Unless urgent steps are taken to halt the continuous killings, displacements and plundering of Benue communities by suspected Fulani herdsmen, a bloody tribal conflict might soon erupt in the North-central state.
Already, a group known as Movement Against Fulani Occupation (MAFO), has been formed by a clergyman, Dave Ogbole, to campaign against the atrocious crimes perpetrated by herdsmen in the state.
In a media interview, Mr. Ogbole gave a chilling account of how herdsmen had been killing and displacing Benue people since 1990.
“We are here today representing our ancestors, who are too dead to speak,” Mr. Ogbole said. “We came representing our fathers who are too weak in the IDP camps to come,” the clergyman said.
“We also represent our mothers who are grieving the loss of our loved ones torn from our arms from cruel mercenaries in the coloring of Fulani herdsmen.
“We came to condemn the mindless, barbaric and deliberate killing of Benue indigenes under the watch of a democratic regime that swore on oath to protect lives and properties of Nigerians.”
He said the relationship between Fulani herdsmen and Benue people started deteriorating in 1990 and between 2013 and now, over 1, 000 persons had been killed and still counting.
While MOFA has been engaging in peaceful protests to call attention to the crisis, the state Governor, Samuel Ortom, has warned that the peaceful disposition of the people might soon give way to anger and resistance.
A governor’s worse nightmare
Apparently aware of the growing move towards confrontation with the herdsmen, Mr. Ortom, made a passionate appeal to the federal government to take urgent action to stop the killings.
The governor, who spoke exclusively to PREMIUM TIMES, narrated how the rampaging herdsmen invaded his community, Gbajimba in Guma Local Government Area, killing, maiming and destroying properties.
Since March 23, 2014, when several Guma communities were besieged and taken over, including his expansive farm, Mr. Ortom lamented that the herdsmen were still occupying his birthplace.
“Today, several parts of the state are no longer inhabited by our people. The herdsmen have taken over many communities in the state. They have taken over our homes, foodstuff and our lands,” the governor said.
“I have said that Benue State is under siege. We are completely under siege by Fulani herdsmen.”
He debunked the allegation that herdsmen attack Benue towns and communities because the people kill their (herdsmen) cattle.
“We’ve heard the herdsmen accusing our people of killing their cattle which is not true. But even if it were true, does that give them the right to go about killing innocent people?
“I cannot understand how we could live in a country and people come in to invade others. They go about it freely and there is no sanction against them. The level of impunity exhibited by the herdsmen is very worrisome.”
Time and time again, Mr. Ortom said he and other leaders of the state had begged the people not to fight back.
“Our people have heeded my appeal but there is a level they won’t accept this kind of destruction that has been going unabated in the state. If the situation is allowed to get to that level, I may not be able to have control over the people.”
A resident of Tarka, John Teremun, lambasted the military and the police for not doing enough to stop Fulani herdsmen from invading towns and communities in the state.
According to him, the attack on parts of Makurdi, the state capital, was a direct indictment on the Nigerian military and the Police.
“They offer far too many excuses for their inability to prevent the herdsmen from launching attacks on our people and communities. That is why we are saying that the government is not doing enough to help us,” he said.
“Can you imagine that herdsmen invaded many areas in Makurdi where we have an Air Force Base, the 72 Elite Battalion and the Nigerian School of Military Engineering, the Benue State Police Command and the Nigerian Security and Civil Defence Corps and not even one of the attackers was arrested?
“Several people were killed, houses were burnt down and farmlands destroyed in repeated attacks and the invaders were allowed to come in and leave without a fight. Instead of arresting the herdsmen, security agents posted to our communities turn around and extort money from our people.”
“We are ready to die defending our land since the government cannot protect us but they should not try to come in when we start fighting to reclaim our farms and villages.”
How farmlands became killing fields
Aptly known as the “Food Basket of the Nation,” Benue State has the capacity to produce major food crops including yams, rice, sesame, soya bean, sorghum, maize, guinea corn, beans, cassava, groundnuts and bambara nuts.
With vast fertile land, the state also produces tree crops like oil palm, mango, orange, cashew and kola nuts.
But between 2010 and now, the level of food and cash crops production has significantly reduced due to persistent invasion and displacement of farmers across the state.
During the past six years, PREMIUM TIMES investigation revealed that suspected herdsmen invaded 14 of the 23 local government areas of the state, killing over a thousand persons and plundering towns, communities and farmlands.
The findings are further confirmed by residents, security officials and the state governor.
In the North-east Senatorial District, the herdsmen have invaded Katsina-Ala, Kwande, Logo, Ukum; leaving out Vandeikya, Konshisha and Ushongo.