BY PETER DURU, MAKURDI
Bothered by the spate of bloody clashes between Benue farmers and herdsmen, the United Nation, UN, has canvassed a West African regional approach to addressing the lingering crisis.
Resident Coordinator of the United Nations in Nigeria, Mr. Edward Kallon stated this shortly after leading a delegation of the world body including the UNICEF Chief of Field Office Enugu, Mr. Ibrahim Conteh and the UNHCR Country representative Mr. Antonio Canhanduka among others, to Buruku, Agatu and Daudu in Guma local government area of the Benue state, explained that the issue was no longer a Nigerian problem.
“It is a sub Saharan problem that is why a regional approach becomes extremely critical in trying to find a long term approach to the issue.”
The Resident Coordinator who expressed surprise at the level of the crisis and the impact on the lives of the people said, “It was a shock to me to see the scale of destruction as a result of the conflict between the herdsmen and farmers in the affected areas. What I have gathered and learnt is that these people coexisted before.
“And I have come to appreciate that the traditional dispute resolution mechanism had collapsed for some time and as a result some of those difficulties could not easily be addressed which led to the hostilities that eventually resulted to the massive scale destruction.
“The losses are immense and the communities have been uprooted, people have also been displaced, education institution for children is not functioning effectively and the livelihood partners have also been altered.
“I saw that people were trying to pick the crumbs of their lives again, moving from displacement settlements and going back to their villages to farm.
“There is an urgent need to support families to rebuild their shelter that were lost. There is an urgent need for families to be supported in a transitional period while they are regaining their livelihoods.
“There is also an urgent need for support for brining in appropriate technologies that will help them regain their livelihoods.
“The United Nations is here to better understand what really happened and to also understand better the magnitude and scale of the impact of the conflict.
“And of course our biggest instrument at hand is advocacy. On my return back I will raise at the highest level at the international community on the need for coexistence and need to support the population that have been affected.
“But I will also convey to the government the need to look at this issue from a holistic perspective and to put in place appropriate policies that are very critical to enhance peaceful coexistence between the pastoralists and farmers.
“What is very clear for me is that the pastoralists are under a lot of pressure for grazing land. Secondly there is a process of desertification that is pushing the herdsmen from the North way down South.
“There is also regional dimension to the problem because all these herdsmen are coming from as far as Chad to the Lake Chad Basin; some of them are heading to as far as the Democratic Republic of Congo.
“Some of them are heading to as far as Guinea Conakry in their normal travel. So it is clear that these movements continue as the herds are getting bigger and bigger and the grazing lands are getting smaller, these tensions will continue.
That is why I said that a regional approach becomes extremely critical in trying to find a longer term approach to the problem.”
While addressing the delegation, the Agatu Local Government Council Chairman, Mrs. Comfort Echoda recounted that Agatu people had early contact with herdsmen in 1946.
Mrs. Echoda said, “there was peaceful existence between us and the mutual cohabitation existed for over five decades until recently in 2012 when the seed of discord started germinating and the wind of change began to blow.
“The various institutions used in the past to settle issues of farm destruction soon gave way to hostility and arrogance. The existed friendly atmosphere bowed to lawlessness which was manifested in drug addiction, stubbornness, brutality and militancy.
“The stick and swords which herdsmen were known for during grazing lost their closeness to herdsmen and their place taken over by more sophisticated ones.
“In the month of 2013, the planned and articulated carnage started showing symptoms, they started moving their families out of Agatu to the neighbouring Nasarawa state and no cogent explanation was given for the movement.
“The plan of the herdsmen came to fruition May 5. 2013 when genocidal attacks and wanton destruction of property started by the militias. On this single day 14 villages were completely razed down. Like flock of locusts, the invaders stormed our communities.”
On his part, the paramount ruler of Agatu, Chief Godwin Onah who acknowledged that majority of his people had returned home however lamented that it might take the people several years to recover from the set back inflicted on them by the crisis.
Chief Onah lamented that the rebuilding of the devastated land was a burden government and the people could not carry all alone.
He said, “we need help from the international community and well meaning global organizations like the United Nations so that our people can overcome the trauma of the crisis quickly.”
At the Daudu Internally Displaced Persons, IDPs camp, the UN envoy cautioned that the camp should not be seen as a permanent abode for displaced persons but a transitional camp and accommodation for the IDPs.
He pledged the support of the world body to ensure that the IDPs and vulnerable persons received needed support to start a new life.
In his remarks the District Head of Mbawa, Chief Ohie Chado disclosed that after the Guma crisis, many of the displaced children had not been attending school.
He request for assistance for assistance to enable them learn various trades that could help then begin a new life without having to depend on anyone sustenance.
Earlier the chairperson of the Benue NGO Network, BENGONET, Mrs. Rachel Ityonzughul informed the team that over 150 children and 54 families were taking shelter in the camp.
The delegation had earlier paid courtesy call on Governor Samuel Ortom where the world body declared its intention to strengthen its support and partnership with the state government to ensure sustainable development and peaceful coexistence in the state.
Resident Coordinator said the apart from other areas, the world body would focus and play key roles in three thematic areas of the state including assisting those affected by crisis and ensuring that those responsible for such acts were held responsible.
“We will also reach out to the international community as part of our advocacy to get help for the state. In doing that we will also help the state to ensure that the implementation of the amnesty Programme declared by the government turns out a huge success”
“We believe that those who willingly and voluntarily surrendered and submitted their weapons and arms in the course of the amnesty should be supported to start a new life.”
Speaking further the a Resident Coordinator expressed the readiness of the world body to put together a development partnership fund to help the government institutionalize its programmes aimed at ensuring peaceful coexistence in the state.
He said, “we cannot successfully fight malnutrition, poverty and others in Nigeria without food production going on Benue state.”
In his speech, Governor Samuel Ortom sued for the assistance of the UN to enable the state overcome its numerous development challenges including the menace of herdsmen in the state.
Governor Ortom stated that “between 2013-2016 alone, herdsmen killed more than 1,878 men, women and children in cold blood from 12 local government area of the state.
“Another 750 were seriously wounded while 200 are missing while over 99,427 households were affected in the state with property worth billions of Naira destroyed through a brutal scorch-earth strategy.”
Continuing, the governor said “a 2014 report conducted by the state’s Bureau of statistics found out that the destruction which the invading herdsmen caused across 20 local government areas of the state exceeded N95billiom in that year alone.”
He pleaded with the world body to assist the state with technical support in various sectors of the state’s economy added that his government had set aside N4billion in 2017 to support UN projects in the state.