Benue State, renowned as the nation’s food basket, finds itself ensnared in an unending crisis. More than 200 villages endure relentless targeting by heavily armed herdsmen, allegedly donning military attire, on a daily basis.
According to reports from DAILY POST, the past three months have witnessed a harrowing toll, with over 500 lives purportedly lost within three local government areas in Benue South Senatorial District, recognized as Idoma land.
Villages in Otukpo, Apa, and Agatu LGAs suffer the most, with accounts of marauders slaughtering numerous locals, resulting in scorched homes and countless missing residents.
Despite the attribution of these heinous attacks to ‘Fulani herdsmen’ by locals, the perpetrators remain unidentified, leaving communities like Agatu, which had experienced relative peace, plunged into bloodshed once again, extending to neighboring areas like Apa and Otukpo.
The recent surge of violence in Agatu, Benue State has devastated communities such as Ogwumogbo, Ikpele, Ejima, Okokolo, Olegomakwu, Olegonyilo, Nahem, Ocholonya, Abugbe, Ugboju, Odugbeho, and Olegobidu, resulting in significant loss of life.
What initially began as unrest in Agatu has escalated into a full-scale conflict, reaching villages like Umogidi and Entekpa areas of Adoka in Otukpo.
A local informant disclosed that over 700 armed men have besieged Otukpo, Apa, and Agatu villages, with no visible security presence to confront them.
Despite the courageous efforts of Idoma youths from Ohimini who volunteered to defend their ancestral lands, they face formidable adversaries armed with sophisticated weaponry such as MG3, Heckler & Koch G3, AK47, and other dangerous arms.
Villagers continue to lament the scarcity of security personnel in the affected regions.
A local vigilante, speaking anonymously, recounted a recent encounter with security forces, who, instead of providing protection, cautioned against any retaliatory actions.
He told our reporter, “We, the youths from Ohimini and Ugboju, came here to help our brothers and sisters, but things turned out really tough.
“The security people who were supposed to protect us didn’t do a good job.
“When we got here, one of them warned us that if we shoot without caution, they would take away our guns.
“We only have dane guns, also called ‘shakabula’, with 10 rounds of ammunition.
“But when we went into the forest, things were much harder than we thought. The enemies we faced were too difficult to handle, and we had to retreat.”
Our reporter acquired a widely circulated video in which a volunteer currently stationed on the battlefield disclosed the plight of the villagers. As per his account, the assailants appear determined to obliterate the Idoma community from the map of Nigeria.
“We’re about 50 youths from the neighbouring communities, and when we arrived here, the situation was way beyond our expectations. Facing these people with our dane guns is a suicide mission.
“They are fully clad in military uniforms. Unfortunately, we fell into their ambush, and they killed four of us.
“Currently, we are trying to retrieve the bodies from the bush to prevent them from decaying, but we no longer have ammunition. These attackers shoot on sight.
“We urge the government to come to our aid. Idoma leaders, please help us.
“We are under siege, our land is under attack, and they are slaughtering us like chickens.
“Without any provocation, they unleash gunfire on anyone in their line of sight. Our land is besieged, and we’re left bewildered about what led to this,” he lamented.
The military, too, has fallen victim to the continuous assault.
Recently, Operation Whirl Stroke faced a major setback when three of its members were lost in a coordinated attack believed to be carried out by suspected Fulani herdsmen in Agatu.
Providing a thorough description of the incursion by the marauding herdsmen and the significant toll paid by his troops to safeguard Agatu, Maj. Gen. Sunday Igbinomwanhia, the Force Commander of OPWS, elaborated on the response of his troops to the influx of people fleeing the Okokolo community the Thursday before last.
According to him, “On inquiry, the troops were informed that terrorists suspected to be armed herdsmen were advancing towards the town to attack it.
“The troops immediately mobilised and proceeded to the community, which is about 15 kilometres from their base.
“The success achieved was, however, at a huge cost, with three of the troops paying the supreme sacrifice to prevent the killing of the inhabitants of Okokolo and the intended sacking of the community.”
In August 2022, former governor Samuel Ortom initiated community volunteer guards to bolster local security.
Now, amidst a worsening conflict, they confront a sense of powerlessness.
A discontented guard member highlights the lack of crucial support and attention from the present government.
The member urges Governor Hyacinth Alia to prioritize the welfare of the people over politics and extend assistance promptly.
He pleaded, “This is not the time for politics. The governor is not really giving us the attention and the necessary support. We expected him to do more because this fight is beyond the police or army alone.
“We are residents of these communities. We know all the corners and can contribute in our own small way to support the other security agencies.
“If this continues, one day, you might wake up to find that Idoma land has been taken over by Fulani herdsmen.”
Concerned about the escalating situation, Comrade Abba Patrick Moro, the senator representing Benue South Senatorial District and serving as Senate Minority Leader, recently took action by presenting a motion before the Senate regarding the ongoing attacks on communities in Benue South, urging prompt intervention.
In his motion, Senator Moro lamented the continual assaults on his constituents by unidentified armed individuals, suspected to be bandits, with no arrests made by law enforcement agencies. He specifically highlighted the merciless assault on the Okokolo, Abuge, and Ocholonya communities of Agatu Local Government Area on Thursday, January 18, 2024. This attack resulted in the loss of numerous lives and extensive destruction of property and livelihoods valued at hundreds of millions of naira.
Moreover, the Idoma Association USA, a socio-cultural group, strongly criticized both the state and federal governments for their perceived inaction as Idoma land faces turmoil. During a recent press conference, the group’s president, Edwin Ochai, called upon Idoma leaders to actively resist and confront what he termed a relentless onslaught occurring in Benue.
He said, “It is unacceptable that our people are left defenseless, homes destroyed, and farm produce decimated.
“We implore the Federal Government of Nigeria to step in promptly and take decisive action to bring an end to these heartless attacks that have turned our land into a killing field.
“The safety and well-being of our fellow Idoma citizens must be prioritized, and justice must prevail.
“We urge our members to raise awareness, mobilize resources, and engage in advocacy efforts to ensure that the voices of the victims are heard and that lasting solutions are implemented.”
In response to the assertion that security personnel are absent, Maj. Gen. Sunday Igbinomwanhia, the OPWS Force Commander, stated that efforts were already in motion to pursue the assailants. He affirmed OPWS’s commitment to executing its directives from the Chief of Defence Staff to safeguard lives and properties within the Force Joint Operations Area. #Benue State