By Peter Duru, Makurdi
THE recurrent crisis and killings in Agatu local government area of Benue State, between Fulani herdsmen and the natives which have in recent time led to the sacking of more than 28 riverine villages in the area, got to a head last Sunday with the sacking of Egba community and killing of over 100 persons in one fell swoop. The casualty figure in the latest crisis, which is the heaviest in the history of the unending skirmishes, has elicited shock and angry reactions across the country. The reason for this may not be far-fetched considering that most of the casualties were women and children who were either shot or hacked by the marauding herdsmen.
Vanguard Metro, VM, gathered from a local in the community that the number of those killed may well exceed the official figure annoinced since many more bodies were still being recovered from the village, while many were still missing and unaccounted for.
According to him: “The search for victims and survivors is still ongoing, but there is no doubt that the figure may rise because the entire village is like a killing field with blood stench everywhere and many still missing.”
Destruction of economic trees
It was learnt that the insurgents who stormed the village at about 4am on Sunday killed their victims, most of whom were fast asleep, in their homes after which they razed the community, destroying economic trees, food barns and farmland.
“They came in from Loko in neighbouring Nasarawa State and started shooting and breaking into people’s houses, and whoever they met, including women and children, they hacked or shot.
“At the moment, we have been able to recover over 90 corpses and many injured; the search is continuing but we are facing a major challenge. Many survivors with injuries are being evacuated to hospitals, but the problem is that we do not have any hospital in this area that is big enough to cater for the situation at the moment,” the source said. Speaking on the latest crisis, the Benue State Secretary of the Maiyatti Allah Cattle Breeders Association, MACBAN, Garus Gololo, decried the killing and urged the parties to maintain the peace.
Gololo said he gathered that the attack may have been a reprisal for the alleged killing of some herdsmen at Loko by suspected Agatu young men. He said: “I heard that few days back, some armed youths believed to be from Agatu stormed Loko and killed some herdsmen after which they retreated. Many suspect that this latest attack could be a reprisal for that, but my question is, for how long will this continue without serious steps to check and stop it?”
Gololo who further picked holes with the supposed peace talks initiated by the Benue State to ensure peaceful co-existence between Idoma farmers and the herdsmen, said the Gen. Lawrence Onoja (rtd)- led peace committee may have failed to do the needful. “I remember that the Gen. Atom Kpera (rtd.)-led Peace Committee that took charge of ensuring peace between Tiv farmers and Fulani herdsmen ensured that the leadership of the Fulani were paid a visit to the state to sign a peace treaty.
“However, in the case of the Idoma area, that was not done. I believe that this people should be called to a round table by the Idoma peace group so that they could all commit themselves to a peace agreement,” he stressed. In his reaction, the Minister of Interior, Comrade Abba Moro who condemned the killings, described it as an evil that should not be allowed to continue.
Moro said government was already taking steps to check the re-occurrence of the bloodbath. “It is highly condemnable; I can assure you that government has already put measures in place to ensure that such an act did not reoccur in the area again. State Police Commissioner, Hyacinth Dagala, told VM, shortly after he paid an on-the-spot assessment visit to the area, that the death toll in the record of the Police was 82 while 25 injured persons were receiving treatment in hospitals. “I went there today to see things for myself and I can tell you that 82 people were killed, while 25 others are in the hospital,” he said.
Dagala, however, said that calm had returned to the community with security operatives on the watch out to avoid further break down of law and order. In his reaction, the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, deputy governorship candidate, Mr. John Ngbede, a native of the affected area, who also accompanied the Police Commissioner, lamented the killings and destruction done to the community. He described the attack , level of destruction and killings as barbaric and heart rendering.
Ngbede, who appealed to the Federal Government to lend a helping hand to the community and victims, also renewed his call for the establishment of a military barracks in the area in order to effectively check further outbreak of crisis in the area. He prayed for the repose of the souls of those killed and also prayed that God will revive the 25 persons currently on danger list in hospitals where they are receiving medical attention.