*“As I speak with you the soldiers and Police are there in Agatu, the number of the herdsmen and their cattle are increasing by the day and they are not being chased away by the security personnel who just sit there and watch while the invaders continue to increase in number in order to take over Agatu for good.” *“It is only the soldiers who can chase the Fulani herdsmen away from our villages, because they have completely taken over Agatu, and from what we heard, government has not directed the soldiers to do that, it then means that the government wants the Fulanis to occupy our land This is certainly not the best of times for farmers of Benue state, no thanks to a regime of Fulani herdsmen who in the last few weeks have launched premeditated attacks on various communities of the state. These attacks have left huge tolls on the affected communities where so many lives have been lost and property worth several billions of Naira lost to the somewhat bloody exploits aimed at forcefully occupying the affected communities for the purpose of grazing cattle. From Agatu to Gwer West, Logo to Buruku down to Guma and Makurdi, it’s been tale of grief and anguish occasioned by the incursion of suspected Fulani militia who have unleashed havoc on the farming populace of Benue state. Recently, residents of virtually all the villages in Agatu local government area of the state came under severe attacks from the herders who took over Okokolo, Akwu, Ocholonya, Adagbo, Ugboku, Odugbeho and Aila in a military fashion and chased out the locals from their ancestral homes.
The siege by the Fulani militia left no fewer than 300 persons killed within the interval of one week just as all structures and economic trees in the “captured territories” were also razed. The development also created a huge refugee situation in the area with over 10,000 persons fleeing their ancestral homes for makeshift refuge camps located in neigbouring Apa local government area. After conquering Agatu, the militia moved quickly to establish its presence and dominance by moving into the area close to ten thousand cattle, to graze freely on the people’s farms. While the large expanse of Agatu farmland was converted to a ranch, the invaders also laid siege on parts of Logo local government area where not less than 25 villages were sacked. The attackers also rendered close to 3,000 homeless after several houses and huts were completely razed in the affected villages. Saturday Vanguard learned that the invaders took also over the villages in an incursion that was started last Saturday at Ukemberegya, Bwarer, Mbawar, Gov and Gambe Tiev communities. A victim of the attack Mrs. Terungwa Torhemba who spoke through an interpreter said, the armed herdsmen had completely occupied, Abiam Koya, Iordye, Nyakoo and Mkpikpa. Others include, Afom, Uzaagir, Ugbende Mue, Dam, Shaausu, Ukme, Chenbe, Anwen, Sebungen Ubosha, Chia, Asemngoroko and Inderkar. According to Torhemba, “our people have been killed, so many cannot be located at the moment, we have also lost all of our belongings, farm produce and farmland to the well armed herdsmen who have completely taken over our villages. “At the moment we have no source of livelihood because they have also converted our farm land as grazing settlements for their cattle.” The Local Government Caretaker Chairman of the Council, Simon Ugba who confirmed that two persons were killed in the attack said his administration was overwhelmed by the number of displaced persons who were fleeing from the crisis. Ugba who asserted that no designated camp had been created for the displaced persons said the council was working in close collaboration with the state government to provide succour to the displaced persons and sued for assistance from public spirited individuals and organizations. Reacting to the spate of attacks on Agatu particularly, the member representing Agatu state constituency at the Benue State House of Assembly, Alhaji Sule Audu described it as unwarranted and unprovoked. Sule who berated the President Muhammadu Buhari led government for doing little to stem the killings in Agatu lamented that his people had been left at the mercy of Fulani militia to annihilate the Agatu race. He claimed that both Nigerians and non Nigerians constituted the militia. “What I know is that the Fulanis attacking Agatu are not the normal Fulani that we know in our communities. These are hired Fulanis who come in from outside the country and from the North east. “On the action taken so far by the federal government, I will say I’m totally disappointed with what we are seeing. The invaders and their cows have taken over our villages that they captured. The security personnel that were sent their are not asking them to leave our communities. “We expected that the military and Police who were posted there were expected to chase these people away from our communities and farmland so that our people can return home but they are not doing it. We are saddened that the federal government has not directed the security personnel to send them out or evacuate these people from our ancestral homes. “As I speak with you today over 100,000 cattle have taken over Agatu land and they are grazing freely on our farmland, while the well armed herdsmen lay in wait for anyone to come close. “If the federal government and indeed the state government desire that this crisis be brought to an end, they should order an evacuation of all the cows and herdsmen who have taken over Agatu. “As I speak with you the soldiers and Police are there in Agatu, the number of the herdsmen and their cattle are increasing by the day and they are not being chased away by the security personnel who just sit there and watch while the invaders continue to increase in number in order to take over Agatu for good.
“I am disappointed in the actions of federal and state government because Agatu is still being occupied and despite all the talks nothing concrete has been done to move them away, because if that is not done, the displaced persons cannot return to their homes. “So as the representative of the people I’m pleading with the federal government to do the needful by authorizing the security agencies to chase the marauders and their cattle away from Agatu land. The lawmaker lamented further that several lives were being lost in the displaced persons camps especially in Ogbalu, Ogbagaji and Oshigbudu were hundreds of person had taken refuge but could not access food and medicare due to the terrain of the communities. Reacting also, the Opiatoha K’Idoma, a pan socio-cultural organisation of Idoma sons and daughters, through it’s general secretary, Adoka Adaji, expressed disappointment at the manner the government was treating the killings in Agatu. In a statement issued in Makurdi by the organisation, the killings in Agatu could only be compared to the activities of the insurgents in the North East. Part of the statement read, “what we see happening in Agatu today can be likened to the happenings in the North East and we call for an urgent action by the federal government. “The people of Idoma nation are helpless in the attack on Agatu by suspected Fulani herdsmen with over 300 Agatu people killed and others maimed in one week without concerted effort by the government to abate the attacks, killings and destruction of property. “We call for a decisive action to be taken without further delay to remove the invaders away from Agatu so that the inhabitants can return to their ancestral home, unless this is done nothing would be seen to have been done to restore peace in the area.” Speaking in the same vein, the Coordinator of the Stop Agatu Killings Movement, SAKM, James Oche who told Saturday Vanguard that Fulanis had suddenly become emboldened in their attacks on Benue communities unlike what obtained in the past urged the federal government to take decisive steps to end the crisis “before it snowballs into what we see happening in the north east.” This same position was taken by not a few of some of the victims housed in the displaced persons camp at the LGEA primary school Ugbokpo, Apa local government, who spoke to Saturday Vanguard. Most of them expressed fears that they may not return to their communities in the nearest future against the backdrop of the fillers they got that the soldiers on ground in Agatu were not permitted to chase the invaders away or use force to enforce peace. According to 70 year old Mama Agnes Adamu, “It is only the soldiers who can chase the Fulani herdsmen away from our villages, because they have completely taken over Agatu, and from what we heard, government has not directed the soldiers to do that, it then means that the government wants the Fulanis to occupy our land permanently.” she retorted with an emotion laden voice. Following the comments of Agatu people that the Fulani herdsmen occupying their villages have not left even with the presence of military men whom they claimed had not been directed to move them out our defence correspondent KINGSLEY OMONOBI sought comments from Defence Headquarters in Abuja and filed in the report below. WE ARE NOT AWARE OF MORE AGATU KILLINGS- DHQ President Muhammadu Buhari The Defence headquarters has cautioned Nigerians particularly those with vested interests in the Herdsman/Farmers crisis in Agatu Local government area of Benue State to desist from fanning the embers of violence among the people and prevent further killings. The DHQ gave the warning even as it noted that it was not aware of alleged new and continuous killings of Agatu people by headsmen since such has not been brought to its knowledge. Acting Director of Defence Information, Brigadier General Rabe Abubakar who stated this in an interview, noted that “The armed forces of Nigeria are always willing to contain or quell any civil crisis whether in Agatu or in any other place” adding “That is why the military, the Police and other security agencies are in Agatu to calm and quell any unwholesome situation”. “I can tell you that since we deployed there, there have not been cases of killings that we are aware of. People should not because of interest be emotional and sentimental and give out information just to encourage violence. We are not saying that human life is not important. Even if it is one person that is killed, it is painful and worrisome”. “However, people who have information about those that are bent on perpetuating this violence should endeavor to give security agencies information so that they are fished out before attacks are carried out and lives are lost. It is when they do that, that we can successfully tackle these issues”. Continuing, the DDI said, “Killings will never solve whatever problem there is, and violence will only aggravate the crisis. Peace is always the answer. The armed forces and security agencies will not tolerate any form of violence that will resort to loss of lives and property”.