by Jude Ndukwe
The recent massacre of the people of Agatu in Benue State by suspected Fulani herdsmen has left a very sour taste in the mouths of well-meaning Nigerians. What baffles a lot of Nigerians, more than the actual killings, was the pussyfooting with which the authorities have reacted to the issue.
In a situation where innocent and defenceless Nigerians, including hapless women and helpless children were massacred in such a large number, with brazen notoriety and in one fell swoop, which should have attracted a massive, definitive and relentless manhunt for the perpetrators, the government is yet to do anything concrete to smoke these people out and make them face justice for their crimes.
However, after this pogrom, the perpetrators were invited by the country’s chief police officer to a “roundtable peace talk” as ordered by the president!
In this case of the Agatu massacre, the leader of the cowardly Fulani herdsmen appeared before the Inspector-General of Police and sounded bullish, while reeling out the reasons why his men had to kill harmless Nigerian citizens in their hundreds. He said that the people of Agatu killed their cows and therefore must pay for these with their blood, their land, churches, schools, houses, etc.
He made the IGP understand that the herdsmen are a law unto themselves – a people who are not obliged to report to the police about those they suspect to be killing their cows.
The tragedy of the whole episode is that after the “peace talk”, the leader and his delegation walked away from the meeting without being arrested, interrogated and or prosecuted. No one, not even the IGP dared to ask them about the source of their weapons.
It is unbelievable that the Fulani herdsmen were not questioned about their weapons nor were these weapons seized. The IGP allowed them to go and “sin no more”, possibly with pats on the back, while keeping their weapons that are enough to overrun vast communities.
What a country!
Is it then any surprise that just days after the Agatu massacre, the herdsmen marched down to Ngorukgan, Tse Chia, Deghkia and Nhumbe, all in Logo Local Government Area of the same Benue State, hacking down anyone in sight?
As if that was not horrid enough, these same blood-thirsty herdsmen had the temerity to attack the convoy of Senator David Mark who was in Agatu on a solidarity visit and fact-finding mission. This is in spite of the fact that the senator had the security cover of armed personnel in his entourage who, of course, returned the fire of the herdsmen.
The most tragic of all is that in his recent visit to Minna where he held a stakeholders’ meeting with the people of the area, the Inspector-General of Police mindlessly claimed that the number of victims in the Agatu killings had been exaggerated.
He said: “I was around; I travelled to Makurdi, I did not see where 300 people were buried…If you kill, you don’t just bury; you must take the corpse to the police station before you bury. We don’t have that number of people”. Yet our IGP failed to give the number of casualties he actually saw. This is highly unfortunate!
This is most disgraceful coming from the nation’s number one police officer. The approximate driving distance from Agatu to Makurdi is 239km, a journey of about four to five hours. With such great expanse, how exhaustive could have the IGP been before reaching the apparently contrived conclusion that he did not see where 300 people were buried.
How could he even see these when he stayed in the comfort of the state capital and nowhere near the theatre of the pogrom? Was he expecting the Agatus to take their dead through that great distance to bury, so that he could see them?
Was the IGP expecting the Agatus who fled the scene of massacre in all directions and are today taking refuge in places other than their homes to have the luxury of having time to collect their dead and bury them, even when those alive to bury the dead are still scared stiff of going back to their communities? Was he expecting them to first carry the dead to the police station that was also not spared by the Fulani militia who burnt every building in sight?
If we must call a spade by its name and no other, it is highly unfortunate that IGP Arase would make some of the claims he did – it was unexpected of him.
Apart from the foregoing, there are still many questions for the IGP to answer: Why did he not get to Agatu to see things for himself? What was he afraid of? Why did he choose to see things from 239 kilometres away? He could as well have remained in Abuja and received reports from the field.
Contrast this to the report of Senator David Mark who braved the odds and visited Agatu, even when he came under the heavy unprovoked attack of the herdsmen, and one would discover the needless copious discrepancies between their reports, one coming from the field and the other from outside it.
On getting to Agatu, David Mark had lamented the barbaric actions of the herdsmen who, in any case, have been rated the fourth most dangerous terrorist group in the whole world by the Global Terrorism Index. He said “I’m shocked beyond words at the extent of destruction I have seen here in Agatu today.
This is unbelievable. It is unimaginable. Nothing whatsoever justifies the brazen act of destruction meted out to the people of Agatu. My heart bleeds”. The difference is clear.
What one expected after such level of destruction was not a “peace talk”. One expected the police and other security agencies to have swung into action and bring the perpetrators to book. Anything short of this amounts to complicity, negligence, cowardice, and injustice to fellow citizens wickedly hacked down by an evil group.
The IGP’s failure, neglect or refusal to arrest the leader of the herdsmen, who appeared to have known everything about the attack from his narrative at the meeting, and an order for the seizure of all the weapons of the militia is criminal in itself, and the IGP has a lot of explanation to do to Nigerians. The failures on the part of our security agencies have made the herdsmen grow bolder to spread their deadly attacks to other parts of the country. This is most unfortunate!
While those who embark on peaceful protests without arms in the South are mowed down by security agents, the Fulani herdsmen who murder people in their hundreds in the Middle Belt and other places are invited to “peace talks” by the same security agents. What a tragedy!
Since the authorities have proved to be powerless in this matter, the least we owe those murdered in Agatu and other places is to continue to cry for justice on their behalf so that we are not caught in the web of inadvertent complicity in a crime committed by a felonious lot.
This piece was written by Jude Ndukwe, He can be reached on [email protected]; Twitter: @stjudendukwe