The Nigerian government has ordered an investigation into ongoing violence in Benue State that has surged in the wake of the Senate election re-run, reportedly leading to the deaths of hundreds of people and the displacement of thousands.
According to local sources, armed
Fulani herders, allegedly backed by a helicopter, have attacked the Agatu Local
Government Area (LGA) of Benue State over several days, overrunning at least 25
communities and occasioning significant displacement. Estimated death tolls range from 100 to over 300,
with reports of at least six villages entirely razed to the ground and corpses
littering abandoned communities.
Attacks by Fulani herders or militia on
farmers in the central Nigerian states of Plateau, Kaduna, Bauchi, Taraba and
Benue have been ongoing for several years, but are increasing in frequency.
According to the Institute for Economics and Peace’s Global Terrorism Index, during
2014 the herders murdered more people than the Somali terror group al Shabaab,
rendering them the fourth most deadly terrorist outfit in the world.
The violence in Benue State is part of
a significant upsurge that occurred in the aftermath of the victory of former
Senate president David Mark of the Opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in
an electoral re-run. On 16 March, Senator Mark issued a statement calling for
an aggressive security response to bring the perpetrators to justice and urged
the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) to provide relief to displaced
persons. These calls were echoed in the Federal House of Representatives, which
on 25 February, called on the government to deploy soldiers to Agatu in order
to avert further bloodshed and destruction, and urged NEMA to provide relief to
the affected communities and survivors. Also on 25 February, a temporary agreement was reached for the
herders to remain on the Nasarawa State side of the border and to not cross
into Benue for any reason. On 27 February, armed forces deployed to the area reportedly
drove the herders from six communities they had occupied on the banks of the
In a statement issued on 26 February,
the Human Rights Writers Association of Nigeria (HURIWA) called for the
dismissal of the Inspector General of Police (IGP) and the Director General of
the Department of State Security (DSS) for their failure to halt the killing of
civilians by herders. The group also called on the National Assembly to
investigate allegations that the Nasarawa State Government was providing
logistical support for the perpetrators, who reportedly access Agatu by
speedboat from Nasarawa.
Violence attributed to armed herders is
increasingly becoming an issue in the south of the country. On 21 January, the
body of HRH Obi Edward Akaeze Ofulue II, traditional ruler of Ubulu-Uku Kingdom
in Aniocha South LGA of Delta State, was discovered in the bush in Ekpon, Edo
State several days after he had been kidnapped for ransom by Fulani assailants.
On 25 February, six traditional rulers
from Ijebu-Igbo in the Ijebu North LGA of Ogun State convened a press
conference where they accused armed herders of destroying local farmlands and
raping women in their area. In a gathering attended by other local chiefs and
prominent individuals, the rulers described the herders as posing a serious
threat to security and appealed to the Ogun State Government to take urgent
steps to bar them from their community in order to avert a confrontation.
Mervyn Thomas, Chief Executive of
Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW), said, “CSW welcomes the deployment of
troops to Agatu and news of a government investigation into the violence in
Benue State and the pledge to tackle the root causes of the violence. However,
given the scope of herder attacks and the fact that the herders have long
constituted a threat to national security, the investigation must be widened to
include every area in the country where such violence is occurring. It is essential
that the government follows through on its promise and that those responsible
for the bloodshed in Benue and elsewhere are held to account. The statistics
are sobering; a holistic plan to tackle terrorism in Nigeria must address the
Fulani herders as well as Boko Haram.”