Adams Abonu writes on the recent violent attacks carried out by some unidentified Fulani herdsmen in villages in Agatu Local Government Area of Benue State, where many lost their lives and property worth millions of naira was also destroyed
Now in its most frightening pace, the recurrent crisis between some Fulani herdsmen and indigenous crop farmers in many areas of the North-central geo political zone of the country has continued to take its toll and shows little signs of abating. The incessant exchange of violence has claimed more than 4000 lives with several thousand persons displaced across the states of Nasarawa, Benue, Plateau and even in Kwara.
In the early hours of Wednesday February 24, 2016, rural dwellers in five villages of Aila, Ugboju, Akwu, Odugbeho and Enogaje of Agatu Local Government Area in Benue State, an area that has common borders with Nasarawa State, were awakened by sound of gun shots and flicks of machetes as suspected Fulani militias swept into the area unleashing an orgy of violence.
The unfortunate incident left, in its wake, more than 300 dead, among which were more women and children because of their vulnerability. The displaced communities have been scattered with many seeking refuge in various Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) camps scattered across Benue and Nasarawa States.
Owing to the frightening carnage of the Agatu crisis, Benue State Governor, Dr. Samuel Ortom, paid an emergency visit to Vice President Yemi Osinbajo “to seek the federal government’s assistance to stop further escalation of the violence.”
“The people of Agatu Local Government in my state have been visited with unimaginable violence. The act is so dastardly and despicable and I have come to call the attention of the President to this unfortunate situation.
“We have to do everything possible as a government to arrest this situation and bring the perpetrators to book. We have an understanding and sympathetic leader in President Muhammadu Buhari and we have come to call on him to come to our aid,” Ortom told States House Correspondents in Abuja recently.
While the governments of Benue and Nasarawa States held a joint security summit in early January “to find ways to end the violence that regularly occurs at borders of the two states,” according to Nasarawa Governor, Tanko Al-Makura, the futility of such ventures continues to stare indigent communities in the two affected states in the face.
Much as the helmsmen of Benue and Nasarawa States- two states coincidentally superintended by the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC)- might have expressed some degree of readiness in combating this ugly menace of violent attacks on innocent villagers by people suspected to be pastoralists of Fulani origin, a lot remains to be done on the part of the federal government.
The fallout of the still raging Agatu crisis is that there has been reported cases of attacks after the large scale violence of that fateful February dawn. It has revealed a lot also about the socio-political and security architecture of our system. While denials of roles and blame games played out, with a chieftain of Miyetti Allah Cattlerearers Association blaming Agatu people for “triggering” the massacre by allegedly killing over a thousand cattle belonging to Fulani pastoralists, the controversies further exposes the weakness of our claims to change.
Leading in the unfortunate denial game is the Inspector General of Police, Mr. Solomon Arase, who said with a note of sarcasm in Minna, Niger State recently that he needed to be shown the grave “where 300 people were buried” while he was on a visit to Makurdi, the capital town of Benue State. The massacre in Agatu happened over a hundred kilometres away from Makurdi where IG Arase visited.
“The Police Chief’s counter claims that not up to 300 lives were lost in the massacre against Agatu people is unfortunate and a sort of indication that the police appears to playmaking sides. His assertion was very unbecoming of a security chief with the responsibility of safe-guarding the lives of every Nigerian.
“What any right thinking person expects from Mr. Arase at this point is to assuage those who are hurt and show confidence in protecting the lives of citizens. No one expects the police to stoop to such denial games,” Sebastian Orih, a civil society advocate and convener of Arise for Agatu, told THISDAY in Lafia, Nasarawa State.
There is also no denying the socio-political implications of the needless and avoidable imbroglio. On Saturday, March 11, several newspapers, including THISDAY, reported the attack on the convoy of former Senate President David Mark, who went on an assessment tour of the area. Agatu Local Government is one of the nine local governments that Senator Mark represents at the National Assembly. Reports had it that suspected Fulani herdsmen attempted to disrupt the tour at Akwu, but for the prompt intervention by security agents attached to his convoy.
THISDAY had reported that one of the youth leaders in Aila lamented the porous security in Agatu local government when Senator Mark visited area.
“But Mark appealed to the youths to maintain peace and be law abiding as he promised to convey what he has seen to the government for prompt action.”
Senator Mark, apparently irked by the extent of devastation visited on Agatu land decried the action of the marauders and promised that perpetrators must be made to answer for their crimes against humanity.
“This violence on our people is unacceptable and we call for immediate cessation of hostilities and violence. I have gone and assessed the level of destruction and what I saw was very shocking. This is a clear violence targeted at my people and this must stop forth with.
“I will ensure that the appropriate authorities know the details of this carnage and evolve ways to prevent further escalation.
“This devastation must not be allowed to continue even as I appeal to Agatu people to remain peaceful and law-abiding and go about their duties without fear,” the former Senate president implored
Mark is seen as the champion of the people of Agatu land and could serve as a strategic figure in the peace process as government strives to forge a peaceful way out of the ensuing crisis.
“Sincerely, we appreciate the disposition of Senator Mark in trying to bring peace between us and Agatu people. Mark’s voice is a voice of reason and I wish all the sides involved in this crisis heed his call for peace and decorum,” Lawan Hamza, an official of Miyetti Allah told THISDAY in Keffi.
While there are a lot of concerns about the responsiveness of the federal government to the ongoing reign of violence in Agatu, the administration has taken some steps indicative of the readiness to deal with the issue. Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Chief Audu Ogbeh, penultimate Thursday, was reported as saying that open cattle-rearing in towns and villages have been banned. This is seen as a panacea towards curbing the incessant excesses of pastoralists.
With the additional step of deploying federal troops to the troubled region to salvage the festering situation, the Buhari’s administration might be responding to the crisis with considerable commitment. But to a section of the civil society, the government needs to act proactively to nip these acts of violence in their buds.
“The president must act as the father of the nation and come to our aid in this our hour of need. Our hope is that the government should protect us against these mercenary forces that are more than us and seemed bent on wiping us out of existence,” Sule Ajaka, an internally displaced person living in Lafia told THISDAY.
As the ghosts of the violence in Benue and Nasarawa States cry for justice, the humanity of Nigerians was brought to the fore again. Across the social media, hashtags like #AgatuMassacre, #StopAgatuGenocide and several others sprung up on twitter, facebook and instagram calling for actions to stop the violence. Nigerians from all works of life were united on the social media to call attention to the issue. Many also called on Buhari to empanel a presidential inquiry to look into the issue with a view to determining immediate and remote causes of the fracas.
While it is the responsibility of governments to safeguard the lives and property of the people of Agatu, and by extension all Nigerians, THISDAY can also report that many observers have called on all sides to the debacle to exercise restraint and show more commitment to harmonious coexistence.
There is no price that cannot be paid to ensure that we live together in peace as there can be no development in any atmosphere of chaos. With Agatu producing a proportionate chunk of the nation’s food supply, the federal government’s declaration to ensure food security is in quandary as the local farmers have been displaced by this avoidable crisis.