Community leaders in Mbatoho, an Island community at Mbalagh council ward of Makurdi local government, Benue State, have recounted how over 5,000 inhabitants of the vast Island were sacked by Fulani herdsmen earlier in the week.
The community leaders in a report said the invaders quietly ordered the locals to vacate their ancestral homes without putting up any resistance and warned that their intent was not to shed blood.
One of the community leaders of the Island and tax collector of the inner segment of the Island, Chief Peter Tachie, said, “the armed herdsmen who are usually dressed in black started their action four days ago in our community.
“They came in their numbers with their cattle into island from Guma local government area and other places on foot some weeks ago because the water level of River Benue has dropped significantly so they could easily assess the island on foot.
“Four days ago they started destroying our houses, farmland and food barns and also taking over the LGEA Primary school in the island and converting same for personal use.
“As we speak no Tiv person is on that island at the moment, they have taken our farms and also uprooted our cassava from our plantation to feed their cattle which are also grazing freely on our farmland.
“They have destroyed all that we spent years to acquire, so we have all moved into Makurdi main town with our families to seek government’s attention.
“You know that we do a lot of dry season farming on the Island and as we speak all that we planted in this dry season have all been destroyed by the herdsmen and their cattle.”
On his part, the tax collector of the outer segment of the island, Chief Stephen Guntu, also told the newspaper, “They warned that we should leave the island quietly in our own interest. And since we know that they could be ruthless we all fled with our families.
“Some of us are currently taking refuge in the houses of friends and relatives while John Kyuka who is a politician that comes regularly to campaign in the island also offered to accommodate very few of us.
“We need urgent intervention of the government because they have taken over our farmlands and all the food we harvested during the last farming season.
“Moreover, we do a lot of dry season farming and as I speak all the crops we planted this season are now food for the cattle.”
The Benue state Information Commission, Lawrence Onoja Jnr. also confirmed the situation, saying, “our findings when the Security Adviser to the Governor, Lt. Col. Paul Hemba (Rtd.) led a team to the Island indicated that for sometime in the last few days, there has been serious influx of herdsmen into Benue, especially along Agatu, Guma, Logo, Katsina/Ala local government areas and communities bordering Nasarawa state especially.
“It was in the course of this influx that groups of herdsmen some days ago went to Mbatoho Island, at Mbalagh council ward of Makurdi local government area and sacked the locals from their homes.
“The people fled from Island and the herdsmen took over the community. When the team got there it was discovered that the herdsmen were feeding their cattle on the farm produce of the people and all they had in their barns.
“Governor Samuel Ortom has been in constant touch with security personnel who have mobilized to the Island and have been directed to to push back the herdsmen.
“Unfortunately, the Exercise Ayem A’ Akpatuma recently launched by the military in the state to end the herdsmen incursion in the state does not cover that area because it is an Island completely surrounded by water.
“However, security personal have been mobilized to the island to move the herdsmen out so that the people can move back to their community.”
The State Police Public Relations Officer, Assistant Superintendent, ASP, Moses Yamu, said that the Special Forces of the Police had moved into the Island to restore order.
“Just today, the Commissioner of Police, Fatai Owoseni held meetings with some Ardos (Fulani Chiefs) and Chiefs from Agatu, Gwer West and others, after which they went on a visit to the Island. As we speak they are yet to return to Makurdi mainland,” he said.