The Benue caucus in the House of Representatives is pained at what it describes as the nonchalant attitude of the federal government at the continuous killings of their kinsmen by herdsmen. Damilola Oyedele writes
From Benue State, particularly Agatu Local Government Area, it has been tales of woes in the last few months: killing of entire families, injuring innocent villagers, burning down of homes and properties, and other sad stories have dominated the news. Accusing fingers have been pointed at Fulani herdsmen, whose herds destroy farmlands, in their search for food, pitching them against the local farmers. Farming is the main occupation of Benue residents.
According to reports, eight local government areas including Agatu, Buruku, Guma, Gwer-west, Logo, Kwande, Gwer- East and Katsina- Ala have been under constant attacks by the herdsmen since 2013. Efforts to broker a truce between the herdsmen and the farmers have failed over the years. From the beginning of 2016, over 1000 people have reportedly been murdered by the rampaging herdsmen, resulting in the killings being equated with genocide for which perpetrators are tried in the international court of justice.
The matter was brought to the attention of the House of Representatives at the plenary of February 25, 2016 where the lawmakers unanimously condemned the killings and called for increased military presence in the areas affected.
Following outcry from several quarters, the Federal Government ordered a deployment of more policemen to the state, and set up a dialogue committee to resolve the crises with representatives from Agatu and Fulani communities.
But the killings have continued. In late February, about 300 were murdered in renewed outbreak of violence in Okokolo, Akwu, Ugboka, and Aila villages, all in Agatu LGA. The villages were razed. On March 19, 2016, at least 500 people were again killed on 10 communities of the same LGA, prompting former Senate President David Mark to state that a genocide was being carried out against his people.
The Minister of Interior, Gen. Abdulrahman Dambazau, promised to ensure that the perpetrators of the violence are apprehended and made to face justice. He also promised to ensure that security forces are adequately mobilised to deal with the matter.
However, the Benue State caucus in the House of Representatives lamented that the killings have continued unabated adding that it is not receiving the necessary urgent attention and intervention it rightly deserves.
The caucus, at a recent briefing addressed by its leader, Hon. Orker Jev, representing Buruku federal constituency decried what it described as the lukewarm attitude of the Federal Government to the killings, alleging that the herdsmen may have been bolstered by the lack of political will by the present administration to tackle the menace head on.
“Is that why the herdsmen are now taking advantage of thenPresident’s lack of political will to wreak havoc on our people? We are saying this invasion must stop for we will no longer tolerate the violation of the integrity of our people. We want Mr. President to act like the soldier that he is now!”
“You are all aware that Benue State is the ‘Food Basket of the Nation’. But it is disturbing that every planting season is heralded by serial attacks by these Fulani herdsmen. They also return during the harvesting season. Where are herdsmen getting sophisticated ammunitions from? Why is it taking the government so long to smoke out those behind this genocide? Since the beginning of this carnage, how many of these herdsmen have been arrested?”
The lawmakers in subtle threats, warned that the people of Benue state would no longer fold their arms and watch their people being massacred and killed like “chickens by jihadists who camouflage as herdsmen.”
“We can no longer continue to remain docile and sedate, while the Fulani herdsmen desecrate our land, kill our men, women and children; rape our women, destroy our farms and raze our houses. This is the time for the Benue people, especially the youths, to stand up and defend their state. These killing, kidnapping and raping by these herdsmen must stop. It is often said that when violence confronts violence, peace will reign. So, if the Federal Government delays in nipping these senseless killings in the bud, we will confront our adversaries and attackers frontally,” Jev added.
Interestingly, six out of the 11 lawmakers are part of the All Progressives Congress, same party as President Buhari, but Hon. Mark Gbillah, representing Gwer-East/Gwer-West notes that the matter is not about party affiliations.
“We are all concerned and worried, and regardless of our party affiliations, we are disappointed at the President’s inaction to this wanton loss of lives and properties by people who are perceived to be from his part of the country. Is he trying to say he is compromised? That is the question we are asking,” he said in a telephone conversation with THISDAY.
“Just two days ago, a wife to one of my constituents was hit with a machete on the head by one of the Fulani herdsmen, who then ran away….the killings have continued, they have not relented,” he added.
Gbillah added that deployment of security agents has only been made to Agatu, which has been worst hit by the attacks, while other LGAs have less deployment of police, who choose to stay at the capitals of the LGAs.
“Gwer-West, which was the origin of the attacks, there has been no deployment of security operatives”, the lawmaker said, and called for deployment of the military, who he said may be better equipped to handle the marauding herdsmen.
He also backed Governor Samuel Ortom’s rejection of any plans to create grazing routes for the herdsmen, advocating that ranches be established for them in their territories.
“Now people are even fighting for land in their own localities, they cannot have other people contending for their land with them, and even consuming their own means of livelihood, because they want to preserve theirs. The Federal Government should establish ranches in those areas where the herdsmen reside, in their own areas, not in any other part of the country. If they do not have fertile land, they should do irrigation,” he advised.
The House Minority Leader, Hon. Leo Ogor also weighed in on the ‘silence’ of the President who has drawn criticism from several quarters for not making comments on the massacre.
“It is very wrong of the President, and as the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, he should speak on the killings. He spoke about the killings in Rivers State, and it is something that we commend him for. But look at the level of massacre that happened in Benue State, and it is still going on as we speak, these killings are very barbaric, the constitution guarantees the right to life, and where lives are being taken arbitrarily, its violation of the constitution,” Ogor said.
The Minority Leader, citing Section 14 (2) of the 1999 Constitution, said the President, as the Chief Security Officer of the country, owes Nigeria the responsibility to comment on the killings.