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Published On: Tue, Apr 1st, 2014

Benue crisis and the plight of internally displaced persons

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Governor SuswamThe clashes between Tiv farmers and suspected Fulani herdsmen have regrettably continued to intensify unabated. There seem to be no solution as it has blossomed into a full scale, bloody war.

Hitherto, Benue state governor, Gabriel Suswam had warned that the crisis may result into an ethnic war if urgent steps were not taken to beef up security in the state.

Acting promptly, the Inspector-General of Police, through the DIG Operations, Force headquarters Michael Zuokumor dispatched over 5000 police officers to the State, boasting that they will end the crisis.

Sadly enough no sooner had this action been taken than the situation exacerbated. The governor who is the chief security officer of the State was attacked on 18th March, 2014 at Tse Akenyi, Umenger Guma local government area while on an assessment tour of areas ravaged by the herdsmen. The gruel sight of butchered human beings with mutilated body parts, destroyed houses as well as burnt food produce greeted his sight during the trip.

The attack on the governor had occurred just few minutes after soldiers, who had embarked on the journey with him, suddenly abandoned him at Uikpam. They left him almost bare in the hands of policemen and Civil Defence personnel but he braved the odds insisting, “with or without you people, I will go ahead”.

Barely had the attackers set a house on fire at Tse Akenyi and fled than the governor’s convoy arrived the scene. They stood afar and just watched. And in a flash, the bandits, who were heavily armed (going by the sound of their guns), heard footsteps and immediately opened fire. Everyone, including the governor, who was shielded by his security aides as well as journalists, scampered for safety. The Police returned fire and soon, the convoy sped off.

A week after the attack on the governor, fierce and bloody fighting erupted in Agasha, a riverine area also in Guma local government area of the state. An eyewitness who spoke to Peoples Daily said the fighting started early hours of the day, adding that there was exchange of gun duel between Tiv youths/ suspected marauders, which lasted uptill evening. At the end, over 25 persons were reported dead.

On Sunday 23rd March, what could be described as the ‘bloodiest’ and ‘fiercest’ battle since the crisis commenced many years ago, occurred in Gbajimba, headquarters of Guma local government area.

At least 55 persons were reportedly feared killed in the heavy gunfire. Narrating the incident, an eyewitness who fled the area, said the armed quietly sneaked into the area while the people were worshipping in the churches. It was gathered that the youths repelled and further pushed them away but they quickly regrouped and came back in large numbers to attack the people. Again the youths fought back like wounded lions to secure their domain.

“They came in their large numbers very early Sunday morning from Awe local government area of Nasarawa state and made an attempt to forcefully seize the town and the local government secretariat but they were confronted by our youths, who resisted and forced them to beat a retreat”, the anonymous eye witness said.

“Just this afternoon at about 1pm, they staged a more coordinated attack on the town; this time around, they came in theirs hundreds, shooting, burning down houses, huts and killing anything in sight.

“The policemen in Gbajimba are helpless because we have less than 50 officers and men on ground at the station and this attack has completely overwhelmed them.

“As I speak to you, serious fighting is still going on in Gbajimba; close to 55 persons may have been killed on both sides because corpses are littered all over in the communities. So many of our people are also missing at this moment.

“But from the look of things, if security personnel do not quickly mobilize into the town, the invaders may succeed in completely taking over the ancient town after sacking close to 100 villages in the local government area in the last few weeks.

“Our fear is that if Gbajimba is allowed to fall into the hands of these marauders, it could be used as a launching pad to attack Makurdi, which is just a few minutes’ drive from the ancient town”, he further said.

Meanwhile, thousands of displaced persons have scattered all over Makurdi, the Benue state capital and its environs. The refugees, most of them women and children, stay in primary schools, abandoned buildings and even sleep in filing stations. Some have had to set up makeshift thatched houses to live in. This is just as they suffer starvation and hunger.

“I am going through hell. I have a family of 7. My house in Gbajimba was destroyed by the attackers. I only managed to escape with my wife and children. Now, we are faced with serious hunger and starvation. I cannot feed my children. They cannot go to school again. Their future is very bleak. Government should come to our aid or else we may die”, cried Iorhemba Mase, a farmer.

If Iorhemba’s story is pitiable, then Terver Orduen’s is pathetic. “I lost my only son, Dooyum, during the crisis. My life is completely shattered. I do not know why I am even living”, he lamented bitterly amidst sobs.

The effect of the sudden population explosion in Makurdi is the likelihood of outbreak of diseases as was the case during the flood of 2012.

It could be recalled that several persons lost their lives as a result of outbreak of cholera just as there was a high rate of rape incidents of the flood victims.

Meanwhile, on Monday, March 24, the distribution of relief materials was flagged off by the state’s deputy governor, Chief Steven Lawani, at the St. Mary’s Primary School, North Bank, in Makurdi.

The materials which included mattresses, buckets, food items and clothing were delivered by the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA).

While distributing the materials, Chief Lawani assured the internally displaced persons of their safety in the camps and efforts to halt the hostilities between suspected Fulani mercenaries and Tiv farmers so that they could return to their ancestral homes.

He also said the marauders will be chased away from the state, for the people to enjoy peace and once again engage in farming activities. “These terrorists will not be allowed to stay here. We will chase them far away from our land”, Lawani said.

While lamenting that the state is dealing with heavily armed herdsmen as well as an organized terrorist group who come from Yobe, Borno, through Gombe, he expressed confidence that with the assistance of the aerial surveillance by the Air Force, Army and Police, the crisis will be brought to a final end.

He expressed appreciation to NEMA, for their prompt response in sending relief materials, promising that the materials will be distributed to the seven (7) affected wards.

“We are most grateful for NEMA for always responding promptly. In 2012, during the flood,they gave us a lot of relief materials and this time they have brought quite a lot of materials too”, he noted.

It is heartwarming to note that this time, NEMA would supervise the distribution of relief materials to the refugees, so as to avoid the ugly incidents that were experienced during the flood when the displaced persons complained bitterly that the materials did not get to them.

It could be recalled that officials of the State Emergency Management Agency (SEMA) allegedly diverted the materials and made brisk business with them to the detriment of the flood victims. At other instances, many relief materials allegedly disappeared from the stores. These nefarious acts, including alleged cases of rape of victims by some officials, marred the exercise.

One way of addressing this problem, according to analysts, is the establishment of feedlots in some states of the federation. In these feedlots, cattle can graze, the herdsmen can live and forge a viable economic scheme with the host community.

Given the socio-economic developmental pursuit of Nigeria, it is no longer fashionable for herdsmen to appropriate grazing routes and lay claim to such, without infringing on the rights of their host communities, who themselves must protect their livelihood.

To put an end to this frequent occurrence, the nomadic cattle-rearers and the farmers must understand that they both need each other, not only for their survival, but also for the sustenance of the community.

It is hoped that there will be no repeat of these ugly incidents.

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