A remarkable feature of governance in Benue, the state popularly regarded as the nation’s food basket, is that every sitting governor has come under gunmen’s attack since the country returned to democracy in 1999. Our correspondent, UJA EMMANUEL, writes on the timelines of the deadly attacks.
Is it by design or a matter of coincidence? That is the question on the lips of observers of events concerning governance in Benue State since the nation returned to democracy in 1999. From George Akume to Samuel Ortom, it has been the same story of the state’s chief executive escaping death by a whisker after attacks by gunmen.
The state’s first civilian governor in the Fourth Republic and now Minister for Special Duties and Intergovernmental Affairs, George Akume, was the first to have a taste of the sour grape in March 2004 when he came under heavy gun attack as he was traveling from the state to Abuja, the nation’s capital.
Dare-devil gunmen had shot at his convoy around Nassarawa Egon in Nassarawa State. Although the former governor managed to escape death in the attack, a former managing director of the defunct Nigerian Airways, Chief Andrew Agom, who sat at the back seat with Akume in the vehicle the latter rode in, was not so lucky. A bullet hit him in the head and he gave up the ghost.
Of course, the incident sparked widespread uproar and condemnation until the police paraded some suspects who reportedly admitted committing the dastardly act but claimed that they had no idea who the occupants of the vehicles were when they rained bullets on it.
The second governor of the state to come under attack was Gabriel Suswam, the senator that currently represents Benue North East Senatorial District.
•Maj. Gen Yekini,
whirl stroke, conducting
newsmen at the scene
of attack on Ortom
Suswam, who held sway as Benue State governor between 2007 and 2015, came under heavy gun attack by suspected herdsmen at Torkula village in Guma Local Government Area while he was on a fact finding mission following continuous invasion of the area by hoodlums. The former governor’s convoy was also attacked by hoodlums at Tse-Akenyi, leading to an exchange of gunfire between Suswam’s security guards and the herdsmen.
Ironically, in Suswam’s convoy were members of the state’s security council, comprising the Commissioner of Police; the Commander Special Forces Battalion, Nigeria Army Makurdi and the Commandant Nigeria Civil Defence Corps (NCDC), among others.
It was gathered that immediately 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 say Jack Robinson, bullets started flying from all corners.
Suswam’s ADC and chief detail were said to have forced the former into his vehicle and spirited away from the scene of danger.
Then came last Saturday’s attack on Governor Samuel Ortom while he was on inspection of his farm at Kilometre 12 on Gboko-Makurdi Road.
The governor was said to have gone to the farm in a convoy of a few vehicles when the ugly incident occurred.
The Security Adviser to the Governor, Col. Hemba Paul, told newsmen that after inspecting his farm at about 1 pm, the governor exchanged pleasantries with the locals who gathered in a small market near the bank of River Benue. But as he made to return to his vehicle, bullets started flying in his direction.
Narrating the ugly experience, the governor said he ran for about one and a half kilometres to avoid death at the hands of his attackers. “I thank God for my fitness to have run for more than one and a half kilometers without stopping. It means that God has given me strength, and I am grateful to God,” he said.
Col. Paul said reinforcement was called immediately the attack on the governor was noticed, but the attackers had fled into the forest before they came.
The Commander of Operation Whirl Stroke (OPWS), a military operation covering Benue, Taraba and Nassarawa states, Maj-Gen. Adeyemi Yekini, who in company with the security adviser conducted journalists round the scene of the attack, said troops responded swiftly and condoned off the area.
“We carried out clearance operation and destroyed the makeshift tents mounted by the suspected bandits and made the area safe within the shortest possible period,” he said.
He said although the attack on the governor’s convoy was a security breach, normalcy had been restored and troops had been stationed in the area.
After a closed door meeting with President Muhammadu Buhari in the Presidential Villa, Governor Ortom dismissed the speculations in some quarters that he could have arranged his own attack to grab land from the inhabitants of Tyo mu where his farm is located.
The governor said that he had forgiven those who leveled the allegation and prayed that they would never come under such attack. He also advised that people should not politicise the attack on him but work towards tackling the problem of insecurity in the country.