By Peter Duru – Makurdi
Benue State is facing an uphill task of catering for the officially recognized 1.597million Internally Displaced Persons, IDPs, located in several camps and host communities spread across the state.
Since the 2018 New Year day massacre by armed herdsmen in Logo and Guma Local Government Areas of the state that claimed over 70 lives, and the subsequent months of sustained attacks on several communities by marauders, the figure of IDPs in the state has continued to grow in leaps and bounds.
Today, Benue may well be described as a large fountain of IDPs where the activities of armed herdsmen have led to the sacking of huge number of the farming populace from their ancestral land, leaving in its wake a scary food production gap.
A visit to some of the IDPs camps located and designated as Daudu 1 and 3, Uikpam, Gbajimba, including the latest situated opposite Government Science School, known as Gbajimba 2, Ortese, Udei, all in Guma Local Government Area, LGA; the three in Naka, Aondona and Agagbe in Gwer West LGA, not forgetting Kwande LGA, Otukpo LGA, Agatu LGA, Anyiin in Logo LGA, as well as Abagena, Tse Yandev in Makurdi LGA, will make explicit any shadow of doubt that Benue is facing the worst humanitarian crisis ever recorded in any part of the country.
Not a few pundits believe that Nigerians are grappling with skyrocketing food prices primarily because the peace of the state, christened the Food Basket of the Nation, has been violated by armed marauders who have turned the farming communities into theaters of war forcing the people to seek refuge in IDP camps where their survival is mainly but awkwardly dependent on the support from the state government and assistance from spirited individuals and organizations.
Even in their places of refuge, the IDPs have not been spared the fangs of the marauders as was witnessed last April when one of the camps in Abagena, located in the outskirts of Makurdi, came under attack by marauders who left seven of the inmates murdered in cold blood and several others sustaining varying degrees of injuries.
This accounts for why there is growing concern about the condition and welfare of the IDPs as the state government has obviously become overwhelmed by the heartrending situation and the burden it is left to shoulder since January of 2018 given the reluctance of the Federal Government to extend support to the state for the upkeep of the IDPs as being done in other parts of the country.
This was much said by the Executive Secretary of Benue State Emergency Management Agency, SEMA, Dr Daniel Shior, and several of the IDPs and stakeholders who are yet to come to terms with the attitude of the Federal Government.
Findings from some of the official and unofficial camps spread across Makurdi, Gwer West and Guma LGAs indicated that the inmates have become weary of their continuous stay in the camps and also appalled by their outright neglect by the Federal Government.
They are also asking that the Federal Government accord same degree of attention to their plight as being done to IDPs in the North-East by making their communities safe, resettle them as well as support them to pick up their lives again.
At the Tse Yandev IDPs camp on Makurdi-Gbajimba road, though an unofficial camp, the Chairman of the facility, Gabriel Yev, while lamenting the ordeal of the IDPs, said, “We are faced with challenges here.
“The IDP situation in Benue has grown beyond what the state government can cope with, so we are pleading with the Federal Government to come to our aid as being done in the North-East.
“We are also Nigerians and we deserve attention; our destroyed villages should be rebuilt to enable us return home because we are tired of living in camps.”
Also, a nursing mother of four, Mrs. Washima Liambee, who said she fled into the camp five months ago from Orogbo, lamented that she was tired of living in makeshift shanty covering that had not been able to protect her and the children from rain.
“We want to go home to our communities; all we are asking is for the Federal Government to come to our aid and also rebuild our homes so that we can return to our communities”, she said
For David Nande, who fled with his family from Sengev, Gwer West LGA, it was his second time of running into an IDP camp following herdsmen attacks.
“My family and I were displaced in 2012 and, after battling so hard to put my house in order, I went back with my family one year after and, in 2021, herdsmen came again and burnt our houses and farmland and I and many others have again been forced to flee”, Nande said.
“At the moment, apart from the support we get from the state government, spirited individuals, churches and organizations, I also do menial jobs to sustain my family.
“But I am tired just like every one of us here. The Federal Government abandoned us to the state government.
“All we are asking is fair treatment from the Federal Government. We should be supported and they should also fulfill the pledge of resettling us. “They are doing it for the IDPs in the North-East, why is Benue different? We certainly cannot continue to live like this.”
At the Uikpam IDP camp in Guma LGA, Timothy Gar, while lamenting his ordeal, said, “We are all tired of living in this camp and we want to return home.
“We are begging the Federal Government to treat us like Nigerians as it is being done to IDPs in the North-East.
“The Federal Government cannot continue to pretend that the herdsmen crisis in Benue has not created a humanitarian crisis in the state.
“We are asking that our destroyed communities are rebuilt and victims resettled as being done in the North-East.
“When our people fall sick which we often do, we get support and treatment from humanitarian agencies and the state government medical personnel, no attention from the Federal Government. Does that tell well of the Federal Government?”
Voicing his concern about the situation in the state, a stakeholder from Guma LGA, Dr. Cletus Tyokyaa, said that, for close to five years, he has not been able to access his ancestral home, which is less than three kilometers from Daudu town due to invasion by armed herdsmen.
“I cannot farm in my home town, our people cannot farm on the land our forefathers left for us because herdsmen would not allow us live in peace”, he said.
“Our people now live in IDP camps and, in my house in Makurdi, I am housing close to 100 of them for such a long time.
“I can hardly eat well because I lose appetite whenever I remember the condition of my people who are IDPs in their own country because armed herdsmen have chased them from their ancestral land. It is as bad as that”.
Speaking on the humanitarian crisis in Benue, the ordeal of the IDPs and the challenges the state government is contending with, Shior, SEMA Executive Secretary, while recently while flagging off the distribution of relief materials to the IDPs, lamented that the state government was struggling with a huge burden of providing for the IDPs.
Shior pointed out that the Federal Government seemed to be playing politics with the IDPs situation in the state.
His words: “The humanitarian crisis in Benue State is worse than the situation in the North-East especially in the challenge of food, shelter, WASH and medical care.
“Regrettably Benue State government, with well over 1.597million IDPs, is shouldering these responsibilities which is not fair because the challenge is too huge to leave on the shoulders of a state government alone.
“The situation is constituting a huge drain on the resources of the state government and it is becoming unbearable.
“And it will be unfair to ask them to return to their ancestral homes without assuring them of their safety and making adequate provision for their return.
“That should be the responsibility of the Federal Government.
“Moreover the dangers that prompted their deserting their homes and communities are still there and the Federal Government should stand up to its responsibilities to the people by putting all measures in place to ensure safety of lives and property in the communities.
“It is pertinent to note that the IDPs challenge in Benue is not only a humanitarian crisis but a crisis that effects the development of the people.
“It is a challenge of development because the infrastructures in most parts of the attacked and sacked communities were also destroyed and needs to be rehabilitated.
“The state government lacks the capacity to rebuild these communities, it is the Federal Government that should do it but they are turning a blind eye to that responsibility.
“All we are asking is that the IDP situation should also be accorded required attention by the Federal Government as being done in the North-East because the situation here in Benue is worse than what they think is happening in the North-East, Benue is also part of Nigeria.”