From Rose Ejembi, Makurdi
As each day breaks and the sun rises, mourning and wailing as a result of incessant killings by invaders suspected to be herdsmen rent the air in Benue State.
News of attacks and killings by gunmen have, sadly, become commonplace, as hardly any day passes without two or more communities being attacked. This is even made worse by the scattered pattern of settlements in most parts of the state.
Across the 23 local government areas of Benue State, the story is the same, as the killing spree continues unabated.
Many communities, including Abagena, a community housing one of the eight major IDP camps in the state, have witnessed attacks in which many people have been killed and several others injured.
But while the siege on Benue State by gunmen continues, women in the state, under the aegis of Benue Concerned Mothers, recently trooped out in their numbers to urge President Muhammadu Buhari to act as a father and come to the rescue of the state.
The women, who were drawn from across the three senatorial districts of the state, converged on Makurdi, the state capital, last Monday to demand, among other things, that the President urgently address the nation and caution Fulani herdsmen to stop the killings in the state and across the country.
Led by 70-year-old former federal lawmaker, Mama Rebecca Apedzan, the women lamented the continued attacks by herdsmen on Benue communities, which they said had reduced over one million Benue farmers to IDPs in their own land, while their farmlands and communities have been occupied by herdsmen and their cattle.
They lamented further that many people have been killed and many more were still being maimed and killed almost daily by the invading herdsmen whose main agenda, they noted, is to occupy the Benue Valley.
According to the group, the attacks, if not stopped, is capable of leaving the already depleted food basket of the nation completely empty, as the farmers can no longer go to farm for fear of being killed by the marauders.
Speaking at a press conference on Monday, the women rejected grazing reserves and any similar policies that seek to enslave the people and hand their land to Fulani herdsmen. They insisted that the planned opening up of grazing routes and establishment of grazing reserves by the Federal Government was unacceptable and a dream that can never come true.
They said: “We, the Concerned Benue Mothers, are here with very heavy hearts to address you on issues bothering us as a people, Benue State and Nigeria as a nation.
“You are much aware of the worsening security situation in the country being perpetrated by Fulani herdsmen who have killed thousands of Benue people and in other states.
“You are equally aware of the attitude of the Federal Government led by President Muhammadu Buhari, who is not bothered to see women and children being killed daily by Fulani herdsmen.
“We are left with no other option than to conclude, as many others have said, that the President is happy to watch his kinsmen turn Benue and other parts of the country into killing fields.
“A few days ago, we woke up to the news that President Buhari has vowed to create grazing routes and establish grazing reserves in the 36 states of the country next month whether anyone likes it or not.”
The mothers who opined that President Buhari has not shown enough empathy on the Benue killings, urged him to do more to ensure peace in Benue and all over the country: “We are wondering if this is the same democracy that we all fought and got in 1999, leading to the emergence of Muhammadu Buhari as elected President in 2015. Has the President forgotten that this country is now being run by decrees and not by the constitution?
“What about the Land Use Act, which vets all lands in state governors? Has the act been repealed? From where is President Buhari deriving his authority that he feels he can impose draconian and dictatorial policies on Nigerians and expect us to applaud him?
“The other time, the Buhari presidency introduced cattle colonies, it took the courage of patriotic Nigerians like Benue State governor, Samuel Ortom, to rise and reject the conquest agenda.
“The President later dusted the programme and renamed it as Ruga, but again our eagle-eyed governor and other patriots saw through the veil and kicked against Ruga. The President reluctantly cancelled the Ruga programme.”
They noted that the whole country had already agreed on a ban on open grazing of cattle while embracing ranching, for which Benue has been leading the campaign since 2016 and wondered why the President would be standing in opposition to a matter in which the entire country is speaking with one voice.
“All governors of Northern and Southern Nigeria have taken a unified stand to ban open grazing. Shockingly, President Buhari has come out to mock the governors and is threatening to impose grazing reserves on the people of this country.
“This is unacceptable. Nigeria is not practicing despotism. Ours is a country structured on the principles of federalism and democracy. We did not vote a tyrant as President. We believe that we voted a man with the right experience and discipline who would be for all of us and defend us, not just his ethnic group.
“What crime did we commit by going out in large numbers under the sun to vote for President Buhari that he has now chosen to reward our love with hatred and our ballots with bullets?
“From all indications, President Muhammadu Buhari is for somebody and not for everybody, contrary to his words on May 29, 2015, when he took the oath of office.
“We want Mr. President to remember that our children and grandchildren also deserve a decent future, a future where they will no longer be afraid to go to bed with the fear of being slaughtered by rampaging herders.
“The humanity and conscience in President Buhari should make him to think about the thousands of children whose parents were killed by herdsmen and are now in internally displaced persons camps for four years as orphans. Don’t such children deserve to live in a country they call their own?” Apedzan asked.
On her part, former vice-chancellor of Benue State University, Prof. Charity Angya, who spoke on behalf of Zone A women, called on the President to defend the people of Benue and the entire country.
“We voted the government in power because we expected good governance. We didn’t expect that our lands would be taken away and they would kill us. We can no longer defend ourselves because all weapons of defence have been taken away from us.
“We are calling on the President to protect and defend us. Let the government stand up and do what they are supposed to do. We stand firmly behind the governor to say there is nothing like grazing reserve but ranching,” Angya said.
Mrs. Lydia Anzam, who spoke for the Zone B women, decried the dangerous dimension the herdsmen’s attacks had taken not only in Benue but the entire country.
Anzam said: “We, Benue Concerned Mothers, are crying for the whole country. This Fulani issue did not start today but it has aggravated because our President has been taking sides with the Fulani. We are calling on the President to come out and tell us why the Fulani have waged war on the Middle Belt and the South, and who is defending us.
“The efforts the President has made in the past are not good enough. We want him to do more to defend us because we can no longer defend ourselves. War has been declared on us and he should rise up and fight for us. We commend our governor.”
Also, Evangelist Owakoyi Egharuwa, a former chairman of Agatu Local Government Area, who spoke on behalf of Zone C women, also urged the President to intervene and stop the killings by herdsmen: “Our major cry is that the President should intervene. When it comes to crisis, women are always on the side of peace but when women begin to cry out, then people must act. The killings are still going on. We want to be heard and our President must come out and defend us.”
Jennifer Gbishe-Igoh, who spoke on behalf of civil society organizations, lamented that, for eight years, she has not been able to go to her village to see the graves of her parents, all because her community has been occupied by herdsmen. She, therefore, called on President Buhari to intervene.
“I stand to speak for all those who cannot speak for themselves. I cannot see my father’s grave, for the past eight years, because Fulani have taken over our community and if you dare go there, you can be killed.
“We are crying because this is happening everywhere, including in the North. Come to our rescue. We do not have AK-47 but we have AK-God. We don’t want to go to war because we are a people of peace but don’t drag us to war. We will keep crying. We are not going to stop. We stand behind the governor to say we don’t want open grazing but ranching,” she said.