From Uche Nnorom, Makurdi
Few weeks ago, heavy gun fire raged through Agboughoul, a suburb in Makurdi, Benue state capital. That was the day some gunmen, suspected to be Fulani herdsmen, sacked the community in Gwer West Local Government Area killing over 60 persons and destroying property worth millions of naira.
The crisis, which is alleged to be a land dispute between the Mindas, the indigenes of the area and the Kparev settlers, left in its wake bloody tales of woes, tears and death.
This dispute has become a recurring decimal as it could be recalled that fighting between the two groups led to the death of a prominent indigene of Makurdi, Hon. Boniface Torbunde, who, as a member of the Benue State Assembly, representing Makurdi South Constituency, attempted to mediate and bring a lasting end to the crisis.
In the same vein, Mr. Titus Madugu who then was the Commissioner for Lands/ Survey and also a son of area had tried to intervene in the crisis but escaped death by the whiskers when his residence was attacked and a security man attached to him shot dead.
Intermittently, the crisis still erupts leading to the displacement of thousands of residents of the area.
However, most disheartening, is the manner which human beings were slaughtered by the assailants.
In Agabge village, a Catholic priest Rev. Fr. Phelle Akumbur who spoke when a team from the House of Representatives visited the area, narrated how he and his assistance narrowly escaped death on the day of rage.
He said the bandits hit the community with maximum force destroying everything they met.
In fact, there are fears that there are plans by warring parties to bring in mercenaries to help unleash mayhem on their enemies.
However, as residents mourn their losses, the present crisis has remained shrouded in ambiguity, followed by accusations and counter acusations as there are claims that it is politically motivated. While some groups argue that the attacks were occasioned by the scrambling for the governorship of the state in 2015, which is expected to be ceded to the Mindas, others see it as having some socio-cultural and economic undertones.
On the whole, it appears that many in the area are of the opinion that there are extrinsic influences by politicians which periodically fan the ambers of hatred which usually degenerate into bloody clashes.
This view is shared by the traditional chief in charge of Makurdi metropolis, Ter Makurdi, Chief Sule Abenga who blamed the crisis in Agboughoul on the influence of politicians as well as land speculators at the State Ministry of Lands and Survey, who have been accused of being only interested in achieving their selfish aim at the detriment of the residents.
Officials of the Ministry of Lands and Survey have been accused of conniving with land speculators in land grab deals contrary to the laid down survey of the area resulting in disagreements among residents. It was observed that the indigenes of the area are not happy that some visitors had capitalised on the greed of the officials to grab land and now selling out to indigenes.
“Left alone with the people, originally who stayed with those Tyoshin people, you won’t hear any crisis. But there are some people who have now graduated from visitor to landlords and they are now selling the land out,” Chief Abenga said.
In the same vein, the royal father also blamed the police for not rising up to the occasion and end the crisis even when, according to him, they know the architects of the bloody clashes.
“That’s why this crisis has been recurring because people who are behind it are well known to the Police but they will not do anything about it. Each time we held meeting we will reveal these persons to the police and they will be arrested and the same people who are their godfathers will release them,” the traditional ruler fumed.
Many of the residents now hold that the overhaul of the Land and Survey Ministry was the only way to ensure lasting peace in Agboughoul and other areas of the state where land has become a threat to peace.
However, worried by the situation, the state House of Assembly legislative had summoned the Commissioner for Lands/Survey Mr. John Tondu to explain the role of his ministry in the land dispute.
Mr. Tondu without mincing words accused the Mbakuu people of sparking off the crisis. He alleged that the Mbakuu people invaded lands belonging to the Ipuusu people who do not in any way share boundary with them thereby fueling the crisis.
He also told the house how the same people beat up his staff who were sent on assignment to plan and survey the area.
Following his revelation, the house immediately set up a verification Committee also consisting of some staff of Ministry of Lands/Survey. The committee is said to have completed its assignment awaiting implementation which can only be done after due consultation with the different segments of the area.
Meanwhile, the Mbakuu people are enraged with the commissioner’s accusation that they triggered off the Agbougboul crisis.
The Council chairman, Mr. Fideils Audu, who hails from Mbakuu frowned at the accusation of Tondu, maintaining that a man cannot set his own house on fire. He dismissed the accusation by John as ‘untrue’ and a ‘figment’ of his own imagination, averring that he had made several efforts to forestall the crisis by holding stakeholders’ meeting with all the parties.
Audu also known as ‘Spinner’ who is a two time Transition Chairman of Makurdi Council revealed how the settlers planned to ferry in militants from Kwande local government area to unleash more mayhem on his people.
Meanwhile, Agboughoul village is now a shadow of itself with residents living in constant fear.
However, apart from the move by the state government, the House of Representatives has also commenced efforts to permanently end the crisis.
Following a motion by Rep. Emmanuel Jime, the House raised an eight member committee led by the Minority whip, Samson Osagie to visit the area and come up with solutions. During the visit of the Committee, Benue state Governor Gabriel Suswam expressed worry over the lost of human lives and destruction of properties but on the other hand expressed happiness that the House was interested in finding solution for the problem. The committee visited all the troubled spots and are expected to join hands with the state to find a permanent solution to the problem.