Section 14, Subsection 1(b)) Chapter 11 of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria under the Fundamental Objectives and Directive Principles of State Policy provides that; " the security and welfare of the people shall be the primary purpose of Government " . Every person has a right to life and shall not be deprived of it intentionally, save in execution of the sentence of a court in respect of a criminal offence of which he has been found guilty in Nigeria. This weighty provision of the law has placed a huge demand on government at the Federal, State and Local tiers to prioritise the security of lives and property of her citizenry.
In the North Central state of Benue, the administration of His Excellency, Samuel Ortom debuted the scene of governance with a loud drive for comprehensive industrialization of Benue, drifting attention from the oil- targeted monoculture economy. Knowing well the dangers of poor security as touching industrial activities, the governor immediately took steps that would guarantee foreign investors' confidence and encourage local investments. Benue has over the years been faced with a dearth of small and medium scale industries, making the food basket state entirely salary- reliant, with an alarming poverty rate.
Towards winning the confidence of would-be investors, Governor Samuel Ortom initiated an amnesty programme for all evil perpetrators carrying various degrees of arms and ammunition in the state. This was done with leniency, a way of reintegrating the lost sheep in the Benue community through a peaceful and harmless "carrot approach" .
The decision of the state government was received with unimaginable responses as 800 youths across the three senatorial zones of the state surrendered about 600 assorted arms and ammunition to the amnesty committee. Worthy of note was the voluntary surrender of the Benue Militant- in- Chief, Terwase Agwaza aka Gana and the gang from Kwande, with touchy confessional statements.
Impressed by the overwhelming response of the Benue militants, the Presidency immediately granted Governor Ortom unfettered access to security personnel to fight criminality in Benue. Above all, considering the global configuration and impact of the programme, the UN recently recognized the Benue state Governor and invited him to give a keynote address during the 6th Biennial Meeting of States- BMS6 which held in New York, United States of America in June this year. The Benue amnesty programme was fast set as a model for emulation by other States of the federation while the Presidential Committee on Small Arms and Light Weapons equally sent their letter of commendation to the Benue chief executive.
However, instead of the Benue community joining hands with the state government to realize a crime free Benue for all, some left- wing personalities have been criticizing the programme openly and secretly. First to fire the shot was a supposedly noble statesman and former Lagos State Commissioner of Police, Alhaji Abubakar Tsav who described the Benue Amnesty programme as a "fluke " citing the gruesome assassination of the Governor's Senior Special Assistant on Security as enough reason to whitewash the Benue Amnesty Programme. These criticisms have gone round the state such that some critics even blame the recent attacks on the Benue farmers by the Fulani herdsmen on the amnesty programme pointing out that if those guns were not collected, the people would have been armed to defend themselves. These ones are not good students of history and have forgotten in a hurry how former Governor Gabriel Suswam was attacked at Umenger, after Uikpam while on an inspection tour of the damaged areas with the then House of Assembly Speaker, Barr. Terhile Ayua and the Commissioner of Police, Adams Audu with the police confessing they could not stand the firing squad of the herdsmen.
At a time like this, when the state is besieged by enemies from within and outside, experienced technocrats are needed to rally round the Governor to rescue the state rather than make unguarded statements and criticise vainly. The attacks on Benue by the Fulani herdsmen started years before the current administration came on board, the over 600 arms and ammunition were with the militia groups and even more, yet, our people were attacked day and night and killed in their hundreds, in total helplessness. Where were these militia groups and their guns when it mattered most?
It will be more meaningful if our elders and youths begin to question with a sincere motive how Benue, a peaceful state got flooded with these weapons of destruction rather than heap all blames on the Governor who is less than two years in office and is already networking to curb the wave of criminality hovering over the state. Who brought these arms and ammunition? What were the efforts of preceding administrations in the state in recovering these weapons?
The truth remains that amnesty is a pardon granted by the government to a group or class of persons officially forgiving them of their acts of crime. The criminal therefore, has to leverage on this rare opportunity to live a normal life. He also has a choice to go back to his ways and become an enemy of the state. There is no measure of force whatsoever that should be applied in enforcing an amnesty programme. Now, come to think of it, between a man who repents but goes back to his former ways and the preacher who brings the good news to him, who takes the blame in such an instance?
Inasmuch as militancy remains a cherished trade in the Niger Delta area and has not ended completely, kudos is always given to the Late President Umaru Musa Yar' Adua when in June, 2009 he proclaimed the much touted amnesty declaration for Niger Delta militants. It is my strong belief that Benue would have been worse in terms of criminality if this amnesty programme was not initiated and introduced immediately. Besides, the Governor's decision was necessitated by the inadequacies of previous administrations which showed no commitment in curbing this menace. The Benue Anti- Grazing Bill before the State Assembly when finally passed will permanently end the illegal occupation of Benue land by the dreaded herdsmen.
I wish to candidly appeal to all indigenous and visiting inhabitants of Benue not to celebrate the killings going on in the state for political sentiments. Even if only two guns were recovered in the amnesty programme, that would have been huge success, considering the damage one gun in a wrong hand can cause to human lives.
Today, Denen Igbana, Rev. Adeyi and others around us have fallen to the sword of the evil ones; we seem not moved. Gradually, kidnapping, broad daylight cult killings are steadily enveloping us while the Fulani herdsmen have taken advantage of our divided tongues to slaughter us at will; we are surprisingly opposed to one another diametrically and busy playing politics with these gruesome murder cases. We must be willing to put political affiliations behind us, encourage the hoodlums harassing our state to surrender their weapons and live normal lives. Boko Haram started like a joke and enjoyed the protective custody of friends and family members until most of the people covering them up are either no more today or cut off from the shores of normal human existence.
Let us support the Governor and security personnel to recover Benue from the hands of men of the underworld and pave way for rapid industrialization and job creation for the benefit of all.
JAMES ORNGUGA IS
A PUBLIC AFFAIRS COMMENTATOR
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