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The Attack on Ortom: Between Facts and Fallacies

A few days ago, Governor of Benue State, Samuel Ortom, escaped assassination at the hands of suspected gunmen. He was attacked while on his way from his farm at Tyo-Mu community, near Markudi. According to Ortom, there were about fifteen in number and they were bent on taking his life as he ran over 1.5 kilometers to escape the ambush.

The attack on Ortom elicited condemnation from all credible quarters. Among the many comments was that of the president who expressed outrage over the daring attack. According to a statement from the presidency, the strings of brutal attacks on individuals and communities in the state, with the latest one targeting the governor was unacceptable to his administration.

Welcoming the dispatch of a team of crack investigators from the Police Headquarters in Abuja to Benue, the president declared, “let there be an open and transparent investigation and whoever is linked to it should be caught and be made to face the law.” He equally warned against politicising the incident.

A group that identified as Fulani National Movement (FUNAM) emerged to claim responsibility for the assassination attempt. According to the Fulani National Movement, their gallant fighters will not rest until the governor is eliminated. The group went from ramblings about how the attack was a case of vengeance against an infidel to dishing out threats of assassination to anybody who is against Fulani-long term interest.

As the militia group threatened, a lot of questions emerged begging for answers. Who are the faces behind FUNAM? Does it really exist? For the Sunday Igbohos and other merchants of Fulani’ “never-do-well” rhetoric, this is enough reality and justification.

But while some have waved off FUNAM as a faceless attention-seeking group, others point out the dangers of waving the group away with careless assumptions.

Questions that have continued to pervade the media space are: what if the group is real and they actually carried out the attack on Ortom? What if the group exists and they equally have the will and capacity to carry out their threats? What if FUNAM is just the face of a larger organisation with more sinister plans? Should they be taken seriously?

A flashback to history will reveal that criminal groups like Boko Haram who are currently in the dreaded business of causing mayhem, started the same way with many people dismising their existence with a wave of the hand.

One cannot totally say the group does not exist. Perhaps, the right question to ask is how does it exist? Could it be on paper and press releases, relying on the susceptibility of social media to buy relevance? Probably this could be the job of a fifth columnist trying to generate enmity against the Fulani.

It is noteworthy that FUNAM had sparked off the same national outrage about three years ago when a group openly declared that Fulani are the owners of Nigeria. Sa’ad Abubakar, the Sultan of Sokoto, who labeled the statement as reckless, dismissed the existence of the group.

It so appears that FUNAM is just another faceless group that exists in the mind of a mischievous individual or group of individuals, who throw in press releases to rock the boat, while misleading the general public to follow in the cruise.

It is in fact captured in the words of a public critic who described the group as shadowy, lurking in the corner to capitalise on such porous situations and dance momentarily in the sun before withdrawing into a corner. The implications however of such a specious move are grave.

Governor Samuel Ortom had equally gone on national television over his outfits with his Bauchi counterpart, Bala Mohammed that if any harm should come his way the latter should be held responsible. The situation was however salvaged as both Governors reached a conciliatory bridge which ended in shows of camaraderie.

Another point worthy of note is that Samuel Ortom immediately said that people who attacked him were Fulani herdsmen. The question is, are herdsmen so easily identifiable in such a tense situation? Can one confirm a Fulani herdsman from just watching from a distance even in an ambush? Governor Ortom said those who attacked him were herdsmen, dressed in black. Most herdsmen are identifiable with cows. That is, you say this is a herdsman once you see them with a cow. From the look of things, it was a coordinated attack; not a coincidental one where Fulanis who were herding their cows decided to ram on the governor. So the governor’s conclusions might not stand the test of a thorough cross-examination.

There appear something inherently sinister and suspicious about the whole events from the brazen attack on Ortom to the association who accepted responsibility for the crime. Ortom who knew people might have good reasons to believe he stage-managed the alleged attack immediately denied the allegations. In his words, “We should know when to play politics and when to team up together to work as a team to salvage the country. That is what I’m saying. Those who are saying that I stage-managed the attack – what benefit do I stand to gain by coming up to say that I was attacked?”

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All eyes also turned to Miyetti Allah when the incident occurred, perhaps following their rash statements on Ortom’s stance on marauding herdsmen. When they denied the allegations, it only made sense that someone had to take responsibility for it. And that is where FUNAM decided to play ping pong.

It is a vital lesson that leaders, especially those who head ethnic organisations, exercise restraint when addressing delicate issues of national concern. This is to avoid creating situations that are themselves susceptible to various backhand antics. However, until security agencies conclude their investigations, the question as to whether the attack on Ortom was stage-managed or not remains shrouded in mystery.

Piercy Mabel