AMID claims and counter-claims of successes in the war against insecurity by the Federal Government and its critics, hundreds of internally displaced persons, IDPS, in Plateau and Benue states are yet to see the successes.
Reason: They want to return to their various communities but cannot because it will be suicidal to do so as those who forced them to flee for their dear lives are still occupying their lands.
Therefore, they are pleading with President Muhammadu Buhari to help them return home, to their normal lifestyle and farming occupation, which they have abandoned for several months since their displacement.
Indeed, at a time when the Plateau State is working at returning the internally displaced persons back to their homes, more IDPS have flooded the camps following fresh killings last month in Kulben village in Mangu local government area as well as in Kwatas, Marish and Ruboi in Bokkos local government area.
No fewer than 50,000 people were displaced in Plateau following series of attacks. However, in April 2019, no fewer than 200 people were returned to Kakuruk in Barkin Ladi but 70 of that number fled the community due to hardship and insecurity.
In December 2019; two camps from the 12 existing camps in Barkin Ladi local government area were closed by the State government when 3,000 more IDPs were taken home.
The Management Committee Chairman of Barkin Ladi local government area, Barrister Ezekiel Mandyau, at that time said: “We have 12 IDP camps, we have about 34 villages that are spread in all these camps, you will recall that IDPs have been there for over a year now… “
The recent incidents in Mangu and Bokkos on January 26 as revealed by the Member representing Mangu/Bokkos federal constituency, Solomon Maren showed that 32 of his constituents had been killed in two weeks of attacks with 5,000 displaced.
“Kulben, Kwatas, Marish, Murish, Lokudung, Sabon Barki, Ruboi 2, Manja and Mbiki-Ishala villages were attacked within a space of two weeks, with 32 killed, three Churches burnt down, 10 shops looted and over 200 houses burnt down with food stuff and seedlings worth hundreds of millions destroyed.
“Those who escaped from those villages are currently taking refuge at the COCIN Central Church, Christ Apostolic Church and others in Bokkos and they are numbering over 5,000 mostly women and children. They are there without food, water or adequate sanitation to cater for such population. Government does not only appear complacent but also condoning these hoodlums and probably protecting them.”
Mandyau, quoted earlier, told Saturday Vanguard that the exercise of returning the displaced persons would continue until everyone is relocated from the camps to their ancestral homes, and urged the people to know that there is no gain in violence.
He stated: “We still have IDPs, we are hoping that we will conclude their return home within the first quarter of this year. There are camps in Bokkos, Dorowa, Barkin Ladi, Heipang, Foron, Fan, Mangu and Kassa, I don’t have the actual number of the IDPs until we check the record.”
Benjamin Shaweng, Chairman of all Ron/Kulere (tribe) Community Development Associations, speaking on the recent issue in Bokkos noted: “For the three days that our people were mourning, they went to our irrigation farms, they harvested all the Irish potatoes, even those that were not ripe for harvest.
“They have vandalized everything and they graze freely on our farms. By not doing anything we wonder if government is saying take the laws into your hands, fight back. We are equal to the task, we can do it. But we are law abiding. You are sleeping in your house and somebody is coming with a gun to meet you in your house and somebody else is saying it is ‘farmer-herder clash’. How is that a clash? A clash results from a dispute between two parties but when there is no dispute, we are not fighting with anybody over anything so we look at it as purely a land-grab tool. They are fighting us, terrorizing us to grab our land.”
The Council Chairman, Yusuf Machen alluding to claim of land-grabbing added: “We will defend ourselves no matter the consequences, no matter what will happen, we will defend our cause, we will defend our land, we will defend our people.”
The Berom people in Riyom, Barkin Ladi Jos South, Jos North local government areas and Irigwe people in Bassa local government area are making the same claim.
In Riyom local government area alone, indigenous people have been routed in 13 communities of Shonong, Ma-Seh, Shong 1, Shong 2, Ranjol, Kak, Rankum, Attakar, Janda 1, Janda 2, Bangai, Ranchol-Sopp, while Dajak has been taken over by strangers.
A Community Leader, Da Gyang Dahoro said: “Right now, strangers that we don’t know are building on our land, some of them cannot even speak Hausa language, government was expected to look into this, for instance Janda 1 and 2 have been taken over. Churches, 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.”
The displaced persons cannot go back home for fear of being killed, but the State Governor, Simon Lalong has assured the people of his commitment to ensure justice and return their property to the rightful owners.
Right now, the State Government is mulling stiff legal sanctions to anyone involved in land grabbing and has declared that the era of ‘unknown gunmen’ killing at will without any repercussion is over.
Within the week, the State Governor, Simon Lalong, held an enlarged stakeholders’ meeting to proffer indigenous solutions to insecurity in the State and the participants unanimously agreed on adopting the community policing option as well as strengthening the State owned security outfit, Operation Rainbow to work on area of early warning signals.
Why Benue IDPs may not return home anytime soon
In Benue, last two years will no doubt go down in history as the most challenging period for the people of the state. And this was the function of the bloody invasion of 19 of the 23 LGAs of the state by armed herdsmen who bared the fangs on innocent rural farmers.
It was a period when the share will to survive in the face of daunting odds kept the people forging ahead amid wanton destruction of lives and property by the marauding armed herdsmen who sacked and razed hundreds of communities from one end of the state in Agatu to another in Logo LGAs of the state.
It was a period that witnessed mass movement of displaced persons whose homes, communities and sources of livelihood were left in ruins.
From the 2018 New Year’s day attack on communities in Guma and Logo LGAs that claimed close to 100 lives Benue state government has been saddled with the responsibility of catering for the about 500,000 Internally Displaced Persons, IDPs, whose homes and communities including social amenities were completely wrecked by the invaders.
As at today, the official figure of persons displaced by herdsmen crisis in the state, who are currently taking refuge in 22 official and unofficial IDPs camps and host communities in parts of the state stands at over 483,692.
In the last few months however, these IDPs have become restive and eager to return to their ancestral homes to live their normal lives.
Regrettably, their dream of going back to their communities is being frustrated by issues of security and lack of living homes which is also being compounded by the failure of the federal government to fulfill its pledge of N10billion for the reconstruction of the destroyed communities.
Benue has in recent times also witnessed large influx of herdsmen and their cattle into communities in Logo, Ukum Agatu, Ado, Guma and Gwer West and the outskirts of Makurdi town.
In fact, few days ago hundreds of people in Lumbur council ward of Ukum LGA started deserting their homes for fear of attacks by herdsmen.
This was prompted by the arrest of two herdsmen who were caught grazing freely in the area. It was gathered from an eyewitness that the herders went to Awabar, Tomataa and Gbongum villages destroying farm produce with impunity and when the vigilante in the area attempted to stop them they shot sporadically to scare the people away from their community.
It was further gathered that two of the herders were later arrested with four of their cows and taken to Gbeji police station.
In the same vein, only few days ago, two men suspected to be herders were arrested on Makurdi-Gboko road with large cache of arms and ammunition by a police patrol team on stop-and -search duty on the busy highway.
They had confessed that they were moving the arms to Awe LGA in neighboring Nasarawa state, an area known to be a launch pad for attacks on Benue communities in Guma LGA.
Governor Samuel Ortom had also narrowly escape death when suspected armed herdsmen shot at him in his farm at Adeke along Makurdi-Naka road some two weeks ago.
“They also shot at the vehicle of our Livestock Guards who came there and shattered it. We had to call the joint military security team, Operation Whirl Stroke, OPWS, who came and saved the situation,” the governor had recounted.
He also lamented that the influx of armed herdsmen into the state had become a source of concern and worry and needed to be checked urgently.
While commending personnel of OPWS for ensuring the return of peace to the state the Governor urged the operation to redouble its efforts given the new threats to peace in the state.
Pundits believe that these security threats have become the major reason the IDPs may not return to their homes anytime soon.
In the face of the ordeal they currently live with, majority of the IDPs have passionately appealed to President Muhammadu Buhari to help them return to their homes after over two years of living in the IDPs camps.
Narrating his trauma and agony of living in one of the camps located at Abagena in the outskirts of Makurdi town, 65 year old blind retired teacher from Tse Tor , Mr. Alex Nor said “I have been here since January of 2018 and I’m tired.
“We cannot go back home because there is no home to go back to. My community was destroyed, our homes were razed and there is nothing to go back to.
“My four children and I live here and it has been a horrible life for me and my family.
“Moreover herdsmen have taken over all that area so we are appealing to the President to order the military to push these people away from our villages so that we can go back and resume our farming actives from where we eke out our living,” he added.
On her part, an octogenarian, Mama Iyuange Luper, a widow from Mbagwen in Guma Local Government Area, LGA lamented that she might not live for another one year if the government failed to take steps to move herdsmen away from Benue communities and help her return to her ancestral home with her children and grand children.
“I never knew life will treat me this way in my old age. It is unfortunate that I live in a camp with my children and grand children when I should be in the comfort of my home with my children and grand children knowing that I’m now close to my grave.
“I thank the Benue state government for not abandoning us to our fate. They have been providing for us but it certainly cannot be compared to when you live in your home and take care of yourself.
“My only request to the federal government and our President in particular is that they should help us rebuild our destroyed homes and chase out the herdsmen who have taken over our communities so that we can return home.
“We are all tired of staying here and living on handouts from the state government and people who visit us occasionally. Regrettably, even some who tried to return home recently ran into herdsmen ” she stated.
For Iwar Aondowase who hails from Kaseyo also in Guma LGA the journey may be very long if the federal government fails to take decisive action to root out herdsmen from Benue communities.
He said “I have a wife and a child and we are desperate to go back home, but we do not have any home to go to. Our community was sacked, our homes and farm land destroyed by herdsmen so we do not have anywhere to return to until the federal government fulfills its promise of rebuilding our villages and and also resettle us.
“We know that if President Buhari wants all herdsmen removed from our communities by the military it will be done in no time. That is what we are passionately asking for and it will not be too much for the President to do for us. After which he should order for the reconstruction of our homes.”
Adding his voice to the challenge of having the over 480,000 IDPs return to their respective ancestral homes, the Executive Secretary of the Benue State Emergency Management Agency, SEMA, Dr. Emmanuel Shior appealed to the federal government to release the N10billion it pledged to assist the IDPs get resettled.
“Apart from ensuring that herdsmen were stopped from taking over Benue communities, those already occupying our villages should be removed and security beefed up in the affected communities before the resettlement will commence in earnest,” Dr. Shior added.