By Owei Lakemfa
As an aspirant in 2022, the President of the Nigeria Bar Association, NBA, Yakubu Chonoko Maikyau, made a pilgrimage to Keffi, Nasarawa State. He needed the blessings of one of the most consummate and influential law professors the country has ever produced: Onje Gye-Wado. The latter from 1999, was for four years, Deputy Governor of Nasarawa State. He was also former Law Dean of the Nasarawa State University, and Dean, Faculty of Law, Birmingham University.
He agreed to support Maikyau provided he agrees to use his NBA Presidency to fight for a better country because he believes that lawyers should be the engine of change in society. This was no mere rhetoric because Gye-Wado not only passionately believes it, but lives it. He was one of the enthusiasts of the legendary former NBA President, Alao Aka-Bashorun who built the pro-people foundations of the association and made the NBA a body even military dictators had to contend with.
Gye-Wado is not just full of law and enthusiasm for the Nigerian people, he is also passionate about football. He helped develop the sport in the country at various levels, including being at a time, Member of the Nigeria Football Association, NFA.
What many may not know about the quiet Professor Gye-Wado is his reach in the Labour Movement. When the Nigeria Labour Congress, NLC, moved its headquarters from Lagos to Abuja in 2002, my colleague, Chris Uyot who was in charge of information and I travelled to see Gye-Wado in Keffi, not just to inform him we had moved to Abuja, but primarily to drink from his ever-flowing fountain of knowledge.
When in 2004, the Labour Party, then known as the Party for Social Democracy, PSD, ran into leadership problems, it was to Gye-Wado the NLC leadership turned to for assistance. Congress approached him to become the party chairman and steer it along the pro-masses lines for which it was established. Although he eventually did not become the chair, but it was an indication how high the Labour Movement held Gye-Wado.
But Prof is like a rich orange tree many want to pluck from; unfortunately, these included terrorists and bandits who made some attempts to kidnap him. On Good Friday, April 7, 2023 Gye-Wado was in his village, Gwagi, Rinza near Wamba in the Wamba Local Government Area of Nasarawa State to observe the Easter period. Bandits broke into his home and abducted him. They were demanding a N70 million ransom. The kidnappers must think his richness in humanism means he is financially rich. We all should rally round the family and support all efforts to get this consummate humanist released.
The attack on Gye-Wado is not isolated. It is part of the lawlessness that pervades the country, especially the North-Central. A combination of terrorists, bandits, local and foreign armed militias have turned the region into killing fields.
Three days before Gye-Wado’s kidnap, armed men invaded Umuogidi Village in the Enetekpa Adoka District of Otukpo Local Government Area of Benue State and killed three persons. The next day when the people gathered to bury the dead, it turned out to be a trap. The criminals descended on the mourners and massacred 51 of them. This case is not just about the massacres but the cynical way of getting the people to gather for burial and then opening fire on them. It is the Islamic State, ISIS, template of triggering off a small bomb, and when a crowd gathers to rescue the victims, a bigger bomb is set off. This is to ensure maximum casualty.
This same Good Friday Gye-Wado was abducted, bandits attacked internally displaced persons, IDPs, at their shelter in the LGEA Primary School, Mgban, Nyiev Council Ward, Guma Local Government of Benue State killing at least 43 persons, including pregnant women and children, with scores injured and several people missing. If the goal of the attackers is not genocide, why after forcing people off their ancestral lands, would they still massacre them in the IDP camps?
Earlier on Monday in the region, bandits who had abducted 60 persons in the Adunu and Kwagana communities in the Paikoro Local Government Area of Niger State, executed five of the hostages, including a serving police officer, and his retired colleague, Moses Tanko alias Arada System. They were executed following the two communities inability to meet a Sunday, April 2, 2023 deadline that they pay N100 million ransom. After the executions, the bandits sent three women who they had raped for about two weeks, to take the news back to the communities and warn them against further delay of the ransom.
In March, 2023 alone, at least 26 violent crimes were visited on the people of the region. In Benue State in the past 40 days, alleged herders have killed over 157 persons: 41 in Kwande; 8 in Gwer West; Agatu, 4; Guma 10; Mgban 43 and 51 in Umuogidi. These are mainly terrorist acts perpetuated, especially by foreign armed groups who seize villages, settle in, and rename them without any known challenge from the Nigerian Armed Forces, or order from His Excellency Muhammadu Buhari, the President and Commander-in-Chief of the Nigerian Armed Forces that the invaders be flushed out.
These acts of genocide have been brought several times to his attention, including by Benue State Governor Samuel Ortom. But he has not ordered the military to take back these dozens of villages and towns, and return the victims who are forced to live in Internally Displaced Peoples camps. This may stem from President Buhari’s insistence that the on-going massacres in Benue and Plateau states are not armed invasions by local and foreign armed militia, but merely “inter-communal conflicts.” This claim, he repeated in his Saturday April 8, 2023 reaction to the unconscionable massacres in Umuogidi.
The Vanguard Newspapers in June 30, 2018 reported that as at five years ago, these ethnic militias had invaded, seized and renamed over 54 communities in Plateau State alone! Are these “communal” clashes?
Since they have been unchallenged over the years, these bandits and terrorists have spread their crimes against humanity to Niger State where towns have been sacked and citizens forced to live in IDP camps or flee to safer areas, including Abuja. In March, 2023, bandits in the state killed six and abducted 50 in Rafi and killed 15, including four soldiers in Munya with 15 held hostage.
A caveat on these serious crimes statistics is that they are conservative as they reflect only verifiable ones, crimes the victims report or those that got media attention.
The nation has lost its way. I do not have faith in the out-going government; the hope is that the in-coming administration will change the security narrative.
Owei Lakemfa, a former secretary general of Organisation of African Trade Union Unity (OATUU), is a human rights activist, journalist, and author.