Saturday, 21 March 2015

Untold story of how Fulani herdsmen terrorize Benue communities (Part 1)

Spurred by last Sunday’s early morning attack on Egba community in Agatu LGA of Benue State by marauding Fulani herdsmen about which the State Police Commissioner, Hyacinth Dagala, reportedly placed the death toll at 82, DAILY POST headed for the community in an expedition that yielded revealing but disturbing details.

Locals report that hundreds of Fulani nomads invaded the community at about 4:30am on that fateful day, fully clad in military fatigue. They shot sporadically into the air, causing the villagers to run for dear lives. But as they tried to escape, the assailants gunned them down while killing others with machetes and daggers.

An embittered resident of Egba, who gave his name as Attah Okopi, vehemently disagreed with the figure given in official quarters as casualty rate. In his view, those who died from the attack cannot be less than 150. He noted that, “if they are talking about the number of males that died, maybe I can agree with them. But if the number of deceased women and children are to be included, then we would not have anything less than 150.”


Musa Abu, who is a vigilante member from Ogule a neighbouring community to Egbe, said he was sure the deadly invasion wasted 200 lives. Disclosing that women and children form a greater number of the figure, he lamented, “the Fulani marauders who killed pregnant women did not spare the unborn babies in their womb. They opened up the womb of pregnant women they had killed, brought out the foetus, butchered it into pieces and abandoned the parts of the slain foetus on their dead mothers.”

Musa, who spoke in the Idoma dialect, explained how the Fulani herdsmen carry out their attacks on unsuspecting villagers: “They normally come at the dead of the night. After which they will retreat to their hideout. Prior or during the attacks, no police or army officers came to the rescue of the communities. The people are left to decide their fate. Those who could escape have left for other communities that are comparatively safe.” He called on the government to immediately do something about the attacks, stressing that “this war must stop. If it continues, we will be forced to retaliate.”

How it all started

A community leader in Ogule, Pa Andrew Idakwo, told DAILY POST that the very first attack carried out by the Fulani nomads against an Agatu community happened on May 5, 2013. Then, they raided eight villages including Okokolo, Abogbe, Adana and Akpeko. Houses were burned with nine villagers killed and many others injured. A week later, the marauders attacked a completely new session of the local government, sacking 12 settlements and killing 68 persons. He further noted that “ever since, there have been over 20 attacks by the nomads in Agatu LGA. They keep coming in and out. The latest was the attack of Sunday night. The number of casualties may actually exceed hundred, only that about 82 bodies were reportedly counted. But there are still people missing, with some others in hospitals dying daily from wounds sustained in the attack.”


According to the 70-year old community leader, “the Fulanis entered Agatu in the year 1964 and this first set of Fulani settlers had no problem with Agatu people. But about 10 years ago, a new set of Fulanis entered who were of more violent disposition. If their cattle ate your crops and you complain, they will attack you. There were incidences of women being attacked in the farm, either beaten, flogged or raped. Men were stabbed. I remember in some communities, if they steal your guinea corn and you go alone, they will kill you, butcher you up and run away. This happened in a number of villages like Usha.”

Concurring with Pa Idakwo, An elderly resident of Usha who gave his name as Ahmadu Egaji disclosed, “As part of the reprisal, our people refused to sell food to them. If they come to the market to buy food, our people wouldn’t sell foodstuff to them. I think that was what sent them away as they had no food to eat anymore. Our people concluded that if it is our crops that we sell to you that you send your cattle to come and eat, then we will not sell our crops to you. And when there was no food for them, they left Agatu between February and March, 2013.”

The weakening of modalities for resolving disputes

Before the Fulani herdsmen started leaving Agatu communities in droves in the first quarter of 2013, it was learnt that the various communities had in place a committee that was peopled by representatives of the Agatus and Fulanis. This flowed from the local government level where successive administrations have maintained similar committee. This committee which had the indigenes and Fulanis as members always waded into any crisis between members of both groups inhabiting in Agatu local government with a view to resolving same. Where compensation is required, it would be enforced by the committee.

A local government official who disclosed this but would not want her name in print said, “This has existed all along until it got to a point when the Fulanis stopped cooperating. It was as if they resolved that it is either this people move away for us or we remove them by force. We must drive them away or they allow us to move our cattle with impunity; I think this is the mentality of the herdsmen. Each community where Fulanis resided had similar arrangement through which conflicts were settled. But it got to a point when the Fulanis were not working with such committees any longer. They would prefer that the matters be reported to the police.

“And if the matter was reported to the police, they invariably had more money than the local farmer to prosecute the case in court. And the farmer will eventually lose out of the case because it would drag for many months and years in court and the herdsman has more money to service the case and the court processes which the farmer wouldn’t be able to afford. This has made our people to lose confidence in the police and in the courts. Because of this, the herdsmen were behaving with impunity and disrespect and becoming more violent and destructive, operating with no control whatsoever. This was what led the Agatu people to decide not to sell food to them,” she explained.

The aggressors leave to return

Following the refusal of the Agatu agrarian farmers to sell their produce to the Fulani herdsmen whenever they came to the local market to shop for food items coupled with their fear of the locals teaming up against them in reprisals, the Fulanis retreated into Loko in Nasarawa LGA of Nasarawa State. “They packed all their belongings and families deserting Agatu LGA. Our people discovered that all of them suddenly packed away from our areas. We wanted to find out why they were packing away but they didn’t give any explanation. Barely two months later, they launched their very first attacked of 5th May, raiding so many villages. Agatu has known no peace afterwards” Musa revealed.

Government indicted for not doing enough

The popular feeling among the Agatu people is that government has left them at the mercy of the herdsmen. As they insist that no concrete action has been taken to bring reprieve to the suffering people of Agatu. A resident told DAILY POST that “The Benue State government will send army and police officers, but these people will come after every attack. They are never there and even if they are there and an attack is launched, they will do nothing. The first thing they do is to run away. They are reported as saying they have not been sent to come and fight the Agatu fight, that we should fight to defend ourselves.”

Pa Andrew, the community leader throws more light on this, “Let me say this, for three years, these herdsmen have taken off from a single town in Nasarawa State called Loko. Loko has a chief. It is in a local government where there is a chairman. That is where the herdsmen are always taking off to attack the Agatu people. If the government is serious, why is it allowing them to assemble there and cross over, using canoe to attack people and return back? And the government looks at them and still does not do anything.

“If it is not failure of government, I believe that a responsible government in Nasarawa State would have sent people to Loko to contain these people. Whenever they are massing to attack, the Loko people will know. It is a failure of government on the two sides. It is not just about setting up committee. You know where they are taking off, why don’t you stop them? How can the security head in the state not know that this is happening, but will only come to speak after people have been killed? These have been going on for three years. The chief in Loko knows what is happening. The chairman in Nasarawa LGA of Nasarawa State knows what is happening. The chief of Agatu speaking indigenes of Loko knows what is happening. But none of them have acted decisively to help contain the situation,” he added.

What the crisis has cost Agatu communities


As regards the impact of the incessant attacks, the community leader lamented that, “most economic activities in Agatu LGA can no longer be carried out. We are mainly farmers, but as it stands now, nobody can go to prepare the farms for the farming season that is fast afoot, because they do not know when the Fulanis will come and attack them in the farms. A few of our people do fish by the river banks and ponds that abound in the area but they cannot go to work. No primary school is opened in Agatu now. So educationally, Agatu is suffering. All secondary schools have also been closed for close to three years now. They no longer function well in Agatu area because of the fear of Fulani attack.
Source: Daily Post Ng


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