By Peter Duru, Makurdi
There is utter outrage and disquiet in Benue state at the moment over the spate of communal crisis and herdsmen attacks in parts of the state in the last few weeks amid the scourge of the novel Coronavirus pandemic that has precipitated a sharp downturn in the economic fortunes of the ordinary man.
Sadly those on the frontline of these heartrending attacks and communal crisis are the very poor who are obviously the hardest hit by the economic crisis and in dire need of palliatives.
It is therefore a huge surprise to not a few who have been awakened to the nauseating reality that instead of forming a formidable force against external aggressors like armed herdsmen, Benue youths are taking up arms against each other to the utter chagrin of all those who courageously put their lives on the line to save the state from what many describe as the orgy of well oiled fighting machine of armed herdsmen who from the 2018 New Year’s Day massacre in Logo and Guma Local Government Areas, LGAs, have till date continued to push for dominance on the Benue valley.
These odious conflicts in the state are patently being fueled by the quest to grab land, which is at the centre of it all, either for the purpose of farming by the local farmers or for grazing by armed herders.
It has obviously left in its wake sad tales of massive destruction of property, displacement of thousands and the heinous killing of over 80 persons since the beginning of the year.
It all started early January when a suspected armed gang from Ngbo, Ohaukwu Local Government Area of Ebonyi state allegedly waylaid and killed six locals in Agila, Ado LGA of the state in the age long bloody dispute over land.
That was closely followed in February by the invasion of Lumbur council ward of Ukum LGA by armed herdsmen who sacked the the entire area though unconfirmed report indicated that six persons were killed in that incident.
Similarly, in early March, Waya community, Jato Aka in Kwande LGA also came under heavy attack by French speaking armed herdsmen, according to accounts of survivors, nine lives were lost in the incident, while hundreds of houses were also razed by the invaders.
Mbanyiar community was also not spared, this time the armed herders took their malignity to another level by chasing away the inhabitants of the community and raping the wife and two in-laws of the community’s paramount ruler.
Agatu also had its fair share of the conflicts in March when five persons were found beheaded in a raging Aila and Egba communal dispute over the ownership of a fish pond in the community.
The ugly incident was followed by the invasion of Chongu, Tse Ayer and Tyohembe, three communities in Guma LGA by armed herdsmen which claimed the lives of about 10 mourners.
Div-Nzaav community, Turan Kwande LGA also came under attack by suspected armed herders who abducted a nursing mother and her baby after gunning down one and injuring scores.
Early April the lifeless body of a young man was found in Tyo Mu a community in the outskirts of Makurdi town where the indigenes/settlers dispute has raged unending.
Mba-akencha, Mbaapen Taraku in Gwer LGA also boiled in April over ownership of land and disagreements between sister communities which left three dead and several property razed.
Shortly after, Ologba community in Agatu was again visited by armed herders who waylaid and slaughtered two young men on motorbike. While another was equally killed in Tse Igba Mbabai Guma LGA by same herdsmen.
The attacks moved to Mbawa and Tse Idye communities also in Guma LGA where Titus Nyita and Tsukwa Amine were gunned down, scores injured while husbands watched armed herders rape their wives.
Two persons were also reportedly killed while scores sustained injuries and many displaced in a bizarre communal conflict between two sister communities of Mbaivur and Mbasombo in Ayati Ikpayongo, Gwer Local Government Area, LGA.
The month of May has so far recorded a number of herders attacks also. Three persons were killed in the clash between neighbouring Odejo and Ikobi communities in Agatu and Apa Local Government Areas, LGAs.
An octogenarian, Elder Atser Anbya was killed and his wife left to battling for her life when Div-Nzaav, Turan, Kwande LGA was attacked by the marauders who also besieged Ologba-Gishu community, near Oweto in Agatu LGA and Tse Tarkende, Mbadwem in Guma LGA.
In the same vein five persons were reportedly killed in three separate attacks on Imande village, Saghev-Ukusu and Gbaange-Tongov communities of Gwer West LGA and Yelwata community in Guma LGA which also left scores injured.
The killing spree by armed herdsmen in Benue continued few days ago when two persons including a woman were killed in a bloody attack on Agasha community in Guma LGA, and another two at Tomatar Iwendyer in Logo LGA on same day.
The recent crisis that led to the burning down of several houses in Mbagwaza and Tsambe communities in Ushongo and Vandeikya LGAs respectively and displacement of thousands of persons is also yet to die down.
There is no gainsaying that the crisis in the state among others were a bit of a mixed grill of herders and communal crisis, howbeit majority of Benue stakeholders and indeed the state government have become so incensed by the frequency, level of killings and destruction of property in the state.
Speaking on the development, Coordinator of the Benue Diaspora Renaissance Initiative, BDRI, Mr. Josiah Tor who fought back tears as he spoke said “it is disheartening that all the gains this government has recorded in its forthright stance against the killings of our people and sacking of our communities by armed herders is being undermined by some myopic few who are instigating crisis amongst our own people.
“I am pained because I am privy to the kind of persecution Governor Samuel Ortom went through battling the herdsmen crisis even to the point of endangering his life for our people. So is this the best way to pay him back by fighting amongst ourselves over farmland?
“Sometimes I think there could be a fifth columnist behind the entire crisis. They could be out to disunite us and create an opening for those out to takeover Benue land to do so with ease. It’s a puzzle I’m also looking at,” he added.
Governor Ortom on his part acknowledged that the state was going through very difficult times “It is a trying time for the entire people of Benue state.
“We are faced with the challenge of inter-communal clashes all over the place because the rainy season is gradually setting in and preparation for the farming season has started, so it’s quite disheartening.
“And then, the external aggression coming from the armed herdsmen has not stopped. They have adopted guerrilla warfare tactics. They come without cattle, kill, burn down houses and withdraw. After that they move to the next village to do the same thing.”
The Governor who observed that the crisis had become a source of pain and shame for all discerning minds in the state recently ordered the suspension of the District Head of Shough, Chief Peter Kyugun, his counterpart from Mbasombo, Chief Angegh Kuhe, all of Gwer LGA and the Kindred Head of Utange in Ushongo LGA, Chief Dominic Iorver, from office and directed a probe of their level of involvements in the crisis in their domain warning that he would not hesitate to wield the big stick in order to restore sanity in the entire state.