By Samuel Torlumun
Martins Angulu, 35, a farmer and native of Tema village in Bali Local Government, LG, area of Taraba State, is traumatised by the unending massacre in his village. It started in March 2014 when gunmen suspected to be Fulani herdsmen attacked and killed dozens in his village. He was lucky to have escaped with his wife and their seven children but all his farm produce were destroyed. This circumstance led him to the government-established camp in Bali amidst hope that the crisis would soon be resolved and he would go back to farm.
But his hopes were dashed as the crisis continued unabated despite government assurances that something was being done. The arson and the killing continued, making it impossible to return to the farm. Going to the nearest villages was also out of the question as the marauding gunmen spread their attacks to surrounding towns and villages in Kuka, Kawu and Igbor.
There was no hope of returning to the village as those who left the camp back to their homes were slaughtered like cows. Frustration began to set in for Angulu as the condition at the camp became more and more unbearable. The government appeared to have left the people at the camp to their own device as there was no food, water, medical materials or proper shelter. With a wife and seven children, Angulu became desperate for survival and had to fend for himself and his family. He took to begging for alms and coming back to live in the camp.
When the magazine visited the camp, Angulu and the children in their haggard state looked tired but on sighting the reporter rushed to him to beg for alms. “This is what we do to survive in this camp and if you are not fast, others will outsmart you. I have seven children but there is nothing to feed them, and I can’t go to my village because of this crisis. So when we get something from a sympathiser, we use it to buy food,” he explained.
Felix Akura, a displaced farmer from Gasol LG, was going through a similar ordeal when he spoke to the magazine last week. Akura managed to escape the mayhem visited on his village with his two wives and nine children last June and they have been in the camp since then. He now fends for his family by begging for alms at Bali. “The government does not give us food, and when they bring, it is not enough. That is why we beg for alms,” he told the magazine. Sometimes he picks the leftovers at food canteens in the town to feed his family.
In Nasarawa State where the crisis between the Eggon and Fulani herdsmen has rendered thousands homeless, similar cries of government neglect can be heard in all the four camps for displaced people. In Dumana camp, Jamila Hashimu, a mother of three, said there were no food and water at the camp. Her major concern was how to feed her children. Since government was not forthcoming, she had to resort to self-help by going out every day to beg for alms and food.
According to her, “When I escaped from Dedere, Obi LG two weeks ago, I ran to this camp. They gave us small rice when we came, but since then nothing has been given to us. Hunger is my major problem. Please I need help to feed these kids, their cries make me helpless,” she broke down in tears as she narrated her experience to the magazine.
She was in the same camp with Japharu Usman, a father of 15 children and two wives, who also escaped to the camp. His problem was compounded by the illness of his daughter who has not been able to get medical attention in the camp. There are no medical facilities to take care of the sick. Due to lack of money to visit a hospital, he has resorted to prayers to cure his child. He uses the little alms he gets for feeding.
Although the affected state governments have set up camps for the internally displaced persons for immediate relief, there appeared to be no long term measure to take care of them. The situation in the camps has deteriorated to unbearable levels and the campers have had to devise their own survival strategies. At the Dumana camp in Lafia, the state capital, for instance, there are no first aid drugs to treat them, and water has not been provided. They sleep on the bare floor of the school classrooms because mattresses or blankets were not distributed to them. The rooms are overcrowded.
When the magazine visited the affected states last week, more people displaced by the crisis kept trooping into the camps. Victims and camp officials told the magazine that government appeared to have abandoned them, as there were no food and other relief materials.
Salisu Lawal, a worker for the First Aid of Islam, said the organisation used to go to the National Hajj Commission’s office in Abuja to beg for alms from those travelling to Mecca and use the proceed to buy drugs for people at the camps. But now that most of the pilgrims have gone to Mecca, the aid has stopped coming and there are no more drugs for the over 4,330 displaced persons at camp.
In Akwanga North Primary School where over 2,500 displaced persons were camped, no one remained there last week when the magazine visited the camp. Residents of the area told the magazine that government’s neglect forced them into the streets. But some also said that lack of adequate security at the camp dissuaded them from staying there as threats of attack were imminent.
Those in the various camps set up by government are also facing a serious health challenge which has led to the death of many. David Gbar, a leader of some of the displaced persons in Bali, said 12 adults have so far died of different ailments in the last two months due to lack of medical attention. According to Gbar, an outbreak of measles last August killed six children while many others were still lying in the hospitals. He said there were over 15,000 displaced persons living in Bali town and particularly in the camp but unbearable suffering has compelled many to leave the camp to other places where they can survive.
The farmers-herdsmen crisis has already engulfed the entire southern Taraba, leaving over half a million people displaced. Many have left the government camps and are taking refuge with people they know in different parts of Benue, Taraba and Nasarawa states.
One of the reasons the number of displaced persons has risen is that while security agents concentrate surveillance on major roads, the killings and burnings take place in the hinterlands. “The killing of our people has not abated. There is no hope, at least for now, that our displaced people will return to their homes to pick the broken pieces of their lives and continue. People are being killed at will and nobody is ever punished. We are at the mercy of God and some good spirited individuals in the community who are sacrificing through their personal intervention,” cried Gbar.
Many of those who spoke to the magazine on the plight of displaced persons blame government for abandoning the people. Goodman Dahida, president of Taraba Tiv Youth Frontier, said government had relegated their plight to the background and no relief materials are sent to the camps. “The situation is pathetic, that is why we have written an open letter to Mr. President which was published in the ThisDay newspaper of August 15, 2014. We have called on President Goodluck Jonathan to come to our rescue because our people are dying on a daily basis,” he lamented.
Over 500,000 are displaced from the crisis in southern Taraba which has lasted more than six months now. In Nasarawa State, the communal crises have become a recurrent event for the past four years. The crisis started at Kwarra District in Keana LG on June 18, 2011, when gunmen suspected to be Fulani herdsmen attacked farmers’ settlements, killing dozens including a police inspector and two village heads. The attack left the survivors with gunshot wounds and machete cuts.
After that, the gunmen invaded Doma LG and unleashed mayhem on Rukubi, Akpanangya, Agbashi, Akpata and Doma settlements. On March 18, 2012 there was a similar attack on Kadarko market, the commercial nerve centre of the southern senatorial district of the state where more people were killed. Since then the crisis has degenerated as there were counter-attacks by different ethnic groups.
The state government set up camps for the displaced people at Akwanga, Wamba, Lafia and Agode where over 20,000 displaced persons were said to be camped. The camps have kept swelling after every fresh attack. Abdulhamid Kwarra, senior special assistant to Governor Tanko Al-Makura of Nasarawa State on public affairs, described allegations that government abandoned the people as mischievous. He also dismissed insinuations that the government favoured certain tribes above the others. According to him, “The governor was in Are Eggon palace where he donated N2 million to the internally displaced persons. The governor was in Asakio; he was in Dedere; he was in Tudu Adebu and Agyaragu Tofa. Which other places do they want the governor to visit? Are all these places owned by the Fulani? Are they not Eggon in these places?”
He said the governor personally visited all communities that were engulfed in crisis, stressing that it was the responsibility of the government to ensure the protection of lives and property of its citizens. “The first thing is to go on the spot assessment of the places that are engulfed in this crisis and to also see the condition of the internally displaced persons. Secondly, to make sure relief materials as an immediate measure [are] extended to the internally displaced people and to ensure that securities are reinforced (sic) particularly in the most volatile points,” he narrated, adding that the Nasarawa State government has released relief materials through NASEMA besides cash donation to many places.
In Taraba, Aaron Artimas, senior special assistant to the governor on media and publicity, said there was no crisis going on in Taraba State. The media aide said there was no camp still in existence in the state as they had all been closed. “People have gone back to their respective villages and already started farming. We used to have camps in Bali and Gasol LGs but all these camps have already wound up because displaced persons have already returned to their various villages and since started their farming activities. As I speak to you, there is no crisis going on and we have not received any report of any kind. So most camps do not exist anymore,” he argued.Follow Us on Social Media