BY PETER DURU, MAKURDI
A huge humanitarian crisis is unfolding in Benue State. It all started on January 1, 2018 when close to 80 persons were murdered in cold blood in Logo and Guma local government areas of the state by suspected herdsmen. Since then, several other communities in Benue have recorded attacks by suspected herdsmen.
The attacks, apart from claiming lives, have also led to the displacement of hundreds of people in different parts of the state.
The new killing fields are Okpokwu local government area and over 50 communities in 15 other local government areas of Benue.
The huge humanitarian crisis has led to the creation of eight Internally Displaced Persons, IDP, camps in eight locations across the state.
The camps, located at Agan or Abagena in the outskirts of Makurdi, Daudu, Gbajimba, Tse- Ginde in Guma local government area, Anyiin and Ugba in Logo local government area, are overflowing with inmates.
Two more camps
According to figures obtained from the Benue State Emergency Management Agency, SEMA, the camps house over 170,000 IDPs with 60 per cent of the inmates being children and minors whose education have also been dislocated.
This figure is aside the latest addition from Omusu, a community where 26 residents were murdered in cold blood about two weeks ago by suspected herdsmen.
In that unfortunate incident, the entire community was sacked by the attackers who also razed several houses and food barns of the victims who have now found a safe haven at Ojapo in the same local government area.
Apart from the eight IDP camps, the state government has also established two camps in Abande and Imande- Agbatse in Kwande local government area for Cameroonian refugees who had fled the crisis in the southern part of that country to Nigeria.
About 10,000 refugees are currently housed in the two new camps.
So, in essence, the Benue government is catering for over 180,000 IDPs and refugees arising from the Cameroonian crisis and the incursions of herdsmen into the state.
Among those in the temporary shelters are some of the Tiv victims of suspected herdsmen attacks in neighboring Nasarawa State.
Speaking on the humanitarian crisis arising from the conflicts, the Executive Secretary of SEMA, Mr Emmanuel Shior, lamented that the burden was overwhelming for the state government.
Shior noted that there was no way the Benue government could single-handedly muster the resources to meet the needs of the victims whose numbers keep increasing.
“There is no way any state government can cope with this situation if intervention does not come from the Federal Government, public spirited individuals, the international community and organizations because the state government has been overstretched”, the SEMA chief said.
“120 births were recorded in the eight camps since January but it has not been easy for government to cope with the humanitarian crisis we have at hand.”
Sunday Vanguard gathered from health officials that 26 deaths had been recorded in the camps.
Lamenting the situation when he went on a tour of the camps, Governor Samuel Ortom appealed for support from the Federal Government, public-spirited individuals, organisations, as well as the international community to tackle the humanitarian crisis.
Ortom stated that although the state government had responded to the situation by providing relief materials and facilities at the camps, the influx of inmates had overwhelmed the government.
According to him, despite the on-going Exercise Ayem A’ Kpatuma or Cat Race by the military to stem the incursion of herdsmen into Benue, killings had continued, meaning that displaced persons could not access their ancestral homes.
Speaking in one of the camps he visited, the governor said, “With the magnitude of the crisis we have at hand and, given the on-going killings despite Exercise Ayem A’ Kpatuma, we appeal to President Muhammed Buhari and the Federal Government to convert the exercise to a full military operation to chase out the killer herdsmen from our communities.
“I know that the rules of engagement in an exercise and an operation are completely different; that is why we are demanding a full military operation in Benue to check these killings and to ensure that the displaced persons, who are over 170,000, return to their homes.
“There is no doubt that the level of killings and destruction of property in Benue by herdsmen is comparable to what is happening in the North-East and, with the rains fast approaching, the humanitarian crisis may get out of hand because many of the IDPs sleep outside, and we all know what that means if the rains set in.
“We want the deployment of more security personnel to Benue because the number we have presently are doing their best but they may have been overwhelmed and there is need for reinforcement.
“We also look forward to receiving the assistance the Federal Government says it will extend to us to ameliorate the condition of these IDPs who could have been one of us or our loved ones, mothers, brothers and sisters.
“Unfortunately there is so much fear in the people; more than 50 communities in Guma, Logo, Makurdi, Agatu and Gwer West local government areas have been affected by the crisis and we are still counting because IDPs continue to pour into the camps because night attacks are still going on in these communities.
“I was also told that about 150 herdsmen have been arrested in Benue by security personnel, some for violating the Open Grazing Prohibition Law and some for the killings in our communities.”
The governor said the state was facing food crisis, stressing, “Already we have started noticing food shortage in the state because majority of those who produce the food we consume locally and outside our state now live in IDP camps”.
Most of the IDPs, who spoke during the visit, including Jacob Iorshelegh at the UNHCR Shelter Camp Daudu, commended Ortom for standing with the displaced persons in their time of distress.
Ioshelegh appealed to the Federal Government to encourage security personnel to push out herdsmen from their communities to enable them return to their homes.
“We are tired of living in the camps. We want to go home and return to our farms. The state government is doing much for us but the Federal Government must come to our assistance by telling security personnel to chase herdsmen out of our communities which they are presently occupying”, he added.
Ortom also echoed the ordeal of the state when he hosted the management of the National Commission for Refugees, Migrants and Internally Displaced Persons, NCFRMI, in Makurdi.
The governor, who expressed dismay that the NCFRMI team came visiting several weeks after being notified of the situation and the humanitarian crisis being faced by his state, decried the condition of the inmates and the challenge his government had to contend with.
“I recall that when we were faced with this unfortunate incident, we communicated with the commission, but you are just coming almost two months after”, he told the visitors.
“The commission needs to widen its scope to enable you act promptly because these IDPs and refugees would have been dead if my government had left them unattended to.
“It is unfortunate that people fail to realize that the people who are in these camps could have been one of us or people we know or our loved ones. That is why we cannot afford to turn our back on them despite the huge financial implications that go with the challenge.”
The governor said his administration was working hard to get the displaced persons back to their ancestral homes, appealing to the commission to assist his government actualize the feat.
Responding, the Federal Commissioner in charge of NCFRMI, Hajia Sadiya Farauq, represented by Mr. Charles Anaelo, the Head of Migration, acknowledged that the state government was faced with a herculean task of catering for the needs of the Persons of Concern, POC, or IDPs in the face of economic challenges.
Also speaking when he hosted the General Superintendent of the Assemblies of God Church, Prof. Paul Emeka, in Makurdi, Ortom said the state had become a huge refugee and IDPs’ site.
“With the number of IDPs we currently have in the state, which has been put at over 170,000 with sixty per cent of that figure being children, I can hardly sleep at night”, he said.
“I am highly disturbed because I cannot imagine what these people are going through having been forced out of their homes in a despicable manner.
“The most disturbing aspect of the development is that, aside losing their homes, the farm produce of these people have been fed to cows and what they have in the barns have either been burnt or looted or fed to cows.
“The trauma is too much for me and our people who are also going through emotional shock and despair.
“With what is staring us in the face, Benue needs help; if nothing is done as soon as possible, the situation may get out of hand and my fear is that we might start losing our children. God forbid that our children will start dying, we will all live with the guilt and that is the more reason I cannot sleep.”
Also speaking on the situation in the state, the leader of the Global Amnesty Watch Foundation, Mr Terrence Kuanum, who recently visited some of the IDP camps, noted that the humanitarian crisis in the state could only be compared to the situation in the North-East.
“The Nigerian government must act fast by taking decisive actions to give succour to the helpless inmates in the various IDP camps in the state”, Kuanum said.
“This is the time the Federal Government will prove to the entire country and the world that it has not taken a position in what we see happening in Benue State.
“I visited the camps in the state with my team and we couldn’t help but weep at what we saw in the camps. It was a pathetic situation.
“The state government has been overwhelmed and if the big brother, the Federal Government, does not stand up to ensure that herdsmen, who have taken over Benue communities, are chased away to enable the people return to their ancestral homes, Benue is doomed.
“We are also worried because this is a state that produces at least 40 per cent of the food we eat in this country and, if the people who do the farming are left to languish in IDP camps, we may be faced with a looming food crisis in this country.
“If nothing is done, and very quick, too, we will have to contend with a generation of children who may grow to believe that we have a country where everybody is for himself and governance is just for a selected few.
“That is why I am worried and everything must be done by the military who are engaged in the Exercise Ayem A’ Akpatuma and sister security agencies to ensure that the herdsmen who have occupied Benue communities are dislodged from such places to enable the displaced people return to their ancestral homes and continue with their usual farming activities.
“If this is not done, I can assure you that, if the people do not revolt against the Federal Government in the camps, we might be recording the deaths of helpless inmates; that would be a bad signal for this generation.”