By Igba Ogbole
It is an incontrovertible truism that Benue State and its people have, over the years, made critical contributions and sacrifices to the unity and development of the union called Nigeria.
During the civil war, indigenes of the State fought gallantly alongside others to protect the unity and indivisibility of Nigeria, and that explains why names of its sons such as Generals Emmanuel Ebije Ikwue, Victor Samuel Malu, Ignatius Obeya, John Mark Inienger, Geofrey Ejiga and Atom Kpera, Colonels Joseph Akaahan and Gabriel Obonyiro Agada have remained permanent on the list of Nigerian heroes.
Apart from these, there are many more of such heroes who either lost their lives or were maimed in the battle to keep Nigeria one, though they have remained unsung.
In the area of food security, Benue State remains the Food Basket of the Nation with sons and daughters toiling daily under rain and shine to feed the Nation.
Daily, Lorries loaded with fresh fruits and farm produce such as yams cassava, rice, benniseed, maize, cow pea and palm produce among others, leave different markets in Benue, heading for different parts of the country to supply the people’s food needs.
It is also on record that Benue State has contributed richly to the manpower needs of the country in all sectors, donating to the political sector for instance, two National Chairmen of a ruling political party, three Presidents of the Senate and a Speaker Pro-tempo as well as a Chief of Air Staff and a Chief of Army Staff to the Military.
Indigenes of the State played active and leading roles in Nigeria’s contributions to World War One and Two, Peace Keeping Operations across the African continent and the globe, with some of them losing their lives in the theatres of war.
It is therefore rather ironic and unfortunate that a people who have given so much for the well-being of others, have seemingly been abandoned to their fate in the face of vicious attacks whose scope and intensity confound all people of goodwill.
Since two thousand and eleven, there has been a systematic annihilation of the people of the State by herdsmen militia who deploy sophisticated weapons in their attacks on the innocent people just to acquire their lands and crops for their cows.
In two thousand and thirteen, fourteen, fifteen and sixteen, the herdsmen acquired greater boldness and sophistication in the style of their attacks with hundreds of people killed in Agatu, Gwer West, Guma, Logo, Buruku and Kwande among other Local Government Areas of the State.
Despite persistent cries and appeals to the Nigerian State and the global community, nothing was done to apprehend the perpetrators and end the circle of carnage, until the worst happened on New Year Day, two thousand and eighteen.
On this faithful day at dawn, when the people were enjoying their sleep, the herdsmen militia visited mayhem on several communities of Guma and Logo, killing, maiming and burning.
At the end of the attack which lasted for days, more than a hundred persons had been killed out of which seventy three were later given mass burial, while several villages had been sacked and occupied by the herdsmen and their cows, with the original inhabitants forced into a life of uncertainty in Internally Displaced Persons Camps.
Despite all these, the Nigerian State still failed to promptly respond to the cries, wailing and gnashing of teeth by the people of the State who have over time proved to be law abiding citizens of this country.
To worsen matters, there is a glaring protrusion of a conspiracy by the powerful in the country, to frustrate the implementation of the Open Grazing and Ranches Establishment Law in the State, a Law legitimately put in place in line with the provisions of the Nigerian Constitution.
Contrary to the uninformed view of some people, the Law is not responsible for the killings and sacking of people from their ancestral homelands because it is a historical fact that the killings far predate the Law.
In fact, the killings gave birth to the Law because having been abandoned to their fate by the Nigerian State, the people of Benue demanded for the Law as part of their efforts to protect themselves legally and constitutionally, convinced that it will engender peace.
Instead of decisively dealing with the security challenge in the State by swiftly arresting the attacking herdsmen militia and their sponsors, those in control of the Nation’s security architecture chose to be playing games with the deadly attacks, dismissing them as mere communal clash or the handiwork of ISWA.
While the games continued, the attacks persisted, the people counted their losses daily, looking up to the Nigerian State for positive intervention, waiting and hoping for an end to their woes.
When Exercise Ayem A Kpatuma, otherwise called Cat Race, was eventually launched, many were suspicious that because of the delay in its coming, it might be a smokescreen for other intentions.
The incurable optimists were however confident that as the last bastion of Nigerian Unity, the Nigerian Military would execute the Exercise professionally, sincerely and fairly.
The least expected of Exercise Ayem A Kpatuma was to ensure that no further attacks take place, and that herdsmen who had sacked and occupied some communities forcefully were made to vacate them so that the original inhabitants could return home from the IDPs Camps.
It is however worrisome that since the official launching of the Exercise on the twentieth of last month, more communities have been reportedly taken over by the herdsmen and their cattle, which graze openly on not just farmlands but also food stored in barns.
Indeed, community leaders have cried out loudly in the last few days over the influx of herdsmen and their herds into the State especially Logo, Guma, Makurdi, Gwer West, Agatu and Katsina Ala Local Governments with the attendant havocs to farms and crops.
The question then is, if the people of Benue State cannot get protection and justice even when a military exercise, said to be aimed at ending insecurity in the Benue Valley, is in place, then when shall the desired protection from the Nigerian State materialise?
One cannot think of any crime committed by the people of Benue State against the Nigerian State to warrant this seemingly isolated treatment where their killers and tormentors are simply described as neighbours they must learn to accommodate.
We therefore passionately appeal to the Executors of Exercise Ayem Akpatuma to have a rethink, pity the innocent, helpless natives suffering in IDPs Camps and clear their ancestral homes of the illegal herdsmen occupants so that they can return home.
In line with the military parlance, espirit de corps, they should remember the military exploits and sacrifices of Benue sons in the efforts to keep Nigeria one, and reward them appropriately by protecting their kith and kin from unprovoked attacks and killings.
We thank those who have identified with the State through personal visits, donation of cash and relief materials as well as keeping the Benue narrative in the front burner of national discourse.
However, we appeal to them and all other men and women of goodwill, to take their support to the next level, by placing a firm demand on those in charge of the Nation’s security apparatus to take a firmer, sincere action to end the incessant killing of the people of Benue State and forceful occupation of their ancestral lands by herdsmen and their cows.
In all these, people of the State must remain calm, law abiding and avoid taking the Law into their own hands, no matter the provocations and temptations.