Fulani menace: Killings by the Benue River

Fulani menace: Killings by the Benue River

Wednesday, February 7, 2018 1:31 pm

IDP camp, Makurdi

By Richard Elesho/ Lokoja

The Nigerian federation is challenged. Flashes of attacks by marauding herdsmen have left people kidnapped, raped, maimed and killed across the country. From kaduna to Zamfara, from Benue to Taraba,from Nasarawa to Plateau, from Kogi to Enugu, from Delta to Rivers and others, it has been the same tales of panic, woe and lamentation. Apart from the heavy casualty figures of the attacks, properties whose values run to billions of Naira have gone down in conflagration.

Benue State has remained the poster image of the attacks. Although the state has been witnessing incessant clashes between farmers and herdsmen, the barbarism of the recent attacks has left many tongues wagging. Early January, the State organized a mass burial for 73 of its citizens killed when suspected herdsmen invaded two of its Local Governments.

The new year ushered the people into very bleak prospects. While the rest of humanity was still in a Yuletide mood, on the first day of the year, herdsmen invaded Guma and Logo Local Governments in the dead of night and killed people with reckless banality. Many men, women and children were literally butchered. The dead also allegedly included a pregnant woman, whose stomach wax slit open and the innocent foetus given a second death through mutilation. During the requiem mass, the Tor Tiv, Prof Ben Ayatse, disclosed that Fulani herdsmen had attacked Benue State 46 times from 2011 to Jan 2018.

The killings have not stopped. Since the outbreak in January, there have been reports of other killings and counter killings in the State. During a visit to the killing fields, TheNEWS met a mobile police officer who had narrowly escaped the herdsmen bullets. He was receiving treatment in a government hospital in Gbajumba, in Guma Local Government. Inspector Isiaka who was nursing a deep leg injury narrated how the herdsmen killed one of his colleagues Sgt. Solomon Dung during the special assignment.

The wounded police officer disclosed that the Fulani herdsmen outnumbered the policemen and also carried superior weapons. ” We were about 30 while they were more than 40. The cattle were in front while the heavily armed herdsmen stayed at the back. Immediately they sighted us, they came out from their ambush and started shooting in our direction. We responded. But when we realized we could not engage them effectively because of their superior weapons, we had to retreat. Unfortunately Sgt. Dung could not make it.” Isiaka told this magazine.

Since the fresh orgy of violence began, it may have claimed not less than a hundred lives, even as the killings have not abated. Recently, seven persons, suspected to be Fulanis were reportedly killed by an irate youth in Gboko, in what has been described as a reprisal attack. The victims were killed at a motor park while trying to board commercial vehicle to Okene in neighboring Kogi State. The state Government promptly declared a curfew in the area, while security agencies have also made some arrests.

The cost in social dislocations in the state is enormous. Some 100,000 displaced persons are camped in different locations in the state. Most of the displaced persons are children of school age. In addition, the camps are located in public schools, effectively putting learning activities in such schools on hold. The displaced persons are conditioned to endure the most humiliating environment in camps. Poor nutrition, exposure to cold and the elements and threat of a major health hazards.

But the children, most of who are malnourished, with their parents were there, anyway clutching to whatever safety and comfort the State Government could provide.

Speaking on the harsh fate, Ansha Baruchi Enoch, a 29-year-old father of six from Aucha village narrated how the herdsmen attacked his village and mindlessly killed many of his kinsmen. He expressed gratitude to the State Government for coming to their rescue through the IDP camps. “Although many things are lacking here and our children are not in school, we are happy to be alive. May God bless our Governor to take care of us.” Ansha said.

The Federal Government directed the Inspector General of Police, Ibrahim Idria to relocate to the state to strengthen policing activities there. Not surprising however, the attacks have attracted diverse reactions from the public. In an early January 13-page letter, former president Olusegun Obasanjo in an assessment of state of the nation gave a damning verdict and urged President Buhari to show better discretion by staying away from seeking re-election.

Former military president, Gen. Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida in another supposed letter that went viral on the internet said he is frightened by the attacks describing it as a ‘theatre of blood with cake of crimson’. He said, “the pogrom in Benue State has left me wondering if truly this is the same country some of us fought to keep together. I am alarmed by the amount of blood letting across the land. Nigeria is now being described as a land where blood flows like river, where tears have refused to dry up. Almost on a daily basis, we are both mourning and grieving, and often times left helpless by the sophistication of crimes.”

The Inspector General of Police, Ibrahim Idris and Minister of Defense, Col. Mansur Ali both blamed the killings on the promulgation of the anti-open-grazing law by the state Government. They both hold that the killings was a reaction from the herdsmen as a way of registering their displeasure with law. Also a professor of history, at Maitama Ule University, Kano, Umar Muhammed Labdo said Benue land belongs to Fulanis by conquest and that whatever they did there to claim their ownership was legitimate.

But not surprisingly, the man at the helm of affairs in Benue, Governor Samuel Ortom has been most vitriolic in calling attention to the spate of ‘violence and injustice against the Benue people.’ He accused the federal government and the security agencies of not doing enough to apprehend and punish people behind the killings. He denied that the promulgation of anti-open-grazing law by his government is reason for the attacks. The Governor fingered Miyetti Alla and Kasa Ure groups as being behind the attacks and held that the groups should be held culpable for crime. He however regretted that rather than being called to account the Federal Government seems to have granted the Fulani herdsmen and their cows immunity from prosecution. Governor Ortom bore his mind on the issue in a discussion with some journalists in Makurdi recently. TheNEWSs was there and serves you excerpts:

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