Nigeria is arguably regarded as a federating state with 36 states and six geopolitical zones of North-Central, North-East, North-West, South-East, South- South and South-West. It is also made of more than 250 ethnic groups. However, three of them are considered to be the major tribes. They are the Hausa-Fulani, Yoruba and Igbo. Nigeria is mostly discussed among these major tribes.
The power play in Nigeria often takes place among the Hausa-Fulani, Yoruba and Igbo, although the latter have suffered gross marginalisation and consistently denied the opportunity to govern this country.
While these three major ethnic groups continue to dominate the affairs of the country, the other tribes suffer injustice and oppression. The minority tribes in the Middle-Belt region are the worst hit. They have suffered untold injustice and oppression for decades as a result of the Hausa – Fulani, specifically the Fulani, domination of the North. This is why many leaders from the minority tribes in the Middle-Belt have risen in defence of their cause.
For example, Joseph Sarwuan Tarka, spoke and fought for minority tribes in the North-Central geo-political zone that have been sandwiched by those three major tribes. He was an advocate of state creation to politically and economically empower minority groups within the country.
Tarka supported the creation of a Middle-Belt state. He was a nominated member to the Nigerian Constitutional Conference of 1957 and was also the representative of the Middle-Belt to the Willinks Commission where it was reported he spoke in favour of a fair treatment of minority tribes in Nigeria.
Solomon Lar, an ardent middle-belter, also fought for the minority tribes in the North. He helped the people of Plateau State to realise their freedom when he championed a policy based on the idea that the state should help indigenes to realise the benefits of their emancipation from Hausa-Fulani domination.
For a long time now after Tarka and Lar, there has not been a politician who speaks against the injustice done to the minority tribes in the North and other parts of the country. The Middle-Belt and other minority tribes have not had someone to fight for them or to protect them from the slavery and expansionist ideologies of the feudal Fulani. There was a void and silence against evil and injustice.
The minority tribes in the Middle-Belt needed someone to speak for them. It took time coming, but today the void has been filled by Governor Samuel Ortom of Benue State who has been consistent with his justice-for-all message.
At the recently held Governor Samuel Ortom Colloquium, the President of the Middle-Belt Forum, Dr Pogus Bitrus, said in his speech titled, ‘Another Joseph Tarka on duty,’ described Ortom as the Tarka of this generation.
Ortom has distinguished himself as the new rallying point of the Middle-Belt as a whole by speaking truth to power in defence of the oppressed and by exposing the conquest agenda of the Fulani and defending his people against them.
The governor abhors injustice of any kind and he has made it clear, quoting Martins Luther King Jr, that if “peace means a willingness to be exploited economically, dominated politically, humiliated and segregated,” he does not want peace. And If peace means “being complacently adjusted to a deadening status quo” or keeping his mouth “shut in the midst of injustice and evil,” he does not want it either.
Before Ortom was elected governor of Benue State there had been perennial Fulani attacks on Benue farmers resulting in scores of death and loss of property. The farmers would be sacked from their villages, while the attackers took possession of their ancestral lands. These attacks by armed Fulani herdsmen were also taking place in other parts of the Middle-Belt with the minority tribes as their target. Many people did not see the hidden agenda, but Governor Ortom did. He saw the conquest agenda as clear as day light.
When he became Governor in 2015 he quickly moved to end the conquest agenda hidden in the name of cattle grazing. He found the solution in the Open Grazing Prohibition and Ranches Establishment Law 2017, which has banned open grazing in the state. And that open grazing law became the beginning of the ongoing war against Ortom and Benue State by Fulani herdsmen and their sponsors.
The expansionist saw how Ortom had ambushed them, clipped their wings and so they started pushing back by attacking Benue communities, killing and destroying properties in a bid to make Ortom repeal the law. Unfortunately for them, they got him emboldened, fire branded and determined to push on till his mission is accomplished.
The governor has consistently and vehemently stated that nothing would make Benue State think of repealing the law. He has flawed all arguments against the law in print, broadcast and in the court. He championed the death of the RUGA, cattle colony, cattle routes, which the Federal Government brought to undermine the Benue ranching law. He said the only solution to attacks on farmers is ranching. This was hard to chew by the Federal Government at first, but it has bowed to Ortom’s superior argument, though reluctantly.
Minority tribes in the Middle-Belt are happy about his determination to end herdsmen attacks on farmers, which has been a thorn in their flesh of the people of the state and through which they have lost their loved ones and property. They know and believe thzt as he is succeeding, they are succeeding too. They support his fervent call for peace and justice, for an end to impunity.
The minority tribes may have found someone who they can trust and stand with in their struggle for emancipation. They have found a voice of liberation in Governor Samuel Ortom.
•Benjamin Ngutsav is a secretary in the Office of the Chief Press Secretary To Governor Samuel Ortom. He writes from Makurdi.