By Peter Duru, Makurdi
Despite the efforts by successive governments in Benue State to find solution to the clashes between farmers and suspected Fulani herdsmen, the bloody crisis have continued unabated.
In fact, less than a week to the exit of the last government, over 100 persons, mostly women, children and the elderly, were slaughtered in villages and refugee camps located at Ukura, Gafa, Per and Tse-Gusa at Ukemgbiraghia Twarev Ward, in Logo local government area of the state, in one of the bloodiest attacks on Benue communities by the suspected herdsmen.
The attacked community, until that onslaught, hosted most refugees from previous offensives by the herdsmen.
The incident was like a panorama, bidding the former administration farewell and welcoming the new governor, Samuel Ortom.
Meanwhile, the crisis has continued unabated since the coming of the present administration with over 40 persons killed, about 2,000 displaced and not less than 100 seriously injured.
Houses and huts, farmland and food barns, economic trees and farmland and several valuables were also not spared by the rampaging herdsmen who were bent on occupying the ‘conquered communities’.
Some of the communities that came under the Fulani include Adeke village at the outskirts of Makurdi the state capital, when suspected herdsmen, last July, besieged the community, shooting sporadically for over two hours.
“The development forced many residents to flee through bush paths,” an eyewitness said.
The then state Police Commissioner, Hyacinth Dagala, attributed the crisis to a squabble between some Tiv locals and Fulani herders in the community.
Efforts to stem the protracted crisis claimed the life of Assistant Superintendent of Police , ASP, Baba Ibrahim,who, until his death, was a member of the Task Force on Cattle Rustling and Kidnapping at the Force Headquarters, Abuja.
Ibrahim was killed by armed men in Katsina-Ala local government area of Benue while on a special assignment.
The dastardly killing was followed by last December’s slaughter of six persons, at Idele village, in a clash between suspected Fulani herdsmen and farmers in Oju local government area of the state.
Sunday Vanguard learnt that the crisis, the first of it kind in the area, created a mass movement of persons who fled the area for fear of being killed.
According to a source, crisis erupted in the community after the locals mobilized and besieged a Fulani settlement in the area to stop a large herd of cattle and herdsmen from gaining access into their village.
“The herdsmen and the cattle were moving into the village in large numbers to seek better pasture, but, feeling threatened by the presence of the herdsmen, the villagers put up a blockade and asked their visitors to return to where they were coming from” , the source said.
“There was resistance and a crisis ensued that snowballed into a clash that left three villagers killed and several person injured with some others unaccounted for.
“It was when the villagers discovered that two of their youths had been killed and another that was earlier declared missing was also found to have been killed by the intruders, that they launched a reprisal attack on the herdsmen, beheading three of them.”
The Oju attack was followed by another in January in Makurdi where no fewer than 60 persons were reportedly injured in a clash at Ucha Nyiev village between herders and the host community of the Federal University of Agriculture, Makurdi, FUAM.
An eyewitness said crisis broke out in the area when unknown youths allegedly killed and made away with six cows belonging to some herdsmen in the area.
He said, “When the herdsmen noticed that their cows had rustled, they went in search of the culprits which was resisted by the locals and this led to a bloody clash between the villagers and the herdsmen who were bent on apprehending the youths.
“The crisis led to a rampage in the community which spilled into day break, forcing some of the locals to flee their homes for fear of being killed, but before then, over 60 persons had been injured.”
While the dust of the crisis was yet to settle, some herders struck again, this time, raiding Ega Adapati, an island in Agatu local government area of Benue, killing not less than eight persons while razing houses and sacking over 500 residents.
Member of the Benue State House of Assembly representing Agatu constituency, Alhaji Sule Audu, who lamented the attack, had, at the time, also raised the alarm that the invaders were mobilizing men and weaponry at Loco, a community bordering Agatu, in Nasarawa State, to launch fresh attack on Agatu and other communities.
While the state was yet to overcome the shock of that attack, an army of invaders marched into Buruku and Tarka local government areas, sacking Tom-Anyiin and Tom-Ataan while killing not less than 10 persons in cold blood.
The crisis created a huge refugee situation in the area with over 300 persons displaced and scores injured.
Bothered by the escalating tension that trailed the crisis, Governor Samuel Ortom appealed to the feuding parties to sheath their sword in order to avert further loss of lives and destruction of property.
The governor, who spoke at the end of a meeting with leaders of Tarka and Buruku local government areas of the state, also issued a seven-day ultimatum to security agencies in the state and paramount rulers in the two councils to fish out those fingered in the killings.
Ortom said, “We must all live together as a people, both herdsmen and farmers; it should be a live and let’ s live situation and everyone would respect each other’ s rights and privileges and, in such a situation, there would be no need for unnecessary conflicts.”
He vowed to punish royal fathers who failed to comply with his directives and urged leaders of Fulani herdsmen in the affected areas to fish out criminal elements in their midst.
The governor also promised to present a memorandum to President Buhari on the need to establish ranches in the country which, he said, remained a permanent solution to the perennial clashes.