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HERDERS VS LOCALS: Bitter lessons from Agatu

•Killings • Reprisal attack •Politician’s abduction • New murders•Assailants take territory, 100,000 villagers sacked

By Peter Duru,                             Makurdi

Benue State  is  counting its losses in the aftermath of the bloody crisis that raged like wild fire in the last two months between suspected Fulani herdsmen and local farmers.  Though some parts of the state may be enjoying truce amid rising tension owing to the outcry that trailed the dastardly killings in Agatu, Logo, Guma, Tarka, Buruku Kwande and Katsina/Ala local government areas, the signs of the crisis still dot the landscape.

Even as the state and federal governments struggle to put measures in place to stem the crisis, it seems an  end to the bloodbath may continue to elude the people, especially with the recent killing of the All Progressives Congress, APC, youth leader and three others at Tse Tia, in Tarka local government area.

Sunday Vanguard learned that mayhem started when some unidentified youths in TseTia allegedly killed two herdsmen and five cattle grazing in the village. According to a source, when the story of the murder got to the herdsmen in the area, they stormed the village  to collect the remains of their kinsmen.

“Their presence in the village enraged the locals and a bloody fight ensued leading to the abduction and murder of two persons from the village   including the All Progressives Congress, APC, youth leader in Tarka local government area, Mr. Aondohemba Kasa”, the source narrated.

“The reprisal attack was what forced the youths of the community to take over the busy Makurdi-Gboko road for several hours the following day thereby disrupting flow of traffic.

agatu1“They made bonfire on the highway and rebuffed appeals by the Secretary to the State Government, SSG, Mr. Takema Targema, who visited the scene to plead with them to reopen up the highway, insisting that the herdsmen be compelled to release the corpses of those they had  abducted and killed.”

It was further gathered that  the enraged youths reopened the highway to traffic after the corpse of the youth leader was recovered by the Police. Few days before the Tarka killings, no fewer than five Internally Displaced Persons, IDPs, from the Agatu crisis were  said to have died at the Central Primary School Ugbokpo  camp, in Apa local government area of the state.

The Chairman of the Camp Management Committee, Very Rev. John Attah, made this known in Ugbokpo when he hosted the wife of the immediate past Senate President, Mrs. Kate Mark, who, in collaboration with Live Healthy Organization, LHO, provided the inmates with free medical services.  According to Attah, the deceased persons died from health related issues.

While the state continues to count its losses, an indication emerged that close to 100,000 persons were reportedly sacked and displaced from their ancestral homes in parts of Benue as a result of the crisis.

The Executive Secretary of the Benue State Emergency Management Agency, SEMA, Mr. Boniface Otese, who disclosed this  in Makurdi, said about 12,000 families were also affected in the mayhem.

Otese stated that 17 out of the 23 local government areas of the state were affected in the attacks while  Moor in Kwande local government area had been taken away and was still being occupied by the marauders.

“Most affected local government areas in the crisis include Agatu, Buruku, Tarka, Kwande, Logo, Makurdi and Guma where seven wards including Mbalai, Mbadwen, Uvir, Ndzorov and Saghev, were wiped out.

“Most of the riverined communities in the state were not spared. They all came under severe attacks due to their unique vegetation and enormous endowment in the Benue valley.”

The Executive Secretary stated that Governor Samuel Ortom was working closely with the Federal Government and  security agencies to ensure an end to the bloody crisis and the rehabilitation of victims and communities.

“At the moment, military personnel are being deployed in most of the affected communities including Agatu and this has aided the return of the displaced persons to their ancestral homes while efforts are being intensified to ensure the reconstruction of the devastated communities.”

Otese, who pleaded for more assistance from the Federal Government, corporate organisations, public spirited individuals and non-governmental organisations, NGOs, in the rehabilitation process, lamented that the task was far beyond the financial capacity of the state government.

The outcry of the SEMA boss was given credence by the Representative of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees to Nigeria and Economic Community of West African States, ECOWAS, Mrs. Angele Dikongue Atangana, who, after visiting Agatu stated that the level of killings and destruction perpetrated in the area by suspected Fulani marauders left the place in total ruin.

Dikomgue, who was led on the tour of the area by Ezekiel Adaji,   the Deputy Chairman, House of Representatives Committee on Internally Displaced Persons, Refugees and North East Development Initiative, described the damage as unimaginable.

The UN Representative stated that the plight of Agatu people deserved both national and international attention, stressing that it would be difficult for the effected people to rebuild their communities without external help.

She said, “In my 20 years of working as a humanitarian, I have never seen such a level of destruction. If steps are not taken, the crisis can affect the country as a whole”.

She noted that the damage caused by the herders was similar to what was happening in the North East, and assured that her commission would aid in the rehabilitation of the displaced persons.

Addressing the IDPs at the Ugbokpo camp,  Atangana disclosed that her commission had, through the State Emergency Management Agency, SEMA, donated non-food items worth over N20 million to the IDPs.

On his part, Governor Samuel Ortom, who  led heads of security agencies and top government functionaries on an assessment of Agatu and other communities in Benue, expressed shock at the level of destructionin the affected areas.

He urged the Federal Government to  set up a commission of enquiry on the crisis with a view to finding a lasting solution.

While addressing the people at Aila, Okokolo and those displaced at Obagaji, Ortom described the level of destruction as monumental, lamenting that the rehabilitaion of the affected communities was far beyond the financial capacity of the state.

Speaking in an emotion ladened voice, the governor said, “I have visited some of the places attacked by insurgents in the North East but the magnitude of devastation in Agatu and other parts of the state far exceeds what happened in those places.”

He solicited assistance from the Federal Government, global agencies, organizations, and individuals to rehabilitate the destroyed communities to enable the inhabitants recover and get their lives together again.

Responding on behalf of the people, the traditional rulers of Agatu and Apa, Chiefs Godwin Onah and John Antenyi, Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, leader in the area, John Ngbede, Special Adviser, Alhaji Isah Usman, Assembly member, Sule Audu, requested for the establishment of a military barrack in Agatu as well as provision of additional security to stem the crisis.

Meanwhile, a joint meeting of all Benue socio-cultural groups and religious leaders also recently berated   President Muhammadu Buhari, army and police chiefs for failing to visit Agatu and other besieged Benue communities after the mass attacks and killings in the area.

They lamented that the action smacked of insensitivity and lack of seriousness on the part of the leaders to the plight of the people of the state.

The statement was issued in Makurdi at the end of a combined meeting of the Mdzough U Tiv, the Idoma National Forum and the Omi Ny’Igede.

The meeting, which had in attendance the Catholic Bishop of Gboko Diocese, Most Rev. Dr. Williams Avenya, and that of Katsina-Ala Diocese, Most Rev. Dr. Peter Adobo, expressed worry at the delay in setting up of the Presidential Investigative Panel as promised by  Buhari.

Part of the statement read, “The inability of the President, the army and police chiefs to visit the worst affected communities of Agatu and other areas where recent mass murder attacks were carried out for on the spot assessment of the level of devastation indicates lack of seriousness deserving of the crisis. “The delay in setting up the Presidential Investigation Panel promised by the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria is also becoming worrisome.

“The proposed Town Hall Meeting by the Federal Government is not only diversionary, but a deliberate ploy to downplay the degree of attention and seriousness that should be accorded the invasion of our land.

“We reject the Federal Government’s proposed at this time but insist on Judicial Commission of Enquiry to unravel the root cause(s) of the gruesome massacre of our people. “We advise that all relevant government agencies saddled with the responsibilities of home land security begin the process of disarming Fulani herdsmen across the country to avoid a counter arms buildup by helpless communities in self defense.” They called for the relocation of herdsmen from Benue to allow farmers go back to their farms to avoid severe famine next year.


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