By Peter Duru, Makurdi

A diaspora group, the Mutual Union of Tiv in America, MUTA, has raised the alarm over the abandonment of millions of Tiv natives and farmers displaced by armed herdsmen now taking refuge in Internally Displaced Persons, IDPs, camps in Benue and neighbouring states warning that they should not be left to die in the camps.

The group raised the alarm weekend during an interdenominational rally it held at the Abagena IDPs camp, in the outskirts of Makurdi town with support from the Tiv Professional Group, TPG, Christian Association of Nigeria, CAN, Benue Branch, and Movement Against Fulani Occupation, MAFO.

Addressing the gathering, the Chairman MUTA IDPs Committee, Prof. Joseph Zume stated that his committee had been working hard and even petitioned the National Assembly to have the Tiv IDPs in Benue, Nasarawa and Taraba states return to their ancestral homes.

Represented by Dr. Yakubu Tor-Agbidye, the Committee Chairman disclosed that, “we have also engaged the United States Government on this issue and have continued our aggressive efforts to draw the attention of the international community to the plight of our displaced population.

“This event is a continuation of these efforts. It provides an avenue for us to raise our collective voices to God almighty, to ask for His intervention in the plight of our displaced brothers and sisters.”

Continuing, Prof. Zume said “that fellow Nigerian citizens have been dispossessed of their ancestral lands and are abandoned to die in IDP camps is unconscionable and simply wicked.

“That our people would become permanent refugees in their own land is unfathomable and unacceptable. That children of school age are being denied their rightful educational opportunities is unjust, inexplicable, and morally incongruent with human dignity.

“That young women of childbearing ages are being denied the right to do so responsibly and meaningfully is wicked and immoral.

“How does one explain the situation whereby, people who used to provide for their families and help sustain the status of Benue State as the nation’s food basket, now have to depend on the benevolence of others to feed?

“We must not let these innocent victims become permanent refugees in their own country. No Nigerian citizen deserves to live and die in an IDPs camp.

“The continued neglect and abandonment of hundreds of thousands of our displaced population in Benue, Nasarawa and Taraba, has become, not only embarrassing, but also a disgrace to the entire Tiv nation.

“Just imagine the agonizing and dehumanizing conditions under which the IDPs live. For how long must they endure before someone listens to their cries?”

While challenging the representatives of the people at both the National and State Assembly to add their voices to the humanitarian challenge confronting the Tiv people, MUTA said it was time for everyone to add their voices to the situation.

“We must all stand up and demand that all displaced Tiv persons be returned to their ancestral lands. In summary, MUTA calls on the Nigerian authorities to forestall further suffering of the displaced peoples by expeditiously and safely resettling the IDPs across Benue, Nasarawa, and Taraba.

“The authorities should financially and otherwise aid the IDPs to rebuild and re-engage in productive ventures that will sustain their livelihoods as well as provide adequate security for persons returning to their communities.”

Commending the Benue state government for providing for the IDPs despite its limited resources, the diaspora group
appealed to international humanitarian organizations to come to the aid of the Tiv IDPs who it said are living in dire conditions in Benue, Nasarawa, and Taraba states.

In his address, Governor Samuel Ortom of Benue state who was represented by the Executive Secretary of Benue State Emergency Management Agency, SEMA, Dr. Emmanuel Shior commended MUTA for championing the course of advocacy in the diaspora about the dire situation of the displaced population in the State.

He informed the diaspora group that “the period from 2018 to date has been turbulent for Benue on account of the displacement of more that 1,579,000 sons and daughters of the State origin, as a result of the wanton attacks and heartless killings perpetrated by armed Fulani herdsmen at various times and locations.

“These ill-fated attacks commence on 1st day of Janyary, 2018 when 73 people from Mbashiov in Tomatar, Saghev District of Guma LGA were murdered in their sleep without any provocation against the Fulani herdsmen.

“Other coordinated attacks continued immediately the Tomatar killings and this forced people to flee their residences. Even though the Fulani herdsmen claimed responsibility for the wanton killings, up to this moment no security outfit has apprehended them.”

He stated that following the development IDPs camps had to be opened to house the displaced persons in parts of the state.

“As time went on, the herdsmen attacked the camp at Tse-Ginde where the people of Tomatar were taking refuge, which led to further displacement and consequent closure of the camp.

“Subsequently the Abeda camp in Logo LGA was also closed for similar concerns. From that time up till now IDPs have remained in camps and majority of them staying with members of the host communities.

“The Government of Benue State has been feeding the IDPs on monthly basis. This has placed a huge humanitarian burden on the shoulders of the Government, given also the dwindling economic fortunes caused by the COVID-19 global pandemic which started in December 2019.

“In all, not less than 21 out of the 23 LGAs in the State have been attacked and ravaged, with some parts thereof left depopulated and with minimal or no ongoing socio-economic activities.

“At certain times Benue State Government came to the aid of households from various parts of Nasarawa and Taraba States who ran to Benue for shelter and protection; also as a result of activities of the belligerent armed herdsmen.

“This crisis has claimed the lives of thousands of Benue citizens and property and crops worth billions of Naira have been destroyed within these four years.

“The IDPs crisis started almost at the time that the State Government was grappling with the influx of Cameroonjan refugees in Kwande Local Government of of the state. Let me inform you that Benue State Government has been hosting the refugees from neighbouring Cameroon, who occupy parts of Kwande LGA and surrounding areas.

“The crisis in Cameroon started in October 2017. At present about 11,900 Cameroonian refugees are in Benue State in a designated placed known as the Ikyogen Refugee Settlement.

“The State Government provided food, water, shelter, health (both at camp and at secondary health facilities), non-food items, psychosocial support, etc to cushion the effect of their sufferings up until in 2018 when the UNHCR took over, leaving the State Government with the responsibility of Camp Coordination and Camp Management and the provision of security.”

The Governor who listed both the local and international humanitarian organizations as well as government agencies and organizations including security agencies that had been given tremendous support to the IDPs and the government stressed that “the challenge of insecurity still stares us in the face, that is why the IDPs are not able to return to their homes.

“Those who made attempts at various times to return were killed by the herdsmen who have even occupied the houses that were not destroyed.”

He called on MUTA to intervene further by “engaging the Federal Government to provide more security at the border areas to warrant the return of the IDPs and to also reconstruct their houses and the destroyed infrastructure in their places including bridges, schools, markets, hospitals and worship centers.”

In his remark, Chairman of CAN Benue state, Reverend Akpen Leva commended MUTA, for the boldness and forthrightness in championing the course of IDPs in Benue state. He urged members of the union to stage a march to the United States Congress and present the Benue situation to the United States Government.

Rev. Leva who expressed disappointment over the failure of the Federal Government to do enough for the suffering IDPs in the state called on spirited individuals and organisations to come to the aid of Benue and help alleviate the humanitarian crisis in the state.

President of the Tiv Professional Group, TPG, and Chairman of the Local Organizing Committee, Prof. Zacharys Gundu lamented that the attacks on Benue communities were being carried out by armed Fulani herdsmen from within and outside Nigeria.

Accord to him, “the agenda of these people is to take over our land and cede it to Fulanis from all parts of the world. But Nigeria is a modern state, a modern state cannot allow this to happen.”

Prof. Gundu also noted that “the Federal Government has refused to integrate the challenge of the Benue IDPs in the National Humanitarian Response Plan of the country. This is a plan that gives the basic data on what is happening in the country and how challenging the issues are.

“In a country like Nigeria the Response plan is targeting only Borno, Adamawa and Yobe states. In other parts there is denials. Like Nasarawa state will say they don’t have IDPs. But in Benue we have people who are displaced but the National Plan does not capture them.

“Some of these IDPs have been living there for years, and these are vulnerable people. It is very painful. Apart from this, we also blame the Federal Government because some of these people who are attacking us are coming from other parts of the continent, they are not Nigerians.

“How do they come into Nigeria cross several borders and come and attack and go back. Nasarawa state is their resting and staging point. They come into Nasarawa, cross over to Benue attack and go back.

“When they are certain that the people have moved from their ancestral land, they ask some of their people to take over so that the displaced persons cannot go back to their villages. That is what they are doing to our people. That is why the Federal Government must take steps to ensure that the IDPs return to their ancestral homes.

“It is also very painful that those of us who are educated, those of us who have positions of leadership are not stepping out to support the government of Benue state to mount the little pressure they can to end the attacks; It is unacceptable.”

Prof. Gundu also called on the Vice President, Prof. Yomi Osinbajo to take steps to fulfill the promise he made to the State when he visited the camp, that the Federal Government would release N10billion for the settlement of the IDPs saying that the IDPs were in dire need.

A humanist and Catholic Priest, Revd, Fr. Solomon Ukeyima who commended MUTA for convening the rally lamented that the Federal Government had been blind to the humanitarian crisis in Benue state.

“With this rally we can draw the attention of the international community to what is happening in the state. Where we are gathered, the Abagena IDPs camp is the least of all the IDPs camps in the state and if you go to those other camps you will see the level of suffering.

“So this rally will obviously expose to the world what our brothers and sisters are going through in these IDPs camps where they live in extreme condition.”

On his part, the Spokes person for Tiv Youths worldwide, Timothy Mhon urged the Federal Government to liaise with the Benue State Government to ensure that the IDPs returned to their ancestral homes.

“We are simply calling on the Federal Government to liaise with the state government to have the IDPs return back home. In doing that they must look at the security challenges and ensure that the communities are secured before the IDPs are made to return him,” he said.

On her part, Executive Director, Community Links and Human Empowerment Initiative, CLHEI, Dr. Helen Teghtegh lamented that victims of herdsmen attacks in IDPs camps were facing the challenges of lack of education, healthcare and psychosocial support.

She said: “We have women who were raped by armed herdsmen who attacked their communities and these people need support. The Federal Government has refused to pay attention to the humanitarian crisis in Benue state and it is not helping the situation in the state.”

The Tiv Women Leader, Mrs. Ngumaren Aniwen, in her remark lamented that women and children were going through harrowing experiences at the IDPs camps and urged the Federal Government to treat the Benue situation like what is obtainable in the North East buy paying more attention to the situation in the state to tackle the humanitarian crisis.

The President General, Mzough U Tiv, MUT, worldwide, Chief Iorbee Ihagh regretted that the Federal Government had turned a blind eye to the killings in the state by armed herdsmen because some persons in high places were bent on ensuring that Benue people where sacked from their homes for Fulani herdsmen to take over thereby creating a huge humanitarian crisis in the state.

Chief Ihagh said that God would help the people to prevail against their enemies.

The highpoint of the event was the donation of a van load of beans, rice, noddles, cooking oil, onion, and other food items donated by MUTA to be distributed to the IDPs in the state.

Receiving the donation on behalf of the State Government, the Executive Secretary of SEMA, Dr. Emmanuel Shior who commended MUTA for the intervention promised to ensure prompt distribution of the food items to the beneficiaries.

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