Nobel laureate, Professor Wole Soyinka has charged President Muhammadu Buhari to cry out for help from the international community to stem the killings by herdsmen which he, yesterday, described as ethnic cleansing.
Speaking during a courtesy call on Governor Samuel Ortom of Benue State, Soyinka expressed regret that the administration was treating the malaise as a ringworm itch instead of the deadly cancer it is.
Ortom, while welcoming the solidarity of the Nobel laureate, affirmed that the threats against the state were a combination of ethnic cleansing and jihad, even as he lamented the helplessness of the people of the state.
The assertions, however, did not find currency with some leading Northern leaders who decried Soyinka's categorisation of the troubles in Benue State as ethnic cleansing.
Among those who disagreed with him were Second Republic lawmaker, Dr. Junaid Mohammed; former governor of old Kaduna State, Alhaji Balarabe Musa and Second Republic presidential adviser on National Assembly Matters, Alhaji Tanko Yakassai.
Prof. Soyinka visited Ortom in Makurdi, the Benue State capital, after attending activities marking the 35th anniversary of Senator Suemo Chia's novel, Adan Wade Kohol Ga, written in Tiv language.
Cry for help
He said: "I don't believe in false pride, if the government cannot cope, it should not shy away from asking for international help.
"When human lives are concerned in their thousands and so on, as it was observed everywhere all over the world, those nations where our military has served before can come to our assistance. I think there should be no business of national integrity, national pride and so on.
"People are dying, this government cannot cope, please just ask for international help and I know they're ready and willing to come to our aid.
"Just like refusal to recognise, and at the critical moment, the nature of a particular problem that has been the basis of the massacres going on in this region, especially Benue State, there's no other word for it.
"Let's not play around with the euphemisms. It's no other word but ethnic cleansing. There's no other definition for what has been going on here. And it's very sad to me personally to see that a nation like Nigeria, with so much human talent, has failed to learn the lesson of the history of places like Rwanda.
"It happened in Europe, ethnic cleansing in Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina and elsewhere, so it's not a new phenomenon. And, therefore, we should have been able to learn from the experiences of others and stopped this thing before it became an epidemic which is what it is today."
Governor Ortom in his response, said the recent events in the state were a combination of ethnic cleansing and jihad.
Ethnic cleansing, Jihad?
He said: "This is not a hidden agenda, it's known, and those people who are perpetrating it did say it. They have not hidden it. They held press conferences, they came out and said they were going to resist our law, that they were going to do ethnic cleansing, it's about Jihad, it's about taking over the land, it's not about herders and farmers' clashes.
"They said it clearly, and it's written, and we have the documents and have reported them to the security agencies. I agree with you, but as law-abiding citizens, we don't even have cutlasses to fight back.
"We cannot use any weapon to fight back; we depend on the law enforcement agencies. Even the cutlasses that we used to have were taken over by security agencies.
"Our dane guns, the Inspector General (of Police) said we should surrender them, including those that were licensed. So we are left in the hands of the security men. Those of them who are posted in Benue State are doing their best, and they have been victims of these attacks too.
"Several policemen have been killed in the course of this crisis. Soldiers and the Civil Defence are not spared. The State Service (Department of State Services officials) are not also spared. They have been killed and slaughtered like animals.
"So, like you rightly said, this is not a matter of ringworm but real cancer. If there were any other word stronger than cancer, I would have said what is happening in Benue State is more than cancer. And like you rightly observed, it is our responsibility to rise to defend the unity of this country and to defend our integrity as leaders."
The governor commended Professor Soyinka for his solidarity and President Muhammadu Buhari for upgrading the military action in the state and expressed hope that the invaders would be flushed out.
Soyinka manipulates English language--Yakassai
Responding to Soyinka's claim yesterday, Yakassai said: "People like Prof Wole Soyinka who is a Nobel Laureate manipulate the English language.
I can refer you to the encyclopaedia to find out the meaning of ethnic, and you can now decide whether what is happening in Benue is what Wole Soyinka called it.
"Indeed, I sympathise with the situation in Benue, but I'm worried by the way the governor is taking it. Ortom is not handling it well.
"The problem of herdsmen and farmers is an age-long thing which started even before you were born. I can tell you that it didn't start from Benue. It started from Nasarawa before getting to Benue, and even before Nasarawa, it started from Zamfara where a whole community was set ablaze.
"But the Benue governor is taking it personal as if the issue is between Fulani and Tiv which it is not. It's a pity that Ortom is taking it personal with Buhari as a Fulani man and not as farmers/herdsmen clash."
Soyinka's statement apolitical --Balarabe Musa
Also reacting, former governor of Kaduna State, Alhaji Musa, described Soyinka's remarks as apolitical.
Musa said: "He (Soyinka) is wrong; two factors are responsible for the killings. It is a combination of conspiracy from internal and external forces. So, what Wole Soyinka is saying is apolitical.
"With his training and age, he ought to know that tribal and religious dichotomy cannot create Boko Haram or herdsmen. Let him see beyond this and see the real reason. It is not just tribalism."
He's a mischief maker --Junaid Mohammed
In his reaction, Second Republic lawmaker, Dr. Mohammed, described Soyinka as a mischief maker who should not be taken seriously.
He said: "I don't agree with what Soyinka said in Benue. For us to take him seriously, he should define what he meant by ethnic cleansing, and he should establish the motive behind the cleansing.
"Soyinka has a reputation of hatred for the Fulani in the last 50 years. It is very unfortunate that people who are not from Benue State will go to the state and just say anything, even when they know how fragile this country is and the need to be careful about what they say.
"I believe Soyinka strongly should come and tell Nigerians why the killing in Benue is ethnic cleansing, who is behind it and what is the motive for cleansing. Until he tells us that, Soyinka should not be taken seriously."