One year after residents of Igama community in Okpokwu LGA of Benue State fled homes following a deadly attack by suspected gunmen, they are yet to return; Daily Trust Saturday reports.
Fleeing residents of Idoma-speaking Igama community in Edumoga Ehaje district of Okpokwu Local Government Area in Benue State are still not back to their homes exactly one year after suspected gunmen sent them packing.
The rural community in southern part of Benue had first witnessed a deadly attack in January 2022, during which two persons were reportedly killed and several houses set ablaze.
Sadly, the same Igama was besieged six months later and many villagers were killed and all the houses in the community destroyed by the attackers, according to report.
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The second attack, which happened in June 2022, forced the villagers to flee their homes in droves for fear of further attacks.
Our correspondent reports that since then, the people have been on the run because the attackers continued to besiege their farms, just as any attempt to return to their homes were often resisted by the killers.
Some survivors of the attacks, who are now scattered around neighbouring communities, told Daily Trust Saturday correspondent in Makurdi that their suffering was unimaginable.
Victoria Odeh, an aged widow whose house was also torched, lamented that the invaders had not allowed them to return to their homes and they now live like fugitives.
Another widow, Theresa Ofikwu, who lost relatives during the attack, also lamented that they had been rendered homeless, neither could they go to farm, saying that their situation is very pathetic.
Ofikwu said amidst tears that she survived by going to places where garri is processed to gather remnants for her household to feed.
“We are now slaves in our land and it is very pathetic,” she lamented.
In the same vein, Obagwu Rich (junior) said the situation of Igama demanded intervention from relevant quarters so that the people would return home.
Rich, who is now a member of the Community Volunteer Guards, a local security outfit recently set up by the Benue State Government, said the attackers kept threatening to come back and kill more people if they dared to return to their ruined homes.
“The attackers normally come to graze on our farms, then come into the village again and destroy our things. They finished our yams and rice. I personally went to the village with some of my boys (security) sometime ago and saw them with their cattle all over the place eating our rice. We met them when they were cooking some yams to eat. Each time people go to do one or two things, even in their farms, they are threatened.
“The village is now covered with grasses; you cannot even see anybody. The village has over 200 population and all of them have deserted the place. As I speak to you, I do not have any building standing in the village. Survivors are scattered in neighbouring communities, such as Utonkon, Ojapo, Otukpo and Okpoga, among others,” he said.
Rich, who is married, with two children, also said his uncles were killed in the attack. He pleaded with the government to help salvage the situation so that they would return to their homes.
“The state government was trying to persuade the fleeing residents to go back home, saying that nothing would happen. But if you are persuading people to go back to their homes, at least security agents should be deployed to protect them,” Rich added.
Another victim, who is the head of the community, Anthony Onah, said that life had become miserable for them.
Mathias Agbo, 67, who lamented that he was rendered homeless at his age, said, “My children, wife and I are in a pitiable situation – no clothes to wear and no food to eat. The attackers reduced my three-bedroom house to rubbles.”
However, through the intervention of the Emancipation Centre for Crisis Victims in Nigeria (ECCVN), led by Major Gabriel Adofikwu, in company of the state representative, Adakole Inalegwu Daniel and security operatives, the villagers were able to see their ruined homes for the first time in the past one year.
At the palace of the district head of Edumoga, Och’Edumoga, Chief Sunday Abah, in Okpokwu Local Government Area, Adofikwu said the ECCVN was highly concerned about the plight of the people; hence they came to see things for themselves.
He said, “As an organisation, the plight of the people bleeds our hearts. We are more pained at the limited attention the government at all levels gives to crisis victims, especially in the Middle Belt region of Nigeria, and indeed, the Edumoga area of Idoma land in Benue State. We have come to give our little contribution and draw public attention to the situation of our people.”
In his response, the monarch appreciated the organisation for their continuous support and concern through their state representative since the attacks took place. They have been intervening in the areas of food and school fees for the children, among many others.
Adakole Daniel, an ECCVN representative said, “The villagers have become internally displaced persons in many communities within the local government and outside since June 2022. A visit to Utonkon (one the communities they are taking refuge) shows a very pathetic situation as they do not have food and anywhere to go back to.”
Efforts to reach the chairman of Okpokwu Local Government, Amina Audu, did not yield results as at the time of filing this report, but she had in the past confirmed the attacks.
She had at a time confirmed 15 people killed in one attack and unverified number of persons missing.
The police, through its public relations officer in the state, SP Catherine Anene, also confirmed that four suspects were arrested over the attack, including one who later died after they were engaged in a gun duel.
“One of the suspects identified as Musa Dako sustained injuries and was admitted at St. Mary’s Hospital, Okpoga for treatment, where he eventually gave up the ghost. Three other suspects are in custody for further investigation,” Anene had said.