Benue State Governor Gabriel Suswam came under gun attack from suspected Fulani herdsmen yesterday.
The herdsmen – carrying sophisticated guns – have been attacking Tiv indigenes, killing and maiming villagers.
Governor Gabriel Suswam was on his way from the state capital, Makurdi to a displaced persons’ camp in Guma Local Government, when he was attacked at Tse Akenyi.
An eye witness said the governor’s trip was smooth until the convoy got to Tse Akenyi junction that leads to Torkula village. The herdsmen, on sighting the governor’s convoy, reportedly came out from the bush and fired at the vehicles.
The governor’s security detail repelled the attackers, who were said to be carrying sophisticated weapons.
In spite of the attack, a visibly shaken Governor Gabriel Suswam continued his journey and visited Gbajimba, the administrative headquarters of Guma Local Government where he addressed the displaced persons.
Governor Gabriel Suswam told people to take their destiny in their hands. He said: “I salute each and every one of you for your courage and steadfastness throughout this period. This is beyond the herdsmen; this is real war.
“On my way to this place, they exchanged gun shots with us for over one hour before we were able to come here.
“My people are being killed, butchered and their homes destroyed. So, if the security agents, especially the military, cannot provide security for us, we will defend ourselves.
“I cannot abandon you people at this point in time to die. You voted me to provide security for you and I must do that for you.
“These Fulani are not like the real Fulani we used to know.
“Please return to your homes and defend your land, do not allow anybody to make you slaves in your home land,’’ he said.
Local Government Chairman Frank Adi condemned the continuous killings of his people and destruction of their homes by the herdsmen.
Adi, who was represented by his deputy, Mr Godwin Viashima, appealed to the government to provide them with security operatives to safe guard the citizens.
Governor Gabriel Suswam assured the people that government would do everything possible to restore normalcy to various homes. He said the government would not allow invaders to take over their ancestral homes.
At Ukpam village, virtually all the houses were razed while decomposed bodies littered the farming community. The governor ordered the evacuation o f six bodies to Makurdi, the state capital, for burial.
The governor went round other affected communities. The worst hit villages are Ukpam, Waku, Torkula, and Kaseyo.
In a related development Senate Minority Leader, George Akume and Tiv members in the House of Representatives urged the Benue State and Federal Government to urgently intervene to save Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) following incessant clashes between Fulani herdsmen and their Tiv farmers.
Akume in a statement on behalf of the Tiv lawmakers in the National Assembly lamented that the attacks have led to widespread destruction of lives and property, including the country home of the paramount ruler of the Tiv people, Tor Tiv Akawe Torkula.
He said the IDPs now living in primary schools and abandoned uncompleted buildings face imminent outbreak of epidemics as a result of the unsanitary environment.
The statement reads in part: “Skirmishes between Tiv sedentary farmers and nomadic Fulani pastoralists are a common phenomenon for quite some time now.
“But within the last few years, and more particularly, within the last one week, this relationship has taken a dimension that has never previously been witnessed.
“It started in parts of Gwer West LGA, and then spread to Makurdi LGA and eventually Guma LGA, and right now, it has spread towards parts of Logo and Kwande LGA, all in Benue State.
“The attacks on the communities we represent at the National Assembly are being carried out by well armed groups.
“Survivors of these vicious attacks have told us that their attackers have automatic weapons in their possession that are far superior to those of the Police.
“The attacks have led to widespread destruction of lives and properties, including the country home of the paramount ruler of the Tiv people, Tor Tiv Akawe Torkula.
“As at today, I am still receiving constant reports about Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) from these affected areas.
“It is therefore necessary for the Benue State Government and the emergency relief agencies to organise massive relief efforts for those who have been displaced by the crisis.
“At present, these victims are staying in school buildings and abandoned or uncompleted houses.
“There are no medical facilities for them and there is fear of an impending outbreak of epidemics.
“We are now faced with a humanitarian situation of monumental proportions.
“We therefore call on the Benue and Federal Governments to intervene immediately and provide camps for the displaced citizens. In order to avert the outbreak of epidemics, these camps should be provided with potable water and medical facilities.
“The IDP are also in dire need of food and clothing as most of them left their homes virtually empty handed.
“For now we commend the efforts of the Catholic Church, particularly the Parish Priest of Daudu Mission Fr Solomon Ukeyima who have done a lot to assist the displaced persons.
“Both the Federal and State governments have a constitutional obligation to protect the lives and property of these citizens.
“There is therefore the need to beef up security in the affected areas.
“We also call the attention of the Federal Government to the incessant clashes between the cattlemen and sedentary farmers all over the country, not just the Tiv. We appeal that we go back to the basics – particularly to the cattle tracks of old or a modification of same.
“These clashes have reached the point where they have become a serious National Security problem.
“The information at our disposal suggests that foreign mercenaries with heavy military hardware are being used against Tiv people by the invaders.
“To us, these invaders are not the normal Fulani cattle breeders we have come to know and who have lived with us over the years.
“Both the Tiv and Fulani cattle rearers have enjoyed a long standing relationship that dates back to time immemorial, and this current situation is rather tragic, unfortunate as it is capable of undermining this long standing relationship.
“All sides must work assiduously towards de escalation of tension for our mutual benefit.”