The floods hit the communities while the people of Agatu, one of the worst-hit areas in Benue from the many years of herdsmen attacks, were still in the recovery process.
During a visit to some of the affected areas, Channels Television uncovered a submerged transformer which holds great danger for anyone who attempts any form of evacuating their belongings.
The most dangerous part of the flood was a twenty-minute boat ride to Utugolugu where the entire community was submerged.
Residents in this community practically live in the water, cook on elevated wooden platforms, and sleeps on the roofs of their homes.
Some of the residents, Oigene Haruna and Queen Matthew, urged the government to come to their rescue, saying the suffering was much for them.
According to the, their children have no access to their school and no functional hospital while they have continued to live right inside the water for more than three months.
The lawmaker representing Agatu State Constituency in the Benue State House of Assembly, Godwin Edoh, and the Ada’Agatu, Godwin Onah, said the situation requires an urgent intervention of the government.
Sixteen people are reported to have been killed by suspected armed herdsmen in an attack on Agage community of Gwer West Local Government Area in Benue State.
This was confirmed by the Special Adviser to the state governor on security, retired Col. Paul Hemba who said that according to the information from the local government chairman, Mr. Francis Ayaga, 16 farmers were killed in the incident which occurred on Friday.
Col. Hembe added that the police could only account for seven bodies after visiting the scene of the attack.
Farming communities in parts of Benue State have in recent times come under attack by suspected herdsmen, leading to the loss of many lives and destruction of properties, forcing thousands of residents to seek refuge in internally displaced people’s camps in the state capital, Makurdi, and surrounding towns.
Although the attacks seemed to have been brought under control, especially towards the end of 2018, following the deployment of a military task force, Operation Whirl Stroke to the area, there are reports of renewed attacks in some areas, including Logo, Guma, Gwer West and Agatu Local Government Areas.
About two weeks ago, 17 people were reported to have been killed in Agatu council, which the state government condemned.
The media aide to the governor, Terver Akase, had said that the attack came shortly after Governor Samuel Ortom raised an alarm that “some persons for political reasons were planning to unleash armed herdsmen on innocent Benue people, to create fear in the people for political gains.”
The Commander of Operation Whirl Stroke, Major General Adeyemi Yekini, also confirmed the attack but could not state the casualty figure.
The commander, Operation Whirl Stroke, Maj. Gen. Adeyemi Yekini, has confirmed the killing of farmers in Agatu Local Council Area of Benue State by armed bandits suspected to be herdsmen in the early hours of Wednesday, February 20, 2019.
Although Gen. Yekini said the casualty figures were yet to be ascertained, as at the time of this report, some residents of Agatu told Channels Television that the number of people killed was seven.
In a statement, Gen. Yekini said, “I received a report this afternoon that some people were killed in Agatu by suspected armed bandits. I’m not sure of the number of casualties yet but I don’t think it’s up to 16.”
He explained further, “We have sent a patrol team to the general area where the incident happened. The location where it happened, although is in Benue, can better be accessed through Loko in Nasarawa State. We are already sending a patrol team there to verify what really happened.”
When contacted by Channels Television, the commissioner of police in the state, Mr Omololu Bishi, said he was yet to receive a briefing on the matter from his men in the field.
But the chief press secretary to the governor, Mr Terver Akase, told journalists that the state governor, Samuel Ortom, met with the commissioner of police who confirmed the attack to the government.
Mr Akase said, “We feel that this is unfortunate because the governor had raised an alarm that some persons for political reason are planning to unleash armed herdsmen on innocent Benue people to create fear in the people for political gains.
He said the government of Benue State had condemned the latest attack and had asked security agencies to immediately move in to forestall further attacks on the people of Benue, adding “We cannot afford to have another round of killings as we had in 2018.”
In January 2018, over 70 people were killed in Guma Local Government Area, the first in the series of attacks on several communities there, resulting in thousands of people being displaced from their ancestral homes, with most of them ending up in internally displaced peoples camps in the state capital, Makurdi.
The Nigerian Air Force, on Thursday launched a seven day air surveillance and bombardment operation code-named “Operation Smoke Out”.
The operation is to check the activities of wanted militia leader, Terwase Akwaza and possible existence of ISIS/Boko Haram group in Benue state, as recently announced by the Department of State Services.
The Air Officer Commanding of the Tactical Air Command, Air Vice Marshal, Nurudeen Balogun, said there are no official intelligence on the existence of ISIS/Boko Haram in Benue state, Operation Smoke Out, is targeted at all known criminal elements involved in the Zaki Biam killings and the ISIS group if it exists.
The Air Officer listed Agatu, Katsina Ala and Zaki- Biam in Benue state as well as Wukari in Taraba state as the flash points for the operation, the operations will include other security agencies, while the Benue state government tasked indigenes on intelligence sharing.
The Air Officer briefs journalist on the component of the operation said,
“We are working with other security agencies to make sure we put a stop to this menace and so some air assets including, aisle assets and gunships and some fighter airplanes will be operating in the next seven days, conducting intensive operations, both day and night to make sure that we solve the problems”.
Governor Samuel Ortom who was represented by his Special Adviser on Sports and Youth Development, Professor Jonathan Uever, expressed confidence in the military to end the Benue violence.
“The Benue state government has a lot of confidence in the operations of the military and with the briefs we have received from the Air Officer Commanding, we know that it is going to be well and the people will sleep with their eyes closed, especially in the areas they showed us that they will carry out the operations”.
The Air Officer Commanding said, although there are no official report of ISIS/Boko Haram cell in Benue, the operation is designed to root out all criminal elements.
The acting commanding officer of the 101 Air Defense Group, Mohammed Baba-Ari, in a briefing with pilots and mission commanders, listed key troubled areas like Agatu, Katsina Ala, Zaki Biam and Wukari forest in Taraba state.
“The major restive areas include Agatu, Zaki Biam, Katsina Ala and Logo local government areas among others. Also a forest stretching between Benue and Taraba states is the suspected enclave for the vandals perpetrating these acts”.
The Operation Smoke Out follows last weeks approval by the Chief of Air Staff, to commence counter terrorism operations with air power in a joint security operation with ground troops of other sister agencies.
Victims of herdsmen attacks from Agatu in Benue State have rejected the peace agreement brokered between them and Fulani herdsmen by the governors of Benue and Nasarawa states, to allow herdsmen to graze through Adapati Island to Bagana in Kogi state.
The agitators, under the Forum of Victims of Herdsmen Attacks in Agatu and the Benue South Peace Network hinged their rejection of the peace agreement on the grounds that the deal lacks elements of genuine peace, reconciliation and rehabilitation.
The peace agreement reached in Makurdi by the governors, was signed by the Oche-Agatu and the Ardo Fulani, but the victims agitating for the nullification of the peace agreement say they were not carried along.
Part of the deal is to grant access to herdsmen to graze on the disputed Adapati Island through Odumagbo to Bagana, where Agatu fishermen also conduct their businesses.
But the Benue state government is refuting claims that the agreement was forced on the people of Agatu without due consultations.
It says the deal was reached to prevent bloodshed with the arrival of more herdsmen to the Benue valley.
Governor Tanko Al-makura of Nasarawa State in north-central Nigeria has debunked claims that part of Agatu land has been ceded to Fulanis.
Agatu people in Benue State had alleged that Mr Al-makura and the Governor of Benue State, Mr Samuel Ortom, facilitated the ceding.
They also claimed that both governors created grazing routes and ranches during their visit to the area to broker peace between farmers and Fulani herdsmen that have had years of disagreements.
He explained that what they did was to ensure that the both parties reconciled their differences without giving favour to one side at the expense of the other.
While clearing the air on the issue, he described the allegations as unpatriotic and mischievous, saying their efforts were misconstrued.
He noted that in the agreement reached which the governors, the leaders of Agatu and Fulanis signed, it was indicated that all parties had agreed to live in peace.
“What we did in that mediation, contrary to what is going around by some mischievous individuals, was to bring peace between the Agatus and Fulanis.
“We have not ceded any part of Agatu to the Fulanis at all. We have not created any grazing reserve. We have not earmarked any area as ranching area. What we did was to facilitate the usage of the routes that have been normal routes where the nomadics and migrating Fulanis are passing from Nasarawa through to Benue and onward to Kogi and other parts of the country.
“We requested for three routes that were the normal routes but because of the sensitivity and sensibility of the situation at that point in time, only one was the one that we agreed the Fulanis will be using. So, that cannot be construed to mean creation of reserve or ceding of any part of Benue to the Fulanis.
“The routes, for the purpose of clarification, are to start from Guto in Loko development area of Nasarawa State to Adanyi, from Adanyi through to Ogumagbo. From Ogumagbo, they will cross to Bagana in Kogi State. Where is the ceding of any part of Agatu to the fulanis?” he questioned.
Mr Al-makura insisted that the allegation was unpatriotic and did not reflect the spirit of one Nigeria.
“I believe the agreement was well meant and accepted by all. For the avoidance of doubts it is to facilitate grazing routes for the nomadic to pass so that we don’t have a situation where there will be any crisis,” he added.
The Benue state police command has read the Riot Act to violent herdsmen and criminal elements among farmers in the state, warning them to desist from fomenting clashes in the year 2017.
This follows various complaints by residents who have are raising concerns over their safety as another farming season arrives, with memories of the clashes between herdsmen and farmers still fresh.
The Commissioner of Police in the state, handed down the order at a meeting convened to implement the peace agreement brokered between Agatu farmers and Fulani herdsmen by the governors of Benue and Nasarawa states.
The Benue State Police Command has red a Riot Act to violent Fulani herdsmen and criminal elements among farmers in the state, urging them to desist from fermenting the yearly farmers and herdsmen clashes or risk prosecution.
The Commissioner of Police, Mr Bashir Makama, handed down the warning at the inaugural meeting convened to implement the joint security and peace agreement brokered by governors Samuel Ortom of Benue State and Mr Tanko Al-makura of Nasarawa State, between Agatu farmers and Fulani herdsmen.
Mr Makama advised the warring Agatu farmers and the herdsmen to embrace peace by reconciling their differences. He warned the Fulani herdsmen to avoid taking their animals into farm lands to avoid frictions.
At the meeting, an agreement was reached between governors Ortom and Al-makura, on the one hand and Agatu farmers and fulani herdsmen on the other hand, to ensure peace throughout the grazing season this year.
Stakeholders and parties necessary for the successful implementation of the terms of agreement witnessed the agreement signing held at the Police Officers’ Mess.
Some of the Area Commanders, who shared their experiences, recommended how well to execute the assignment.
While all hands are on deck to ensure peace reign between Fulani herdsmen and farmers during the period of dry season grazing, adequate security operations to enforce compliance on the part of offenders may just be the solution.
The House of Representatives has asked President Muhammadu Buhari to uphold Section 40 of the 1999 Constitution he swore to by protecting the lives and properties of Nigerians.
Chairman of the House Committee on Public Safety and Intelligence, Mr Aminu Jaji made the demand on the President in Makurdi, the Benue State capital during the committee’s investigation visit to Agatu and ten other local councils affected by herdsmen attacks on farming communities.
While the House committee also made a case for the reconstruction of the affected communities in Benue State, Governor Samuel Ortom maintained that the state is opposed to the creation of grazing reserves.
He urged the committee to visit scenes of the devastation to enable it legislate from an informed position; a request the committee promised to grant.
As the dust from the three months long herdsmen attacks on farming communities in 11 out of the 23 local councils areas settle down, the ruins still bears marks of wanton destruction.
Houses in ten electoral wards in Agatu were burnt to the ground while hundreds of local farmers were killed and properties worth millions destroyed.
The Inspector General of Police, Mr Solomon Arase, says the issue of bribery in the Nigeria Police Force is a product of the fear of the unknown, but something Nigerians should use the provided platforms to eradicate.
Mr Arase told Channels Television on Monday that the issue of bribery had reduced drastically since platforms were put in place to take reports of bribery from the public.
“I have done everything I should do as an Inspector General of Police to open up the Nigeria Police Fore to public accountability. I have set up platforms and I expect Nigerians to use those platforms.
“It is left for Nigerians to say no you can’t do that.
“I have set up the Crime Response Unit and it is the first you have in Africa. I have insisted that there must be a feedback. There must be a response to cases reported to the police through the platform.
“I cannot be everywhere,” he stressed.
The police boss explained that he had established a strategic approach to tackle the issue of bribery.
“I do things that will guarantee their welfare. The Inspectors and rank and file are the most neglected in the Nigeria Police Force and they are the ones you see on the street.
“It (the welfare plan) has been well thought out and I deliberately targeted those groups of people that are creating negative impressions about us. We have not been able to take a look at these group of officers that we can now have the moral attitude to go against them whenever they engage in unprofessional conduct,” he said.
One of the provisions that he had made was the provision of apartments for the officers and scholarship scheme for their children through a foundation.
Deploying Officers To Agatu Unbudgeted For
On the crisis in Agatu between herdsmen and farmers in the community, he said police officers had been deployed to the place but lamented that such provision was not budgeted for and was expensive for the police to handle.
He said: “The communal crisis in Agatu is not new to our system but the magnitude is the issue. It has been reinforced by people who came into our system.
“We have to be able to situate them into historical perspectives.
“I have suggested to Nasarawa and Benue States Governors that the crisis are seasonal outburst. We can already identify the boundaries where it happens. Is it not possible to have a buffer zone? We can secure that place permanently but there is a cost implication.
“The buffer zone will become a force to contend with before access would be gained into the other side”.
He further stated that some policemen had been deployed in Agatu, but also said that the cost implication of deploying men to a troubled spot in a particular point in time was usually unbudgeted for.
“If I deploy them and their welfare is not appropriately taken care of then I am creating another problem.
“It will get to a time that the men will start agitating for better welfare and I will start looking for money to take care of their needs,” he explained.
There have been insinuations that the herdsmen could be members of the Boko Haram that had been chased out of their safe haven by troops on counter-terrorism operations in the north-east.
But the police boss said there was nothing to suggest that they were Boko Haram in disguise.
“We have had an interface with the leadership of the herdsmen and the President and the Secretary had done a lot with the police.”
He further said that some herdsmen suspected to have carried out attacks on farmers had been arrested and were being prosecuted.
Proliferation Of Arm
Giving an insight into the crisis, Mr Arase stressed that pastoralists in Nigeria, historically, have been people who domicile within the nation, known for carrying dagger or bow and arrows.
“The series of wars that have happened within the African sub-region – from Libya, Tunisia, Mali – you will discover that there have been proliferation of arms.
“We have borders that we cannot man appropriately because they are numerous and we have an agreement with ECOWAS to be their friend and develop good neighbourliness. Some of the arms have found their way into Nigeria.
“The guns do not come in legally. They are smuggled. Immigration officers may oversight the guns which are usually slotted in their goods as part of their goods,” he said.
He further gave the police’s commitment to securing Nigerians lives and proper, saying that the force has continued to train its officials who are very vast in crime analysis.
According to him, the trained officials are sent to the states of the federation to give the commissioners of police the expertise to be able to gather information, analyse them and utilise them in internal security management.
The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), Representative to Nigeria and ECOWAS, Angele Dikongue – Atangana is seeking quick intervention by the federal government to improve the lives of the Internally Displaced Persons. (IDPs)
She made this known, while speaking as a guest on Channels Television’s breakfast programme, Sunrise Daily, where she emphasized the need to rebuild the Northeast, adding that the state of infrastructure is appalling and needs urgent attention.
The UNHCR Rep. also explained that one of the biggest challenges facing the IDPs is security because “the IDPs insist that they want to go back to their villages”.
Speaking on the recent fight in the Agatu area of Benue State which affected the lives of children, women and men, she described the situation as a place under “siege and a scene of dissolution”.
She further noted that the Commission is working with relevant stakeholders in the country to secure that the rights of the IDPs are guaranteed under the law.
She called for the government to improve the welfare and provide more shelter for the people.