•Miyetti Allah regrets killings
•Tsav, youths reject Ortom/Al-Makura deal to readmit herders to Benue communities
•Diary of attacks
By Peter Duru, Makurdi
In a move to have Fulani herdsmen back in Agatu land, the governor of Benue State, Samuel Ortom, and his Nasarawa State counterpart, Tanko Al/Makura, embarked on a peace shuttle to prevail on the natives to readmit the herdsmen.
The peace initiative, which saw Al/Makura visiting Benue twice in less than two weeks culminated in the signing of a peace treaty by him and Ortom at Benue State Government House, in the presence of select stakeholders and security chiefs from both states.
Before the pact, the Sole Administrator of Agatu local government area, Mr. Mike Inalegwu, had led a team to neighboring Loko in Nasarawa State where an initial agreement was entered into with Fulani leaders.
That agreement was to pave the way for the pact which would readmit the herdsmen into Agatu land that had been left in ruins, no thanks to the herdsmen who, between 2013 and 2017, allegedly killed, maimed and ravaged the area in a manner pundits claimed was never seen before in the history of Benue.
Speaking on the pact, the Sole Administrator of Agatu LGA, Inalegwu, said it provided that unarmed herdsmen from Nasarawa could return to Adapati Island in Agatu to graze their cows and not for the purpose of residency.
Inalegwu indicated that over 3,920 persons lost their lives in the Agatu massacres between 2013 and 2017, noting that close to 2,000 others died at various Internally Displaced Persons, IDP, camps set up for victims in parts of the state.
The Sole Administrator maintained that despite the number of casualty, the people of Agatu were willing to readmit the Fulani in an atmosphere of peace and mutual trust.
He explained that the pact provided a caveat that the readmission could be withdrawn in the event of a breach, assuring that military personnel would constantly be on ground to monitor its implementation.
That pact preceded penultimate Wednesday’s peace meeting at Obagaji, the Agatu local government headquarters which had in attendance Ortom and Al/Makura, leaders of Fulani herdsmen from Nasarawa, traditional rulers, security chiefs and many other stakeholders from both states.
Prior to the meeting, two governors had an aerial tour of the embattled communities to assess the devastation after which they proceeded to speak with the people.
Addressing the gathering which included placard bearing youths and victims of the crisis, Ortom and Al/Makura vowed to implement peace pact.
Ortom particularly lamented what he described as the massive and unprecedented destruction of Agatu and killings by herdsmen but said there was no alternative to peace for development and progress to take place.
While restating his stance on ranching as panacea to the crisis, he urged Agatu people to “forgive and allow the indigenous Fulani return because vengeance belongs to God.
“If you remember, my kinsmen were similarly killed and property including my ancestral home destroyed by herdsmen but the people of Guma have since forgiven the attack and moved on.”
Al/Makura, on his part, said there was no going back until peace returned to Agatu land, assuring that the culture of impunity where a group of individuals entered other people’s land and began to kill them or attack others and their cattle must not be allowed to continue.
Spokesmen for the Agatu people, including Inalegwu; member of Benue State House of Assembly, Alhaji Sule Audu; and Chairman, Peace and Reconciliation Committee, Mr. Akpa Idu, called for reconstruction, rehabilitation and reconciliation as well as extension of the Federal Government’s North East reconstruction plan to Agatu.
Idu recalled the genesis of the crisis. He said, “For over five decades, there had been mutual co-existence until 2012 when the wind of change began to blow.
“Previously, reports of destruction of farm crops by Fulani cattle were settled by the Gado or village head and sometimes at the police station.
Suddenly the usually friendly atmosphere changed to one of lawless- ness. Between 2011 and 2012, the herders began to carry highly sophisticated weapons such as AK47 rifles as against their traditional swords and sticks.
“May 5, 2013 was the day massacres and wanton destruction of property and threat to our peaceful existence by the Fulani invaders started in Agatu.
“On this day, they attacked with petrol, explosives, swords and very sophisticated weapons as they descended on communities along the bank of River Benue including Olegoga, Olegadechono, Alogba, Olegotekwu, Olegogbeche, Olegodege, Olegeje, Adana, Imminyi, Abogbe, Ocholonya, Olegomakwu, Akpeko and Okokolo. All the buildings were virtually destroyed.”
He continued: “The spate of killings and ethnic cleansing against Agatu people by the herdsmen took another dimension on May12, 2013 when a large number of Fulani warriors entered Agatu through Oweto and headed to Ekwo Okpanchenyi and Iwali as early as 7am.
“The Fulani militia shot at defenceless women and children while others armed with machetes and hatchets hacked young people to death. The innocent and unarmed people ran frantically and were sprayed with bullets. The attackers then proceeded to Ikpele 1 and 2, Okokpolo, Ogbayi and Ogwumogbo to do same.”
He noted that after several peace meetings, a group of hoodlums went to Ocholonya and kidnapped one Hardo Mama, a Fulani, and killed him and also rustled about 200 cows from Adagbo, leading to a breakdown of truce in the area.
“Like locusts, Fulani herdsmen, in a reprisal attack, stormed the communities of Okwutanobe and Egwuma on August 16, 2013. October 28, 2013 was the turn of Ogwule Ankpa. The attackers killed so many people, looted property, burnt down houses and destroyed valuables.
“November 9, 2013 was a black day for us when Okpagabi community had a share of the Agatu woes and the attackers proceeded to Ello and Ichogolugwu. And like whirlwind, they descended on Ogbagede, Enicha, Ejima 1 and 2. Ogbayi and Ogwumogbo also had their second round of attacks.
On February 17, 2014, the herdsmen, who had declared total war on Agatu, attacked Utugolugwu and Oweto, killing and maiming the people while burning down their houses. In fact, six soldiers protecting the bridge construction across River Benue from Loko to Oweto were murdered in cold blood on that day.
“April 12, 2014 was the turn of Obagaji, the council headquarters, where the herdsmen ambushed six young people and killed them. On the 26th of same month, eight others were ambushed with six killed on the spot while two others were kidnapped and later beheaded.
“Egba community had its turn on March 15, 2015 when Christian worshippers were murdered in cold blood. Over 100 people including Sunday school children lost their lives.
Idu narrated further, “On February 8, 2016, shortly after the Benue South senatorial re-run election, a full blown war was declared on Agatu by the attackerss who came in large numbers with sophisticated weapons.
“This time, they were dressed in black attire. They disguised using their cattle as if they were actual herdsmen. They attacked Okokolo, Abugbe and other riverine communities in Agatu.”
Responding, the Chairman of Miyetti Allah in Nasarawa State, Mohammed Hussein, apologized and appealed for forgiveness on behalf of Fulani herdsmen and pledged that his people would abide by resolutions reached at the meeting.
Ortom, reading the peace pact, said, “The Agatu in Benue State and Fulani herdsmen agreed to make peace and forgive each other, while Oguto Adanyi – Ogumagbo – Bagana were carved out as dedicated routes agreed by both parties for movement of cattle in Agatu.
“This privilege is only granted to indigenous Fulani herdsmen who were known to the Agatu people before the crisis. They will graze in Agatu land after the harvest season at the end of February 2017.”
Meanwhile, angry reactions have continued to trail the pact with many describing it as a sell-out and a back stab designed to further expose unhealed wounds of the Agatu people.
Benue South Peace Network, an umbrella body of over 11 socio-cultural and student groups, in a statement in Makurdi, vowed to challenge the pact in court.
Signed by leaders of the groups, they noted that the two agreements entered into by the governments of both states could be a catalyst for further bloodshed in the area.
The statement said, “Nothing has been done by the Federal and Benue State governments towards the rehabilitation, reconstruction and compensation of the victims of the bloody crisis.
“Justice is yet to be done as no single perpetrator of the killings has been brought to book.The condition of the widows, orphans, the displaced and deprived; as well as lands taken over by the terrorists have also not been addressed.
“Hence attempting to broker peace in the light of pending issues is indicative of gross contempt for the value of Agatu lives and the sensibilities of the entire Benue people.”
Speaking on the matter,a former Lagos State Commissioner of Police, Alhaji Abubakar Tsav, who expressed shock at the manner the pact was sealed, said it was done to spite the people of Benue South.
“I believe Governor Ortom ceded Agatu land to spite the people of Benue South whom he claimed never voted for him at the last general elections.”
Tsav also urged the Federal Government to institute a commission of enquiry into the nagging issue of farmers/herdsmen clashes in parts of the country in order to permanently address the matter.
Reacting, the Chief Press Secretary to Ortom, Mr. Terver Akase, said the governor neither ceded land to herdsmen nor conferred indigeneship on any individual or group of persons as reports had claimed, adding that the decision to allow herdsmen to graze in designated areas in Agatu was jointly made by stakeholders in the two states.