By PETER DURU, MAKURDI
This is certainly not the best of times for Benue farmers in Agatu, Guma, Gwer west and Makurdi local government areas of the state given the sustained and unrestricted attacks on communities in these areas by Fulani herdsmen.
As at last count in the past 12 weeks no fewer than 400 persons, including women and children, have been slaughtered in bizarre manner by the invading herdsmen and their colluding mercenaries who also left over 42 communities sacked and desolate.
Despite the outrage that had greeted the mayhem and wanton destruction of lives and property, the invaders have persistently sustained the reign of terror with impunity in the four local government areas of the state. The recurring orgy of violence came to a shocking climax last weekend when no fewer than 47 mourners were gunned down in one fell swoop by suspected herdsmen in Agatu Local Government Area of the state while carrying out the burial rites of two police officers killed last Tuesday in Nasarawa State.
Vanguard Metro, VM, was told by a reliable source in Agatu that: “The burial rites of the two slain police men were going on at Okpachanyi village that Sunday when the armed herdsmen stormed the scene and opened fire on the mourners, killing and maiming the people while many escaped with bullet wounds”.
Lamenting the recurrent attacks on Benue communities by herdsmen, Governor Gabriel Suswam who addressed newsmen on the issue hinted that security had been beefed up round the bordering communities between Benue and Nasarawa states in order to stem the attacks.
The Governor who had summoned a security council meeting in the wake of the bloodbath said: “Soldiers and Police officers have been deployed in all the affected communities and villages in order to stem the repeated attack which is taking a dangerous dimension.”
Speaking on the crisis, Benue State Deputy, Chief Steven Lawani, who led a state government fact-finding team to the crisis areas, said the level of the devastation was totally outrageous and condemnable.
“What we saw was beyond imagination: villages and communities were sacked, women and children have been rendered homeless because their homes were burnt and destroyed. It is sad that today, human life seemed not to be appreciate anymore unlike what was obtainable in the past when the death of an individual elicits a lot of lamentations among the people; it is just unfortunate,” Lawani added.
On measures taken by the state government to ameliorate the suffering of the displaced, he said: “Already, government has directed the State Emergency Management Agency to move into the three camps where the people are taking refuge in Apa Local Government Area and provide them essential items to assist them carry on with their lives pending the return to their homes”.
Lawani, who also disclosed that some of the displaced persons were taking refuge in neighboring Kogi State, said he had opened discussions with his counterpart in that state in order to guarantee their comfort, adding that the state government was doing everything possible to ensure that the displaced persons returned to their homes.
He said the state government had already beefed up security in the affected communities with the deployment of soldiers from the 72 battalion in Makurdi to complement the existing security structure on ground in the communities.
In his reaction, a native of one of the affected communities and Benue State Commission for Works and Transport, Mr. John Ngbede, who was on the government’s fact-finding team that visited the effected communities, disclosed that over ten thousand persons were rendered homeless with over 18 villages sacked by the marauding herdsmen.
Ngbede said the displaced persons were currently camped at Ugbokpo, Ojantele and Odugbenhun in neighboring Apa LGA.
According to him: “What we saw was pathetic and heart-rendering. Over ten thousand of the displaced persons who are mostly women and children are currently taking shelter in the three villages without any sources of livelihood”.
The Commissioner pleaded with the Federal Government to come to the aid of the affected persons, lamenting that the level of devastation in the affected communities was above the scope of the state government.
According to him: “Despite the magnitude of the devastation, the invaders promised to come back after having sacked over 18 villages and communities; that is the more reason why we are asking the Federal Government to boost security around our bordering communities with Nasarawa State from where the herdsmen invade our villages,” Ngbede said.
In his reaction, the Police Public Relations Officer, PPRO, in the state, Deputy Superintendent of Police Daniel Ezeala, said his office was yet to get the full details of the crisis.