Monday March 31st, 2013 marked yet another historic day in the lives of Tiv/Fulani tribes in Benue as both sides once again agreed to a cease-fire following many years of war which has caused great destruction to lives and property. In this piece, our Benue State correspondent Uche Nnorom examines the peace pact and concludes that there is still suspicion and mistrust on both sides.
The Tiv farmers, Fulani herdsmen crisis has raged on for a long time. Thousands of lives have been lost while properties worth billions of naira have been destroyed.
Similarly, thousands of persons have been displaced. They litter the streets of Makurdi, Benue State looking dejected and frustrated. Most of them do not even have any shelter as they stay in the open, being beaten by rain and smitten by the scorching sun.
Those who established camps by themselves since the state government deliberately refused to establish camps citing security risk as reason, live in squalor condition. They are faced with health hazards as the sanitary conditions of the areas they stay are really appalling, not conducive for human habitation.
For instance, at the St. Mary’s primary school camp, North bank which is being manned by the Catholic Church, the displaced persons have heaps of dusts as their companion. This is even as the State Urban and Sanitation Board had never deemed it fit to clear the debris and mount a kit bucket there.
The role of the Catholic Church in catering for the spiritual and physical needs of the refugees cannot go unmentioned here. Unlike during the flooding in 2012 which was marred by lots if irregularities raging from diverting of relief materials to incidence of rape, there has been no report of such this time as the Church has taken it as a responsibility to ensure that materials donated by Rep Emmanuel Jime and Dr. Paul Orhii, NADFAC boss were judiciously utilized.
Hitherto, the feud between the Tiv farmers/Fulani herdsmen seems to have deferred every human solution as the crisis assumed a frightening dimension. There was even the reported incident of use of chemical weapon in Naka, Gwer West local government area, where 10 persons allegedly died of inhalation of chemical. Investigation into the case is going on in different quarters including the US embassy whose ambassador to Nigeria was in the state recently with some forensic experts to ascertain the veracity of the claims.
The Tiv/Fulani herdsmen have lived as good friends for decades. They both have had a healthy symbiotic relationship. No wonder it beats people’s imagination why they should be at each other’s neck to the extent of engaging in a long drawn war.
But looking back at history, in the 17th century, Uthman Dan Fodio in his quest to conquer some section of the country, attempted to declare Islam in the middle belt after succeeding in the Western region but met a strong resistance in the Benue people who were real warriors.
So, it is viewed that the present crisis is one of several efforts to execute that unfulfilled ambition. But this again failed.
The tiff was also seen from a political angle. The tussle for 2015 is raging on. The North is clamoring for return of power to them and will do everything possible to ensure that they stop President Goodluck Jonathan from not only re- contesting for the Presidency but ensure that if he does, he would fail at the polls.
Governor Gabriel Suswam is an ardent follower of President Jonathan having worked as his campaign director for the North-central in the 2011 election. Even though it must be stated emphatically that not much benefit has accrued to the state for supporting Jonathan in the last election. So, there seem to be a grand plot to destabilize Suswam’s government and make him renounce his avowed support for the President through the elimination of his people. Recall too that he had once walked out as member of the Northern Governor’s Forum and labeled his counterparts as ‘untrustworthy’ people though he had returned to the fold.
Suswam has however, stuck to President Jonathan like tick on cattle’s back especially now that he is taking a shot at the senate, he is banking on the President to reward him for his loyalty so that he could dislodge Senator Barnabas Gemade from the red chambers.
In whole, both Tiv/Agatu and Fulani herdsmen convened at a round table and regretted over their incessant bickering, describing it as ‘needles and avoidable’.
Hence, both parties held long hours of meeting at Government House, Makurdi on March 30th, 2014 that stretched late into the early morning presided over by Governor Gabriel Suswam with security agencies led by DIG Michael Zuokumor.
The meeting continued the next day March 31st though the Governor was absent as he traveled to Abuja for another engagement.
At the end, an immediate cessation of hostilities was agreed upon with a stern warning that henceforth, no party should attack each other.
Reeling out their resolutions which were also signed by delegation of the President of Miyetti Allah, Alhaji Bodejo Abdullahi as well, as the committee headed by the DIG Operations, Michael Zuokumor, Commissioner of Police in-Charge of Counter Terrorism at the Force Headquarters, CP SL Wakama, the Benue state Commissioner of Police, Adams Audu, the Commissioner in-charge of mobile police and several traditional rulers, Brig-Gen. Atom Kpera, Chairman, Conflict Resolution and Peace Building Committee emphasized that the Fulani have not been chased out of the state, assuring them of their safety and peaceful co-existence with Tiv/Agatu rural farmers.
It was also resolved that the Tiv/ Fulani will immediately set up a joint Task Force to check the activities of criminal elements on both sides and implement details of the peace agreement, adding that all the parties will continue to meet from time to time to build confidence and keep track of the implementation of the peace agreement.
Similarly, the committee which took major steps towards resolution of the crisis, called on both parties to avoid taking the laws into their hands no matter the provocation, avoid rumor peddling and false stories capable of heightening the feeling of insecurity and fear, dismantle all illegal roadblocks and desist from searching motor vehicles to harass anyone, stop all tracks on persons of specific nationalities and properties.
They warned sternly that these acts constitute criminal offenses for which the police will not hesitate to arrest and prosecute the culprits.
In keeping with the resolution to constitute a civilian joint task force, on Saturday 12th, 2014, an 8-man committee of Tiv farmers/Fulani herdsmen was formed at the Government House, Makurdi.
However, confusion, controversy and mixed feelings trailed the constitution of the committee even as the Agatu community was conspicuously left in its formation.
During the meeting which was also attended by Fulani leaders from Nasarawa state, tempers flared as there was disagreement by some section of the Fulani community who complained over the recognition accorded Alhaji Bello Abdullahi Bodejo who is said to be the President, Miyetti Allah Kautai Hore.
They insisted that the only recognized body which is also known to the Sultan of Sokoto Alhaji Sa’ad Abubakar is the Cattle breeders.
Reacting to the situation, the DIG angrily said, “Whoever wants to constitute a threat to the peace would be dealt with. Some of you stay in the comfort of your houses while the people who bear the pains of the destruction are women and their children. Both sides have lost a lot and nobody would be allowed to thwart the peace move. It must be carried out to the latter.”
Zuokumor explained that the composition of the committee became necessary to monitor the activities of both sides, warning that anyone caught breaching the agreement would be severely dealt with.
“If a Fulani herdsman is caught destroying the farm of any Tiv farmer, he should be picked and handed over to the Police for prosecution. And if any Tiv farmer is found rustling Fulani man’s cattle, he should be picked and handed to the police. This is the responsibility before you”, he charged them.
The DIG then requested members of the committee to hug each other as a mark of reconciliation and forgiveness but they only shook hands except for one who was bold enough to do so, thereby still heightening the suspicion and lack of trust between them.
Chairman, Benue State Conflict Resolution and Peace Building Committee, Brig-Gen. Atom Kpera, (rtd) urged the committee to show conscious effort that they have embraced peace by creating an atmosphere of friendliness which has existed between the Tiv people and Fulani, adding that they must concretize the peace by mapping out strategies to ensure the immediate return of the displaced persons.
Coordinator of the Peace and Reconciliation Committee, Aliyu Teshaku assured that they would live up to the task ahead of them, positing that they would sacrifice their lives to ensure peace.
Sad enough, days after the peace accord, there are still pockets of reported killings in Logo local government of Benue state, home country of the Governor.
“As I speak with you, there are killings going on in Zege, a village close to Ayilamo which is just 3 km to Anyiin, Governor Suswam’s home. Though there is heavy presence of soldiers in the area, they have refused to go to the villages where the attacks are going on. “Perhaps, they are just protecting the Governor’s house”, an aggrieved indigene who pleaded anonymity said.
With all these, many still doubt the peace process as not being concrete. There is also suspicion and mistrust between the Tiv people and Fulani as exemplified at the constitution of the joint task force. It now remains to be seen as both parties can unite to resolve the crisis permanent so as to ensure that the internally displaced persons quickly return to their homes and embark on farming activities.