Two tragedies occurred in a short space of days in Benue state. One was an oil tanker explosion that killed over 50 unsuspecting persons in the Tiv-speaking area of the state. The second was an attack by persons suspected to be herders in Agatu local government area. This is an Idoma-speaking area. The death toll is believed to be over 20.
While the Gwer West tanker explosion was new, the Agatu killings have been carried out again and again. Their repetitiveness has not failed to draw the attention of governors of the 19 Northern States. The latest attack happened on a Sunday in Okokolo village where a church service was in progress. The governors, under the aegis of Northern State Governors Forum, condemned the killings, describing them as “a heinous crime that must not go unpunished.” The forum expressed regret that the incident occurred when relative peace had returned to the state. It exhorted the governor of Benue, Mr. Samuel Ortom, to “rise above the tragedies and provide the leadership that brings hope to the people of the state.”
We at Peoples Daily also condemn the latest killings in Agatu. But we dare say it was a tragedy waiting to happen. We recall our editorial, “Stop Agatu killings now”, of March 16 2016 on the massacres that took place in 10 communities in the same Agatu local government area. Over 500 were said to have been killed in the simultaneous attacks in February that year. We also recall the PDP-led federal government at the time warning that the killers were “unwittingly testing the will and capacities” of the government.” In that editorial, we said inter alia: “We welcome the government’s tough talk on Agatu; we expect it to also walk the talk. Too often in the past, such tough pronouncements were not followed through. Lack of action had encouraged the attackers to return to the battle fields.
“As a first step, the investigative team government has promised should establish the true identity of the perpetrators of the Agatu killings. The impression given is that they were Fulani herdsmen. But their umbrella organization, Miyetti Allah, has denied this. Only the government team can establish the fact of the matter. However, we know for a fact that what has been described as a “range war” involving nomadic herdsmen and crop farmers has been raging in the Middle Belt for decades. Since 2001, that is a 15 year period, over 60, 000 had been killed in herdsmen/farmers confrontations. The causes of the so-called range war are both historical and climactic. Before Nigeria’s independence, the British colonialists established tin mines in what is today Plateau state. They brought people from outside to work the mines. The “outsiders” turned out to be mainly Fulanis. They would soon be joined by kinsmen who were cattle rearers in search of pasture. The arrival of the herdsmen put pressure on the land, leading to occasional clashes with farmers. “The 1960s drought in the Sahel region made such confrontations more frequent by reducing traditional grazing lands. Climate change, unfortunately, has kept up the pressures. The consequences of the clashes resulting from the clashes over diminishing land are revenge attacks and ethnic cleansing of Fulanis by so called indigenes.”
Our editorial concluded: “The solution to this seemingly intractable problem is a return to what happened to make such clashes fewer and far between in the 1960s, Then, the northern regional government had grazing lands dedicated to pastoralists and special pathways were worked out for their animals so that they did not have to trespass into farmlands. That way friction was kept to the barest minimum. We should walk that road again.” Our position has not changed.