By Joseph Orjime
The perennial clashes between Fulani herdsmen and farming communities have persisted in Benue State, and some parts of the country. But it has assumed a new dimension with the recent sacking of communities, large scale killings, and wanton destruction of properties and invasion of farmlands.
Particularly worrisome is the fact that many farmers in Benue State (the food basket of the nation) can no longer carry out their usual farming activities due to hostilities visited on them by these marauding herdsmen.
Apart from wide-spread killing, they have been maiming and raping women in these communities. For instance, on February 10, this year, several villages in Agatu Local Government Area of Benue State were razed and hundreds, including women, children, and the elderly were reportedly massacred by suspected Fulani herdsmen.
Former Senate President David Mark, who represents the area in the Senate, had described the massive killings as genocide. Bitter criticism trailed this high scale massacre with calls from several quarters to end the genocide.
Till date, no word has been heard from the President and Commander in- Chief- of the Armed Forces, Muhammadu Buhari, and either condemning or promising action on the matter. Likewise, Governor Samuel Ortom himself, being the chief security officer of the state, took so long to visit the affected area, or even comment on the incident.
Thousands of displaced Agatu people currently reside in IDP camps in their home state. The same trend of genocide has continued unabated, in the previous months, in several villages in Logo, Ukum and Kwande local government areas of Benue State, coupled with the destruction of farmlands, razing of houses and displacement of locals, by suspected Fulani herdsmen and their mercenaries.
The rate at which this crime of killing defenseless local farmers is being perpetrated is so alarming that the situation can only be described as a mission for extinction and replacement.
The predominantly farming people of Benue have come to believe that there is a deliberate push by the marauding herdsmen and their sponsors, to forcefully take over their ancestral lands for grazing purposes.
When recently, the social media went viral with the number of casualties of a recent attack put at 81, the state governor, Ortom hurried to the office of the Minister of Interior, Abdulrahman Danbazau, and later to the media, where he copiously denied the claim, asserting that it was an overblown figure.
The Benue State Police Command had also earlier denied the casualty figure of 81, putting itrather at 23.What is most disturbing in the scenario however not the purported exaggeration of the victims is.
Whether it was 23 people or even less that were killed in the state, they were Nigerian citizens, who are supposed to be protected by the law, that were hacked to death, with no arrest made whatsoever.
It is laughable for a state governor who took oath to protect the lives of his people, to treat the security of the same people with such a slight. It should be seen as a total failure of leadership for a chief security officer of a state to watch helplessly while the people, who took pains to vote him into power, are being slaughtered on a regular basis.
Earlier this year, when the same murderous herdsmen invaded Ukpabi Nimbo in Uzo – Uwani Local Government Area of Enugu State, the governor, Mr. Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi, alongside other relevant stakeholders spoke up vehemently against the carnage.
This step compelled President Buhari, for the very first time, to direct the security agencies to ‘go after’ the herdsmen, even if it was in pretence. Several outcries regarding security negligence and alleged police complicity eventually led to the redeployment of the commissioner of police, Mr. Nwodibo Ekechukwu. Since then, the monster has not reared its ugly head again.
The questions some well-meaning Nigerians would want answered are: what moves has the Benue state police boss made to stem the tide of the herdsmen onslaught? What efforts have the legislators representing the people of Logo, Ukum and Kwande Federal and state constituencies made to stop the killings?
What is Governor Ortom doing to secure the lives and properties of the defenseless Benue farmers whose farmlands are ravaged by the activities of the herdsmen, and who cannot go to the farm any more for fear of being killed? Whether he will continue to fold his arms and watch aloof while his people are being massacred.