From ROSE EJEMBI, Makurdi
THEIR condition could draw sympathy from the most callous of mortals as they sat down and looked into space as if their stare could change the situation they were in and bring back their late husbands.
If anyone had told these group of women some five weeks ago that they would today become widows, they would have doubted the message or chorused, ‘Back to sender’.
This is because their husbands were at that time hale and hearty and were carrying on with their normal businesses without any fear at all.
That was until the Fulani herdsmen invaded their communities in Agatu Local Government Area of Benue State four weeks ago, killing hundreds of people and setting every house ablaze.
Worst is the fact that after the killings, corpses of these women’s husbands could not be immediately recovered for proper burial as the Fulani who dislodged them from their ancestral homes continued to occupy the communities with herds of cattle while the decomposing remains of the deceased villagers littered everywhere.
These women who are now taking refuge at the Agatu Internally Displaced Person, IDP camp, Makurdi, located at the NOGOA Secondary School, Adikpo Street Wadata took time to recount their experience to Sunday Sun.
Elamiyi Okelemu was married for over 20 years to her husband before the unfortunate Fulani invasion in which he was killed could not hold back her tears as she allowed them flow freely while narrating her ordeal.
According to the mother of four children, the family had built and lived in Okokolo, Agatu Local Government Area for years before the crisis which erupted sometime in February this year.
She noted that she was preparing the evening meal when suddenly, the sound of sporadic gunshots rented the air around their village, a development which made everyone, men, women, young and old to scamper everywhere for safety.
“We ran under the cover of the night for hours before we got to Odugbeho. We were lucky to have escaped unhurt because so many others of our villagers couldn’t make it to safety as they were killed either by the bullets or matchetes of the invading Fulani herders.”
However, few days later, when it was becoming difficult for them to feed in their new abode, Elamiyi’s husband decided to brave it all and went to his farm to get some food items for the family.
That ended up being his greatest mistake as the Fulani herders, on sighting him and other villagers who had gone to their farms, opened fire on them and killed many while only a handful managed to escape back to Odugbeho to break the sad news.
“When we heard that Fulani were coming to Okokolo village, all of us women with our children ran to the next village, Odugbeho. Few days later, my husband and other members of the village went to get some food in his Ugboju farm when the Fulani herders attacked and killed some of them in the farm. Unfortunately, he was among those killed.”
“Those who went with him to the farm and could escape from the crisis scene came back to give us the report of my husband’s death. We were only able to retrieve the corpse after three weeks that he had been killed because the Fulanis were occupying the area and no one could go near. He was immediately buried.”
While noting that her stay with her husband for over 20 years they were married had no problem, Elamiyi said that if asked to go back to the village now, she cannot because she was so used to her husband whom she said was her everything.
“We were always together in the farm and at home. I don’t think I can cope without him. My head has been cut off. I don’t know where I can start from. To worsen the situation for me, I don’t have any picture of him to keep as a memory because I hear that the Fulanis burnt our house and destroyed everything we had.”
She lamented on how she could cope without her husband as a full house wife with four children who are still in school remain a big question she is finding very difficult to answer.
Another woman who was widowed by the Agatu Fulani insurgency is Mrs. Dorcas Patrick, an indigenes of Aila Village in Agatu Local Government Area of Benue State.
Married to Patrick Ochoche for over 30 years, she said her husband was doing very well as a civil servant in Kaduna when suddenly he became mentally ill and had to be moved home some years back.
Mrs. Ochoche who stated that their marriage is blessed with a 15 year old child said ever since then, they had been managing him at home until this recent invasion of Agatu by the Fulani herders.
“We actually escaped from our village when the Fulani herdsmen invaded our villages but because of my husband’s mental illness, we did not know when he ran back to our village. He was killed by the Fulani herdsmen on February 22. We recovered his corpse days later and he has since been buried.”
Other women including Mrs. Dorcas Godwin, Sophia Dole, Dorcas Oluma and Veronica Benjamin also narrated how they became widowed by the Fulani crisis that rocked their communities.
Mrs. Dorcas Godwin – My husband, Godwin Thomas, a fish farmer and I were in the village when suddenly we heard gunshots all around us. He quickly instructed me to carry our two children and run through one route while he followed another route because we did not actually know where the invaders were coming through.
While I was able to escape through the path I took, my husband was not so lucky as he ran into the invaders and was killed. Sadly, we have not seen his corpse till today. That is how a marriage of seven years was brought to an end by the Fulani herdsmen.
Mrs. Sophia Dole, widow of Dole Benjamin narrated: we were running away from the Fulanis when suddenly he bumped into them and was killed immediately. I ran several kilometres with our eight month old baby from Abugbe to Odugbeho. The Fulani burnt our drug store. After I escaped to Odugbeho, someone helped to pay my fare to Makurdi.
My husband was a quiet person who never laid his hands on me for one day. He was killed three weeks ago but up till now, we have not been able recover his corpse for burial. I don’t have anywhere to go if this camp is closed today.
According to Mrs. Dorcas Oluma; “I was married to Eheda, a commercial motorcycle rider in 2006 and our marriage is blessed with three children with the first child about four years old and the last about a year old. We ran from Abugbe to Odugbeho but he had to go back to pick something with his okada in our village.
He was on his way back to Odugbeho when he was killed. His corpse was recovered three weeks later. Everyday of my life, I think about my husband because he was everything to me. I am a trader and don’t know how I would be able to train our children because my husband provided everything. That is why I am calling on well meaning Nigerians to come to my aid.”
Narrating her own ordeal, Veronica Danjuma said: “I lost my husband, my 21 year old son and my sister in the hands of the Fulani herdsmen who invaded our Okokolo village recently. We were running away when the Fulanis kept shooting sporadically and in the process, killed my husband, my son and my sister. I narrowly escaped being killed too.
My husband’s corpse was discovered a day after, my sister’s own four days later while my son’s corpse is yet to be found. I trekked for hours from Okokolo to Ugbokpo in Apa before finding my way down to Makurdi. I had six children but one has been killed by Fulani.
Meanwhile, Emmanuel Onah, Camp Coordinator Agatu IDP Makurdi Camp said over 2,000 IDPs were currently taking refuge in the Makurdi camp. While commending the State Emergency Management Agency (SEMA) for providing food and other relief materials such as mats, mattresses, buckets, basins among other things, he however noted that water and health facility remained a big challenge in the camp.
Onah who also debunked allegations making the rounds that most of the people come only to get food and go explained that the camp comprised of those from the riverine areas of Agatu like Adana, Imeyin, Abughgbe, Olegeje, Olegede, Ocholyan, Akpeko, Adogbeche, Inahe, Ologba and so on, whose communities had been taken over by the Fulani invaders even as he urged other well meaning Nigerians to come to their aid.