as JOHN SHIAONDO reports.
March, the third month of the year derived from the Latin word ‘Martius’ is named after Mars, the Roman god of war.
The Anglo-Saxons called March ‘Hlyd monath’ meaning ‘Stormy month’ or ‘Hraed monath’ meaning ‘Rugged month’.
Interestingly, before this god became popularised as a war-monger, Mars was actually a fertility and agricultural deity. It is therefore becoming interesting as the month of March has become significant for the people of Benue, although for the wrong reasons.
As the ‘Food Basket of the Nation’, Benue is known for agriculture. However, the situation seems to be transforming from agriculture to war and insecurity with recent happenings.
For instance, the month March is notoriously becoming associated with constant attack on its leaders. Coincidentally or by design, since the return of democracy in 1999, three governors of the state have been attacked by gunmen in the same month.
Attack on George Akume
On Wednesday March 3 2004, some gunmen attacked the convoy of former governor of the state, Mr George Akume, who was on his way to Abuja. In the process, his close friend, Andrew Agom, who was in the same vehicle with him and a police officer were killed.Akume, who was governor of the state from 1999 to 2007 and later as senator representing Benue North West and now minister of special duties and inter-governmental affairs, however, narrowly escaped death from the attack that was carried out at Nasarawa Egom, some 150 kilometres from Abuja.
Also on Gabriel Suswam
On Tuesday March 11 2014, Akume’s successor Gabriel Suswam, who was governor from 2007 to 2015 was attacked by gunmen suspected to be herdsmen.
Suswam, who is now a senator representing Benue North East was on his way to Guma local government area on a fact finding mission following the continuous invasion of the area by gunmen suspect to be herdsmen. His convoy was attacked by the gunmen at Tse-Akenyi and this led to an exchange of gun shots between his security guards and the herdsmen.
Interestingly, Suswam was accompanied to the area by members of the state security council comprising the Commissioner of Police; the Commander, Special Forces Battalion, Nigeria Army Makurdi and the Commandant, Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps (NCDC), among others.
Ironically, while on the journey, precisely at Ukpiam, the Commander, Special Forces Battalion withdrew his men from the convoy after Suswam allegedly refused to heed his advise, which indicated that it was not safe for him to continue with the journey.
At Tse Akenyi, when the governor noticed that a certain community had been set ablaze and herdsmen were moving from house to house setting fire to others, he stopped and alighted from his vehicle, but before anyone could grasp what was happening, bullets started flying from all corners.Suswam’s Chief Detail and ADC who were close to him immediately safeguarded him into the vehicle and sped away from the scene of danger.
Ortom as the latest victim
The latest is the attack on Governor Samuel Ortom, Saturday March 20, 2021 when he visited his farm at Tyomu, a suburb of Makurdi, the state capital.Narrating his ordeal to newsmen, at the government House Makurdi, Governor Ortom said he had gone to inspect his farm when the militia herders, who were dressed in black ambushed him, his security men before they opened fire.
He said it took the swift response of his security aides to repel the attack, while he ran for a long distance of 1.5 kms to escape unhurt.
The attack on Ortom came barely three weeks after elder brother of Senator Suswam, Dr Terkura Suswam was murdered in Anyiin also coincidentally in the month of March.
Dr Suswam was shot dead on March 2, 2021 and was buried March 13, 2021.
The latest attack on Ortom no doubt, sparked widespread uproar and condemnation.
The presidency was said to have ordered security to move into Benue and carry out investigation on the attack in addition to condemning it.
Individuals and groups also rose in condemnation of the attack.The Commissioner of Police in the state, Cp Audu Madaki, barely a day after the incident issued a press statement stating that the police under his watch would not condone any act of lawlessness.
CP Madaki in the statement signed for him by the command spokesperson, DSP Catherine Sewuese Anene, condemned what he described as unprovoked attack on the governor.
He commended officers who were involved in the gun duel for bravery and ordered an investigation into the case.
CAN condemns attack
Also the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) addressed a press conference which they condemned the incident.
CAN also called the federal government to urgently rise up and check lawlessness and insecurity, which it said was becoming alarming in the country. CAN chairman in the state, Rev Akpen Leva, noted that there was no reason capable to have necessitated the attempt to assassinate the governor.
According to him, if such an attempt was made on the governor of a state, it was clear how vulnerable other people would be.
“If such an attempt was made on the governor of a state, one begins to wonder how vulnerable the lives of other citizens are, particularly in the hands of the trigger ready gunmen.
“This goes further to explain that the security situation of the country is worsening every day.
“It is disheartening and inexplicable to understand that Nigeria is heading to anarchy.
“Nigerians should all rise up to condemn this satanic act. It is devilish and retrogressive and will take us nowhere,” he added.
Leva said further that what was happening to Benue and to its governors was not confined to the state and Governor Ortom alone.
“It has already degenerated and all Nigerians would in no distant future begin to feel the effect of the barbaric act.
“This is why I urge all Nigerians to rise up to save Nigeria from disintegration. Nigeria belongs to all of us and it is our collective efforts that would save our great country,” he noted.
OPS condemn attacks
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The organised private sector (OPS) also joined in condemnation of the serial attacks in the state, for instance, president, Benue State Chamber of Commerce, Industry, Mines and Agriculture (BENCIMA) Dr Paul Orkuma Ubwa, while reacting on the incident said the attack was not only on the person of the governor, but would destroy the economy of the state and the country.
Ubwa, who is the chairman/CEO Ugbechi Group of Companies, said the attack appeared to be part of a grand plan to ultimately destroy the economy of Benue which is agro-based and subsequently decimate the collective heritage as the food basket of the nation.
“The attack came at the onset of the raining season, when farmers are getting ready to return to their farms.
“It would be recalled that thousands of these farmers were driven from their homes and their farms completely destroyed by these marauding herdsmen. Unfortunately, these farmers are currently living in IDP camps.
“The attack on the governor may well be an attempt to strike fear in, and discourage those that are still in the villages from going to their farms.”In my capacity as leader of the organised private sector in the state, I therefore condemn in very strong terms this brazen attempt to destroy the state’s economy and deprive her hard working people of their livelihood,” he added.
It could be noted that unlike years back when the month of March was noted as the beginning of farming activities, it is now characterised by attacks occasioned by marauders on innocent farming communities, just as it has now become the month of serial attacks on Benue governors by rampaging dare-devil gunmen.