By Peter Duru, Makurdi
Just when Benue farmers were beginning to enjoy some respite from the incessant attacks by Fulani herdsmen, the dear-devil marauders struck again last Friday night at Tarfi village, Binnev Ward in Buruku local government area of the state, and in their usual fashion killed scores, injuring many and razing down houses and several property. The Buruku massacre came on the hills of a similar incident at Agatu where over 500 were killed and Tse Tia village in Tarka local government area, where the youth leader of the All Progressives Congress, APC, Mr. Aondohemba Kasa and three others were also butchered in cold blood.
The latest incident has elicited angry reactions across the state following allegations that the village was sacked just few minutes after the security personnel who were posted to the area to maintain the peace supposedly abandoned their duty posts. This prompted an outcry by Governor Samuel Ortom who lamented that Benue was under the siege of the herdsmen and that his government had become helpless and overwhelmed by the unending killings in the state.
Governor Ortom who spoke shortly after the news of the killings filtered into town stated that his government could no longer contain the activities of the herdsmen whom he accused of killing, maiming and raping women in several Benue villages. He said, “after committing these atrocities they sack the locals from their abode after which they occupy the ‘captured territory’.”
The Governor who fought back his emotions urged the herdsmen to either live in peace with their hosts communities or vacate the state immediately in the interest of peace. He said he had continually restrained the people from carrying out reprisal attacks on the marauders, but cautioned that the people might resort to self help if security agencies could not prevent the massacre of the innocent farmers.
“It is a bad situation, everyday you hear how my people are being killed, raped and maimed by these mercenaries. They do not have respect for the rule of law nor for security personnel. “The situation has gotten to a point where we will contain the crisis in one community and they would move quickly to another to massacre the people just like the Buruku case where innocent persons have been killed.
“These are wicked mercenaries under the guise of herdsmen attacking us and taking over our farmland. I have said it several times that we do not have land for grazing in the state, let them move out of the state if they cannot respect the rule of law and the sanctity of human lives.”
“There is a limit to which I can appeal to my people to restrain them from reprisal attacks, if all of them are killed then I might be the next target. I will have to represent the matter to the President because we are helpless and if nothing urgent is done we might have a major crisis in our hands.
“My people did not elect me to preside over the dead, we have been overwhelmed and Benue people are gradually becoming refugees in their own land which is certainly not acceptable.” The Governor who debunked allegations that the crisis was sparked by rustlers in the affected communities said, “those behind cow rustling are the herdsmen themselves because they are the only ones that speak the language that cows understand.
“For instance, even at my village in Guma they claimed that the people rustled their cows and they went ahead to kill 50 of my people and took over the land, this is genocide. Enough of these killings.”
He wondered why security operatives stationed in these areas were unable to arrest the herdsmen who perpetrate these heinous crimes. He accused them of failing in their responsibilities and demanded an explanation from security heads in the state.
The Governor also went a step further to plead with United Nations Organization, UN for assistance and collaboration to end the killings and destruction of property in the state by the invaders. He made the plea when he hosted the Regional Director of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, UNESCO, Dr. Benoit Sossou, in Makurdi. Ortom lamented that the crisis was crippling genuine efforts by his government to engender sustainable development in parts of the state.
He stated that an end to the crisis was of utmost importance to his administration since it would usher in peace in the affected communities and pave the way for the smooth running of the developmental programmes of international organizations and those of the state government. Governor Ortom said, “the crisis has paralysed economic activities in many of our communities because farming which is the main occupation of Benue people can no longer take place.
“Our people cannot go and farm in the air. Farming is done on land, but if the land becomes a no- go- area, where would our farmers run to? If the farmers are allowed to farm in peace, they can raise money to fund the education of their children.”
While the state government and stakeholders in the state continue to search for a lasting solution to the crisis, some pundits are of the view that the government must discountenance the idea of setting up vigilante groups in the various communities to checkmate the activities of the daredevil herdsmen in the state as is being done in some South Eastern states.
For Alhaji Abubakar Tsav, a retired Lagos State Police Commissioner, resorting to vigilante groups for the protection of lives and property could be counterproductive. Tsav who blamed the crisis on the activities of some Fulani thieves whom he claimed had invaded the state, berated the Police for failing in their responsibilities to check the crisis. “The issue of creating vigilante groups to check their activities could pose another security problem in the country, members of such groups could be used for criminal activities.”
“The solution to the issue is simple, my advise is that government should identify the true and genuine leadership of Fulani herdsmen in Benue. That leadership should be accountable to the Governor, and should have direct access to the Governor and also answerable to him and no other on any matter concerning the Fulanis in the state.
On his part, the Benue state chairmen of the Conference of Nigerian Political Parties, CNPP, Mr. Baba Agan called for the improved funding and better working environment for the Police to enable them discharge their responsibilities diligently. Agan said, “I think the State Police Command is actually doing its best despite the challenges they are facing. All the Command needs at the moment is the required support and encouragement that would enable them do more.
Secondly I blame some of our traditional rulers who are in the habit of collecting monies from the herdsmen in order to allow them free access into Benue communities for grazing. If we are able to stop that practice the herdsmen would not be able to gain access into our villages.”
“The issue of forming vigilante groups in the communities is certainly not tenable, because it could be used for political vendetta if not properly managed, and question is who will be in charge of the group if not politicians.”