Special Report

March 22, 2015

Benue killing fields: We are no longer safe —Residents

Benue killing fields: We are no longer safe —Residents

*The house where family perished

By Peter Duru, Makurdi

This is certainly not the best of times for the people of Benue State following communal conflicts and the recent bloodbath at Egba village, in Agatu local government area of the state.

*The house where family perished

In the Egba incident, suspected Fulani mercenaries launched an early morning attack on the community last Sunday, killing over 100 persons.

The attackers, who sneaked into the community from Loko, in neighbouring Nasarawa State, also burnt down houses, huts, economic trees and natural fish ponds located in the community.

That gruesome killing of the indigenous people, including women, children and the elderly, has elicited worldwide outcry and condemnation.

At press time, Sunday Vanguard gathered that the crisis has created over 20,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs) who live in makeshift camps without food.

Egba has also been deserted by the natives most of whom moved to Obagaji, the local government headquarters.

The crisis between the Benue farmers and the marauding herdsmen had been a protracted one that defied attempts by the state government to stem.

When the crisis was building up about two years ago, the state government and its Nasarawa counterpart entered into a peace deal in order to check cross border fighting after it was discovered that most of the arms-trotting herders streamed into Benue communities from Nasarawa.

Even at the heat of the crisis, which left some parts of the state in ruins and deserted, the Benue government also set up peace committees in both the Tiv and Idoma speaking areas of the state.

The committees worked with the police and were mandated to initiative and sign peace treaties with the leadership of the Maiyatti Allah Cattle Breeders Association of Nigerian. MACBAN, in order to stop the recurring crisis.

It was on that basis that those that were sacked from their homes and villages summoned the courage to return.

Unfortunately the hope of finding lasting resolution to the crisis seemed  to have hit the rocks especially following the spate of persistent attacks on communities in Logo local government area and the Agatu butchery.

The highly underdeveloped Agatu, which borders both Kogi and Nasarawa states has suddenly become the killing fields of the North Central.

Hardly does a month pass without the area recording killings in unrestrained battles between the natives and herders who, before the recent massacre, were alleged to have forcefully occupied parts of the local government area.

They were also accused of grazing on fertile farmlands and fish ponds, the natives sources of livelihood.

This accounts largely for the bloody conflicts in that part of the state and the resultant casualty figures particularly in the Egba massacre.

Though the Fulani and the natives of Agatu have overtime been having intermittent skirmishes, since May 2013, the crisis has taken a frightening dimension though many reasons have been advanced by reliable sources as being responsible for last Sunday’s siege and carnage at Egba.

Sunday Vanguard gathered that the massacre may have been a reprisal attack on the community by the herders.

Speaking on the killings, the Benue State Secretary of MACBAN, Garus Gololo, who decried the attack, urged the parties to sheathe their swords.

Gololo said he learnt that the attack may have been a reprisal for the alleged killing of some herdsmen at Loko by suspected Agatu young men.

In his reaction, the paramount ruler of Idoma land, Ovhi’ Idoma Ikoyi Obekpa, who lamented the carnage unleashed on his subjects, urged law enforcement authorities to fish out the masterminds and bring them to justice.

In his account of what happened in the besieged community, member of the Benue State House of Assembly representing Agatu State Constituency, Mr. Sule Audu, said the crisis, which started in the early hours of Sunday, left many, including women and children, dead.

Audu said, “Some of our courageous boys who hid to see the insurgents said they wore military uniforms with protective jackets.

“They massacred our people without restraint. In fact, we had one of our  women whose two-year-old child  was snatched from her back and later found dead; and a blind man who was also hacked with an axe.

“My concern is that, our people are no longer safe; because Egba  is just about two kilometres from Obagaji, the local government  headquarters which is also not safe.

“Our problem is that the people come through Nasarawa and we wonder how they are able to do that without security agents there getting to know.

“At the moment, we have over 20,000 displaced persons  scattered in Agatu, they are experiencing total hardship. We are pleading with public spirited organisations and the UNICEF to assist the people who are mostly women and children.

“The crisis has also affected economic and social activities in Agatu, because, at the moment, no school is open, fishing, which is the major preoccupation of our people, is not being carried out, the place is completely devastated.”

The lawmaker urged the Federal Government to set up a military formation in the area to check the killings and wanton destruction of property.

In his reaction, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP deputy governorship candidate, Mr. John Ngbede, a native of the affected area, who visited the scene of the attack with the state police commissioner, Mr. Hyacinth Dagala, lamented the killings and destruction.

Ngbede, who also appealed to the Federal Government to lend a helping hand to the community and victims, renewed his call for the establishment of a military barracks in the area to stem attacks in the area.

Speaking on the matter, Governor Gabriel Suswam said the Benue farmers/ Fulani herdsmen crisis had become  a recurrent decimal in the state.

Suswam insisted that those behind the carnage in parts of Benue were not the normal  Fulani herdsmen but insurgents behind the crisis in the North east.