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  • News - North Central - Benue
  • Updated: February 23, 2024

Humanitarian crisis in Benue as herdsmen invasion creates untold hardship

Humanitarian crisis in Benue as herdsmen invasion creates un

Benue State, once a haven for farming communities with lush green fields, has now become a battleground for a devastating humanitarian crisis. 

The invasion of Fulani herdsmen has left a trail of destruction, death, and displacement, plunging the state into perpetual fear and uncertainty.

For several years, the conflict between nomadic Fulani herdsmen and farmers of Benue has been on the rise. This has been fueled by disputes over land and resources. Herdsmen, armed with sophisticated weapons, roam freely across farmlands, destroying crops, and attacking villages in brutal, orchestrated raids.

The impact of this ongoing violence on the people of Benue has been catastrophic. Families have been torn apart, homes destroyed, and lives lost.

Those who have managed to escape the violence have sought refuge in overcrowded displacement camps, or nearby villages where they struggle to find food, water, and shelter in the face of dwindling resources.

Only recently in a video obtained by Allnews.ng a man simply identified as Ahmed Saidu lamented the continuous unprovoked attacks of herdsmen in Ugbokpo town, the headquarters of Apa Local Government Area.

He lamented in the video that the herders had taken over the communities of Ijaha, Ochimikwu, Bini, and Kano, as they are under attack.

Saidu said, "Since the beginning of this year, this is what we have been facing. Women, children, elderly run from their homes without food, or clothes.

"We are faced with a lot of challenges from the herders. These people you are seeing along the road are from the communities, who were strong and fast enough to run to the headquarters because the communities are very close."

Residents of over 200 villages now find themselves targeted daily by heavily armed herdsmen, reportedly cloaked in military camouflage.

Over the past three months, the toll has been staggering, with over 500 lives allegedly lost within three local government areas in Benue South Senatorial District, known as Idoma land.

Villages in Otukpo, Apa and Agatu LGAs are bearing the brunt, with reports of marauders butchering several locals, leaving many homes completely burnt down and many residents still missing. 

Although no group have claimed responsibility for the heinous attacks, locals point fingers at herdsmen.

A helpless state

The community volunteer guards, established in August 2022 under the leadership of former governor, Samuel Ortom to enhance community security, find themselves grappling with helplessness in the face of the escalating war.

Worried over the worsening situation, the senator representing Benue South Senatorial District and Senate Minority Leader, Comrade Abba Patrick Moro moved a motion at the Senate over the persistent attacks on Benue South communities and called on the senate for a quick intervention.

Senator Moro, in his motion, decried the persistent attacks on his constituents by armed men suspected to be bandits without a single arrest by security operatives.

He mentioned the Thursday, January 18, 2024, unprovoked and ruthless attack on Okokolo, Abuge and Ocholonya communities of Agatu Local Government Area, which left in its wake loss of many lives and wanton destruction of several means of livelihood worth hundreds of millions of naira

In the same vein, the Benue State Government decried the humanitarian situation of Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) in the state as a result of herdsmen attacks.

Executive Secretary of the State Emergency Management Agency (SEMA), James Iorpuu, said there is more displacement, especially in crisis areas of Jootar, Ayati and Afia in Ukum Local Government Area.

He said so far, there are 17 IDP camps, adding that biometrics are still ongoing to ascertain the total number of IDPs in the state.

On his part, Governor Hyacinth Alia of Benue State disclosed that there are over 1.5 million displaced persons from herdsmen attacks in Internally Displaced Camps, IDPs, across the state.

He noted that the displaced persons faced severe challenges, losing their homes without access to fundamental services such as Health Care, Education, Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH).

He said over 80 per cent of the displaced population are traumatized and endure a poor state of mental health due to the atrocities witnessed during the attacks.

Displacement and despair

The Fulani herdsmen's attacks have had a devastating impact on the most vulnerable members of society, including the elderly, children, and women. With education and economic activities disrupted, the future of entire communities hangs in the balance. 

Amid this chaos, the 2017 Anti-Open Grazing Law, enacted to prevent such conflicts and environmental degradation, has faced strong opposition from the herdsmen, resulting in further bloodshed and destruction.

Despite the law and efforts by the state government to curb the violence, the situation has only escalated in 2024, with significant casualties reported in various local government areas. The Nigerian Army has intervened, but there have been fatalities among security personnel as well.

Some interventions

International organizations and humanitarian agencies have mobilized to assist the displaced communities in Benue.

The United Nations, NGOs, and local charities have been working tirelessly to deliver food, water, shelter, and medical aid to those in need. Yet, the scale of the crisis and the enduring cycle of violence present significant challenges to their efforts.

On January 30, 2024, the United States Bureau for Humanitarian Assistance (USBHA) and the International Organisation for Migrants visited Benue State to assess the humanitarian situation and to see areas they could assist in resolving the crisis.

Leader of the USBHA delegation, Robinson said the USBHA had been intervening in humanitarian crises in the North-East since 2016, particularly in Borno State, adding that the agency had also moved its intervention to the North-West.

He assured the governor of USBHA’s commitment to helping Benue State to address its humanitarian crisis.

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