By PETER DURU, Makurdi
The relationship between Benue farmers and Fulani herders has remained a reference point for other communities in parts of the country where the herders and natives have been embroiled in bloody conflicts.
The Fulani live in all the 23 local government areas of the state due mainly to the fact that they were accommodated and integrated into the state in such a manner that they inter-married.
The reason for the peaceful coexistence with the natives and integration in the communities is not far fetched: The Benue valley is a green belt that provides the herders ample grazing area for their herds.
However, the relationship between the natives and the herders first went awry in 1989 when the then paramount ruler of Nzorov, in Guma local government area, Chief Iordye Akaahena, was killed allegedly by the herders after which a heavy bloodbath erupted between the Tivs and the Fulani.
The animosity, which spread to the riverine community of Agatu, in the Idoma speaking area of the state, lasted two years and was resolved while the Fulani were allowed to return to Nzorov to settle.
After the return of the herders, the natives co-existed with the communities in the local government area though with reported isolated cases of skirmishes there.
But in the last six years, the relationship between the Fulani and the natives became strained such that the ensuing clashes became bloodier.
Some three years ago, the herders allegedly launched an attack on Akor village in Nzorov ward of Guma LGA where 17 persons were killed and the village razed.
Same day, Tse-Ormeagh, Tse-Kondom, Tom-Ayin and Iyordye villages were burnt allegedly by the rampaging herdsmen and mercenaries.
The natives fled to Gbajimba, the headquarters of the council for safety.
From that point, the entire Guma local government came under siege.
The invaders reportedly established their base at Nzorov where they launched attacks on neighbouring Ihiarev and Gwer West local government areas of Benue while Agatu was attacked from Loco, in Nasarawa State. No fewer than 150 persons were said to have been killed in the repeated attacks on Agatu.
The invaders later stormed the village of the paramount ruler of Tiv land, HRH Ochivere Alfred Akawe Torkula..
The incident, reportedly carried out by over 700 Fulani fighters, left over 40 persons dead while three villages namely, Tse-Torkula, Angyom and Tse-Usenda, all in Guma local government area of the state, were sacked by the invaders.
Same day, the invaders proceeded to Kasyo and Umenge and razed them. The next target was Daudu along the ever busy Makurdi-Lafia Road which was sacked. The residents are now in refugee camps.
The battle, last month, shifted to Tse Ortom-Adorogo, the home town of the Minister of State for Trade and Investment, and supervising Minister of Aviation, Dr. Samuel Ortom, also in Guma LGA, which was also sacked.
The invaders razed over 100 houses and huts in the village and neigbouring communities about 45 kilometers from Awe local government area of Nasarawa State.
The casualty figure in that attack was put at over 14..
Communities in Makurdi local government area were not also spared of the horror by the suspected Fulani herdsmen.
Adeke and Adaka communities on the outskirts of Makurdi metropolis were invaded severally by gunmen who killed about eight persons after sacking the communities. The invaders were, infact, undeterred by the presence of a Mobile Police barracks in one of the communities.
Before the Adeke and Adaka incidents, Agatu and Gwer West local government areas were also killing fields as the marauders sent the natives packing after killing over 126 farmers and occupying their farmlands and homes.
Only recently, a displaced persons settlement camp was set up for over 15,000 persons in neigbouring Kogi State after a coordinated attack on Agatu and Gwer West local government areas.
Kwande local government area was also not spared; it was gathered that over 25 persons were killed in that axis by suspected Fulani herdsmen who, early this year, invaded Jato Aka from Kashimbila, a community bordering Cameroon.
Logo local government area, the country home of Governor Gabriel Suswan, equally tasted the baptism of fire allegedly from the herders. Some weeks ago, over 30 person were reportedly killed at Ayilamo and Anyii in the LGA by marauders.
The unending tale of invasion of Benue communities by suspected Fulani herders has become a big security challenge that residents believe needs urgent intervention of the Federal Government.
The paramount ruler of Tyoshin kingdom, Nagi 11, Ayua Daniel Abomtse, urged President Goodluck Jonathan to convene a special ECOWAS conference to address the issue.
Abomste made the call in a paper he delivered when the Senator Mohammed Magoro led the Senate Joint Committees on National Security, Intelligence, Defence/Army, Police and Interior on a fact- finding visit on alleged Fulani insurgency in Benue, Nasarawa and Plateau states to the state.
The paramount ruler, who stated that most of those creating problems in the country were cross border herders, sued for the establishment of a joint task force made up of civilians of the native border communities and the military to flush.
He added: “The plan to enact a bill on grazing reserves/cattle routes is welcome. However, it may not be feasible in some states like Benue, Nasarawa and Taraba Tiv dominated communities whose settlement pattern poses great impediment, worsened by the agrarian nature and high population density.”
Meanwhile, the Deputy Inspector General of Police, DIG, Operations, Michael Zuokumor – led committee, set up to find lasting solution to the lingering crisis, is making efforts to broker peace between the feuding parties.
The deployment of soldiers in the state to stem the crisis is also expected to stem the unending clashes.