2 February 2013

Nigeria: Fulani/Idoma Clash - Turning Otukpo Into a War Zone

In the Amla village in OtukpoIcho community of Otukpo local government area of Benue State, where there was a clash between the Fulani herdsmen and the Idoma farmers, scores of persons were murdered and burnt, 3 Fulani settlements destroyed and a herd of cattle killed. SOLOMON AYADO who visited the village writes that hundreds of people were displaced and many have fled for fear of reprisal.

Amla rural settlement in OtukpoIcho community is an agrarian remote area of over 1000 residents who are mostly nomadic Fulani herdsmen and few Idoma peasant farmers. The village is also situated within the community where the annual hunting festival of the OtukpoIcho natives is held. The village is about 5 kilometers away from the main Otukpo town, the headquarters of the Idoma nation.

Apart from the large scale of farm lands, there is nothing very much fascinating about this village because it is a quiet remote area. There are no modern access roads and the village is without adequate water supply and modern healthcare facilities. The land is better meant for grazing activities and this is why the Fulani herdsmen, despite the lack of basic amenities, still find it habitable.

But on January 26, 2006 at precisely 5: 30 pm, a gang of unknown men, mostly youths, perhaps well armed with dangerous arms and ammunitions, attacked the Fulani herdsmen and their cattle, shooting sporadically and killing and burning to ashes more than 5 persons. In the Amla village. About 15 cows belonging to the Fulanis were killed, just as hundreds of cows were missing. This situation caused commotion among the Fulani herdsmen and the members of the host community.

The police in Otukpo had quickly rushed to the scene and recovered about 3 corpses of the Fulani herdsmen namely Alhaji Mohammed Abdullahi and Mohammed Isah. The other corpse was yet to be identified. Eight dead cows were also recovered from the scene by the police.

This ugly situation was met with the Fulani herdsmen, including nursing mothers and children, who hastily fled the traumatised area for safety. They only managed to escape with few of their belongings but most of them were partly burnt by the fire. Equally, the Idoma farmers of the community also forcefully ran out of the area due to the insecurity.

However, LEADERSHIP WEEKEND's visit to the area discovered that the attack was allegedly carried out by some Idoma youths because, according to sources, the cattle of the herdsmen were destroying farm produce of the Idoma farmers. It was also alleged that the nomadic herdsmen refused to heed the several warnings to vacate the farms.

Other sources said that the Fulani herdsmen were beheading members of the host community quietly and that the Idoma farmers could no longer resist the temptation of fighting back that fateful day after news of such an ugly incident reoccurred.

According to the council chairman of Otukpo local government, Mr. Innocent Onuh, it may have been a stray bullet that mistakenly killed a herdsman, explaining that it was during the ceremony of the yearly hunting festival which the people of the area always embarked upon. He said the Fulanis and the Idoma farmers had having a smooth relationship for the past 70 years without any ripples. He said the action was not deliberate but was only misunderstood.

"This clash is very unfortunate and I want to categorically condemn the heinous act that has been carried out on these Fulani people. I have already held a security meeting with the leaders of the two communities and the outcome is that about 500 people have been displaced. Three persons are also declared missing and over 100 cows nowhere to be found.

"But as council boss, I must make sure that the refugees are rehabilitated and that is why I quickly ordered relief materials such as bags of rice, beans and garri, as well as blankets and mats for the women and children. I want to say that this condition is sympathetic and I am calling on the federal, state and donor agencies to come to the aid of these displaced persons. We are seriously making arrangements to move the refugees back to their places. But I assure you that at the moment, there is relative peace in the areas." Onuh said.

Benue State commissioner of police, Mr. Kakwe Chris Katso who paid a special visit to the affected areas, expressed sadness over the reoccurring clashes between the Fulani herdsmen and farmers in the state. He said he had deployed armed policemen to the affected places to maintain law and order.

"You can see that I am just coming back from the war zone where I went to see things for myself. I even took snap shots of some scenes and well armed policemen are already in the area to maintain peace. Like I always say, I am not going to leave any stone unturned to making sure that perpetrators of this dastardly act are brought to book. I held a peace keeping meeting with the leaders of the affected communities and they promised me that they were not going to raise arms again," Katso stated.

Meanwhile, the leader of the Fulani herdsmen in the area, the Ardo Otukpo, Alhaji Isah Sule who lost his 15-year-old only son identified as Mohammed, was obviously devastated and simply said "Allah is in control of everything."

According to Sule, "I was born here over 55 years ago and since then we have never experienced this. About 100 cows that we are rearing are missing, 15 of them were killed by the armed youths and I lost my 15-year-old son, Mohammed. They even killed and burnt my 80-year-old brother, Alhaji Buji. We are actually afraid of going back to the bush but we shall continue to wait for government to react transparently before we would take our action."

Expressing worry over the incident, the leader of Idoma community, the Ochi Otukpo, Chief John Eyimonye assured that the Idoma traditional council would use its traditional means to find those behind the criminal act and described the unrest as sad and called on government at all levels to assist the displaced.

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