By Bemdoo Hulugh
At a time like this, it is important to be a voice of reason. First it was the brutal killings by fulani herdsmen in some communities in Benue State. These fulani herdsmen butchered human beings like wild animals in what has become an annual killing festival for them. The second was the attack on Zaki biam yam market by unknown gunmen who left more than 50 people dead. It was reported that the unknown gun men stormed the market shooting sporadically and setting it ablaze in an operation that lasted up to two hours.
The fulani herdsmen have been the major security challenge for many years in Benue State. Facebook memories keep reminding us that it is the same story every year. The herdsmen always come with their killer squad in the month of March just before the rainy season and leave after the season. They invade communities, shoot at any thing they see, butcher human beings like wild animals, destroy crops and raze down buildings. Last year in Tombo Council Ward(the same Tombo that was attacked few weeks ago), 67 men, women and children were killed and dumped in Hand-Dug Wells to deliberately pollute water sources. These attacks have turned men to wanderers, women to widows and children to orphans.
The activities of these herdsmen are having a negative effect on communities and if we are not careful, things may soon get out of hand. Local farming communities that produce the food we eat have lost so much from these attacks. According to an impact assessment report by BENGONET in 2016, 56.25% of Benue State have been attacked by herdsmen. Four Council Wards in Logo local government lost crop and animal livestock valued at N242 million, the four affected council wards in Tarka Local government lost stocks valued at N25.6 million and in Agatu internally generated revenue collapsed by 85% due to the attacks by fulani herdsmen. This signals danger in terms of food security and social stability.
What many people fail to understand is that these attacks by fulani herdsmen are not limited to Benue State in as much as it is the most affected. 19 of the 36 states in Nigeria have seasonally experienced attacks by fulani herdsmen. This is not something to ignore in a serious society. With little or no resistance or consequence for their actions, the herdsmen have become more daring in their attacks and things are likely to get worst. There are already stories of people abandoning their ancestral homes for fear of herdsmen who now occupy their communities. As instruments of the State fail to protect citizens, many communities are likely to take laws into their hands which will lead to total chaos.
If Benue State finally descend to anarchy, it will be because we look at everything through the lenses of ethnicity and politics. All of a sudden some people don’t want us to call them “fulani herdsmen” but just “herdsmen” because our President is a fulani man. They have for years carried out acts of terror but they are not arrested or declared a terrorist organisation because that means calling the whole fulani race terrorists. Showing your frustration by protesting and raising your voice automatically makes you a member of the opposition and an enemy of government.
Our biggest tragedy is that we easily forget and people who easily forget are likely to repeat the same mistake. We have forgotten that this is how we tolerated boko haram till they became too powerful to contain. When boko haram started there was a lot of sympathy from the Muslim elites in the north that Borno elders even wrote to President Jonathan to withdraw the military same way Miyatti Allah and other fulani elites keep defending the senseless killings in the name of defending their people. Boko haram started with bow and arrows and local rifles same way fulani herdsmen who used knives and sticks now possess some of the most sophisticated weapons that it was reported the first set of police despatched to buruku local government needed to turn back. We are on a familiar road again.
The Federal and State government need to act now before its too late. It is not too big a task to expose the sponsors of these annual killing festival, arrest and put them on trial. By carrying acts of terror all over the country, the fulani herdsmen and their killer squad should be officially declared a terrorist organisation and treated as such. This is the only way to restore law and order and the confidence of the people.
Bemdoo Hulugh is an active citizen and he writes from Makurdi
You can also interact with him on twitter @bumy04