Since the first week of January 2018 when Benue State came under severe attacks by armed herders in fulfillment of the warning they had earlier issued to Governor Samuel Ortom, in attempt frustrate the implementation of the Anti-open Grazing, prohibition and ranches establishment law 2017, the state is still counting both human and material losses.
For several years, these attackers have turned the country’s food basket into a killing theatre for inexplicable reasons resulting in huge loss of lives and property.
2018 is not the first time this dastardly act has taken place; these regrettable attacks on hapless farmers have been intensified with alarming devastation since 2013.
BDSUNDAY investigation revealed that in 2014 alone 10, out of the 23 Local Government Areas (LGAs) of the state lost both lives and property worth over N95bilion.
Since then, more horrendous attacks have been visited on the state by these marauders, leading to monumental destructions of places of worship, schools, hospitals, markets as well as residential houses in addition to food stuff in the affected communities.
In a bid to curtail the crisis from escalation, the state under the previous administration of Gabriel Suswam explored several possibilities including dialogue, peace meetings, as well as peace football marches with the herders to broker peace between the two ethnic groups but little or no result was achieved.
Be that as it may, the state has continued to seek other ways of achieving peace with the herders even in the face of unprovoked attacks on crop farmers in some parts of the state such as Agatu, in the Southern Senatorial district of the state which came under gruesome attack by these AK47 wielding herders, with scores killed in cold blood in 2016.
While efforts are still being intensified to establish lasting peace between the two ethnic groups, it still remains unclear the reasons for the incessant heinous onslaught on Benue communities, and this is most worrisome.
Meanwhile, in continuation of the peace deal by relevant stake holders across the state, Governor Samuel Ortom on assumption of office hit the ground running by convening a meeting of stakeholders in the state, at the Benue Peoples House Makurdi to fine tune ways through which the suggestion and opinions collected from stakeholders- including representatives from the herders- can be used to prohibit open rearing and grazing of livestock and provide for the establishment of ranches.
The prohibition law which later came into being was subjected to thorough legislative process including public hearing enacted in accordance with the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria which empowers states to make laws for the welfare of their people.
On Tuesday, May 30, 2017, the Miyetti Allah Kautal Hore held a press conference in Abuja during which its President, Abdullahi Bello Bodejo and National Secretary General, Alhassan Sallah stated publicly and in very clear terms that the Fulani herdsmen and farmers’ crisis in Benue State was “A struggle for the Natural Resources of the Benue valley.”
Claiming that their ancestors inhabited the valley long before the present occupants, the two leaders threatened and vowed to mobilise herders across the globe to invade the state and resist the law.
On January 1, 2018, the Miyetti Allah’s leaders made good their threats and started the invasion simultaneously in several parts of Guma and Logo Local Government Areas.
First attack was the camp of livestock guards charged with the responsibility of ensuring compliance to the law at Tomatar, Shagev council ward of Guma, in the dead of the night, carrying out a slaughter spree.
From the beginning of the year till date the state has lost more than 100 people to these murderers, with several others missing and many who sustained various degrees of injuries still receiving treatment. The figure does not include the security operatives who have also fallen at the hands of these enemies of peace.
The state had only few days ago buried 73 victims killed by herdsmen when the quick intervention of the police averted what could have sparked fresh Mayhem in the state, after which took over the streets of Makurdi, the state capital. The deployment of soldiers was ordered by the Federal Government with a curfew placed on commercial motorcycles.
The police had broken up a protest by youths of Hausa Fulani extraction who were showing their anger over alleged attacks on them by Tiv youths on Thursday during the burial of the 73 victims. The Tiv youths were said to have gone round Wadata, Wurukum, Northbank and Angwan-Jukum areas of Makurdi, which has heavy Hausa/Fulani population on that day to force the directive of the state government that all business premises and markets be closed in honour of the 73 victims.
The protesters barricaded the busy Ankpa Quarters junction and began vandalising moving vehicles, setting 15 vehicles ablaze in the process with several passengers and motorist molested. There were sounds of gunshots.
Governor Ortom, through his chief press secretary, Terver Akase, condemned the protest and asked security agents to go after the trouble markers, stating that, “Benue has had enough blood and needs peace.”
The governor later at a prayer and fasting programme for residents of Makurdi and Guma, organised by the Tor Tiv, Professor James Ayatse, warned against reprisal attacks by the people of the state, saying such would aggravate the security situation in the state. Vengeance, he said is of God, adding that two wrongs do not make a right.
Meanwhile, Senator Jonah Jang, a former governor of Plateau State and senator representing Plateau North Senatorial Zone has asked Governor Lalong to tender unreserved apology to his Benue state counterpart over his uncomplimentary comment on Benue state killing. Governor Lalong was quoted as saying he had earlier warned Governor Ortom against banning open grazing in Benue State.
In a statement signed by Comrade Clinton Garba, media consultant to Jang in Jos, Jang said blaming Ortom for the killing of innocent souls is a show of wickedness to a fellow governor. Lalong has since apologised to Ortom for his utterances.
One cannot imagine that after the massacre, Miyetti Allah cattle breeders association, the umbrella group of Fulani herdsmen in Nigeria is accepting blame for the recent killings which has sparked outrage within and outside the country.
The herders claim they served sufficient notice of the looming crisis on President Muhamadu Buhari, before and after his inauguration in May 2015, with no one heeding the advice.
A member of the board of trustees of Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association, Sale Bayani, believes it is therefore wrong of anyone to accuse the group of engineering the mayhem.
Just as the Benue State government has sought for a lasting solution for the herders/farmers clash, the Federal Government also resolved on establishing cattle colonies as the final solution for the crisis.
This decision has also sparked a fresh round of controversy in the country with Benue State government maintaining its stand on Anti-Open Grazing Prohibition and Ranches Establishment Law, saying, “Anti-open grazing law is the law of the people and it has come to stay, there is no going back.”
According to Audu Ogbeh, agriculture minister, interested states are to provide 5000 hectares of land each for the cattle colonies to be financed by the federal authorities, and cattle owners to pay for the use of these colonies.
BENJAMIN AGESAN Makurdi