By Peter Duru
They are women who have seen it all in life. They are within the age bracket of 73 and 90 years. An encounter with these group of women who have spent the last three years in Internally Displaced Persons, IDPs camps that dot the landscape of Benue state was quite revealing.
Without doubts, their facial expression clearly gave out the weight of the pains and the very prolonged unpleasant experiences they bear in these camps which evokes emotion.
And from their snarling remarks the deep rooted grouse they hold against the Federal Government over their continuous stay in the camps, the accompanying ordeals came to the fore.
Most of these women, at the Tse Yandev and Abagena IDPs camps would have long gone to the great beyond but for the support they get from Non Governmental Organisations, NGOs, religious organisations, public spirit individuals and the Benue state government for sustenance.
In their separate counts of life in the IDPs camp they explained why they cannot return to their ancestral homes with their children and grandchildren after three years.
The women who decried the living condition in the camps attributed their long stay away from home to the insincerity of the federal government in the handling of the herdsmen crisis in Benue state.
The women rightly or wrongly believe that federal government abandoned the Benue IDPs to their fate because of reasons they cannot tell.
They wonder why the federal government has not been concerned about their plight over the past three years while at the same time sending money and palliatives to other states affected by the herders crises.
Indeed, they are suspicious that the federal government might have refused to fulfill its promise of rebuilding their destroyed homes in order to leave their ancestral lands desolated to allow herdsmen occupy such communities unhindered.
“If not to allow herdsmen who destroyed our homes and chased us away from our ancestral land to occupy our communities, why has the federal government refused to rebuild our houses which they promised to do about three years ago?” Asked 87 year old blind Mama Ukoho Kike who was displaced alongside her children and grand children from Mbadwen in Guma Local Government Area of the state.
“What is our sin? Are we not Nigerians like those displaced in the north? Why is our situation different? The federal government is making provisions for the rebuilding of homes destroyed in the North East but those of us in Benue whose houses they promised to rebuild have been abandoned to die in IDPs camps.
“We are being treated as if we are not Nigerians because provisions are not also made for our feeding and upkeep in the camps as being done in the north.
“If the state government particularly, churches, NGOs and spirited individuals had not been there for us, these camps would have been graveyards.
“We also believe that the federal government is not keen to rebuild our homes because they want herdsmen to take over our abandoned communities while we remain perpetually in IDPs camps.
They want herdsmen to continue with the killing and destruction of property in Benue but they forgot that the God who gave our Governor the wisdom to come out with the grazing law that has brought peace to our state will not abandon us, just like he did for the Israelites.
“We are also not surprise because we know that we are being punished because we have a grazing law in place that has ensured relative peace in our communities and they are not happy about that and they want it repealed. But our message is that we will rather die in IDPs camps than repeal the grazing law that has brought peace to Benue. Even if we die in the camps, our land will not be available for herdsmen. Like the stars of the heaven our posterity will take over our land which our forefathers bequeathed to us as inheritance.”
On her part, 82 year old Maria Akete lamented that it was obvious that the Federal government places more importance on the lives of cows than humans given the way Benue IDPs have been treated with disdain and described it as a source of shame to the federal government.
“They want us to repeal our grazing law and accommodate our killers so that the killings can continue. That is why they have abandoned us in IDPs camps. But we are happy with our law because it has brought peace to our communities. Our Governor did what we wanted by giving us the law and we are happy for that. If that is why they have abandoned us, we leave them to God but we know that someday God will hear our carry and our enemies will hide their faces in shame.”
Also speaking, 73 year old Mama Ayorna Ukereka who was displaced from Umenge in Guma LGA commended Governor Samuel Ortom for standing for the truth and speaking for his voiceless people.
“We are happy with our Governor who has been supporting the thousands of displaced persons who the federal government abandoned to die but the burden is too much for the state government. Our consolation is that if we die in the camp our children will continue from where we stopped because our land will not be occupied and taken over by herdsmen.”
80 year old mama Ade Achi on her part insisted that the federal government is punishing Benue state because Governor Ortom is championing the anti- grazing campaign in the country.
“The law our Governor introduced in Benue is working; so what is wrong if he is asking the country to also adopt it if that will also ensure that herdsmen do the right thing and we have peace across the country? Instead of treating us in Benue badly we should be supported and encouraged if the government is sincere about having peace in the country. And the ranching that our Governor has been talking about, which is working in Benue, should be practiced in the entire country for us to have peace.
“Today we are enjoying peace in Benue compared to what we had before the coming of the law, and we are happy. We are also happy with the military Operation Whirl Stroke because they are doing a lot to ensure peace in our state.
“We know that they cannot be everywhere at the same time and we cannot have absolute peace but we know that we are better today compared to when we did not have the law and the military were not there. So we commend the Governor and the military operation.”
Narrating her experience in camp, 80 year old Mama Theresa Ayongo who said she lost three of her children during the crisis, lamented that life in the camp had been miserable “because we can only feed when the state government, individuals and other organisations give us relief materials.
“We are tired and want to return home and start cultivating our farmland. Unfortunately the federal government has refused to rebuild our homes which they promised to do when the Vice President visited us about three years ago.
“Maybe they want us to die in the camps so that herdsmen will take over our communities. But God will not abandoned us. We have not done any wrong. We have been displaced like the people in the north who are having their homes rebuilt but for us in Benue we are outcasts because we have a law that has brought peace and they are not happy.
“But I know one thing, Benue will be remembered someday and we will be recognized for leading the campaign to have Nigeria embrace ranching and of course Governor Samuel Ortom will be honored for championing that campaign and our homes will be rebuilt, and even if some of us are not a life to witness it, our children will return home triumphantly, happier and grateful to God that He gave us victory,” she added as she fought back tears.