Armed herdsmen are occupying our communities We’re hungry but can’t access our farms We’ll rather die in our homes than beg in the camps IDPs going back home shot dead Govt is turning a blind eye to our plight Pleads with FG to rebuild destroyed homes What manner of country do we have? A country that is not engaged in any conventional war but watches helplessly as thousands of its citizens are turned into refugees. Nigeria is not fighting any external enemy, but the residents have become refugees in their own country. Several thousands of Nigerians have been chased out of their ancestral homes and forced to live in camps where life is brutish. And who drove them out of their homes? They were not soldiers from other countries fighting Nigeria but armed herdsmen who in the process of grazing destroy farms, steal, maim and kill. The conquering army of herdsmen have not only taken over the homes and farms of these hapless residents but have, in some cases, renamed their communities. Some of the residents who strayed back to their communities believing the aggressors had left were killed for their audacity.
Benue today is home to over 483,692 Internally Displaced Persons, IDPs. It’s a bizarre tale that all started on New Year’s Day of 2018 when Logo and Guma local government areas of the state came under severe coordinated attacks by armed militant herdsmen. The invaders had before then, through their leadership, threatened to resist the Benue State Open Grazing and Ranches Establishment Law of 2017 which was signed into law by Governor Samuel Ortom in May of that year, though its implementation and enforcement took effect from November of the same year. The invaders also allegedly employed herders from within and outside the country to besiege the state in protest of the new law. So, when the massacre of innocent farmers and sacking of Benue communities started in earnest on New Year’s Day it didn’t take the people of the state time to realize that a brutal war had been declared on the state by the invading armed militant herdsmen. That bloody invasions, like wild fire spread to 18 out of the 23 local government areas of the state leaving on its trail the death of hundreds of innocent farmers and local dwellers and the complete sacking and razing of several communities in the state.These unfortunate residents are tagged Internally Displaced Persons, IDPs. Hundreds of IDP camps, scattered across some states in the north have been set up for them where life is nothing but hard. The refugees in camps located in Borno and Adamawa states abandoned their homes because of the rampaging Boko Haram insurgents. But in Plateau, Benue, Kaduna, Taraba where IDP camps have also been set up, the displaced persons fled from the invading armies of herdsmen. Conditions in those camps are deplorable. Many have lost hope. Some prayed for death that refused to come. They have nowhere to go. They felt abandoned. They look up to government to help them go back to their ancestral homes but the government is looking elsewhere. They are asking where will their help come from. The displaced persons are therefore crying to President Muhammadu Buhari for help. They want to go back home. They are saying they are hungry, but they can not access their farms for fear of being killed by the herdsmen who chased them out of their ancestral homes and have occupied their communities. They are crying to the president to fulfill the pledge made by his administration to rebuild their communities. Will the president hear their cries? BENUE: Over 483,692 Benue indigenes still trapped in 28 IDPs’ camps
As Benue communities including parts of Makurdi, the state capital, became theaters of war, tears and blood flowed freely while hundreds of thousands of the helpless people fled their ancestral homes most of which were up in flames.
The equally helpless state government was left to cater for over 500,000 IDPs at the time and it was a huge challenge that almost ran the state aground. The state was actually in troubled waters but the coming of Operation Whirl Stroke, OPWS, a joint military spike operation, to a large extent has restored some level of normalcy in the state. Regrettably, despite the intervention of the OPWS, over 483,692 are still trapped at the 28 official and unofficial camps and the host communities of the camps located in seven local government areas of the state. An official statistics from the Benue State Emergency Management Agency, SEMA indicated clearly that the IDPs are camped in 28 locations across the state. According to the statistics IDPs totaling 97,488 are currently housed in 12 locations in Makurdi Local Government Area, LGA. A breakdown shows that Abagena camp holds 8,210 IDPs while 7,691 reside in Abagena community. Agan camp is home to 4,798 IDPs while 5,517 live in the host community. Angwan Ochonu also in Makurdi is home to 4,951 IDPs while Federal Housing Authority, FHA, hosts 4,353 IDPs. Ichwa community also in Makurdi is host to 9,587 IDPs, LGEA NASME holds 23,151 IDPs. LGEA Tyodugh also in Makurdi holds 5,672. Ogiri Ajene camp holds 9,506 IDPs, Tionsha is home to 10,500 IDPs. Meanwhile a total 115,272 are taking refuge in seven locations in Logo LGA, one of the epicenters of the crisis. A breakdown shows that Ugba camp houses 3,080 IDPs while a total of 8,651 IDPs live in the host community. Abeda camp also in Logo LGA is home to 2,668, Abeda community is playing host to 22,949 IDPs. Anini village holds 4,962 IDPs, Anyiin camp houses 7,466 while 65,496 IDPs live in the host community. In Agatu LGA there are 65,347 IDPs while Gwer West LGA houses 60,243. Kwande LGA is also home to 9,465 IDPs and Okpokwu LGA is home to 4,080. Meanwhile Guma LGA which was another epicenter of crisis and from where most of the IDPs in Makurdi spilled from is home to 127,342 IDPs. Of this number 29,500 are in the Gbajimba camp while 28,875 of them have found accommodation in the host community. The Daudu camp I also in Guma houses 5,451 IDPs, Daudu camp II houses 20,172 while 43,344 reside in the host community. It was gathered that when some of the IDPs made efforts to return to their ancestral homes, they discovered that aside having no homes in their respective communities to return to, they lost virtually all sources of livelihood including farmlands and food barns while some of the deserted communities had been occupied and completely taken over by the militant herdsmen who graze freely on occupied farmlands. Armed herdsmen have refused to leave occupied communities—SEMA Speaking on the development, the Special Assistant to the Executive Secretary of Benue SEMA, Mr. Alexander Chia said officials of the agency few days ago commenced assessment tour of the seven affected LGAs only to discover that armed herdsmen had occupied some of the deserted communities. According to Chia, “we just came back from Logo LGA and we discovered that villages like, Tse Adur, Igo, Tse Nomigo, Tse Ajim, Tse Timve, Tse Sugh, Tse Pir, Tse Bojande, Tse Adule and Tse Abojande are being occupied by herdsmen who have refused to leave those communities. “They have eaten up all the yams and maize cultivated in those communities. In fact the people told us that they have not been able to access their villages since 2014. They are still taking refuge in Anyiin. “Also New City in Mbadwen council ward in Guma LGA is still being occupied by herdsmen. Same is the situation in Torkula village, Tse Orjime the home town of the Executive Secretary of Benue SEMA, Mr. Emmanuel Shior. “Some places in Nzorov council ward also in Guma LGA are being occupied by herdsmen who have refused to vacate the area. That is why most of the IDPs taking refuge in Makurdi are from that area. “Several villages in Gwer West and Agatu are also being occupied by them and the original owners of the communities are living in IDPs camps and cannot go back because the invaders remain there and graze their cattle. “Though we must laud personnel of the military operation named Operation Whirl Stroke, it was their intervention that has restored normalcy in most of the troubled communities and the people can now go to farms but not at the level they used to, the people now farm within the neighbourhood in small scale and not far distances where farming is done in large quantity. FG fails to fulfill its pledge of rebuilding destroyed homes “That is the situation in our communities which accounts for why the people cannot return to their ancestral homes aside the failure of the federal government to fulfill its pledge of reconstructing the communities which were ravaged and destroyed by the rampaging armed herdsmen. “Outside the 483,692 IDPs, Benue is also home to over 6,000 Cameroonian refugees who are currently taking refuge in Kwande LGA which borders Cameroon. So, taking care of all these people has been herculean for the government which requires all the help it can get now. “We are also pleading with the Federal government to come and fulfill its pledge of rebuilding the homes and communities destroyed by the militant herdsmen to assuage the pains of the people so that they can go back to their ancestral homes,” Chia added. PLATEAU: We can’t access farms for fear of being killed—Residents
For over a year now, residents of some communities in Barkin Ladi, Riyom, Mangu, Bokkos, and Bassa local government areas of Plateau State have been out of their homes due to insecurity and incessant attacks which have brought them untold hardship. The over 50, 000 people currently displaced from these areas had stayed briefly in the Internally Displaced Persons’ camps set up at COCIN Ban; COCIN Heipang; GeoScience, Zawan; Riyom Satellite market; Riyom Pilot Primary School, COCIN Central, Mangu; COCIN RCC, Bokkos; COCIN RCC, Daffo; COCIN Rawuru; COCIN Fan-loh; COCIN RCC, Ropp; Ganaropp; St. John Vianney, Barkin Ladi as well as some available spaces in Jol, Miango and Ganawuri before moving in with relatives and friends. Most of those camps are now empty as most of the people have moved out except the few who have nowhere to go. But the people who are predominantly farmers are crying out that they are not comfortable in their new places of abode and want to return to their ancestral homes and continue in their farming profession in a secured environment. They complained that they have waited in vain for the fulfillment of the various promises made by government at all levels to take them back to their homes while they have been receiving reports of strange people taking over their property and farmland without any challenge. Although some of the displaced persons had made efforts to return to safer communities in their local government, they all complained of hunger and lack of money as they cannot access their farms for fear of being killed by the Fulani who had chased them out of their homes. Returning IDPs shot dead Just last week, four persons were confirmed dead in Vwak village of Riyom local government area when gunmen opened fire at a group of Internally Displaced Persons making their way back home. Their community was sacked in 2018 by herdsmen; the villagers, taking shelter with relations in neighboring villages had started renovating their destroyed houses but a group returning to the community was ambushed at about 7pm. 13 villages occupied by aliens In Riyom local government area alone, Saturday Vanguard discovered that the indigenous Berom natives have been sacked from 13 villages by some aliens who had taken over their property and converted same for personal use. The natives as well as Fulani who had resided with them over time are therefore appealing to the Government to come to their aid and ensure justice is done. They also want the seized property returned to their rightful owners. The communities completely taken over are Shonong, Ma-Seh, Shong 1, Shong 2, Ranjol, Kak, Rankum, Attakar, Janda 1, Janda 2, Bangai, Ranchol-Sopp and Dajak We’ve not known peace since 2012—Village head Speaking with Saturday Vanguard, Thompson Gyang, the Village Head of Fang in Bachit District of the area noted that there was relative peace but IDPs must be taken back to their homes and their seized property returned to them. He said, “since 2012, we have not known peace in this local government, all stakeholders have worked to see that peace reign in this local government area. We are looking for lasting solutions that will take us to the path of peace and our make communities flourish. As we are, some of our people are refugees in different places and this is not good.” Galadima Adam, a Fulani from Bachit district of the area added, “We, as Fulani and the Berom have agreed to stay together in peace, we are not happy that people left, many people left my community. We are appealing to them to come back because if there are no people in the community, you cannot call it a community and this is not good. We are together with the Berom people, we want peace, where there is peace, there is no fear, come back to your homes.” Strangers are building on our land——Da Gyang Dahoro Also, the Village Head of Rim in Riyom district, Da Gyang Dahoro said, “Rim is one of the ancient towns in Berom land with a very rich culture. We are farmers, miners and hunters. I came into office in 2015 when Rim was full of crises, we were under siege, daily shootings and no one could go to the farm. Even when you farm behind the house, people were still being killed. I inherited over 200 cattle and local buffaloes apart from sheep and goats and very many hectares of farmland that we could not cultivate due to crises. “Thank God that things are improving, even though we cannot go to farm like before, but things are getting better. Strange people have taken over our farmlands and building on them; we have written to government to come to our aid because when there is justice, all this rubbish will not happen. The law must take its course, who are you to occupy somebody’s land and build on it? “We appreciate government but let them do the needful, they are not doing enough. There is relative peace for now, children can go to school and people can sleep but IDPs must return home. People are still living with relatives and friends. As a traditional ruler, my palace was burnt; I am now living in an uncompleted building. “We are hearing many things in the news about rebuilding, we held meetings with Operation Safe Haven and some NGOs but we are still waiting, when will it be so that people can go back to their homes? When you stay outside, you can not get enough land to farm and rear your animals. “Right now, strangers that we don’t know are building on our land, some of them cannot even speak Hausa language, government should look into this. For instance Janda 1 and 2 have been taken over, Churches and clinics have been demolished. Even the traditional ruler of Janda is here in Riyom, they have taken over his house, and they built on his foundation. “We really worked for this relative peace and we don’t want anything that will set us back rather, we want to achieve lasting peace, government should help us get back our land.” It will be recalled that the State Government had set up a committee headed by the immediate past Commissioner for Water Resources, David Wuyep to see to the resettlement of the people to their ancestral home. Right now, neither SEMA nor government worker wants to comment on the issue as members of the said committee are no longer in office because the Governor had dissolved his cabinet after his first tenure and has not constituted a new one. At that time, about 200 people returned to Kakuruk in Barkin Ladi but 70 out of that number fled the community due to hardship and insecurity while the rest are still languishing in poverty. Things have become worse for us——Resident A resident, Pam Davou said “we are only hoping on God because since we came here, things have become worse for us. There is still threat here but we would rather die here than beg in the camps. we cannot go to farm any longer, even when you farm, they still bring cows to eat up the crops. The siege is ongoing and government is turning a blind eye, if we give up, our children will be worse off, we will just get by until help comes.” The situation in Kura Falls in the same area is not different as a former IDP narrated. He said, “when our government is telling everyone that all is well, who will come to our aid? We were in the camps and by the time government told people we had been returned home, we did not get any assistance and even to eat was a problem. Young girls were being molested just because of food and the young men are helpless. We summoned courage to come here but we are still not comfortable in our homes. A lot has changed, few nails and roofing sheets were given to few of us but what can that do?”