*Six months after herdsmen invasion, roofless buildings dot war ravaged Benue villages
From Rose Ejembi, Makurdi
Although the people of Agatu have begun to return to their war-ravaged communities, dilapidated buildings spread across their homeland bear testimonies of the evil that befell them six months ago, precisely in February this year.
It was the month Fulani herdsmen invaded several communities in the local government area and caused wanton destruction of lives and property.
When Saturday Sun visited the area earlier in the week, the people sat under the few available trees left untouched by the Fulani marauders while their buildings laid in ruins.
Recall that no fewer than 20 communities in three council wards of Odugbeho, Aila and Okokolo were sacked by the rampaging Fulani herdsmen duringwhich hundreds of lives were lost. The herdsmen paid an unpleasant visit to Akwu village, in Agatu precisely on Sunday, February 22 and left several persons dead after which they overran Aila and Adagbo communities.
For some weeks, the Fulani herders chased out the residents of the communities, killed anyone who tried to put up any form of resistance or looked back to pick his or her belongings.
The invaders who thereafter, moved thousands of their cattle into Agatu lived in choice houses in the conquered communities and fed themselves and their cattle with crops on Agatu farmlands.
And for months, the victims had become landlords and landladies in Internally Displaced Persons camps in Ojantele, Makurdi and Ugbokpo while the herders continued to occupy their territory.
This ugly development made the state governor, Samuel Ortom to run to President Muhammadu Buhari to help ward off the illegal occupants of part of the state.
After several weeks of being chased out of their ancestral homes, Agatu people are gradually returning to their communities to gather the bits and pieces of their lives together but the major challenge staring them in the face is shelter.
Mrs. Mariam Adamu from Aila who lost her husband, house and yam farm to the crisis has returned to the village with her six children. But the question of where to stay still remain a puzzle she’s finding difficult to solve.
“When I came back and saw our only house in ruins, I cried my eyes out. I lost my husband to this crisis and now, the only inheritance he left behind has been destroyed by the same people who killed him. Now, my children and I have to sleep under trees.
“Government told us we should come back home and we have obeyed, but how can I rebuild this house and start a new life if I am not helped? My late husband was a farmer and I joined him in that farming business but now that everything, including our farm has been destroyed, where do I start from?” She asked in mournful tone.
Adamu lamented further that her children’s education had practically been put on hold since the invasion as their schools were also burnt down by the herdsmen.
“All my children are currently at home because their schools were also burnt down. I would have taken them elsewhere in the state to continue with their education but where do I get the money from?” She asked repeatedly.
If Adamu’s situation is very pathetic, then consider the story of young Grace Agbo, a native of Ologba village who was expecting her first child when the incident happened.
Her husband who was a farmer and commercial motorcycle rider popularly known as ‘Okada rider’ could no longer bear to see his heavily pregnant wife go hungry after they managed to escape to the IDP camp in Ojantele.
Unfortunately, he decided to go to his farm and fetch some food stuffs for his wife but that turned out his greatest mistake as the Fulani marauders swooped on him and killed him in the farm and allegedly made away with his motorcycle.
“I suspected that something bad had happened to my husband when I didn’t see him for days but people around me at the IDP camp in Ojantele kept assuring me that he was okay. One day, some of his relatives came and broke the news to me and I fainted. I was lucky to deliver the baby safely few months later but I miss my husband so much.”
Grace who is now staying with a relation in Aila says she fears to return to Ologba village because apart from the fact that the village reminds her of her late husband, there is nothing to return to as the rented apartment they lived was completely razed along with their belonging.
In his own account, Adejo Sule, a father of eight children said it has been a herculean task catering for his family since they returned to their village. According to him, “although we have gone back to our farm, the thought of where to lay our heads in the night fill our minds everyday.”
He is also worried that many of his friends were killed in the crisis and their buildings including his, roofless and the the walls falling, a development which Sule noted, is saddening to him.
“When you go round this community, you would see buildings burnt and collapsing. With what has happened to us, we don’t have any money to rebuild our homes. We are left with no choice than to continue to sleep outside until help will come.
“Even well-to-do people in Agatu whose houses were destroyed are yet to return and start to rebuild because they are afraid the herdsmen might come back again and kill them. So, we are in a dilemma.”
Even though, the people are happy that security operatives have now been drafted to the affected communities as soldiers and mobile policemen are now resident there, they are appealing to government to come to their aid in rebuilding their homes.
Paramount ruler of Agatu, Ada Agatu, Chief Godwin Onah in a chat with our correspondent expressed sadness that up till now, no effort has been made in Agatu to rebuild their homes and called on government and other relevant stakeholders to assist in ensuring that his people have a new lease of life.
“You know there is no rebuilding efforts going on in my domain since the Fulani invasion. People are sleeping outside in the cold especially, in this rainy season. There is almost no roof covering any building in the affected communities in Agatu”, the monarch disclosed.
The traditional ruler who declined further comments on the matter however, directed our reporter to speak with the Senior Special Assistant to the Governor on Monitoring and Evaluation, Alhaji Isah Usman, a native of Agatu. However, efforts to speak with him have failed as he was said to be attending the state executive council meeting.
However, Benue State Emergency Management Agency (SEMA) said with the level of destruction by the herdsmen across the state and paucity of funds accruing to the state government, it was impossible for government to commence any rebuilding efforts at the moment. He added that as soon as funds are made available, something would be done in that regard.
State SEMA boss, Boniface Ortese, in a telephone chat with our Correspondent explained that the Fulani invaders have ravaged no fewer than 12 out of the 23 local government areas of the state.
He listed efforts of government at providing shelter for internally displaced persons to include IDP hostels being built in Daudu and Agan toll gate, adding that plans were in the pipeline to replicate such gestures in Agatu and other parts of the state where Fulani herdsmen are consistently attacking and rendering people homeless.
Ortese who noted that the state government was already over stretched in terms of providing relief materials to displaced people, also called on the Federal Government and other well meaning individuals to come to the aid of the state to ensure that those who have been displaced are resettled back to their communities.