From Grazing Fields to Killing Fields

16 May 2013

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The communal clashes in Benue State between the Tivs and Fulani herdsmen have continued unabated with rising death toll, reports George Okoh

The Tivs villages along the Benue-Nasarawa boarder have not known peace for two years. The Fulani herdsmen and Tivs have constantly engaged in fights that often leave behind tales of woe.

In 2011, when the fight for broke out over ten villages were sacked and about 120 people lost their lives to the first communal clash allegedly instigated by the Fulani herdsmen who claimed to have been provoked by their host communities.

According to sources, the Fulani herdsmen accused villagers of killing their flocks while the farmers in the host communities also accused the herdsmen of deliberately destroying their farms under the guise of grazing.

The leadership of Miyette Allah Cattle Rearers Association, an umbrella body of Fulani herdsmen however attributed the problem to lack in grazing routes for cattle rearers in the country and said that will be the solution to the lingering bloodbath between Fulani herdsmen and native Tiv farmers in Benue State.

While speaking to THISDAY on the clashes, the Secretary of Miyette Allah Cattle Rearers in Benue State, Mallam Haruna Gololo lamented incessant loss of innocent lives in Benue communities arising from the Tiv/Fulani conflicts.

Gololo attributed the continued hostility between Tiv farmers and Fulani herdsmen in the state to the  non-implementation of  the recommendations submitted by the committee set up to look into the matter by both Benue and Nasarawa States governments. 

He regretted that “in spite of the killings and destruction of properties, the report of the committee which many hoped would give lasting solution to the crisis seems to have been shoved aside by both governments.”

Mallam Gololo who claimed that the recent killings in Benue State were not connected to the herdsmen however blamed leaders on both the Tiv and Fulani sides for falsely spreading wrong information such as alerting the people of impending attack from an enemy camp solely to frighten the people to run away so that their properties could be looted or destroyed by allies of those who are supposed to protect them.

He equally lampooned the youths on both sides for neglecting important counsel from their Chiefs and Ardos against embarking on a raid of houses and killing of people, alleging that several ethnic groups have been involved in the fight against the Tiv people.

He however said efforts were being made to forestall further crisis, disclosing that visiting Fulani herdsmen were now being registered by the Ardos (Chiefs) in the different local government areas to enable them have the identities of all visiting herdsmen in the state.

From January 2013, the whole of the border villages to Nasarawa State have been ravaged by the herdsmen with several people killed in Guma,Makurdi,and Gwer.

However, of all the attacks on the communities, the recent one which claimed more than fifty lives in one fell swoop has drawn indignation from the host communities.

Those killed included women and children while 17 others were recorded missing in Mbalagh council ward of Makurdi Local Government area.

The killings were so excruciating that a member representing Makurdi North at the State House of Assembly, Avine Agbom alleged that the security agents might have taken side in the crisis.

He accused the soldiers of carrying out the illicit operation which led to the death of several persons within a space of few days, adding that only professional gunmen could have carried out the level of destruction done to the village by the invaders.

He also alleged that the Fulanis had long liaised with the soldiers of the 72 battalion barracks within the locality to unleash terror on their people, lamenting however that government has done nothing about the matter despite several petitions to it.

A farmer in Yogbo village in Guma Local Government area, Mr. Felix Acka told THISDAY that they can no longer stay in their villages or farm because of the herdsmen.

"They usually come at the early hours of the morning in large numbers and with very sophisticated weapons to shoot at any body in sight. I lost my wife and children to the invaders the last time they came and now I am afraid to go back,” he lamented.

Two days after the penultimate week’s attack which the paramount ruler of the Tiv nation, the Tor Tiv Alfred Akawe Torkula condemned, a commuter bus conveying 13 passengers from Gbajimba in Guma local government area was ambushed at Ajir village by bandits suspected to be Fulani herdsmen and three  of the occupants were killed while another seven were recorded missing.

According to a source, "the occupants who were mostly native Tiv farmers were travelling from Gbajimba to Makurdi at about 11am when the heavily armed herdsmen opened fire on them, killing three at the spot, four of the passengers managed to escape while seven others were chased into the bush by the assailants.”

"We have fears that those that were chased into the bush might have been killed because no one knows their whereabouts and their families are yet to trace them.

"The search for them is still continuing but we are scared that they might have been killed because if they are still alive, we would have seen at least one of them," he said.

When contacted, Benue State Police Public Relations Officer, PPRO, Deputy Suprintendent of Police Daniel Ezeala disclosed that the Benue state Commissioner of Police had directed an immediate investigation into the matter.

According to Ezeala, "The assailants killed one of the occupants on the spot after shooting sporadically into the bus, but our men recovered another corpse in the bush.

"The Benue state Commissioner of Police has directed an immediate search of the entire area to ensure that the missing persons are traced and rescued. And security has already been beefed up in the community," he added.

In the meantime, most of the inhabitants of the community which is less than seven kilometers from the heart of Makurdi have started fleeing into Makurdi town for safety.

The Chairman of Guma Local Government, Mr Frank Usa Adi in an interview with THISDAY claimed that most of those who fled into the bush during the attack have been discovered alive.

He said that the council has been doing all in its power to ensure that the people are safe even as he disclosed that he has commenced discussion with the paramount ruler of Awe in neigbouring Nasarawa state from where the herdsmen migrated to Guma with a view to finding lasting solutions to the recurring crisis.

He observed in dismay that the incessant conflict has derailed meaningful development in the area, adding that there was every need for all concerned parties to embrace any initiative that will ensure peaceful co-existence among the ethnic groups in the area.

“I have directed all traditional rulers in the council to stop further collection of cattle taxes from Fulani herdsmen. We cannot afford to turn blind eyes to the implication of the crisis on the socio-political development of the affected communities.

“That is the more reason why we must all endeavour to shift grounds at this critical moment so that peace can reign and everybody will be better for it,” the council boss said.

The Action of the herdsmen had earlier in the year led a member of the House of Representatives, Honourable Emmanuel Jime to move a motion for the House to  investigate the remote and immediate causes of the constant clash between Fulani herdsmen and Tiv farmers in some communities of Benue and Nasarawa States.

In response, the House approved the constitution of an ad hoc committee to investigate the clash and also urged the governments of states concerned to work with the federal government to intervene in the crisis, as well as provide security in the affected areas.

While leading the debate on the motion, Hon. Jime lamented that hundreds of persons have been killed, while schools within the Daudu and Igyungu-adze communities of Guma Local Government Area of Benue State were forced to close down due to the crisis.

He lamented that two men of the Nigerian Army were also ambushed and killed when on assignment to quell the crisis.

Tags: Life and Style, Life, Featured, Grazing Fields

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