3,920 villagers murdered, says LG boss
How man lost wife, 4 children
‘Fulani herders will never enter our lands for grazing again,’ Agatu communities vow
From LINUS OOTA, Lafia
It was a gory sight which 49-year-old Joseph Salifu, can never erase from his memory; neither would anything serve as a soothing balm for his pains. The emotional trauma and scars inflicted on him by the sad events of February 24, 2016, are still fresh. It was a day he lost Enenche, his beloved wife of 26 years, and four of his children aged between 31 and 21, in a most gruesome manner.
They are gone forever, buried in the sands with their blood dripping from the rage of suspected Fulani herdsmen, who unleashed an orgy of violence on communities in Agatu Local Government Area of Benue State, including Aila,Ugboju, Akwu, Odugbeho and Enogaje communities, among others.
His wife, Enenche Salifu, aged 40, who hails from Enogaje community in Agatu was shot dead late in the night while asleep. Until then, she was a health worker with the Agatu local council. The same fate befell Salifu’s four children, including a 31-year-old university graduate, James Uloko Salifu, who was awaiting mobilization for the mandatory one year national youth service, and Deborah Salifu, 28, a prospective university undergraduate. Others are, Pius Salifu (25), a senior secondary student of GSS Otukpo, killed on a visit to his native home on holidays, and Juliet Oche Salifu, 21, an SS2 student of Government Secondary School, Agatu. Al least 300 lives were said to have been lost in that attack.
Salifu tells his sad tale: “In the early hours of that day around 3:30am, we heard gunshots and everybody was deep asleep; they had surrounded five communities in Agatu with sophisticated weapons and set all ablaze using petrol; they were picking those trying to run out with bullets. It was only God that saved me because they thought I was dead as I lay among dead bodies; nobody knew how they came because the attack was unexpected.
“It was after the killers had gone that we knew the enormity of what happened. When I looked around and found my wife and four children killed like animals in the bush, I shed tears. At age 49, life has no meaning to me any longer; there is no amount of money anybody can offer me now that will bring back my family. Anybody who is thinking of bringing back Fulanis to Agatu land is our enemy; we are yet to recover from the agony of that heinous attack on the sleepy communities without provocation.”
David Ochegu, 47, hails from Egba community of Agatu. Like Salifu, he lost his wife, Eunice, on March 15, 2015, when a group of Christian worshippers were murdered in cold blood by suspected Fulani herders early in the morning.
His 37-year-old wife who was a tailor, left behind three children, and perished in the attack alongside over 100 souls, according to Ochegu. “My wife left home to attend a 6am mass at St Joseph Catholic Church, Egba, where the Fulanis attacked and killed everybody, before burning down the church. The innocent and defenseless people, including women and children were helplessly massacred in such large number including my wife; it was a terrible experience for me”, he lamented, vowing that the Agatu people will never allow the Fulanis into their land again under whatever guise.
A pained Sole Administrator of Agatu Local Government Area, Mike Inalegu, narrated in an exclusive interview with our correspondent, how agrarian and innocent Agatu communities known for peace and tranquility, suddenly became killing fields for suspected Fulanis, most of whom had cohabited with the natives for decades.
His words: “The Fulanis had lived with them for decades without problem until 2011, when they started carrying sophisticated weapons such as AK 47 riffles as against their traditional swords and sticks. They will deliberately carry their cattle to farms and destroy crops; any attempt by farmer owner to complain or raise alarm would amount to severe beating and molestation. May 5, 2013, was the day genocidal attacks and wanton destruction of properties by Fulani invaders started in Agatu. On that day, they attacked Olegoga, Olegadecheno, Alogba, Olegotekwu,Olegogbeche, Olegodege, Olegeje, Adana, Imminyi, Abogbe, Ocholonya, Olegomakwu, Akpeko and ended with Okokolo community, with petrol, explosives, swords and other sophisticated weapons. They killed 667 people, and all the houses, buildings, structures were virtually destroyed.
Inalegwu chronicled subsequent attacks on Agatu communities, which he described as an unpleasant development that has, however, become a recurring decimal. “On May 12, 2013, the Fulani herdsmen entered Agatu through Oweto to Ekwo Okpanachenyi and Iwali as early as 7am and invaded the community where mourners were at a funeral, randomly shooting at the defenseless women, children and the aged, killing over 92 people; they proceeded same day to Ikpale 1, Ikpale 2, Okokpolo, Ogbayi and Ogwumogbo where they killed 47 persons.
“On November 9, 2013, was another black day for the people of Agatu, Okpagabi, Ogbangede, Enicha, Enungba, Engila, Ogam, Usha, Ekwo/Okpanchenyi, Iwarri, Okpokpolo, Ejima 1 and 2, Ogbayi and Ogwumogbo communities, were invaded by the Fulanis in an attack that left 439 persons dead; houses, churches and schools were also burnt to ashes. It happened again on February 17, 2014, when the herdsmen who had declared total war of annihilation on Agatu people invaded Utugolugwu and Oweto, where they killed 41 people and burnt houses; the six soldiers protecting the bridge construction across River Benue from Loko to Oweto were also murdered.
“Obagaji, the headquarters of Agatu Local Government Area took its turn on the April 12, 2014, when the Fulani militia invaded the place and ambushed six young men. They killed all of them as well as eight other young men who were loading sand into a tipper; six were killed on the spot while two were taken away and later beheaded.
The persons who were killed in attacks on Agatu communities is a frightening 3,920, and properties destroyed are worth billions of Naira. We are not talking about the displacement of persons and the general negative impact of the attacks on the socio political and economic affairs of Agatu people. The magnitude of human and material losses recorded in the aftermath of the recent Fulani herdsmen attacked is unprecedented”, Inalegwu lamented.