19 June 2017

Nigeria: Benue and the Unwanted Herdsmen

George Okoh writes about the incessant killings by herdsmen in Benue State and what the government is doing about it

In the first week of May, there were series of attacks on Benue communities by Fulani herdsmen. The last of them were the deadly attacks on Mbavuur and Mbaya council wards in Logo and Buruku Local Government Areas, where scores of people were killed.

These attacks came on the heels of bloody invasions in Tse-Akaa, Mba'abaji and Tse-Orlalu in Logo LGA where several residents were killed and several others were sacked by the marauding herdsmen. These attacks have become a daily occurrence that the people of Benue State now sleep with both eyes open.

Unfortunately, the invasion of these hitherto peaceful communities have continued unabated despite the outcry that trailed the unprovoked attacks and killings. Today, majority of the inhabitants of the affected communities have become refugees in their own land, abandoning their large scale farming activities which the people are known for.

Sadly, the people have also been abandoned to their fate. From Makurdi to Zaki Biam, Otukpo to Agatu, it's the same sad story of bloodletting and devastation that has left hundreds killed, property destroyed, and farmland and food barns razed.

The developments have also affected farming activities in the state. Most farming communities have been deserted. This has left most people in rural communities in abject poverty and delusion of a possible end to the endless killings.

Regrettably, while the global community continues to reminisce around the recent genocide in Agatu, which left hundreds of defenceless persons dead, the blood thirsty herdsmen have now bared their taste for blood on Ukum, Buruku and Logo LGAs, regarded as the food baskets of the state. Benue and, in particular, Ukum and Logo, are known for their massive production of yam tubers and grains sold across the country, but with the attacks the economic fortune of these councils is heading for the rocks. A tuber of yam that was selling in the state before these crises for a N100 now sells for N600 and above.

The frequency of the attacks has kept pundits pondering on the motive of the attacks by the herders. Hardly has a day passed within the said period without reported cases of invasions and killings in parts of the state by herdsmen who have now devised the strategy of occupying any 'conquered' community.

It is estimated that over 2,000 innocent people have been killed in places like Agatu, Obagaji, Vaase, Igbongum, Swende, Tsukwa, Ugondo, Tyovgbenda, Ankyor, Chambe and Anawah settlements at Gaambe-Tiev, Dusa villages in Turan council ward, Uzzar, Anyii and several others, in Logo and Ukum LGAs

Some of the slain had their heads cut off, some had their legs and hands severed from their bodies while many were shot at very close range. The death toll keeps rising.

These herdsmen usually attack from the neighbouring state of Nasarawa, Kogi and Taraba with devastating effect.

A month ago, the uproar that greeted the killing of a septuagenarian was yet to die down when another incursion was recorded at Tiza Village in Tombo ward, where Samuel Wayo, a primary School supervisor with Logo LGA was killed along with one Msugh Oriin.

Shortly after that attack, a fresh offensive was also launched on parts of Chambe and Anawah settlements at Gaambe-Tiev in Logo Local Government Area by the marauders. According to an eyewitness, the armed herdsmen stormed the villages, singing war songs, shooting sporadically and razing down houses, huts and food barns in the affected communities.

He said, "like the cases before now, the attack was unprovoked, the armed Fulani herdsmen stormed the settlements shooting sporadically and singing at the same time."

He stated that over 25 lives were lost in that attack while several others sustained machete cuts and bullet wounds.

Continuing, he said, "As if that was not enough, after chasing the people away, they took over and occupied the affected settlements while some houses and huts were also set ablaze. That is the situation we have found ourselves in this part of the country, we are completely helpless, our women and children are also being tormented and killed almost on a weekly basis. Maybe the Fulanis want us to vacate Benue State for them.

"At the moment most of our people are also moving in their numbers from villages adjoining the attacked communities. Majority of them are fleeing to Anyii, the local government headquarters where most of the wounded are also receiving medical attention."

Reacting recently on the attack on Tse Aondo, Tse Ankyou and Igbogom communities in Ukum LGAs where about 10 persons were killed and scores injured by the marauders, the State Deputy Governor, Mr. Benson Abounu lamented that the state was under the siege of herdsmen despite the genuine efforts of the government to checkmate the unending killings.

The Deputy Governor said the information at the disposal of the government indicated that herdsmen storm the affected communities from neighboring Taraba State.

Abounu said, "these attacks clearly show that we are a state under siege, that is the mildest way anybody can put it. These killings are quite unfortunate, just when you think that the matter had died down one wakes up to news of another ugly attack and killing of innocent people. This ugly trend will no longer be condoned, the bad side of it is that these attackers came in with their cows from neighbouring Taraba State and unleashing mayhem on the people.

"The government is terribly bothered and very worried by these developments and we are not sleeping over the matter, we will not continue to take this, we will soon take stringent measures to check these incessant attacks."

Governor Samuel Ortom, on his part, lamented that his government was helpless and could not contain the activities of the herdsmen whom he said were killing, maiming and raping women in Benue villages.

Ortom said, "after committing the atrocities they sack the locals from their abode after which they occupy the 'captured territory'.

"It is a bad situation, everyday you hear how my people are being killed, raped and maimed by these mercenaries; they do not have respect for the rule of law nor for security personnel. The situation has gotten to a point where we will contain the crisis in one community and they would move quickly to another to massacre the people.

"These are wicked mercenaries under the guise of herdsmen who are attacking us and taking over our farmland, I have said it several times that we do not have land for grazing in the state, let them move out of the state if they cannot respect the rule of law and the sanctity of human lives.

"There is a limit to which I can appeal to my people to restrain themselves from reprisal attacks, if all of them are killed then I might be the next target. We are helpless and if nothing urgent is done we might have a major crisis in our hands."

However, the governor offered solutions to the crises, one of which was the idea of ranching.

He urged Nigerians to encourage the herdsmen to resort to ranching rather than wild grazing. He said that ranching of cows was the panacea to the lingering clashes in parts of the country.

"The solution to Fulani invasion is ranching," he said. "There is nowhere in the world where we have cattle moving about except in Nigeria. Why must we live with animals? How can we continue to spend on security in the midst of recession? We must ranch our cattle. Nigeria must come together to support herdsmen ranching their cattle. The people must also learn to report to security agencies whenever there are issues in their communities. Two wrongs can never make a right. People will begin to be afraid of Benue if we continue in crisis this way. No matter the provocation, we must be law-abiding so that government can fight for us."

To further press its plan to keep the alleged killer herdsmen in check, the state government recently signed a law enacted by the 8th Benue Assembly prohibiting open grazing of livestock in the state.

Apart from providing for the establishment of Ranches and Livestock administration, regulation and control, the bill also provides that anybody who engages in Cattle Rustling shall be liable, on conviction, for imprisonment for a term of not less than three years or One Hundred Thousand Naira per animal or both.

Cited as the Open Grazing Prohibition Establishment Law, 2017, the bill was passed after the House considered the report of its Committee on Agriculture and Natural Resources as presented by its Chairman, Mr. James Gbande, in the Committee of the Whole chaired by the Speaker, Mr Terkimbi Ikyange.

Among other things the bill provides that "no individual or group shall, after the commencement of this law, engage in open nomadic livestock herding or grazing in the state outside the permitted Ranches." Section 19 (2) provides that "any person or group of persons who contravenes the above provision shall be guilty of an offence and shall, on conviction, be liable to five years imprisonment or One million Naira fine or both."

The bill also provides for monetary compensation in case of any damage to a property and imprisonment of two years of the livestock owner or manager in case of injury to any person within the State.

According to the bill "where such contravention causes the death of any person within the state, the owner or manager of such livestock shall be guilty of an offence of culpable homicide punishable under the Penal code."

With the signing of the bill into law, it is a huge relief to residents of the state who have suffered so much due to the activities of the killer headsmen.

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