Humanitarian crisis as 40,000 are displaced in Benue after attacks

A major humanitarian crisis has hit the Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) camps created to accommodate Benue indigenes fleeing the herdsmen attacks which about 71 persons have died.

No fewer than 40,000 people are in overcrowded camps which lack the basic things.

The state has declared  three-day mourning for the victims during which flags will fly at half mast. Thursday will be work-free. Offices will close at 1pm today and tomorrow.

The period will be rounded off with the mass burial of 71 bodies on Thursday.

Governor Samuel Ortom, who declared the mourning period because of the killings in Logo and Guma Local Government Areas, said the mourning period will be from today till Thursday.

A church service for the victims at the IBB Square in Makurdi will precede the mass burial.

Guma Local Government Chairman Mr Anthony Shawon recalled that the herders invaded Saav, Mbadyen and Uvir villages on Jan.1 and retreated to the forest of Dogon Yashi, stretching from Guma to Logo on the banks of River Benue, covering over 57 kilometres..

Shawon, who lamented the destruction of crops, farms and homes by the invaders, said survivors had left their ancestral homes and were looking for shelter in nearby towns.

He said the state government had approved the setting up of camps for the displaced persons but regretted that the few already established were overcrowded by the Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs).

“The camps at Guma and Gbajimba are overcrowded, but the Benue State Emergency Management Agency (SEMA) is already handling the situation because, as a local government, the scale is beyond us.”

He regretted that the invaders, who were hiding in the Dogon Yashi forest, were still attacking villages, burning down houses and destroying crops.

Shawon said the attackers were still destroying crops kept in farms such as soya beans, yams, guinea corn and rice.

“They are openly grazing on farms after which they set them on fire,” he alleged.

The chairman praised soldiers for their quick intervention in the crisis.

He appealed to the army to enter into the forest and dislodge the herders there.

He accused the Kabawa community in Guma of ferrying food to herdsmen in the forest in exchange for cattle.

Shawon, however, disclosed that the Kabawa people who carried food to the herders had been arrested by the police in Abinsi.

He regretted that the herdsmen were still grazing in defiance of the anti-open grazing law, on an open stretch of land from Mbagwen to Lokobi in the local government area.

Executive Secretary of State Emergency Management Agency (SEMA) Mr. Emmanuel Shior said over 40,000 displaced persons were in various camps.

Victims in Mbadyem and Uvir, Guma Local Government area are camped in Daudu town with over 900 displaced persons.

Another camp is located in Ayilamo for those affected in Mbaya, Mbaiwen and Mbazaar communities in Logo local Government Area .

The third camp is in Gbajima, headquarters of Guma Local Government Area.

He said SEMA is overwhelmed with the number displaced persons and appealed for donation of relief materials.

At the LGEA Primary School camp, most of the displaced persons, among them women and children, are sleeping on bare classroom floor in harmattan.The children look weak and hungry probably due of lack of proper feeding

Women launched a protest in Makurdi against the killings.

Dr. Eunice Ortom, the governor’s wife, who described the killings as “unjustifiable”, wept.

The governor himself wept at the Benue State University morgue when he saw the bodies.

“It is unfortunate. The enemy has seen us a people to waste,” Mrs Ortom said.

Mrs. Ortom who told the women that the governor would not betray their trust and support, assured them that the administration would spare no effort to end the killings.

She also cautioned the people against playing politics with the issue. They should be vigilant and focused, Mrs Ortom said.

To Mrs. Elizabeth Shuluwa, who led the protesters, the killings are genocidal. She urged President Muhammadu Buhari to act fast.

Benue Women Convener Mrs. Rebecca Apedzan expressed disappointment at Minster of Interior Abdulrahman Dambazzau’s description of the killers as “criminals” instead of “Fulani herdsmen”.

She also bemoaned the comment by the Inspector General of Police, Ibrahim Idris, that the situation in Benue State is a communal crisis. She said the Fulani herdsmen are terrorists and the Federal Government should declare them as such.

The women who carried placards with various inscriptions, such as “President, speak to them in Fulani”, “On ranching, Benue stands”, “Nigerians say no to the proposed Grazing Reserve Bill, marched on the Government house where the governor’s wife addressed them.