…State government raises alarm
…376 cows impounded, six heavily armed herders apprehended
…State on red alert
By Peter Duru
THERE is mounting tension in Benue State following reports of invasion of more communities in Agatu and Guma local government areas of the state by heavily armed herdsmen.
The two LGAs were the epicentre of the 2018 New Year’s Day massacre that left close to 80 persons dead. It was a pogrom that convulsed the entire state.
The state may be heading to a boiling point again as reports have it that the armed herdsmen and their cows have invaded rice, yam and cassava farms in several communities in the two LGAs.
Arewa Voice gathered that the invaders who migrated from neighbouring Nasarawa State have encamped in rice and cassava farms in some selected communities, including Odejo, Okokolo, Olegobidu, Odegbeho, Aila and Akwu in Agatu LGA and Kaseyo in Guma LGA where they freely raze on the rice and cassava farms, with the armed herders harvesting yam tubers in farms and taking them away.
A farmer in one of the invaded communities, Mr. Micheal Echo, told Arewa Voice: “The cattle in our communities are in their thousands. The herders led them into our rice and cassava farms where they camp and eat up everything we suffered so much to cultivate. Our people have been patient but I cannot tell you for how long we will remain patient if something urgent is not done to remove them from our farms.
Though the military and other security agencies are helping and doing their best to avert any crisis in our communities, this latest influx is giving everyone cause for worry.”
Vice-Chairman of Agatu LGA, Mr. Anthony Ikulono, who confirmed the invasion said the council has already alerted security agencies of the development, lamenting that the development could further worsen the already prevailing food shortages in the area.
He said: “The report we got is that they have taken over people’s farms. While their cattle feast on the rice and cassava farms, the armed herders harvest the tubers of yam in the farms and take them away for consumption. These are herders who migrated from Tonga in Nasarawa State where they were chased away after they invaded the area.
“When few weeks ago they chopped off the hand of a farmer in one of our communities the military joint operation codenamed Operation Whirl Stroke, OPWS, based in Akwu community carried out an operation that dislodged and chased them towards Ocholonya axis where they cross the river into Nasarawa State.
But they recently started moving into our communities again where they are perpetrating these atrocities. I have just held a meeting with the military personnel and we hope they will come to our aid to avert another bloody crisis in Agatu. Already we are witnessing terrible food shortages and with this development, we might be in for real trouble in terms of availability of food aside the security challenge that comes with the invasion.”
Meanwhile, the Benue State Deputy Governor, Mr. Benson Abounu, who, Wednesday, also raised the alarm of the invasion of the state by strange heavily armed herders warned that if something was not done urgently to stop the influx, the situation might get out of hand leaving the state with the prospect of a major security crisis.
Abounu said the situation has become worrisome given the recent alarm raised by the Nasarawa State governor over the redeployment of some members of the Boko Haram sect to the Benue/Nasarawa state border stressing that the state was investigating the development hinting that the initial finding had become a source of worry for the government and people of the state.
The deputy governor said: “While we are still investigating, we have been able to ascertain the fact that there appears to be a massive deployment of herdsmen with their cattle on the brink of River Benue on the Nasarawa State bank. We also observed that a good number of herdsmen are heavily armed with AK47 rifles. As if this was not enough we have been able to apprehend a good number of them in a village called Kaseyo in Guma Local Government Area.
“On January 23, a total of 156 cows belonging to these herdsmen were apprehended. And on January 26 another 220 cows were apprehended from the same vicinity. We arrested six of the herders who have been handed over to the police. And it was observed that the herdsmen were not the ordinary herdsmen because they were heavily armed. Of course, their cows in keeping with the anti-open grazing law of Benue State were apprehended and brought to the enclosure where we keep them. Now I want to make it very clear that Benue is a member of the federating unit of Nigeria and like other units are governed by laws. Benue State has its own laws one of which is the anti-open grazing law.
“We have been keeping to this law, as a result, we’ve been able to apprehend all the people that violated the law. A good number of cows were taken into custody. And in keeping with the provision of the law the herdsmen who violated the law and who paid the fines were given back their cows.
“I also want to make it very clear that the law is succeeding and it has been very successful because not only that we are apprehending cows which were being released to the owners on payment of fine, but a good number of them have also been prosecuted and sent to correctional centres.
“So I want to make it abundantly clear that Benue State is not in any way intending to abrogate the law. The law has come to stay and its been working very well. The chief aim of the law is the prevention of conflict between herders and farmers. So to that extent I think the law has been very successful because we have not been having any conflict between herders and farmers in recent time.
“But it appears as if something is beginning to happen that is why we are raising this alarm. There is a massive deployment of cows along the River Benue in Agatu LGA and along the same river in Gwer West LGA just as we have been able to catch some of them red-handed in Guma LGA.”
The deputy governor who said the state was on red alert said the matter had been discussed at the Security Council meeting. He made it clear that the state was prepared to avail land to herders who apply for same for the purpose of ranching and warned that the people and government will not give in to the harassment and intimidation by those out to violate and extant law in the state.