By Ushakuma Anenga
This year’s election was arguably one of the toughest and fiercest in the history of Benue state. Politicians pulled all strings to ensure victory and that included, sadly, the arming of youth with dangerous weapons to fight their opponents and intimidate voters in order to gain an undue advantage. So much that Benue was foremost amongst 12 states identified as flash points for violence during the elections, the others being Nasarawa, Plateau, Borno, Yobe, Adamawa, Taraba, Kaduna, Kano, Sokoto, Rivers and Delta.
Politically motivated attacks and even killings became very rampant especially along the Katsina-Ala/Ukum/Logo axis where it was actually reigning. It was therefore not surprising that one of Governor Samuel Ortom’s first decisions after his inauguration was the granting of amnesty to criminals who will be willing to submit their arms, be rehabilitated and reintegrated into the society.
The developmental and industrial renaissance that the Governor talked about was only going to be a mirage without the safety of life and property, hence, one of his first points of call. According to Nelson Mandela of blessed memory, “Peace is the greatest weapon for development that any person can have.”
The “carrot” and “stick” model which was employed entailed a period of time when criminals who denounced their old ways will be pardoned, but after the expiration of that period, security operatives will go all out to fish out and punish those who refused to turn in.
So far, the program have witnessed it’s fair share of successes and challenges. Key among the successes is the capture of gang leaders and their members who hitherto had carved out parts of the state over which they exercised authority and ruled by jungle justice. With the lure of a little cash exchange, hundreds of dangerous weapons ranging from automatic to the crudest forms have been taken off the streets, but more importantly, our brothers and sisters who went astray have abdicated and submitted to rehabilitation and reintegration into the societies they once terrorised.
This effort have drawn commendation from far and wide, home and abroad. The people are happier to go about their daily lives without fear and investors are no doubt impressed but the real challenge begins now that the period of amnesty is over; now that the “carrot” have been accepted or rejected.
First will be the response of the Government to the criminals who have refused to accept the unmerited favour of amnesty. As promised by the Governor when he said, ” we intend to wield the ‘big stick’ at the end of the amnesty programme on criminals still harbouring arms”, there is every need to take the fight to these miscreants who have clearly demonstrated that they are social misnomers and therefore unfit to share the same environment with sane individuals. Benue people have more or less endured the last two months or so in the hands of criminals, being promised a different approach by the government; a massive unrelenting crackdown on criminals at the expiration of the period of grace. It’s now time to begin the crackdown, now that that period is over.
Also, it is a common, yet unspoken fact that some of these repented militia have been involved in protecting their various communities from invasion by Fulani herdsmen over the years. Haven sacrificed the security of their various roots on the alter of amnesty, it will be regrettable if the government is unable to guarantee the security of life and property in the communities that gave up these warlords. There is therefore need for 24 hour security surveillance in our rural areas which are the soft targets for these attacks.
Another issue is the rehabilitation of these repentant ones. It is a topic that have generated a lot of debate with some advocating the use of the “word of God” whilst others have suggested other methods, but what is incontrovertible is the fact that they, though forgiven, still need to be completely and properly purged of their old ways and reintroduced into the society through a gradual process that is unattractive to obedient members of the public. It will not be fair for these individuals to be pampered by government or for them to enjoy privileges that are above and beyond those afforded loyal citizens. If not, what then is the reward for being law-abiding?
Peace breeds inevitable development and Benue is no doubt poised for success in this regard if the amnesty program, it’s fallout and complications are handled properly. Investors will be confident to take a chance with us, to cast their nets into rich and safe frontiers like Benue is fast becoming. The resultant industrialisation will yield the real development that guarantees the kind of job and wealth creation that is desirable and sustainable. This is the vicious cycle of prosperity of a people and it begins with peace and security of which Governor Ortom’s amnesty initiative is apt.
Ushakuma Anenga writes from Makurdi
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