Benue communities belongs to us, we are here to take over your land – Fulani Herdsmen tells Benue civilians
Just when it seemed respite was coming the way of Benue farming communities from the incursions of marauding herdsmen after the flag off of Exercise Ayem A’ Kpatuma, or Cat Race, a military spike operation to end herdsmen killings in the state, armed herdsmen early in the week stormed Mbatoho, an Island community at Mbalagh council ward of Makurdi local government, sacking over 5,000 inhabitants of the vast Island.
The invaders who were reported to have quietly ordered the locals to vacate their ancestral homes without putting up any resistance warned that their intent was not to shed blood.
Scared stiff of the threat, the locals immediately fled their homes to the mainland after which the well armed herdsmen razed several homes on the island and occupied the territory which is less than five kilometer on sea from the Wadata area of Makurdi town.
Majority of the victims caught refuge in homes of relatives and friends on the other side of River Benue while a handfull of others staged a peaceful protest to Benue Government House, seeking the intervention of the state government to save them from being homeless.
It was gathered from some of the displaced persons that the armed herdsmen started the action of attacking and taking over the island some days ago.
According to the Community Leader of the Island and tax collector of the inner segment of the Island, Chief Peter Tachie, “the armed herdsmen who are usually dressed in black started their action four days ago in our community.
“They came in their numbers with their cattle into island from Guma local government area and other places on foot some weeks ago because the water level of River Benue has dropped significantly so they could easily assess the island on foot.
“Four days ago they started destroying our houses, farmland and food barns and also taking over the LGEA Primary school in the island and converting same for personal use.
“As we speak no Tiv person is on that island at the moment, they have taken our farms and also uprooted our cassava from our plantation to feed their cattle which are also grazing freely on our farmland.
“They have destroyed all that we spent years to acquire, so we have all moved into Makurdi main town with our families to seek government’s attention.
“You know that we do a lot of dry season farming on the Island and as we speak all that we planted in this dry season have all been destroyed by the herdsmen and their cattle.”
On his part, the tax collector of the outer segment of the island, Chief Stephen Guntu, said the invaders had warned that it was in the best interest of the locals to vacate the island in order to avert a major crisis.
“They warned that we should leave the island quietly in our own interest. And since we know that they could be ruthless we all fled with our families.
“Some of us are currently taking refuge in the houses of friends and relatives while John Kyuka who is a politician that comes regularly to campaign in the island also offered to accommodate very few of us.
“We need urgent intervention of the government because they have taken over our farmlands and all the food we harvested during the last farming season.
“Moreover, we do a lot of dry season farming and as I speak all the crops we planted this season are now food for the cattle.”
Head Teacher of the only Primary School on the Island, the LGEA Primary School, Daudu, Mr. Ephram Otave told Saturday Vanguard that close to 400 pupil of the school had been chased out of school by the invaders.
“All my pupils who are close to 400 have been chased out of school and displaced due to the activities of the herdsmen who have occupied the entire island and chased out our people.”
Confirming the development, the Benue state Information Commission, Lawrence Onoja Jnr. said the invaders had completely taken over the Island adding that the government had also directed security personnel to push them out of the community before the crisis would escalate.
According to the Commissioner “our findings when the Security Adviser to the Governor, Lt. Col. Paul Hemba(Rtd.) led a team to Island indicated that for sometime in the last few days there has been serious influx of herdsmen into Benue especially along Agatu, Guma, Logo, Katsina/Ala local government areas and communities bordering Nasarawa state especially.
“It was in the course of this influx that groups of herdsmen some days ago went to Mbatoho Island, at Mbalagh council ward of Makurdi local government area and sacked the locals from their homes.
“The people fled from Island and the herdsmen took over the community. When the team got there it was discovered that the herdsmen were feeding their cattle on the farm produce of the people and all they had in their barns.
“Governor Samuel Ortom has been in constant touch with security personnel who have mobilized to the Island and have been directed to to push back the herdsmen.
“Unfortunately the Exercise Ayem A’ Akpatuma recently launched by the military in the state to end the herdsmen incursion in the state does not cover that area because it is an Island completely surrounded by water.
“However, security personal have been mobilized to the island to move the herdsmen out so that the people can move back to their community.”
When contacted, the State Police Public Relations Officer, Assistant Superintendent, ASP, Moses Yamu confirmed that the Special Forces of the Police had moved into the Island to restore order.
“Just today, the Commissioner of Police, Fatai Owoseni held meetings with some Ardos (Fulani Chiefs) and Chiefs from Agatu, Gwer West and others, after which they went on a visit to the Island. As we speak they are yet to return to Makurdi mainland.”