Rose Ejembi, Makurdi
Eighty four year old Elder Atov Avyoko is yet to come to terms with why people he regarded as his friends and neighbours woke up one day and decided to destroy all he had in the name of communal clashes. The octogenarian is one of thousands of people who were caught in the Tiv/Jukun crisis that engulfed parts of Benue and Taraba States recently.
The crisis, it was gathered, had claimed the lives of about 50 people on both states in the past few weeks while houses, food barns, farmlands, vehicles among other property have also been burnt down in the process. Some of the villages affected by the crisis include Igbongom, Vaase, Atsenga, Muekyuna, Iorngaem, Mondo, Tometar among others.
Ordeal of a village elder
Narrating his ordeal to our correspondent in Zaki Biam where he and members of his family are currently taking refuge alongside other internally displaced persons, Pa Avyoko said he is still praying that what had befallen him is a dream that he would soon wake up from.
“I am Elder Atov Avyoko but people call me Gyemu,” he said by way of introduction. “I’m a community leader and the eldest son of Muekyuna, that is to say, I’m the Village Head of Muekyuna Community. I’m 84 years old from Tsaav, Ucha. I am Ukum by origin but the Benue Taraba boundary kept me in Wukari Local Government of Taraba State. My other brothers like Clement Avyoko, Ahemba Mku, Iorngaem and Fayum Kerepe are in Benue as the boundary kept them in Ukum Local Government Benue State.
“As you can see, I’m an IDP owing to this recent crisis that engulfed Tiv and Jukum. My house in Tse Muekyuna, is located along the controversial border in Taraba State. On Tuesday I was in my house when I started hearing gunshots very close and people were running. At my age I can’t run. I was just there and within a few seconds, my children came and rushed me on a bike out of the house.
“At this point, bullets were flying here and there a little above my head and my son who was sitting behind me on the motorcycle kept saying I should hold my hands very well. That is how we were able to run out of the crisis area. At the end of the attack, I lost a car, over 5000 yam tubers, livestock, bags of groundnuts, maize and soya beans as people suspected to be Jukun militia invaded my community and other villages and burnt down everything we had.”
The old man who noted that his people were armless at the time of the attack said the invaders took them unawares and so, they couldn’t take anything out of their homes. “Not even a single pin could I take out of my house. I survived with the clothes I’m putting on. This is the youngest of my seven wives and I’m always with her. I’m taking refuge with a close friend of mine here in Mbaboom village. Some are taking refuge in Chito village, some in primary schools, some under trees and some in churches.
“I was informed here that five people were killed at Igbongom close to my house, five Tometar, four were killed at Atsenga Village. In all the affected places, they lost so much because we usually sell our yam tubers between May and June, at a good price. So, we farmers were yet to sell a single yam before this crisis. In Vaase, I was informed that Fulani herdsmen combined with Jukum to successfully carry out the attack without any challenge at all. I call on the Federal government to draft soldiers to be stationed at Igbongom, Vaase and other border communities to end the crises because if this crisis is allowed to continue, the North Central and Nigeria in general will witness food crises this year.”
Another victim’s story
Another victim, Jerry Iorngaem, a native of Igbongom village located along Wukari Vaase, Anyiin Road in Ukum Local Government area, Benue State lamented that he has his house entire property to the crisis. “I was born in that place. In fact, I did my primary school there. I’m Tiv by tribe and we live at the boarder community between Benue and Taraba states. My village came under heavy attack early this week when people suspected to be Jukun militia stormed our town armed to the teeth and started shooting sporadically, burning down houses, including my own house, a three-room apartment and that of my father, without a single room standing. I heard the crisis actually started as a disagreement between a Tiv and Jukun man in Kente town which is about one kilometre away from my family compound.”
He further stated that the crisis had already consumed over ten Benue communities with huge casualties being recorded, noting that, “just yesterday Vaase Town, Lumbuv concil ward in Ukum LG along the same border was attacked with 15 people killed and over 20 injured while over 100 houses were burnt. In all, people lost over 20 thousands tubers of yams.”
Recalling how his village was attacked, Iorngaem said at about 9:00am, that fateful day, his younger brother, Semban Iorngaem, who was in the house called to inform him that their home town was on fire. “Semban called me on phone to inform me in a very urgent tone that the entire compound where my personal house and that of my father were built had been razed. The compound was housing valuables such as thousands of tubers of yam and livestock. All were destroyed within a twinkling of an eye as a result of the carnage.
“The following day when I visited my village, what I saw devastated me so much because not a single building in my compound was spared. Indeed, the entire village was razed and the once booming village had become a shadow of itself as all our people had run away and are now taking refuge in other places. On my arrival, Fulani herdsmen had returned with their herds of cattle and were feasting on the burnt yams while the owners were chased away with weapons. Those of us who tried to gain access into our homes had to scamper for safety. But my uncles, Pa Akuraga Kurata, a 70-year-old community leader and Mr. Iorchor were not lucky as both were macheted to death by the marauders in mop-up attacks. It is unfortunate that the attack came during the cropping season when farmers are usually busy with farming activities.
“As I speak with you, my entire household is homeless. I’m in Zaki Biam to assist my father rent some rooms for the entire family to stay for the meantime while I source for funds to buy food that can take them for at least two months before any other thing,” he stated. The victims also urged both the state and federal government as well as concerned authorities to expedite action towards ensuring that the crisis is resolved as quickly as possible to forestall further breakdown of law and order in the two states. They also appealed to the federal government to as a matter of urgency draft security men to the affected areas to guarantee the return of peace to the troubled areas.
Peace overtures from a local council chairman
When contacted, the Council Chairman of Ukum Local Government Area of Benue state Hon Tor-tyokaa Ibellogo decried the continued killings and destruction in the area by people suspected to be Jukun militia. He disclosed that about 28 persons have so far been killed on the Benue side while property valued in millions have also been destroyed by the militia group. He also accused Fulani militia of colluding with their Jukun counterpart to unleash mayhem on his people adding that people who made attempts to return were been attacked by the armed Fulanis.
He said he had met with his Wukari Local government counterpart but the meeting could not yield the desired result as the militia stormed the area shooting sporadically, a development that made all parties to scamper for safety.
The Ukum council boss disclosed that a follow-up meeting was held at the palace of the paramount ruler of the Jukun (Aku Uka) Shakareu Angyu Masa Ibi with all council chairmen in the affected areas in attendance where he said a ceasefire agreement was reached.
But expressing his disappointment, he said that even when he rescued a Jukum lady who was trapped in between Tiv villages, and presented her to the Aku Uka in his palace at Wukari as part of the ceasefire agreement, the Jukuns who were part of the peace deal still continued to attack Benue communities on the boarder areas, leading to wanton destruction of lives and property. He informed of a humanitarian situation on ground owing to displacement of about 20,000 persons from his local government area alone.
Working to stop the killings
Meanwhile, Benue and Taraba States governments are said to be engaged in talks as to how to find a lasting solution to the perennial crisis between the Tiv and Jukun tribes living on the borders of the two states. At the time of this report, House member representing Katsina-Ala, Ukum and Logo Federal constituency in Benue State, Emmanuel Udende and his counterpart representing Wukari/Ibi Federal Constituency, Danjuma Shidi, were at the Benue Government House in Makurdi to join the acting Governor of Benue, Engr. Abouno to tour the affected areas of Chonko, Vaase, Igbongum and Kente. They are also to be joined by the Taraba State Governor Dairus Isiaku, represented by his deputy, Engr. Haruna Manu. They are expected, at the end of the visit, to sign a peace agreement in Jalingo.