Governor Umahi and limits of sycophancy, By Emeka Alex Duru


While he cries over the attack by Fulani herdsmen on Ebonyi community which left about 25 indigenes dead, Ebonyi State governor and Chairman, South East Governors Forum, Dave Nweze Umahi, may need some tips on the Trojan Horse mythology to understand the realities of deceit as a strategy in outsmarting an opponent. The Trojan Horse was simply a wooden horse used by the Greeks to enter the city of Troy and win their war with Troy between the 13th and 12 Century BC. It was a strategy of surprise in which the Greeks caught their opponents napping.

According to the story, after a fruitless 10-year siege, the Greeks constructed a huge wooden horse and hid a select force of men inside. The Greeks pretended to sail away, and the Trojans pulled the horse into their city as a victory trophy. That night the Greek force crept out of the horse and opened the gates for the rest of the Greek army, which had sailed back under cover of night. The Greeks entered and destroyed the city of Troy, ending the war.

Metaphorically, a “Trojan horse” has come to mean any trick or stratagem that causes a target to invite a foe into a securely protected bastion or place.

Nearer home, the 19th CenturyFulani jihadists adopted similar tactics in dislodging the Habe/Hausa rulers of the North, appearing initially as mere clerics but later waging a war against their landlords. Between 1804 and 1808, they had succeeded in establishing the Sokoto Caliphate, under the guise of purifying Islam.

The governor needs to appreciate the lessons in these two illustrations as he mourns his subjects slain by heartless Fulani herders. On reflection, he would admit that he had bought a dummy sold to him by the herders before unleashing mayhem on his people.

For quite some time, Umahi has gone to some length, even acting beyond reasons to be counted among loyalists of President Muhammadu Buhari. Part of his engagements in seeking the face of the President, is in cuddling the lawless herders in Ebonyi and treating them with kid gloves. Last year, for instance, when an incident in Ishielu Local Government Area of the state reportedly led to the death of two pastoralists, the governor, by his admission, apprehended the suspects, handed them over for trial and made appeasements to the Fulani in the community.

He did not envisage reprisal attacks from the herdsmen, hence the need for the fortification of the affected community.  Rather, with defection to the All Progressives Congress (APC) and constantly loitering around the President, he considered his state immune to the menace of the marauders. He was so much consumed by the desire to be seen as a foot soldier to the President that while his Igbo kinsmen and other realistic Nigerians were clamouring for restructuring, Umahi announced that Ebonyi was not part of the demand. It was that bad!

It is even insinuated that it was since he became the Chairman of South East Governors Forum that the body lost focus, meeting perfunctorily and turning the gathering to forum for issuing timorous press releases hailing the President and his administration, rather than drawing attention to the exclusion of the zone on major policy issues and appointments. Thus, when earlier in January the governor pranced about announcing that he and his colleagues had outlawed open grazing in the South East, not many took them serious.

For his servile outings, Umahi may have been humoured with some farcical gestures in Abuja and elsewhere in the North. But he is beginning to realise that he cannot run with the pig without getting sullied. His regrets and lamentations on the betrayal by the herdsmen are coming too late. In cuddling the murderous herders, he was playing the good boy but unknown to him, he was dealing with heartless folks that take no prisoners but go for the kill.

It is not certain if Buhari, for whom Umahi has cringed and crawled, has made any statement condemning the Ishielu massacre. It will not be shocking if he does not. But it must have dawned on the governor, by now, that sycophancy can only yield fleeting dividends. In the end, he has fallen into the Hausa proverb that no matter the cravings of a donkey, it cannot be elevated to the status of a horse. In Buhari’s bizarre interpretation of governance from the context of ‘us and them’, the governor and his Ebonyi constituents, belong to the latter.

The Ishielu incident should serve as a wake-up call to Umahi and his ambivalent colleagues in the East. Next to the Boko Haram insurgents, the criminal elements among the Fulani herders, constitute serious threats to the corporate existence of Nigeria. In other parts of the country, the governors and leaders are coming up with local initiatives to combat the obvious threat and give their people ease of life. The South East leaders merely fiddle while the zone burns. According to reports, many hills and forests in the zone have been taken over by the pastoralists while the governors watch without concern. With the gradual encirclement, the zone becomes vulnerable to major invasion. The piece-meal, guerrilla tactics of the herders point to the dangers ahead.

In 2016, they ran through Ukpabi-Nimbo, Enugu community and slaughtered over 50 indigenes. Aside Governor Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi visiting and crying in the affected villages, not much was heard on measures to contain or apprehend the killers. The marauders have also struck in Umuahia (Abia), Okigwe (Imo), Abakiliki (Ebonyi), running unchallenged in the absence of internal arrangements to halt their menace.

In February 2020, the governors of the South East had vowed to put in place a collective security outfit to guarantee peace in the region.  But besides the initial excitement that trailed the announcement, no meaningful development has come from the agenda, more than a year after. The much hyped security platform only existed in imagination, lacking form or character.
So, while Umahi engages in his cry of being betrayed or disappointed by the herders who he admitted to have protected, he has a choice to prepare for burying more Ebonyi indigenes or sits up to the reality of defending them. What he has at hand, is a running battle. There is no more time for playing to the gallery.

Emeka Alex Duru, a major commentator on national issues, is a senior Editor with The Niche

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