One year anniversary: Benue IDPs in dilemma to return home

One year after herdsmen invaded two local government areas of Benue state killing 73 persons, those displaced are still locked in the Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) camps wondering when they will return home. Writes DANIEL AGBO.

On January 1, 2018 while the people were in the New Year mood, herdsmen descended on villages in Guma, and Logo, the local government areas of Governor Samuel Ortom and former Governor Gabriel Suswam, killing over 73 persons.

The attacks, which continued till May 2018, led to additional killings and displacement of over 500,000 people mostly women, children and elderly in Guma, Makurdi, Logo, Gwer West, Okpokwu and Gwer Local Government Areas.

Out of the 500,000 persons displaced, more than 180,000 people sought refuge in eight official IDP camps across some local government areas with few others managed by the hosting communities, while others remain in the camps with their relations.

A year after the attack, there are mixed feelings in the IDPs as to when to return to their ancestral homes.

Although since the coming of Operation Whirl Stroke (OPWS), a special military operation which combines with other security agencies, relative peace has returned to the affected communities. However, there is still fear in the IDPs who insist that silent killings are going on along border communities.

In the recent media tour organised by OPWS to the affected border areas, no herdsman was sighted but residents of most communities like Aninge, Bakin Korta, among others, are yet to return for fear most especially now that the dry season has set in.

Most of the residents in the affected communities are of the opinion that if the  government builds security posts at the border areas and station security personnel there, it will end the attack by herdsmen who usually come at night. 

One of the residents from Umenger Terkaa Tondo told Blueprint that, “It is still not very safe for us to return to our ancestral homes because though it may be difficult to sight armed herdsmen in the day time but their attacks are usually at night”.

We have played our part- military

However, commander, OPWS, Major General Adeyemi Yekini, has constantly said that the place is now safe for the IDPs to fully return home.

According to him, “236, 864 IDPs in affected states of Benue, Nasarawa and part of Taraba have already returned to their communities”.

In a recent briefing to newsmen during one of the tour, Gen Yekini explained that out of the figure, 201 864 are from communities in Benue while the remaining are from Nasarawa and Taraba  states.

“On the side of security, we have done our part and most of the villages are safe for the internally displaced persons to return.

“I had recently approached the state government on this reason but they said apart from security, there are other things IDPs may need before they return home. They have their reason but on the part of security, we have cleared the villages and they are now safe”.

When Blueprint visited Abagena and Daudu camps, the IDPs expressed worry over their continuous stay which they attributed to insecurity and lack of resources to go back. 

IDPs give accounts

An IDP, Terkura Ninga said, “If security is stationed in my community, I will have the confidence to go back home. I was displaced from Igbudu village a border community in Benue near Barkin Kota since January 2018. I and my two wives and 10 children have being staying in the camp, thinking that within a short possible time we will go back, but all to no avail. We have clocked a year here in the camp. Any attempt by our people to survey our communities, some of them will get killed in the night by the herdsmen who will then escape into Nasarawa”.

 Ninga appealed to the government to help rebuild their homes and provide security so that they can go home and start a new lease of life. He said their major problem is how they can get money to rebuild their houses and buy seedlings to continue their farming.   

Another IDP, Ukorstaha Gbamwuan, who is also a father of 14 children said he arrived the camp on the 2nd of January 2018 following the New Year attack by herdsmen at Barki Korta, a boundary between Benue and Nasarawa state where, according to him, his immediate younger brother, Terdzungwe Gbamwuan was killed in the attack.

 “We are tired of staying here at the camp but afraid to go back, especially we that are living at the borders of Benue and Nasarawa state; these areas are not safe, the herdsmen are still camping on the other bank of the river and when they discover that every where is quiet, especially at night they will come, attack and run back to Nasarawa, so we are afraid except we see security stationed at the borders”.

A widow, mama Afanyo Agure, who lamented that live was not easy, said they were attacked on New Year at Atongu, Mbabai, also a Benue border village near Nasarawa and her husband, an elderly man was killed leaving her with children. She said it was her desire to return home but have no source of livelihood. “I am tired of staying at the IDPs camp; we have lived here for one year and there is no hope of returning.

A 90 year old man, Vincent Agbinde, who also spoke to Blueprint said he was displaced at Yange, Atongo, also a border community between Benue and Nasarawa states. According to him, his family has been living with relatives at Udei since January 2018.

He said all their property including houses have been destroyed by herdsmen and it will be difficult for him to go back without finances.

Despite FG visit, no respite

It could be noted that vice president, Yemi Osinbanjo, had visited the state on May 15, 2018  following incessant attacks by suspected herdsmen.

During the visit, he said the government would build some units of houses in Guma, Agatu and Logo LGAs to resettle the IDPs.  

But almost eight months after the visit and one year after the attack, the executive secretary, Benue State Emergency Management Agency (SEMA) Emmanuel Shior, disclosed that nothing has been done by the government.

He said the inability of the federal government to keep to its promise is hampering their return home.

Shior said the state governor, Samuel Ortom, after  Osinbanjo’s visit even took the DG of National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) to Gbajimba and donated a large parcel of land for the purpose.

He said though the commander of OPWS, Major General Yekini, had approached the governor to close down camps for the IDPs to return home, stakeholders kicked against the suggestion since there were still some humanitarian issues to be tackled.

According to him, stakeholder during the state security council meeting argued that the camp could not just be closed down because there were perceived security presence in the affected communities.

“Most of the IDPs in the camps don’t have homes; their homes, farms and other property were destroyed, so if you close the camp because you think there is relative peace, where will they return to. We must have to address those challenges before closing down the camps.

“For instance federal government visited Benue through the vice president, Osinbanjo and promised to construct housing units as part of the resettlement plan and since then, we have not heard from them.

“The housing units were supposed to be constructed in three local governments, namely Guma, Logo and Agatu. The governor of Benue state even took the DG of NEMA who visited in this regard to Gbajimba and  Ortom donated large parcel of land for that purpose. “But nothing has been done so, we told the General that the housing units for the IDPs has to be put in place too”, he added.

It could also be noted that anxiety has remained in the state especially communities in flash points over pressure at the border by the herdsmen to come into the state with cattle to graze.

A security source who pleased anonymity disclosed that they have been working day and night to repel herdsmen who attempt to cross from Nasarawa into Benue.

He said they were battle ready to ensure that armed herdsmen do not cross over to Benue to cause problems any more.

The sudden pressure at the border communities and the inability of the IDPs to return have been viewed by some persons as also having a political undertone.

To this some persons are of the view that it is a strategy to distabilise the state to manipulate election or even use it as a campaign point.

NGO raises concerns

Addressing newsmen recently in Makurdi, to mark one year anniversary, a group known as the MINDA Strategic Contact Group, MPSCG, a socio-political group expressed worry that as the dry season sets in, the state is faced with the prospect of a repeat invasion.

Its spokesperson, Prof Tor Iorapuu, said only few weeks ago, law enforcement agents arrested one herdsman with 105 herds of cattle openly grazing in the heart of Makurdi in flagrant violation of the Anti Open Grazing Law.

“There is, therefore, palpable anxiety in the state that the sudden influx of such a large number of herds into Benue on the eve of 2019, a general election year is a design to breach the peace and instigate the postponement of the 2019 general elections in Benue state and call for declaration of a state of emergency.

“It is on the account of this that we are calling on the government and good people of Benue state, the federal government, security agencies and the international communities to note that to ‘Remember is to Resist’.

“That as we remember the ugly killings and existing provocative statements, we put the world on notice to resist its recurrence in 2019 going forward.”

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