How long can the Agatu tribe in Nigeria survive the ongoing invasion of their lands by suspected Fulani herdsmen? The fertile fields of the Agatus of Benue State in North Central Nigeria, are at the risk of being totally overrun by marauders who see the lands as good for grazing for their cows.
The scale of destruction in the latest attacks is massive, as several communities have been completely destroyed and deserted. The human casualties are reportedly high as no fewer than 300 persons are said to have been killed in the attacks that lasted for days according to some eyewitnesses. Some dead bodies are still yet to be retrieved and buried.
During his visit to the affected communities, David Mark, a former President of the Nigerian Senate revealed to the world, the magnitude of the disaster carried out against his people. The affected villages are in Agatu local government, which is under Benue South Senatorial district.
There have been several clashes and crises reported in these areas before now, as the natives usually battle for the control of their farm lands during the dry seasons, to secure them from destruction by cattle. But nothing is near the magnitude of the latest attacks on the communities. “It is beyond human comprehension,” says Senator David Mark, a former President of the Nigerian Senate and the lawmaker representing the area.
Several communities have become totally inhabitable while the Fulani cows have taken over several farms and are seen eating out crops and destroying already cultivated heaps of land for farming. But as the media convoy drove through the sacked villages, hordes of Fulani herdsmen and their cattle are sighted massing away intensely.
“They usually return at night to lurk around and in some buildings still standing,” one of the Agatu farmers said. With the exception of a few chickens and goats wandering about aimlessly in the wasted villages, there is no sign of human life. The people have either been killed or fled the attacks.
In some affected communities visited which include Aila, Adagbo, Akwu, Okokolo, Ugboju, Odugbeho & Ocholonya, all the scene of the attacks are reminiscent of what the world sees daily in Syria and other crisis prone regions. Some of the affected villages now bore a semblance of war-torn environment.
“I am shocked beyond words at the extent of destruction I have seen here in Agatu today. I didn’t believe that the level of destruction was up to this extent. Nothing whatsoever justifies this brazen act of destruction meted out on the people of Agatu. Whatever the reason for this, those responsible must be caught and they must be punished,” says David Mark.
Aside the journalists, Mark was accompanied by personal staff and political associates, including the immediate former Minister of Interior, Abba Moro, two members of the House of Representatives, Samson Okwu and Ezekiel Adaji representing Oju/Obi and Otukpo/Ohinmini respectively. No fewer than ten members of the State House of Assembly were involved.
Schools, churches, small-scale cassava factories are completely razed down by the attackers. It is a gory sight to behold. Some community leaders who followed Senator Mark to inspect the extent of the damage, have described the invasion of their lands as “a deliberate act of genocide,” against the Agatu tribes.”
“What we are seeing is a pogrom against our tribe as it is now obvious that the Fulani herdsmen want to destroy our houses, farms and take over our lands for cattle grazing. The extermination of our ancestry home is taking place before our eyes,” a former Councillor said.
It is however not unlikely that there will be more ferocious attacks on Agatu lands by more herdsmen trying to escape the drought in the Northern region of the country this year, as the Nigerian Meteorological agency has predicted a “less-than-normal rainfall amounts as well as dry spells.”
Some adjoining communities and more especially the headquarters of the local government, Obagaji where people usually take refuge in the past, have also been deserted, for fear of possible attacks. Women and children have relocated to far distance while the men are keeping vigil in some yet to be attacked villages nearby.
But contrary to claims by a Fulani community in Benue State that over ten thousands cows were killed by the Agatus, there is however no single sight of a dead cow in about 10 villages visited, while hundreds of herds are seeing wandering in farm lands. The Agatu community have also described the incidents as unprovoked attacks.
It is a big tragedy in every sense of it and the Agatus risk total dislocation from their lands if nothing drastic is done by the Benue State government and the federal government. Although President Muhammadu Buhari has ordered an investigation into the incident, but nothing concrete has been laid out or done so far.
Beyond sending palliatives to the people, the Benue State governor, Samuel Ortom is yet to visit the scenes of the attacks, while a delegation from the Federal Government who recently came close to some affected communities, has only merely scratched the surface says Moses Ngbede a youth leader in the area.
Without a quick government intervention, the invasion of Agatu land will be completed in no time, according to a community leader, Mr. James Audu. The situation is deteriorating and a big humanitarian disaster is building up in the entire local government of Agatu and beyond.
Some audacious youths in the communities have vowed to defend their home lands against the marauders. They are also not comfortable with a few dispatch of military men sent to the area to keep peace. The youths are angry that the soldiers have not been able to swing into full action and go after the marauders.
“We are not relying on the soldiers to defend our lands. They have refused to fight the offending herdsmen or make any arrest. They have not been of any help to us,” the youth vigilantes told Mark.
A military source in the area said they have not been given order to shoot the invading herdsmen but to keep peace. Unfortunately this has not gone down well with the people. It has further fueled some concerns among the Agatus that some people in government are also supporting the Fulani herdsmen.
Based on the coordinated manner of the latest attacks, the Agatus have now suspected an expansionist agenda for both grazing and occupation purposes. Several of the Agatu villages are overlooking a massive expanse of green lands and a flowing river used for rice plantation.
The Fulani herdsmen are nomads and are increasingly moving down south of Nigeria in search of grazing land for their herds, which has led to several confrontations in many villages across most States. Benue State is prone to attacks from the herdsmen who usually pass through the State’s routes to graze and to mass to other locations.