By Peter Duru, Makurdi
It is common knowledge that the coming of the Benue state Open Grazing Prohibition Law of May 2017 and the enforcement of same which commenced in November of that year, the state has enjoyed some amount of relative peace from persistent attacks by armed herders when compared to what transpired before the coming of the law.
Usually, the activities of herdsmen in the riverine communities of Benue state peak during the dry season when they habitually migrate from far and near to the Benue valley in search of greener pastures.
Hence, the traffic increases from the months of December to March and within this period the atmosphere in Benue communities is usually charged because of the magnitude of plundering, destruction of farmlands and killings of innocent farmers who are literally chased away from their ancestral homes by the invaders.
This continued over the years until the coming of the grazing law that ushered in some level of sanity through the embargo of open grazing in the state.
That law was one piece of legislation that endeared Governor Samuel Ortom to the people of Benue who in appreciation have in different fora declared their long time loyalty to him for daring where others buckled.
However one scary development in the herdsmen situation in Benue state at the moment is the sudden twist in the herdsmen migration pattern in the state.
This year precisely, herdsmen have not been quick to migrate out of Benue unlike what used to happen in the past despite the coming of the rains.
This has accounted for the continued killings in Benue communities by armed herders particularly in the months of April and May when the state usually witnessed lull in the number of herdsmen attacks.
Pundits believe that the development could be a warning signal that they have now become more daring and determined to stay put on Benue land and fight for dominance on the Benue valley.
Though security operatives especially the joint military operation code named Operation Whirl Stroke have demonstrated the wherewithal and zeal to arrest the herdsmen upheaval and ensure the return of peace in all the troubled communities in the state there is mounting anxiety at the moment over the sudden influx of strange able bodied young men into the state from the far northern states.
Findings indicated that these group of persons who often travel in trucks ladened with cattle or goods being hauled to the eastern and other southern parts of the country are sometimes erroneously dubbed almajiri and dumped in selected villages and towns in the part of the country where they often turn out to be some social deviants who get deeply involved in sectarian killings and communal crisis in whichever community they find themselves.
Perhaps this accounts for the speed at which most southern states including Benue are sending some these people back to their states of origin up north since almajiris are known to be children of very young ages and mostly in their very early teens and below. But many of them still find their way down south.
However those being caught in haulage trucks that are being smuggled into the southern states including Benue are grown young men whose true mission in the states down south may not be known hence recreating suspicion on their mission and casting doubts on the sincerity of those moving them to other parts of the country.
It was on this basis that the Governor Samuel Ortom led administration was recently lauded by the people when the government, acting on a tip off, uncovered a hidden yard in the Wadata area of Makurdi town where about 50 young men from the northern states were cramped and encamped by a retired security personnel (name withheld).
The retired security personnel claimed that the young men who usually come into the state at his instance normally engage in various menial jobs in the state.
However the Benue state Deputy Governor, Mr. Benson Abounu who led a team of the state Action Committee on COVID-19 that stormed the building where the youths were camped mobilized vehicles that moved them back to their respective states the following day.
Few days later another group of 14 were intercepted by the government at the Wurukum roundabout area of the town while on their way to one of the eastern states. All members of that group were confined to 14 days quarantine after which they were all returned to their states of origin.
Another seven were also caught at Tse-Kucha in Gboko Local Government Area, LGA, of the state in a stow away truck which ferried then from Kano. And few days after a batch of 13 so called almajiri were intercepted at the Agwan Jukun, Wurukum area of Makurdi town after they smuggled themselves from Kano and Jigawa states.
Benue state government had ensured that they were all repatriated to their states of origin, urging the people to be vigilant to ensure that such category of persons did not sneak into the state.
While the sudden mass movements of these young men from the far north to Benue and the southern states have continued to generate tension and unsavory reactions, pundits are of the view that the concerned respective state governments should take steps to put an end to the development, warning that the youths could be ready tools for sectarian, religious or communal crisis in any community they find themselves.
According to Comrade Joe Bukka, Convener of the Middle Belt Movement for Justice and Peace, MBMJP, “the young men you see moving from the north to the south are obviously not almajiris but a time bomb waiting to happen because nobody can convince me that the economy of Benue is better than that of Kano.
“So why would these youths leave bursting Kano for very small state? I smell a rat in all these movements and we urge security agencies to dig deep to unravel those behind the movement and their intentions.
“Moreover why would anybody encourage this kind of mass movement in a period when movements are being restricted all over the world. That is why I keep saying that there is something sinister about it,” Comrade Bukka added.
On his part the Coordinator of Benue Diaspora Renaissance Initiative, BDRI, Mr. Josiah Tor said “personally I am suspicious of these mass movements of youths from the far north to states down south especially when we are all battling the COVID-19 pandemic.
“It is not normal, it is strange and must not be taken for granted. We hope they are not battle axes of some powerful forces who are on an unknown mission in the country.
“That is why all state governments down south including Benue which is a transit state must not let down their guards but take immediate steps to stop the development before it is too late.
“I would also advise that more stringent measures be taken against vehicles found carrying these illegal passengers into the states.”Tor added.