UNHCR Official: Agatu Massacre Worst Ever in My History of Covering Crises

• As groups warn FG over herdsmen, grazing reserves

Abimbola Akosile in Lagos and George Okoh in Makurdi

The Representative of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees to Nigeria and Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), Mrs. Angele Dikongue Atangana has stated that the level of killings and destruction perpetrated in Agatu local government by herdsmen is the worst in history.

Also, the Federal Government has been enjoined to handle the matter of grazing by Fulani herdsmen objectively, in order to avoid a crisis in the country.

Atangana, who was led on the tour of the area by the Deputy Chairman House of Representative Committee on Internally Displaced Persons, Refugees and North East Development Initiative, Ezekiel Adaji, also described the damage as unimaginable.
The UN Representative, who said the plight of Agatu people deserved both national and international attention, stressed that it would be difficult for the affected people to rebuild their communities with external help.
“In my 20 years of working as a humanitarian, I have never seen such a level of destruction. If steps are not taken, the crises can affect the country as a whole,” she said.

She noted that the damage caused by the herders was similar to what was happening in the North-east, and assured listeners that her commission would aid in the rehabilitation of the displaced persons.
Addressing the Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) at the Ugbokpo camp, Mrs. Atangana disclosed that the commission had donated non-food items worth over N20 million to the IDPs, stating that the items were already with the State Emergency Management Agency, SEMA in Makurdi.
Meanwhile, some prominent groups have condemned the inaction of the federal government to the recent killings by Fulani herdsmen in the state.

The groups, including Mdzough u Tiv (MUT), the Idoma National Forum and the Omi Igede condemned what it termed as “The Barbaric Killing and Wanton Destruction of Property of Benue Indigenes by Fulani Herdsmen”.
Also, another group called Think Tank for The Body of Christ (Edo & Delta States) recently released a position paper titled ‘The Politics and Economics of Grazing Reserve’, where the federal government was urged to avoid favouritism in the issue of grazing reserve in the country. The leadership of the Benue groups observed with dismay the inability of both the Federal and State Governments to prevent the escalation of the occupation of their lands since it started manifesting several years ago. They also blamed the escalating crises on the delay in the take-off of the Presidential Investigation Panel promised by President Muhammadu Buhari.

“The proposed Town Hall Meeting by the Federal Government is not only diversionary, but a deliberate ploy to downplay the degree of attention and seriousness that should be accorded the invasion of our land. We wonder why the same Government that promised to set up an investigation committee is now resorting to a mere ruse called ‘Town Hall Meeting’.
“We observed that the Town Hall meeting held on the 24th day of March, 2016 in Abuja by 1 Idoma Initiative with the Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association of Nigeria (MACBAN) during which some major decisions were taken as detailed in a communiqué did not have the mandate of major stakeholders in the crisis.

“The Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) camps are poorly managed, and the IDPs are living in very deplorable conditions, with inadequate security arrangement and acute shortage of relief materials.”
In their demands, the groups called on the federal and state government to set up a Judicial Commission of Enquiry to unravel the root causes of the gruesome massacre of Benue people.

“While we appreciate the efforts of various concerned groups at resolving the Fulani crises, the invasion of our land by people under the cover of Fulani Herdsmen should be classified as an act of insurgency and the perpetrators labeled as terrorists to be routed out by the military. The perpetrators and sponsors of such heinous crimes against humanity must be brought to justice”, they said.

They also demanded that all herdsmen in Benue State should relocate immediately to allow farmers go to their farms without fear of being attacked as the farming season approaches in order to avoid severe famine next year; and added that a Victims Support Fund should be established for rebuilding destroyed communities with adequate compensations to families of victims.
In the position paper by Think Tank for the Body of Christ, the group noted that due to population growth of both humans and cattle, creating grazing reserve is not a sustainable project.

“Rural and urban sprawl, commercial ranching, river basin projects, wildlife reservation, and the construction of roads, railways, schools, airports, research stations, state, and local government headquarters have all made provision of grazing reserve an impracticable project.

“If Nigeria is a country of laws; if the Nigerian government does not want to be an accomplice in the pogrom of inestimable proportion that will certainly result from its irrational knee-jerk approach to solving the Fulani aggression and assault on innocent Nigerians, then, the resolution to provide grazing reserve across the country should be quietly withdrawn”, it added.
They described a recent suggestion made by the Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Chief Audu Ogbeh, in Ilorin as a novel approach to the problem, where grass would be grown in the South and taken up North to feed cattle there.

“The new approach can put an end to contact between the herdsmen and their cattle on the one side and the farmers on the other side. It can bring to an end the constant conflicts and the human and material losses. It can bring about the elusive peace along the various grazing routes.”

“The government should mobilise Southern farmers to grow the grass which it should come back to buy from them on agreed terms. The grass should also be supplied to the cattle owners in the North on agreed terms. It is by so doing that the government can be fair to all concerned.

“It is high time the government ceased to give the impression that the breeding and rearing of animals take precedence over other occupations. This new idea can bring the incessant conflicts between farmers and herdsmen to a decisive end. Its success or failure will, however, be determined by the mode of implementation.”
The group enjoined government to facilitate the settlement of the nomads and modernise livestock farming, which can then be integrated with the rest of the agricultural industry. “If the livestock industry would play its rightful part in our economy, the problem of the nomadic system must be addressed.”

“The creation of ranches will solve the lingering herdsmen/ farmers crises in the country and create employment for thousands of jobless youth roaming the streets of the country in search of jobs. The Federal Government should borrow a leaf from USA, Kenya and other countries with zero grazing policy to stop incessant farmers/herders clashes in the country and create employment for our teeming youths who would be employed to manage the ranches”, the group added.

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