From Godwin Tsa, Abuja

Despite being culturally rich and endowed with abundant mineral resources, Benue State is confronted with security challenges of herders-farmers clashes and militia groups that have claimed the lives of thousands of her citizens with billions of naira worth of properties destroyed.

Indeed, the increasing number of Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) camps in the state is a testimony to the fact that over the years, the  security situation in Benue posed a significant threat to the stability and development of the state.

Statistics from Benue State Emergency Management Agency (SEMA) has revealed that from 2015 to date, over 5,138 farmers have been killed by suspected herdsmen attacks across the state.

The executive secretary of SEMA, Dr Emmanuel Shior had while briefing journalists on the update of humanitarian crises in Benue also informed that following the recent simultaneous attacks by the herdsmen in four local government areas of Gwer-West, Agatu Kwande Logo and Makurdi where over 50 farmers were killed, the state has over two million IDPs.

Dr. Shior said in 2015 alone, 1,177 farmers were killed, 2016, 809 farmers were killed, 2017, 43 farmers were killed, 2018, 440 farmers were killed, 2019, 174 farmers were killed,  2020, 88 farmers were killed, while in  2021 the number of killings skyrocket to 2, 131,  2022, 172 farmers were killed 2023, January to  March, 104 farmers were killed bringing to total deaths recorded since inception of this administration to 5138, as at March 2023.

The above situation calls for serious concern and indeed, urgent interventions from both individuals, the Federal and State government to address it.

In response to the spate of killings by armed herders in the state, the immediate past administration of

Governor Samuel Ortom, in a collective decision with the Benue people to address this concern, put in place the 2017 Anti-open Grazing Prohibition and Ranches Establishment Law which is a win-win Law aimed at putting to rest the incessant attacks and killing of farmers and cow rustling.

However, the legislation has not been effectively implemented to curtail open grazing by herders.

The current governor, Rev. Fr. Hyacinth Alia, has vowed to enforce the law saying there is no going back on strict enforcement of the Open Grazing Prohibition and Ranches Establishment Law (2017).

But on March 6, 2024, Senator Emmanuel Udende, representing Benue North on the platform of the All Progressives Congress (APC), moved the Senate to intervene in the senseless killings in Benue State.

The motion which was brought under matters of urgent public importance, was pursuant to orders 41 and 51 of the Senate Standing Orders 2023 (as amended), following the killings of over 50 people in fresh attacks on some communities in Benue State by suspected terrorists and unabated security challenges across the country.

The motion was titled, ”Continued killings by suspected terrorists parading as herdsmen and increasing insecurity in Kwande, Ukum, Logo and Katsina Ala local government areas of Benue .”

After adopting the motion at plenary, the Senate leadership resolved to meet with President Bola Tinubu over resolutions and recommendations toward curbing killings and general insecurity nationwide.

It also urged the service chiefs and heads of other security agencies to, as a matter of urgency, deploy security personnel to address the continuing and ongoing attacks by armed terrorists parading as herdsmen on communities in Kwande, Ukum, Logo, and Katsina-Ala Local Government Areas of Benue State to flush them out and restore normalcy to the affected communities, and invest in surveillance technology and equipment to detect and prevent future attacks.

Earlier in his presentation of the motion, Senator Udende lamented that no fewer than 50 persons have been killed in fresh attacks in the affected communities, adding that as of Tuesday, March 5, those attacked included Tyuluv, Borikyo, Kundav, Ugbaam, Uyam, Udedeku, Yaaiwa, Nyihemba, Tomatar, Menakwagh, Yiase, and Agura, all in the Benue North East Senatorial district of the state.

He said: “The residents of the villages and communities now find themselves targeted daily by heavily armed terrorist herdsmen, and the toll continues to be staggering as they bear the brunt, with reports of marauders butchering several villagers, leaving many homes completely burned down and numerous residents still missing, while the perpetrators, however, remain elusive and have not been apprehended.

“This pathetic situation and development have inflicted untold hardship on women, children, and the elderly, who are trekking long distances in search of a haven and awaiting the intervention of security operatives.”

But what immediately followed the motion and the Senate resolution was the needless and usual blame game by politicians and stakeholders in Benue State.

Rather than close ranks and work harmoniously in finding lasting solution to the insecurity situation in the state through shared ideas and information, some political heavy weights are busy trading blames and playing dirty politics with the lives of the people.

Yes! it could be argued and rightly so,  that the purpose of government is the security and safety of lives and properties in line with Section 14(2) b of the 1999 Constitution (as amended), but in reality, security is not the business of government alone. It is a shared responsibility between the government, the society and the citizens at large.

The Blame Game: Gov. Alia Vs Udende

In its official response to the Senate resolution, the Benue State Government alleged that the senator representing Benue North, Emmanuel Udende, misled the Senate on the attacks in the state, particularly in Ukum Local Government area, where he hails from.

Chief of Staff to the Governor, Paul Biam, while reacting to the motion of urgent national importance moved by Udende on Wednesday, said as someone who is also from the local government like the senator, he has been in touch with the caretaker chairman, Victor Iorzaa, as well as the security agencies, his discoveries are contrary to what the senator stated on the floor of the Senate.

Biam wondered why Udende would ignore the fact that the crisis in Ukum has been lingering for a long time, with the local militia taking centre stage.

He said he is perturbed about the senator’s motive for such a deliberate omission and for absolving the militia of culpability.

Biam said information from security agencies revealed that the local militia had colluded with the herdsmen to carry out the attacks in Ukum.

“The governor has been tirelessly working, holding meetings with security agencies across the country in order to ensure that Benue is safe for all.”

Gov. Alia

In his official reaction, the Benue State Governor, Hyacinth Alia called on politicians to stop politicizing the issue of insecurity in the state but rather unite to find a more lasting solution.

Alia stated this when he visited Gbajir in Ukum local government areas of the state where dozens of people were killed.

The governor took a swipe at the Senator representing Benue North East Senatorial District, Emmanuel Udende, urging him to represent his motion on the said killings to the senate with all the facts.

Governor Alia who pledged his commitment to totally eradicate insecurity in the state, expressed deep concern that the invaders were not the only ones disturbing the peace in the state but some citizens have now become mercenaries of destruction in the state.

Before the fresh attacks, Governor Alia had blamed the resurgence of insecurity and killings in some parts of Benue on the presence of killer herdsmen allegedly invited into the state from Niger Republic by those who did not wish his administration well.

Alia told a church congregation in Benue that the herdsmen were invited to destablise his administration. While he did not mention those who invited the herdsmen, Alia however said he will resist efforts to destablise his administration.

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“I’m quite saddened to speak about what some fellow Benue citizens are doing. What they are planting, planning, and executing is not in favour of the state.

“The security report has revealed that some Benue people in the state has gone out of their way to invite herdsmen from Niger Republic to troop into Benue State.

“All in the name of bringing down this administration and this is unacceptable but the security agents are doing their work.

Security apparatuses are doing their work and those who would be found guilty of this will not go unpunished. This is not the Benue we prayed for. The electioneering period is over and now is governance.”

The governor, however, urged the people of the state to remain calm as security agencies were doing everything possible to ensure the safety of people of the state.

Sen Udende Fires back

Responding to the position of the state government, Senator Udende called on every stakeholder in the state to close ranks in order to address the hydra-headed senseless killings and unnecessary bloodbath rather than apportion blames and making incisive comments.

In a statement signed by his media adviser, Jerry Iorgaem, the Senator pointed out that the welfare and wellbeing of the people remain the primary responsibility of governments at all levels, stressing that “there will be nobody to govern or lead if we allow primordial or political sentiments to overshadow our collective responsibilities to protect those who elected us into office.”

He maintained that apportioning blames and surreptitious ways of casting aspersions on others by some leaders will only aggravate the already galloping security situation in Benue State.

According to senator Udende, the decision of the Senate was straight forward and intends to bring all stakeholders on the same page in the fight against terrorism, kidnapping and avoidable killings of innocent and vulnerable Nigerians and Benue in particular.

He maintained that an enduring peace in Benue State will open the floodgate of opportunities for the citizenry and create meaningful and lawful ways of engaging the youths who have become tolls in the hands of merchants of violence.

“As leaders, we must also measure our words and refrain from making comments that fall short of the offices and positions of trust that we occupy.

“What we have today is beyond grandstanding postures, it is not a matter we treat with levity. We must make conscious efforts at addressing and admitting the realities and not some blame game. If anybody knows those perpetrating these killings, such person should expose them with evidences and let them face the law.

“It is baffling for anybody to suggest that because a crisis has lingered for sometimes, it should not be tackled or the right thing can’t be done”, Senator Udende noted.

Onjeh Vs Senate Leadership

Taking his turn in the blame game is a chieftain of the APC and the party’s senatorial candidate for Benue South in the 2023 General Elections, Comrade Daniel Onjeh, who expressed shock and disappointment over the recent remark made by the President of the Senate, Sen. Godswill Akpabio, which implied that the seeming silence of the Benue State Governor, Rev. Fr. Hyacinth Alia, on the recent killing of over 50 persons in some Benue communities by armed invaders, was indicative of the governor’s nonchalance about insecurity in the state.

Sen. Akpabio, while ruling at the senate’s plenary last week on a Motion moved by the senator representing Benue North East Senatorial District, Sen. Emmanuel Udende (APC), stated amongst others that, “I believe the governor of Benue State, whose primary responsibility is to use security vote to ensure the security of life and property in the state, is also listening”.

But in a statement issued today, Com. Onjeh cautioned the Senate President not to allow himself to be dragged into the dirty politics of Benue State by the Benue National Assembly Caucus headed by the Senate Minority Leader, Sen. Abba Moro.

Onjeh opined that the caucus’s sole agenda thus far has been to stir up confusion in Benue State and disparage the governor, Rev. Fr. Alia, in a sinister and selfish attempt to distract the people’s governor from delivering good governance and other dividends of democracy to the citizens of the state. Onjeh added that Governor Alia had openly accused the Benue State NASS Caucus that some of them were behind the fresh wave of rising insecurity in Benue State.

Group against SGF Akume

In the midst of the security crisis, a group, Benue Development Coalition (BDC), has petitioned President Bola Ahmed Tinubu, over what they described as the “overbearing” of Senator George Akume, the Secretary to Government of the Federation (SGF), in Benue politics.

The group, in the petition alleged that the SGF, through his actions, was working against the interest of the state, thus pushing for destabilization of the state and the downfall of the governor, Rev. Fr. Hyacinth Alia.

The petition which was signed by the President of the Coalition, Dr. Peter Gwa, appealed to the President to call the SGF to order, and also take urgent action, to avoid further breakdown of law and order which could tamper with peace in the state, thus slowing down socio-economic growth and development of the state.

It noted that despite the reality of the influx of herdsmen in the state, intelligence on ground suggest that the SGF is aware of plots by his loyalists to take advantage of the “herdsmen narrative” and activate local militia to cause mayhem, just to get at the governor.

The petition further alleged that prior to the recent killings in the state, the governor after a State Security Council deliberations approved the full implementation of the anti-open grazing law enforcement. “This suggests readiness to tackle the issue in line with existing law. Unfortunately, some National Assembly members are being used by the SGF to undermine the efforts of governor.”

Groups against Alia

The Ukum Elite Assembly (UEA) has called on the Benue State Governor, Rev. Fr. Hyacinth Alia, to come clean on the continued attacks in the state by armed Fulani herdsmen.

This is coming a few days after another group, the Masev Development Association, had made similar calls for the same reasons.

In a statement by its leadership, the people of Massev accused Gov Alia of threading needless blame over the horrific killings of their kinsmen at a time he ought to be responsible for their safety.

Prof. Vearumun Tarhule, the President-General of Massev Development Association World-Wide, stated the trending video on all media channels containing the assertion by Gov Alia linking the tragic loss of over 16 lives and destruction of properties in Wandor, Mbaikyor, within the Mbalom Council Ward of Gwer- East Local Government, to cattle rustling, has provoked the association.

The UEA in a statement issued in Abuja by Tyosoo Akaa,  President and Yoosu Soonen, Secretary of the association, said the comments and remarks of the governor after the attacks on Ukum portend hidden facts about the killings that were known to the governor alone.

The statement reads: “We have carefully observed and examined the utterances, actions and inactions of the governor of Benue State, Revd. Father Hyacinth Alia, particularly on the activities of killer herdsmen in Benue communities since his assumption of office as the governor and Chief Security Officer of Benue State, and all evidence points to the fact that the governor owes Benue people an explanation regarding his involvement and commitment with the Fulani people.

“A few days ago, gunmen suspected to be Fulani militia invaded Gbagir and its environs in Tyuluv Council Ward of Ukum and unleashed mayhem on the innocent/ harmless farming community, leaving no fewer than 50 persons gruesomely murdered and property worth billions of naira destroyed.

Why the blame game and dirty politics continues, it is the innocent citizens of the state that are paying dearly with their lives.

Many critical observers believe that addressing the challenge of insecurity in Benue State requires a holistic and multifaceted approach that encompasses effective governance, community engagement, strategic coordination among security agencies, and long-term investments in education and socio-economic development.

Such a development cannot be achieved in the absence of unity among stakeholders including politicians, security agencies,  community leaders and the youth.