Survivors Of Agatu Herdsmen Attack Recount Ordeal, Call For Govt’s Assistance
Benue, being an agricultural State like many other States in Nigeria, has in recent years witnessed incessant attacks from herdsmen on its communities.
The attacks, which in most cases have resulted in the loss of many lives, especially breadwinners of many families, and destruction of farmlands by cows, has forced many to become refugees in their own lands.
Since 2011, the attacks became more pronounced and now pose a daunting challenge that must be tackled for the state to regain its status as the “Food Basket of the Nation.”
This is to say within these years life has become so brutal and nasty for the teeming population of the State, made up of mainly farmers. They can no longer boast of their lives, farm crops and even their settlements.
In the past few years alone, almost all Local Councils of the State have one way or the other had and are still having nasty experiences with the herdsmen.
Some Local Councils that have been consistently attacked in the state include Guma, Gwer- West, Gwer- East, Katsina-Ala, Kwande, Logo, Buruku, Otukpo, Tarka and Agatu Local Councils.
When The Guardian visited the affected communities in Agatu Local Council on Wednesday, the place was besieged by herdsmen whose cattle were freely grazing.
It was observed that the major settlements of the Local Council in the nine council wards including Edeje, Omikwidi, Aila Adagbo, Akwu, Okokolo, Ogbouju, Odugheha, Abugbe, and Agbaulu had been razed and some decomposing human bodies littered the communities.
Irked by they level of killings and damage done in Agatu communities, the Executive Director of Victim Support Fund, Prof. Sunday Ochoche said, “It is shocking that almost all houses in Agatu communities have been burnt down.”
“All schools, churches, hospitals, crops and farms are leveled down. This tells us the level of humanitarian crisis that is with us. You can see that corpses are littering everywhere and it means the security of the community is critically important and must be tackled.”
Speaking on the attack, a member of the House of Representatives for Agatu/Apa Federal Constituency, Adamu Entonu, called on the Federal Government to urgently deploy enough soldiers to Agatu communities so as to provide an environment that would enable the quick return of the people to their ancestral homes.
Entonu wondered why immediate action has not been taken by the government on the matter, despite his earlier motion on the floor of the green chambers on the matter.
Meanwhile, three camps have so far been created at LGEA Central Primary School Ogbokpo, Methodist High School, Ojantele, and Methodist Primary School, Ataganyi by the State Emergency Management Agency (SEMA) to accommodate the displaced persons.
Basic facilities such as water, healthcare, toilets, light and security were lacking in the camps. It was also gathered that Benue State government donated bags of rice, cartons of noodles, bags of salt, bags of garri, soap, detergents and other items, even as it has requested for more deployment of military personnel to the area to maintain peace.
But one of the internally displaced persons (IDPs) that is taking refuge in Makurdi, the state capital, Ada Musa, said she is a mother of twins and lost her husband during the attack. She cried for assistance from government.
Another IDP, Steven Onogwu who said he hails from Egba village said they got wind of the herdsmen’s invasion and alerted government, but no action was taken. He alleged that the much talked about security details only came but stayed in Obagagi, headquarters of the Local Council without coming to the villages.
He said he had no choice than to run to his house in Makurdi with 24 members of his household, having lost one of his sister’s son, Andrew Oigbeche in one of the attacks.
According to him, the herdsmen who came from Nasarawa State were many in number and killed more than 1000 people, with majority of the deceased coming from Okokolo.
He added that as precautionary measure, he ran to Makurdi with some foodstuff that they are managing now.
Mrs. Egbe James, also from Okokolo, said that when she ran to Makurdi, they killed her husband and her daughter Ekolono.
According to her, the herdsmen invaded their village by 5:00am and started firing gunshots and razing down houses. She complained that up till now, she did not the whereabouts of some of her children.
Sharing his experience with The Guardian, Adamu Umar, 30, who hails from Okokolo accused Nasarawa State government of complicity in the attack.
He said that when they perceived that the enemies were coming they alerted the Benue State government through the deputy governor, but it was not taken seriously.
Umar, who said the good Samaritans outside the state were feeding him, urged Benue State governor Samuel Ortom, as the chief security officer, to rise up to the challenge of protecting their lives and property.
Another IDP, Yusuf Odagboyi, while speaking with The Guardian, blamed the crises on the negligence of both Nasarawa and Benue State governments. He blamed them for not acting fast when they got the information, saying if they had acted fast the killings would have been averted.
Odagboyi who said he lost her sister, Achene Ogbenjua and her five children, said they were burnt down inside their house.
But Danladi Adei from Akwu in Agatu said though he did not lose any of his family members, his entire house was burnt down and farms were also destroyed.
He said, for now, he was taking refuge in his elder sister’s house in Makurdi. He, however, hopes to go back to Agatu if calm returns to the area.
Meanwhile, the federal government said it is preparing a legislation to prohibit pastoralists from allowing their cattle roam in villages and cities, following last week’s killings of hundreds in a farming community in Benue State by armed herdsmen.
Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Audu Ogbeh said Thursday that the government was working on measures to stop the invasion of communities by herdsmen.
Speaking in Abuja, Mr. Ogbeh said that invasion and massacre of the indigenes by herdsmen was no longer acceptable to the government.
He said that a formation of the Nigerian Army had been deployed to the communities to restore peace.“Yesterday, I spoke with the Ministers of Defence and Interior and they assured me that they have deployed a military formation in Enugu to move in and restore peace in Agatu.
The minister gave assurance that government was taking lasting steps to prevent cattle from grazing into people’s communities and farmlands.
He said that most of the rampaging herdsmen were from some neighbouring countries.“We are producing massive hectares of grasses for the consumption of cattle; we have received these grasses from Brazil and we are growing them in massive quantities.”
“Cattle herdsmen want grasses for their cattle; such grass is what we are growing in large quantities and, within the next three months, some of these will be ready.
“Most of these men are not Nigerians; they come in from places like Chad. Recently, I was in Berlin and I met the Minister of Agriculture from Congo, who complained to me that some Chadian herdsmen also invade some communities in Congo to commit similar havocs.”
He added that the government was in the process of enacting a legislation that would control cattle grazing in unauthorised areas.
“We are also sending a bill to the National Assembly to legislate that cattle should no longer roam in our cities and villages.”
“We will equally raise the issue at the level of the African Union, to compel member-countries to take steps to prevent their herdsmen from grazing into neighbouring countries.
“It will be a major international crisis if we do not stop it now,” Ogbeh said.
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