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IDPs from herdsmen attacks cry out: We’re suffering, our children are dying

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…Life is hard, condition in camp horrible
…We’ll rather die —Benue IDPs

By Femi Bolaji, Jalingo, Marie-Therese Nanlong, Jos & Peter Duru, Makurdi

They were all clustered together in different segments. Life has not been easy for them. They looked pale, hungry, waiting for the next hand outs. Children, mostly infants clugged to the chest of their mothers, who could hardly eat three square meals per day, for breast milk. The grown up ones were spread across the school field. Humanitarian workers who had been keeping records sat under the trees, in sombre mood as the Internally Displaced Persons, IDPs, lamented the death of one of their own.

That was the mood at the camp of the Internally Displaced Persons in Taraba, who were sacked from their communities by the rampaging herdsmen.

It was the same lamentation in similar IDP camps in Plateau and Benue states where those who had been chased out of their ancestral homes were temporarily sheltered.

Children die of malaria

In Taraba, tragedy had struck early that morning in the camp the day Saturday Vanguard visited. Another infant had died. Three children had lost their lives in the space of two months that they (IDPs) started taking refuge at Nukkai Primary School, Jalingo,Taraba state capital after their communities were sacked by marauders suspected to be herdsmen. An elderly man, due to lack of medical attention had also died of hepatitis, a situation the coordinator of the IDPs, Danlami Kwambo, described as “the fate we have found ourselves”. Their luggage littered corridors of the classrooms, pending the time the school would close.

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Less than 30 minutes after the arrival of Saturday Vanguard, the heavens opened up and the inmates, in order to save the few luggage they had from destruction, moved them in droves to one of the classrooms where about 50 persons were said to be sleeping. The innocent children who were oblivious of the trauma their parents were going through, were all smiles jumping in the rain.

Malaria has been ravaging the camp as confirmed by a medical personnel of one of the NGOs, but one cannot rule out epidemic arising from the effect of open defecation at the camp. While the coordinator linked the death of the child to malaria parasite, Vanguard observed the construction of three blocks of toilets with four latrines each, thus confirming they had been defecating openly for the over two months they had been staying in the camp.

The horrible smell that greets anyone from the entrance gate of the school is a pointer to the fact that the condition at the camp is terrible. “These toilets you see under construction were sponsored by an NGO, and will be put to use within two days,” said Kwambo. According to him, “we are trying to manage the situation because this is a primary school and we are disturbing the pupils who are still in session. We have been staying here since May 14 and the hardship keeps increasing becausing the resources are scarce.

“About 50 to 60 persons sleep in each classroom. When it rains those sleeping outside also join those inside. Early this morning we lost a child and two others have died within the two months we were here. From our records they died of malaria. What we want is for the government to fortify our communities so we can go back to continue our normal lives.”

Augustina Philip, another official in the camp, said all efforts to ensure the children get enrolled in school has received little or no attention. “Maybe they have forgotten us, we don’t know. We took the children’s names for enrolment about two weeks ago but we have not heard anything from government,” she said.

Worried by the escalation of the farmer/herder crisis across the country, coordinator of Training and Research Unit of the Centre for Peace Studies and Conflict Management, Taraba state University, Dr. Deji Abdulsalami wondered why government has been unable to ensure that lasting peace reigns between herders and farmers.

He said, “why IDPs are staying longer than expected in various concentrated camps is because government is bereft of the effect of most conflict. Government has the will to ensure that those displaced are resettled to their abode within a short time, but what we have observed is that this task has been left for NGOs and religious organisations. Abdication of this responsibility is the major problem of the resettlement of IDPs. Government needs reorientation on what their responsibilities are and fashion out policies for quick return of the displaced.

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On the recurrent herders/farmers conflict, Dr Abdulsalami explained that “there are collaborators from outside Nigeria who are in touch with bad elements in this country to provide guns used to terrorise others in the guise of herders/farmers crisis.

“Government should know that protection of lives and property is very paramount. If government decides today that these killings should stop, there is no force that can stop it, but they have to be willing first to do that.

“Moreover, livestock rearing is part of agriculture, and government should also include animal husbandry in its planning, for these people to also feel a sense of belonging. RUGA settlement proposition failed, for lack of effective communication between the government and the people. Failure of the government to convey the message effectively to the people on the importance of such policy and why it was necessary, caused the public outcry. Herders cannot keep moving about in the 21st century, and if it is ranching, then government must be able to communicate effectively its benefits to both the herders and the host community.”

Before the controversy on the issue of Ruga settlemlent, a socio-cultural group, Plateau Initiative for Development and Advancement of the Natives, PIDAN had, through its president, Dr. Madaki Aboi said the systematic execution of attacks, as well as the destruction of farmlands were grand designs to render the agrarian villagers weak and dispossess them of their ancestral farmlands as has been the case in Riyom and Barkin Ladi LGAs where some community settlements are now occupied by the militia.

A youth leader, Macham Makut from Bokkos local government area which also has its land occupied by the militia disclosed that the local government has 7,000 internally displaced persons and wondered why succour had not been provided for them to cushion the effects of being uprooted from their homes.

According to him, “When the Grazing Reserve Bill was first rejected in 2012, it was brought back as Ranching, later reintroduced as National Livestock Transformation Plan and now Ruga. Plan by the government to resettle herdsmen, while thousands of crop farming peasants who were violently evicted from their homes remain in IDP camps and other uninhabitable shelters is to say the least, insensible and an unwarranted assault.

“Bokkos alone has over 7,000 displaced persons with about nine communities desolate from the 2018 attacks. None of the victims of these dastardly acts have ever received any compensation or grant to start life again, despite losing all their means of livelihood and in many instances, their breadwinners to the attacks. Not to talk of punishing the many perpetrators of the attacks who were arrested and freed without facing justice as required by law.”

Herdsmen have occupied our communities—Yohanna

A native of Daffo, Bokkos local government area, Yohanna Moses who has been displaced from his home told Saturday Vanguard, “We have been displaced since 2018 but we cannot just stay in the camp without any means of livelihood and no support. We have been abandoned for almost a year now. Many people are squatting with families and friends or getting shelter wherever they can.

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Those who are still in camps are really helpless and have nowhere to go. It is really annoying that instead of our government to look into our plight, they are talking about Ruga. Technically, I would say there is Ruga because some communities that were sacked by Fulani herdsmen have been occupied by the same people and no government is doing anything to help the helpless, instead the government wants to give official recognition to the aggressors at the expense of the victims, what kind of intervention is this? Who deceived them that there will be peace in the face of gross injustice?”

Sanitation in camp is poor and life is hard —Israel

Another displaced person, Israel Fom from Kura Falls, Barkin Ladi local government area added that “there are still people in camps in Jos South, Barkin Ladi, Riyom and other places and even in Bokkos. Most of them go into the town to see what they can do to get food and only return in the night to sleep there. The sanitation is very poor in the camp and life is hard. God forbids that we should accept Ruga when it is the Fulani that put us in this condition.

The same government that forgot us is the same government that wants to empower Fulani to kill us all. God is watching, if they don’t account to us, they will surely account to God. We came back here to pick the pieces of our lives together but this same set of people are still afflicting us. This is rainy season and you know we are farmers, we started cultivating our farms again but this people brought their cows to eat up the crops. How long shall this continue? When you report them to the few security on ground, they will say they are mediating and one or two bags of fertilizer will be brought by the herders in the name of compensation.

“Where is the fairness in that? When the crops are destroyed, where will you apply the fertilizer? Should they continue grazing on our crops because they have fertilizers to give? Those advocating this devilish policy at the expense of our suffering will not go unpunished.”

I’m living in a terrible condition —Audu

Yet another displaced person, Ezekiel Audu, from Shonong, Riyom local government area said, “This wickedness will come to an end one day. We want government to fulfil their promises, take us back home and provide security for us. Last year I went to cultivate some crops at my farm but just when we were preparing for harvest, the Fulani herdsmen took their cows there and they ate up everything. All my labour went in vain. This year, I am not prepared to labour in vain. I know what I get from my farm but now I am living in this terrible condition. I am appealing to government to forget this Ruga thing, put security in place and help us go back to our homes”.

In Benue state, over 180,000 persons have been displaced from their ancestral homes by armed herdsmen since 2018 and they are still held up in eight Internally Displaced Persons, IDPs, camps as the Federal Government has failed to reconstruct their homes.

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Some of the IDPs who spoke to Saturday Vanguard accused the Federal government of working hand in hand with armed herdsmen to seize their ancestral land and hand same over to marauding herdsmen using the Ruga project as cover.

We’ll rather die —James

For James Aoundover the intention of the federal government was to forcefully take their ancestral land and hand same over to those who originally wanted to chase them away from their communities and occupy their land. According to him, “that plan will not work in Benue, we will resist it. So, that is why the federal government has refused to rebuild our communities as promised when they visited us here last year. They must know that we will rather die than have herdsmen settlements in our state or communities.”

Govt must first prepare mass graves

On his part, Felix Usha who lives with his family of six at the Daudu IDPs camp said, “before anyone will give our community or village to herdsmen to settle they must first kill everyone of us. They must prepare mass graves in Benue to bury everyone of us. This same federal government that is planing to build settlements for herdsmen in our communities has turned a blind eye to our sufferings in IDPs camp.

They have refused to rebuild our homes which were destroyed by these same herdsmen they now want to resettle in our state. We are still languishing in these camps, if not for Governor Samuel Ortom we would have all been dead by now including our children. This same Federal Government refused to come to our assistance when we needed it most. If you are not Fulani you are not important to this government. But we must all not forget that God is watching.”


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