A month after herdsmen murdered 73 people in Benue State, fear still pervades the environment. George Okoh, who visited the two local governments, reports
Guma and Logo local government areas of Benue State, where the mindless killings of people took place on the eve of New Year are beginning to count their losses in an agonising manner. Local leaders and residents have yet to come to terms with why they were attacked.
A visit to Guma and Logo showed that the town was still writhing in pains and yet to commence the process of healing. They are still dismayed that the murder of so many people including women and children has failed to stop despite many rapprochements.
Dr. Tivlumum Nyiste, a former Permanent Secretary, Government House in Benue State and an indigene of Guma, recounted the ordeal of the people. "The people within these areas, parts of Makurdi, Agatu, Guma and now Logo, have been completely displaced. You cannot do anything meaningful with your life.
"It has been from one attack to another, which had led to loss of lives. But as it appears, the killings in the state are beginning to lead to poverty, closure of schools, hunger and starvation. These people are basically farmers. So, their children can't even go to school aside their localities and the parents cannot afford to pay their school fees. It is a double problem.
"These attacks were barbaric. There is no warning, no alarm, then you find your house under siege where children of less than two years are brutally slaughtered like chickens, goats; old men and women killed in cold blood. Women who are pregnant were killed and their tummy were sliced and badly opened and their unborn child slaughtered.
"There can be no display of barbarism more than this. I have never seen this kind of thing anywhere. It is pure genocide. Nobody can convince me it is not because it is systematic. If you are killing children, it means you are destroying the future. Even in normal warfare, when you see children and old women, you ignore them. But here is a situation, where you come to a place and kill everything that is alive.
"You cannot quantify the cost of life of one human being, but you can quantify the cost of one goat and 10 cows. You can't quantify the cost of human beings. That is why life is sacrosanct. And these people came in with sophisticated weapons unhindered. How did they come into Benue State? Where did they come from?
"If they are coming by routes or by whatever means, there are police and other security agencies on the roads to check them. And when they come and strike from the borderline, where do they run to? Do they disappear into the water or into the air? They must have somewhere they run to, but where?"
The feeling of Nyitse is the same across the length and breadth of the state and this could be felt weeks after the state government organised a burial service for the 73 people murdered by the headsmen. The event, which was attended by who is who in the state and beyond witnessed intense grief and condemnation.
In his remark, Governor Samuel Ortom of the state, lamented that the state was looking forward in its aspiration for a better year, when the headsmen invaded. He said the state lost a total of 73 persons to the attacks, with many others sustaining various degrees of injuries.
"For several years, these attackers have turned our beautiful and endowed land into their killing fields and the main reasons has been clashes between Fulani headsmen and farmers but these attacks have been intensified with alarming devastation since 2011."
He said since the attacks started in 2011, 13 out of 23 local governments had witnessed the onslaught by the herdsmen.
Wantaregh Paul Unongo said if the president has failed in his responsibility of protecting lives and properties of Benue citizens, they would resolve to train their own Army to defend themselves.
"Benue people have sacrificed enough blood for the unity of this country and would not allow a section of Fulani terrorists to come kill our people in cold blood. I am begging Nigerians that my people cannot continue to be cannon fodder of this country. If government can't protect us, we will mobilise and train our people into army to defend us. We are 100% in support of what Governor Ortom has done. I'm the spiritual leader of Tiv nation. Enough is enough!"
Unongo, who is the convener and chairman of Northern Elders Forum, stressed that the entire people of the state are watching President Buhari and have joined in the persistence calls by Governor Ortom that the government should take drastic steps to urgently address the killings as well as arrest the leader of Miyetti Allah.
"If the federal government cannot stop or arrest those behind the killings in two weeks, we shall raise an army of our own. We cannot allow people to colonise us again. We have all it takes to do that," Unongo reiterated.
Corroborating Unongo's position, Gen. Lawrence Onoja, who described the killing in the state as 'genocidal conspiracy' against the Benue people, warned that the killings must not continue.
"Some of us in 1966 fought the Nigerian civil war. Benue has contributed to the unity of this country, therefore, if federal government refused to address the killings in Benue and if we decide to raise our army as advocated by our elders to defend ourselves, I will not mind to command that army despite my age."
He appealed to the government to replicate operation python dance or Fulani dance in Benue as being done in other states of the federation, even as he urged the sons and daughters of the state to rally round the governor for a successful enforcement of the anti-open grazing law.
A former member of the National Assembly, Senator Joseph Waku, maintained that Benue people are known for creating peace, love peace and honour peace.
"It is unfortunate that someone would oppose a law that was legally enacted and began to kill and the federal government would refuse to make arrest in a quest to end the carnage. This is enough provocation. Nobody has the monopoly of killing. Therefore, enough is enough".
Speaking on behalf of Benue State House of Assembly, Benjamin Adeniyi expressed sadness that President Muhammadu Buhari came to Benue during the electioneering campaigns but could not visit after the killing. He therefore warned that the killings were enough because nobody has monopoly of violence.
Immediate past governor of Benue State, Senator George Akume, lamented that the primary aim of government is to protect lives of- the citizenry and therefore urged the federal government under President Buhari to proscribe a faction of the Miyietti Allah and designate it as a terrorist group, because their actions are treasonable as only terrorists kill in that manner.
He appealed to Benue communities not to take the laws into their hands but toe the path of peace and reconciliation as well as continue to pray together as one indivisible family to overcome the situation.
Representative of the United Nations, Dr. Mathins Ejibike, consoled with the government and people of the state for the loss of their loved one, saying what is happening in Benue demands international attention.
"We want an enlightened approach to this matter. We should continue to pray that these kinds of killings should be the last in Benue State," he said, saying they have received a report that over 20,000 refugees are already in camp and promised that they would look into their plight.
In his speech, the paramount ruler of Tiv nation, His Royal Majesty Alfred Akawe Torkula, alleged that the Tiv people, who are residing in Nasarawa and Taraba States are being murdered by the herdsmen on a daily basis since the Benue killings started.
"There is ethnic cleansing agenda going on in Benue. We must put an end to these killings. This is the 47 times that the Benue people would be attacked and killed mercilessly", noting that Buhari must arise as a man of integrity to arrest the situation, because the people of Benue voted massively for him.
Chairman, Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), Rev Akpe Leva, commended Governor Ortom for his love for the people by passing the anti-open grazing law. He added that the spirit of the departed ones and the God of Benue would arise to torment those who brought tears and sorrow to the state.
But since the mass burial, the state has had to face several other challenges, including the displacement of thousands of people, destruction of farm produce, increasing number of children out of school and provision of security in the affected areas.
A lot of people have been displaced and are living as refugees in four camps in the state. This has led the governor to call for support from the federal government, public spirited individuals, organisations as well as the international community to tackle the humanitarian challenges associated with the recent attacks.
While visiting three camps for the internally displaced persons in Makurdi and Guma local government areas, Ortom said the influx of people into the camps have increased to over 100,000. He said although the state government had responded to the situation by providing relief materials and facilities at the camps, the influx has overwhelmed its capacity especially with those who fled from attacks in neighbouring Nasarawa State.
A visit by THISDAY to the camp revealed a situation where most of the displaced persons are going through very difficult situation. The quality of food and shelter leaves much to be desired.
Veronica Tule, a mother of five, said it had been a very tough situation coping without the father of the children, who was killed by the herdsmen in Nasarawa, Veronica said she and her children were practically sleeping outside and the children were no longer in school.
Her claim was collaborated by the Benue State Universal Education Board (SUBEB), which disclosed that over 10,000 pupils had been forced out of schools in the two councils that came under attack by gunmen on New Year's Day.
SUBEB chairman, Rev Philip Tachin, said several schools were affected as many families fled their homes alongside their children to take refuge in different camps. He lamented that the move had become a serious setback to the board, which recently embarked on massive campaign for increased enrolment of pupils into public primary schools in the state at the commencement of new academic session few months ago.
"The Executive Secretary of the State Emergency Management Agency (SEMA) gave me a staggering statistic of children numbering 2,050, who are locked up in this camp in Gbajimba. Apart from these children from the rural areas that have been camped here, the primary school in Gbajimba has also been shut down in order to accommodate the refugees since there are not enough IDPs camps.
The crisis is also having effect on food production in the state. Benue known as the food basket of the nation is going through a difficult time as most farmers have abandoned their fields for safety.
Mr. Frank Kyungu said the attacks by the herdsmen came at the pick of harvest and that "As I speak to you, our harvests are still in the farm and we understand rats are feeding fat on it and these are crops we sell for our survival. He said prices of food are all time high in Benue and other places in the country. "If nothing is done urgently, Nigeria may experience hunger soon."