A roadmap to peace between warring Fulani herdsmen and Agatu people of Benue State may be in the offing at last. FREDDIE ADAMGBE in Makurdi reports that a recommendation that will give herders a right of way in the community if implemented is before the State Government. The recent attack on Egba Community in Agatu Local Government Area of Benue State is one of the most devastating in the history of the state.
It has so far defied all solutions. The God-given rich and fertile coastal area of the River Benue, stretching from Kwande, Katsina Ala, Buruku,Guma, Makurdi and Agatu Local Government Areas is however supposed to be a blessing.
The massive area, naturally rich in Fadama and ideal for the cultivation of rice is the attraction of Fulani herdsmen who have been invading the land, maiming, killing and destroying the massive rice and other agricultural crops therein.
Their excuse every time they strike is that their cattle are allegedly rustled by the inhabitants thus provoking them to revenge. Strangely enough, the deserted land is no longer good for herds and their herders who cross over to Agatu through Rukubi- Akpajana axis of Duma Council of Nasarawa State armed with sophisticated weapons instead of cows — as if they are going on a hunting expedition.
Benue State Police Commissioner, Mr. Hyacinth Dagala, confirmed last week’s attack on Egba Community in Agatuwhere about 82 persons were killed and expressed worry at the level of destruction perpetrated on the community. The attackers disappeared immediatelyguerilla style. According to an eye witness, the attackers arrived the area decked in military uniforms, protective jackets and wielding their weapons on anything in sight.
A member of the Benue State House of Assembly representing AgatuState Constituency, Sule Audu, confirmed that 81 people lost their lives while over 50 people sustained injuries. “We didn’t include those who escaped with injuries and died somewhere in the bush,’’ He said. He insisted that there was nothing religious about the attack, “We are one ethnic (group) and they killed both Christians and Muslims and even pagans.’’
The lawmaker disclosed that since the invasion of Agatu by the Fulani herdsmen in 2013 to date, about 20,000 people have been displaced leaving only Obagaji, the headquarters. “The goriest aspect of the onslaught is that the invaders grabbed many babies from their mothers’ backs and sliced their throats after which they killed the defenseless women.”
The question on the lips of some indigenes of Benue South also known as Idoma is : Why is it only Agatu area that is being singled out for the ceaseless attacks?
A political leader in Agatu, Elder EghahiOyinu, ruled out politics in the attacks, saying the continuous attack is intended to take control of the fertile farming land and the vast aquatic potentials in the area. He contended that being brave in pushing the invaders every time they venture close to the land has angered them to resort to hired mercenaries to avenge the human loss they incurred in the past.
The former Chief Whip noted that while the Nigerian constitution guarantees the right of freedom of movement and residence in any part of the country to all Nigerians and not cattle, such right should not be abused taking cognizance of Section 44(1) of the same Constitution which prohibits forcible acquisition or occupation of another person’s property, especially immovable property (except via prompt payment of compensation thereof).
To him, since the invaders have not paid and the community did not want their association, they had better leave them in peace,not in pieces. Another community leader in Agatu, Elder Zakaria Obiebo, who is taking refuge in Makurdi told our correspondent that for the crisis to be permanently averted, the Federal Government must set up a Joint Security Task Force to be patrolling the borders of Nasarawa State where the invaders usually pass through to Benue State.
Elder Oboibe, also opined that stationing a permanent Mobile Police Barrack in the troubled area will be appropriate since they will be on hand to nip any breach of peace in the bud. He appealed to government both at the state and federal levels to implementthe report of the Sketch Map of Transhuman Routes, North Central Pastoral Recommendation wherein there are clearly identified cattle routes that would give herders right of way for grazing their cattle without interfering with farmlands.