INVESTIGATION: After deadly herdsmen attack, ‘forgotten’ Benue widows rebuild their lives, homes

sunset

Sandwiched between hills and a large expanse of lush-green vegetation, Moon Council Ward cuts a picture of a masterclass painting.

It is the largest of 15 wards in Kwande, a local government area in Benue State, North-central Nigeria, on the border with Cameroon. Kwande is known for its spiritual meaning to the Tivs of that area, as it is home to “Jato Aka”, the most revered guardian of the Tiv myth, and “Swem”, its ancestral god.

But now, Moon is almost a ghost town. Most of its over 38, 000 people – according to 2006 national census figures – fled during a brutal raid by herdsmen in 2014.

Surviving residents, senior government officials and security sources told PREMIUM TIMES how suspected Fulani herders launched a bloody attack on the once peaceful community early 2014, and how the impact has remained till date.

Dozens were killed in the attack, residents said, and most were women, children and the elderly. The raiders also set fire on homes, worship centres, clinics and markets.

Three years after the invasion, the assailants still occupy Moon communities. The indigenous people who fled in 2014 now live in neighbouring villages, towns and as far as Cameroon.

Against all odds

The distraught women of Moon, many who lost husbands, children and relations, are now coming together to help one another overcome the tragedy.

Speaking to PREMIUM TIMES from Jato Aka, a former school teacher from Anyiase, in Moon, Stella Iyande, 43, offered a rare peek into how displaced widows and other women are overcoming despair and crushing poverty that stalked them after herdsmen sacked their villages.

In tear-filled eyes, Mrs. Iyande recounted how over 300 women, mostly widows formed a cooperative known as Moon Displaced Women Organisation and through it, empowered their members to meet some of the needs of their families.
“Most of our members lost their husbands during the war by the so-called herdsmen, who have also taken over our properties,” she recounted.

“In the heat of the crisis, many of us escaped to Jato Aka and neighbouring communities while others scaled the mountains to Cameroon.”

On arrival in Jato Aka, Mrs. Iyande said they kept roaming from one part of the town to another, begging for food and shelter.

According to her, neither the state nor the federal government created a camp to accommodate thousands of people, who escaped the onslaught.

However, some residents of Jato Aka accommodated some of the displaced families while majority slept with their children in the market square, churches and school premises.

Apart from accommodation, Mrs. Iyande said it was difficult to feed and pay for treatment when members of their families became ill.

Another Moon widow, Dooshima Samuel, said she nearly lost her children shortly after they escaped to Jato Aka.

“My husband was killed in an ambush while returning from the farm on the first day the herdsmen attack our village,” she said.

“My three children and I ran to Jato Aka before they took over and burnt down the entire village. Not long after that, two of the children came down with high fever.”

Unable to pay for their treatment in the local clinic, Mrs. Samuel said she used herbs and local concoctions to treat the children.

“When our children fall sick, we treat them with herbs because we don’t have money to take them to the hospital. Those who cannot look after their children send them away to live with relations in other towns,” she said.

“We also give out our children to Igbos so they could learn trading. We approach the traders and beg them to connect us with their colleagues, who would be interested in taking our children as apprentice shopkeepers.

“That is why many of our children now live with Igbo traders in Jato Aka, Gboko and even in Makurdi,” she narrated.

Those who abhor begging among the displaced women go around Jato Aka and neighbouring areas, doing menial jobs like weeding, washing clothes and dishes and babysitting for well-off families.

The cooperative was to take care of the Moon women. Mrs. Iyande said she rallied the displaced women and together floated a cooperative society.

“After seeing the suffering of our women, I called some of them one day and said that the begging thing wasn’t helping us,” she said.

“That was how we established the Moon Displaced Women Organisation. We have up to 300 members.”

To join the cooperative, each woman paid N50 registration fee and another N50 as monthly dues.

Collectively, she said the women raised over N100, 000, which they disbursed as soft loan to members to trade on market days.

“While our meeting is held monthly, we, however, give monies to our members every market day and they use it to do petty trading. At the end of the market day, they bring the principal sum to us with a little interest,” she said.

With the proceeds from the trading business, Moon women have now been able to feed and meet some basic needs of their families.

How Moon lost its innocence

Even after the 2014 attack, Moon (pronounced Moo) remains a beautiful scenery in the north central region. Its name is derived from the river that crisscrosses the entire area, making it almost green all year-round.

The sparkling River Moon flows mysteriously down the Cameroon Hills and connects the five Moon communities, before emptying itself into River Katsina Ala and then to the Benue River.

The lush vegetation and water attracts cattle herders to the predominantly farming communities.

The leader of one of the Moon communities, Apeaor Adebo, said before the attack, Fulani herdsmen only came for grazing shortly after harvest season and left before the planting season.

“Sometimes they would not come for five years and when we least expect, they would return but not without seeking permission from us,” Mr. Adebo recalled.

A former Vice Chairman of Kwande Local Government Area, Abo Utah, said before their homeland was overrun in 2014, it came had come under repeated invasion by soldiers from the nearby 93 Battalion in Takum, Taraba State.

“Before the herdsmen invasion, we had series of attacks by soldiers from Takum in Taraba State. At the time, some soldiers will come and attack us claiming that the land we occupy belonged to Taraba State,” he said.

“But we have always been in Benue State and all the infrastructure found in the area belonged to the state. We petitioned the National Human Rights Commission and the army headquarters at the time and drew attention to what the soldiers were doing.”

When herdsmen attacked, it was by far more deadly.

A former teacher at the Local Government Education Authority Primary School, Tse Maduku, Gabriel Wende, said on March 14, 2014, heavily armed herdsmen laid siege on Moon communities.

At the time the assailants arrived the area, Mr. Wende said the people had eaten the evening meal and were ready to go to bed.

“As the sound of gunfire rang out across the villages, people started running aimlessly and at that time, the herdsmen had laid ambush in some of the escape routes to the community and were firing at everything in sight,” he recalled.

“Children, old men and women and all those who couldn’t escape on time were massacred in their numbers. Many people who were unlucky ran into ambushes and were gunned down or butchered.”

Under one week, locals said the herdsmen killed 72 people.

“We recorded the names of all those who were killed and identified their corpses. Unfortunately, we could not account for everybody because, many people were killed in the bush and we couldn’t recover their corpses,” said Mr. Otah.

“We share common boundaries with Taraba State and the Republic of Cameroon, so some of our people fled across the hills to Cameroon. We cannot tell the exact number of our people who have died.

“The herdsmen have occupied our communities for three years now and our people cannot farm. Many of those who survived the invasion have died either from disease or hunger. We have never experienced that kind of brutality since the days of our forefathers.”

The attackers set fire on 18 primary schools, four junior secondary schools, two senior secondary schools, four healthcare facilities and all the worship centers and markets in Moon.

The Marine Police Station located in the area was not spared. It was vandalised while the police officers reportedly fled.

Abandoned Marine Police Stateion

Mr. Wende, who has been reposted to the local education office, said all the teachers who served in Moon Ward have been posted to schools across Kwande Local Government Area.

“Our pupils and students are roaming the streets because most of the parents can’t pay for their education and we don’t have IDP camp where government can come in and assist us,” he lamented.

“For over three years now, majority of our children have been forced to drop out of school. The condition is really complicated that our people now use the little money they have for feeding instead of paying school fees or buying drugs.

“It is very pathetic that our children who are supposed be future leaders are not in school. Even though the state government is trying, we still appeal for more help. When our children are not in school, what is our fate tomorrow?

“When our people die, we bury them here in Jato Aka but some of our people sneak into our villages in the night to bury them.”

Forgotten and abandoned

While helping the displaced women through the cooperative, Mrs. Iyande made a passionate appeal to the federal government and aid agencies to assist Moon people return home.

“We heard they have formed peace committees and we are now at peace with the herdsmen but when we go back and start farming, the Fulanis would come with their cattle and destroy our crops. They preach peace but have continued to kill our people and occupy our communities,” she lamented.

“What worries me most is the raping of our girls and women. We are afraid of them and that is why we always move in groups. They rape us. This is bambera nut season and we produce it a lot here.

“Many of our women sneaked back to plant the nuts but the herdsmen will destroy the crops. We don’t know what to do and we can’t say when this crisis will end. Out of fear, we move from one place to another. Sometime, they will advise us to go home and as we got home, we see the Fulanis again and we run away.

“We want to appeal to the politicians to talk to the government to assist us. People that are helping us are fed up now. While we feel they are not doing enough for us, they too are tired of helping us. We don’t know where to go.

“When the Fulani herdsmen came, they killed two of my sons and three of husband’s brothers on the first day and the next day, they destroyed our school and we fled down to Jato Aka. We had a family of 15 compounds but no building is standing there now.”

Today, Moon communities have become beautiful wasteland and the foreboding silence enveloping the area is only broken intermittently by the chirping of a birds, and the thud sounds of thousands of cattle grazing on long abandoned farmlands.

PREMIUM TIMES spotted thousands of cattle grazing at the Roman Catholic Mission Primary School, Maav.

Based on what was found on the chalkboard in one of the structures still standing, the last time pupils studied in the vandalized was on October 23, 2013.

When contacted, the National Coordinator of Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders’ Association of Nigeria, MACBAN, Garus Gololo, said members of his organization were not responsible for the attack in Moon Ward.

According to him, after the meeting his group had with the state Governor, Samuel Ortom, most of the herders in Benue Zone A relocated to neighbouring Taraba State.

“The only place we have Fulani herdsmen now is Anyii where we had a meeting with the people of that area,” Mr. Gololo said.

“Our people have not grazed in any part of Kwande during the past six years. We only have them in Kashimbila.”
When told that we spotted thousands of cattle herded grazing in Moon Ward, Mr. Gololo said the cattle might have been stolen.

He said, “Maybe they are the cattle we have been looking for. Gana carried over 3000 of our cattle and we only heard the cows are inside the bush. We don’t know where he is but we have heard that the cattle are being hidden in that area.

“There are some Fulanis, who are rearing the stolen cattle for him but they are not Nigerians. We learned he hired them from the Republic of Chad.”

But Governor Ortom blamed the crisis of Moon and many other parts of the state on Fulani herdsmen.

Speaking to PREMIUM TIMES, the governor said Fulani herdsmen have prevented an entire generation of children of the area and many other areas in the state from going to school.

“What has happened has tended to wipe out almost an entire generation of our children from gaining knowledge and that is why I have been crying to the federal government and all those that care about the future of the people of Benue State to come to our aid,” the governor said.

“I wish it is possible for you to go around to appreciate the magnitude of the destruction, killings and stealing that are taking place. But the truth of the matter is that apart from Moon, there are several other communities that have no opportunity of getting their children back to school for several years.

“There are people who have been barred from going back to their homes for several years. I strongly wished that the federal government would collaborate with us to find lasting solution to this problem.”

All rights reserved. This material and any other material on this platform may not be reproduced, published, broadcast, written or distributed in full or in part, without written permission from PREMIUM TIMES.


  • Suki

    “I wish it is possible
    for you to go around to appreciate the magnitude of the destruction,
    killings and stealing that are taking place. But the truth of the matter is
    that apart from Moon, there are several other communities that have no
    opportunity of getting their children back to school for several years.”

    …………Governor Ortom (Benue State)

    The question now is: how come the people of Benue state turn round to vote for the same Fulani
    people, given this destruction that the Fulani herdsmen wreaked on the lives of Benue people?
    Nobody will ever understand that. It is like asking Americans to vote for Osama bin Laden shortly
    after the September 11th attack on the New York Towers. It is so counter-intuitive it is psychiatric.

    The Benue people either enjoy being flogged, raped and beheaded by Fulani people or they
    don’t have ability to think and conceive freedom from oppression having become inured to
    sufferings. The Tiv and Idoma are amorphous people. They’ll say they are not northerners in
    the Hausa/Fulani/Kanuri sense, and claim to be middle-belters with the ability to take their own
    decisions. But once the Fulani blow the dog whistle of Arewa Solidarity, the Benue people will
    jump forward like servile slaves in total obedience. Who will now sympathize with Benue state?

    • vagabonds in power

      Real Nigerians are sick and tired of these baboons from Benue–who hardly ever think–They operate like robots-Ignore them—-Very soon u will hear the David Marks and Paul Onogus shout one Fulani north again—-One Arewa Solidarity Monkey————Idomas and TIV have no brain—Until they liberate themselves from their slave mentality—-none will come to their AIDS infested brains–They are their own worst enemies—-Until a slave-tries to liberate his soul from the cruel hands of his Masters he will remain a slave————-The Jews wept and cried to God–to save them—from the cruel hands of the Egyptians–and God did—-They never went back to Egypt after their Liberation——————-These Benue people will always go back to their masters the Fulanis————————–for a cup of Masara–tuwo and awoooooooof cow meat—————after getting drunk with tonnes of brukutu—forget them–ojare

      • Sam Langa

        Thank you for trying to wake them up …even though with the most despicable language I have read on the social media in recent times.

  • Burning Spear

    The people of Benue do not need the sympathy of Nigerians-on this soul depressing matter-at all—————These are people often behave like baboons–with no thinking faculties—–I mean how can humans endowed with the Spirit of the living God that we serve–throw caution to the wind–and vote for the same Fulanis from Mali, Chad and Niger Republic killing them for the past 60 years-?—Now operating among the Apes in APC—–Sadly it is these same Fulanis who occupy their villages–Very soon they will install one Emir of Benue state–from Mali——–Same as they did in Kwara and Kano——ati Adamawa—————————There is no state in the North that has no Fulani emir-From Adamawa in the Cameroon Mountains to Kwara–Dont these Tivs have hands to fight——the Fulanis from Mali? The same Fulanis who later end up as officers in the Armed Forces–Police DSS–Efcc—among other security agencies–while some operate as the most vocal governors and Senators–in Nigeria–‘?—————-There is no point for these mumus from Benue–trying to win the sympathy of the public—-No wonder the Fulanis often use TIVs to practice their targets—at their firing range–in the North—————–Funny enough the Yorubas in PDP still want to impose another Fulani on us as president come 2019—–That is if we still remain One—–Nation sha———-Hence the move by the Yorubas to fight Sheriff a Kanuri——on behalf of the Fulanis——Aware the Fulani thieves do not see how they would allow non Fulanis from the North—the real natives be given a chance to aso rock……………..Separation is the answer—Buhari has no roots to Nigeria—–Nobody knows his relations—–I mean his nuclear family——-uncles—cousins——blood-fathers—mothers—all we hear is that he had a sister who was once married to—the emir of one Yenagoa——in Katsina state——Separation is the answer—————not the rule of the Fulanis again———

  • Omoba1

    This is sad, terrribly sad. This herdsmen issue has to be resolved quickly.

  • amazing2012

    This report is the hand work of Hate journalism aimed at creating further problem between people. Careful examination of the report indicates “strategic plan” to anger people of Christians faith. The news portrayed religious connotation and blame on particular people officially level as “suspects” by the law.
    Most of this kind of news aimed at creating hate and division end up with making the “suppose victims” becoming more sensational and prostrated than making them brave or finding a solution. Christians are made by this kind of hate news to develop anger, anxiety, higher blood pressure which lead to detorioration of both mental and general health condition and sudden death. The worst part of it, is diverting the mindset of Christians from the teachings of their faith, which is total absence of forgiveness and love.
    Furthermore, the news creates quest to vengeance and evil plan.
    Among the Christians, are pagans controlling the rest. Changing and divert their minds away from the teachings of their faith.
    If I may ask,what did this news add to Christians and others in reference to Christians faith ?

    • Babrutus

      I don’t agree o. I read it without any thoughts on religion. I’m sure many would do the same.

    • Burning Spear

      U are no better than a dog——in your regional thoughts—-See-humans are being slaughtered like goats by Fulanis the Sultan of Sokoto and Buhari said hail from Niger Republic —Mali— Chad—–Sudan –Somalia and Kenya—and a mumu like your type are attempting to read religious meaning into the massacre of natives in North Central…?——No difference with the dog named Bingo Buhari——–U are a disgrace to your parents if u have any-These are the types of sponsored Satanic comments that drive me mad— animal

      • amazing2012

        You need medication, the satanic spear is burning in you slowly ! your name stand for your condition> I am sorry, get well soon !!

  • Burning Spear

    The people of Benue do not need the sympathy of Nigerians-on this soul depressing matter-at all—————These are people who often behave like baboons–with no thinking faculties—–I mean how can humans endowed with the Spirit of the living God that we serve–throw caution to the winds–and vote for the same Fulanis from Mali, Chad and Niger Republic according to the Sultan of Sokoto————–killing them for the past 60 years-?—Now operating among the Apes in APC—–Sadly it is these same Fulanis who occupy their villages–Very soon they will install one Emir of Benue state–from Mali——–Same as they did in Kwara and Kano——ati Adamawa—————————There is no state in the North that has no Fulani emir-From Adamawa state close to the Cameroon Mountains to Kwara–Dont these Tivs have hands to fight——the Fulanis from Mali with? The same Fulanis who later end up as officers in the Armed Forces–Police DSS–Efcc—among other security agencies–while some operate as the most vocal governors and Senators–in Nigeria–‘?—————-There is no point for these mumus from Benue–trying to win the sympathy of the public—-No wonder the Fulanis often use TIVs to practice their targets—at their firing range–in the North—————–Funny enough the Yorubas in PDP still want to impose another Fulani on us as president come 2019—–That is if we still remain One—–Nation sha———-Hence the move by the Yorubas to fight Sheriff a Kanuri——on behalf of the Fulanis——Aware the Fulani thieves do not see how they would allow non Fulanis from the North—the real natives be given a chance to aso rock……………..Separation is the answer—Buhari has no roots to Nigeria—–Nobody knows his relations—–I mean his nuclear family——-uncles—cousins——blood-fathers—mothers—all we hear is that he had a sister who was once married to—the emir of one Yenagoa——in Katsina state——Separation is the answer—————not the rule of the Fulanis again———