…After taking wife, children to safety
ROSE EJEMBI, Makurdi
Forty-seven-year old Fidelis Peren, a father of seven, had looked forward to a better new year as his farms were doing well and it was almost time for harvest. His plan was that after selling his farm produce, he would complete a building he had started the previous year so that his large family would move from the family compound to his personal house. That dream was, however, brutally truncated.
A few hours before the dawn of the New Year, armed Fulani herdsmen invaded villages in Guma Local Government Area of Benue State, where he hailed from. Several villages had been attacked and over 70 people killed in Logo and Guma local governments areas between December 31, 2017 and January 8, 2018, but the attacks continued.
Though Mbagwen, his community in Guma LGA was yet to be invaded by the rampaging herdsmen, the neighbouring villages were being attacked daily, prompting villagers yet to be attacked to flee their homes in droves to safer havens.
When Peren noticed the mass exodus of people from his village, he relocated his family to an Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) camp located at the RCM Primary School, Daudu, Guma Local Government area of the state. Thereafter, he heaved a sigh of relief, bade his wife, Mkaga, and seven children farewell and returned home to join other able-bodied men to protect their village from Fulani invasion.
Barely a week after, precisely on January 16, he was keeping watch along with others, when a large number of suspected Fulani herdsmen stormed the village in the dead of the night, armed with sophisticated weapons. Efforts by the local guards who initially resisted the invasion failed, as the invading Fulani overwhelmed them as they shot sporadically from all direction, killing anyone in sight.
Upon being overpowered, the guards ran into hiding while the invaders had a field day ransacking everywhere, killing and destroying foodstuffs that had been kept in barns as well as farm crops yet to be harvested. Fidelis was among the unlucky, as he was found where he was hiding and shot. He didn’t die instantly, according to reports that later filtered to his wife, but as he writhed in pains and pleaded for mercy, his assailants pumped more hot bullets on him; and to be sure he was dead, butchered him like a cow.
“I never knew that the day my husband escorted my children and I to the camp was the last I would set my eyes on him. He bade us farewell and left on a return journey home that ended in eternity”, his wife, Mkaga, lamented in agony.
In a chat with Sunday Sun at the Daudu IDP camp, where she is presently taking refuge, she recalled that when he told her about his plan to return home and keep watch over the village alongside others, she was skeptical and tried to dissuade him, but he assured her he would be fine.
Mkaga, a Tiv who spoke through an interpreter, said it was as if she had a premonition that something untoward wouldhappen to her husband. That was why she pleaded with him not to return to the community. “When we finally arrived the camp, I heaved a sigh of relief, believing that my family was out of danger. But that night, my husband woke me up and told me of his plan to return and guard the village against herdsmen attack along with others. I tried to convince him not to go but he had made up his mind to go. I made frantic efforts to dissuade him, but he insisted and assured me he would be okay. At a point, I refused talking to him that night but he jokingly told me my keeping mute would not stop him from going to protect our village.”
She said all through her husband’s one week stay in the village before his gruesome murder, she was always apprehensive and whenever someone came to the camp from the village, her heart skipped. Her fears became a reality when news filtered into the camp that their village had been attacked and her husband was killed by Fulani herdsmen. Initially, she was told her husband was missing, before the sad news was eventually broken to her.
For Mkaga, it was as if the world had come to an end as she fell to the ground, rolling and wailing while sympathizers tried unsuccessfully to console her. When she was initially told her husband was missing, she agonized each time she thought of going to the village in search of him, but was told not to worry. “I insisted I wanted to go and look for my missing husband but his family and friends did not allow me because they already knew that he was dead. When I didn’t relent, they had no option than to break the sad news to me. My world crumbled the day I heard about his death.
“The most painful part is that I didn’t witness his burial. I was told that the youths and men of the village had to hurriedly bury his remains without a coffin because they were afraid that the herdsmen might come again. I’m sad that I wasn’t there to bid him farewell while he was being laid in his grave”, she said in tears.