The tears have refused to dry; the blood flowing ceaselessly. Twenty villages set ablaze, about 30 persons killed.
You are welcome to Tse, Chembe, Ikyunkyundu, Akuur, Atoga and several villages in the Agatu Local Government area of Benue State where herdsmen have continued a reign of terror. For over six years now, several communities in the state have been under attack by armed Fulani herdsmen with the attendant destruction of farmsteads, loss of lives and displacement of large numbers of inhabitants.
From Kwande, Gwer West, Makurdi, to Logo and Agatu local government areas, the pastoral Fulani have continued to torment and maim innocent and defenceless locals. Horrendous as the Boko Haram killings are, the blood-letting in clashes between farmers and herdsmen may actually be worse as it is a nationwide menace. The primary cause of these conflicts is grazing during which herds of cows stray into or are deliberately led into farmlands with resultant large-scale destruction of crops.
Among the several efforts to stem these conflicts in Benue was the setting up by the Benue State Governor, Gabriel Suswam, of a Peace and Reconciliation Committee headed by retired Brigadier General Atom Kpera. The committee, comprising many top political leaders in the state went round the state meeting Fulani and community leaders with the aim of brokering permanent peace. Unfortunately, these efforts have yielded little or no results, as the conflicts continue to create more orphans and widows. Last month, the herdsmens intensified their attacks in Logo, the very hometown of the state governor, Suswam, ransacking villages likeTse Chembe, Ikyukyundu, Akuur, Atoga and many others.
The dust was yet to settle when 20 more villages were set ablaze by the herdsmen who were well armed. About 30 persons were killed in the attack. While the attacks in Logo and Kwande local governments persist, a bloody encounter occurred in Agatu Local Government of Benue South between farmers and the nomadic Fulani who trespassed into the farmlands of farmers destroying farmlands extensively. The situation in Agatu and the neighbouring Gwer West Local Government areas was so horrible that the locals had to relocate to Kogi State or seek refuge in the internally displaced persons (IDP) camps.
Although political leaders, including the Senate President, David Mark and Suswam in different instances have waded into the crisis, the measures are yet to yield the desired results. Though the Atom Kpera-led reconciliation committee had late last year submitted its reports and recommendations, there have been no let-up in the attacks, many of which are perpetrated by the herdsmen without provocation.
Worried by this continuous invasion of Benue communities, Senate President, David Mark, while donating relief materials to displaced persons at Obagaji, Agatu Local Government recently, assured that the federal government was taking concrete steps to completely stamp out such ugly incidents in the country. Represented by the Minister of Interior, Comrade Abba Moro, David Mark urged the feuding parties to sheathe their swords and embrace peace.
‘’It is heart-rending to see the ordeal our people are going through as a result of these skirmishes’’, the Senate President lamented. Despite these assurances and efforts by the government at the state and federal levels, the role played by some traditional rulers rather compound the crisis. Rather than keying into the efforts of government to tackle the crises, they sell out, without proper clearance, parcels of land in their areas for grazing to the nomadic Fulani for a token. This has often made the herdsmen assume ownership of lands which are not unanimously recognised as theirs.
Often, the crises occur because of the insistence on the part of the herdsmen that their cows should graze without hinderance since they have adequately compensated the traditional rulers. Sometimes too, conflicts are instigated by inhabitants who benefit from the crisis situation. They spread false rumours to create crises or scare residents with rumours of impending attacks only to turn round to loot their own people’s property then set the houses ablaze.
These hoodlums go to any length including cattle theft (rustling) to create bad blood between farmers and herdsmen. There are many instances when some indigenes collect from the herdsmen, money recharge cards, motor bikes to act as informants to the invaders to the detriment of their own communities. Apart from the establishment of military bases or police barracks in flash points, government should, through legislation, establish grazing reserves throughout the country as done in other parts of the world.