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The Benue valley of blood

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OJAJE IDOKO

The first act of murder ever committed in history was the killing of Abel by his own brother Cain as recorded in the Book of Genesis chapter 4 of the Bible. Since then millions, probably a billion other human beings have been brutally murdered by acts of wickedness and violence committed by human beings. But the ultimate was the crucifixion of the Son of God on the Cross on Calvary Mountain in Jerusalem. He was arrested, tortured, told lies against, unjustly condemned on the basis of those lies and he was led to the mountain top, carrying his own cross. He was nailed to the cross, elevated and left to die. His Father, God, our Father kept silent on the face of all these. What God was to say, he had said when Cain killed Abel; “The voice of your brother’s blood is crying to me from the ground” (Gen. 4:10). God heard the cry of the innocent blood that was shed and He told Cain as such. Is he really silent? No! He made a pronouncement: “And now you are cursed from the ground, which has opened its mouth to receive your brother’s blood from your hand. When you till the ground, it shall no longer yield to you its strength; you shall be a fugitive and a wanderer on the earth” (Gen.4: 11-12). And so when the blood of the Son of Man, Jesus Christ was shed on the Calvary Hill in Jerusalem, God simply remembered the pronouncement He had made in the case of Cain. It applied to those who killed Jesus and it applies to all who shed innocent human blood till today, whether you are a believer in the God of Israel or not.

Here in Nigeria we had the avoidable Nigerian civil war of attrition that lasted for three years (1967 – 70). The prelude to that war of ignominy was the massacre across the nation where hundreds of Nigerians were killed not by foreigners but by fellow Nigerians. In 1981 Nigeria witnessed the Maitasine onslaught in Kano and other parts of the Northern Nigeria that led to the death of many people. What followed was a tradition of religiously motivated riots in almost every city and village in Northern Nigeria.  People who knew next to nothing about God killed others in His name. It was like a competition was going on between the cities of Northern Nigeria of which city will kill more people. Kano, Kaduna, Funtua, Sokoto, Zamfara, Kafanchan, Zaria, Maiduguri, Damaturu, Bauchi, Jos, Lafia, etc were all theaters of religious war before the advent of the almighty Boko Haram in 2009. Thousands of Nigerians were killed. Properties and businesses worth billions of Naira were destroyed and millions displaced from their homes. Some crossed over to neighbouring countries because Nigeria was no longer safe.

All these have informed the Nigerian people without saying a word that because of our religious differences, we are no longer one. So today people settle according to religious beliefs in the major cities of the Northern Nigeria. The Christians live by themselves and Muslims do the same. In some cities, it will be nobody’s fault but yours if you stray to the part of the town that is not your own religious friendly environment. These are facts that we are playing the ostrich about. Then entered Boko Haram sect and killer squad! The politics and brutality of that sect has long been over-flogged in the public discuss.

Then the Herdsmen became an issue in the business of violence and killing in Nigeria. Many, different, varied and most of the time, conflicting explanations have been offered by both the government and security agents as reasons for the clash, violence and killings attributable to the herdsmen. Whatever the reasons may be the government and security agencies shouldn’t be the ones making those excuses for the killers. Has the government been able to arrest the people who have turned this nation, especially the Middle Belt or the North Central Region of Nigeria into killing field? Massive killing of people and burning down of various villages and settlements in Plateau State has been going on for some years now. There was genocide in Agatu between 2015– 2016 that left over 500 dead. We are yet to witness the government intelligently analyzing   killing in those places. Recently the problem moved over to Taraba State and Okpokwu, Guma, Logo, Gwer East and West Local Government Areas in Benue State. Lives are lost daily at the hands of people who brazenly move around the villages with dangerous and forbidden arms. Kogi state is gradually becoming another theater of murder.  Daily, we hear the news of massive group murder of innocent villagers in cold blood in the homes. The villagers and residents watch this daily and they are not able to do anything.

On the 24th of April 2018, the marauders upped their determination. On that day, the worshippers who had just finished their morning Mass in Mbalom in Gwer – East Local government in Benue State were gunned down. In the unprovoked attack, two Rev. Fathers who just finished the saying the Holy Mass with the parishioners were killed and Seventeen others including a Catechist were brutally murdered at a close range. What is happening in this country? What has come on us? Why must we always go on the way of bloodletting?

I am one person who believes in the fact that we have a nation and need to build this country. I was not matured enough to understand the yearnings of Nigerians for a democratic rule after the civil war. I was in primary school when General Yakubu Gowon was toppled in the palace coup in 1975. I was still in primary school when Murtala Mohammed was killed in the bloody coup of 13th February, 1976. But I was already a young boy in secondary school when Alhaji Shehu Shagari’s government of NPN was inaugurated on 1st October, 1979. I leaved through it as secondary school student when things started turning for the worst and eventually on 31st December, 1983 the NPN government was removed in a military coup. I was educated enough then to read enough newspapers and listen to radio to feel the pulse of Nigerians. There was celebration all over the country because we thought that salvation had come our way.

It was the same feeling we had in 2015 at the time of the election and declaration of the election results. We needed a change of power that would usher in a new dawn. The truth was that Nigerians truly desired a change of government not because APC as a political party used it as a campaign slogan. We needed a change that could tackle the menacing Boko Haram terrorists headlong and not with the romancing campaign slogan of that time. We did not feel safe and we needed a government and a leader who would tackle the security challenges headlong and make us feel and be safe in Nigeria. There was fuel scarcity and the almost non-existent electricity supply that at a point in 2014, offices and banks were closing at 1pm for lack of electricity and gasoline to power their generator sets. We were simply tired and we needed a break. It was the feeling of such desires that drove Nigerians out in droves that moved against a sitting president and his political party with the mighty powers of incumbency.

Come to think of the situation we are in at the moment. Did Nigerians sell their dog to buy a monkey? Why do we now feel greatly unsafe as we felt prior to the election of 2015? Why is it coming the full cycle? More Nigerians are being killed daily in their homes, places of worship, farms, schools, highways and byways. Why does the government seem helpless in the face of this mindless genocide against the people? The people of Nigeria are not asking for anything impossible. We simple want to be safe in our homes and community. We simply desire to have a place to work and let there be road and electricity. I do not think that this is beyond my government to provide. Are we asking for too much? How come now that it is the same government that is making excuses for the killer squad that is terrorizing the populace? If the killing took place in the farm between farmers and herdsmen, one can safely say it was farmers/herdsmen clash. But how do you call the innocent killing of Reverend Fathers and his parishioners after an early morning Mass? This act is as heinous as the abduction of the 280 Chibok school girls by Boko Haram. Blood, blood and blood everywhere! This is what we see all over the place.

The desecration of the altar of God on the 24th April 2018 by the nameless, faceless, mindless and heartless people who has continued to trouble Benue State and the greater part of the Middle Belt is the final straw. There is blood on the altar, shed by the people who do not understand the value of the altar. Where did we go wrong? The Middle Belt led down their lives to hold the nation together during the Nigerian Civil War. Now there is war in the Benue Valley. There is war on the Plateau. The federal government of Nigeria does not need to explain to the people but to go after the perpetrators of the crimes against humanity and let us know that we still have a government. The joyful feelings we felt at the 2015 election period is gone. We have become despondent and we cannot but ask, did we make a mistake? Where did we go wrong?

Finally, I go back to where I started. God is not silent. He is still on the throne and watching. He repeats what He said to Cain; “The voice of your brothers (and sisters) blood cry to me from the soil that has opened its mouth to receive it”. God is never silent and He shall eventually roar from the Heavens and put all enemies of His people to flight. We are disappointed but this too shall pass away like every other.

.Rev. Fr. Ojaje Idoko is the Director of Pastoral Affairs Department, Catholic Secretariat of Nigeria

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