Friends murdered in cold blood, schools crippled, life in camp worse than hell – Child survivors of Benue killings
BY PETER DURU, MAKURDI
Benue State has, in the last four weeks, been in sombre mood, no thanks to the killings in parts of the state, particularly in Guma and Logo local government areas, by suspected herdsmen.
Since the outbreak of the crisis in January, close to 100 persons, including pregnant women, children and the elderly, have been murdered in cold blood even as the figure keeps rising.
The development has also left close to 100,000 persons displaced in the various communities of the two local government areas badly hit by the crisis.
About half of the displaced persons are children who have been confined to the Internally Displaced Persons, IDP, camps located at Ugba, Anyii, Daudu, Gbajimba and Agan.
The affected children have had to cope in the most dehumanizing environment in the camps that lack basic facilities.
A journey to some of the camps revealed mind-boggling stories.
Apart from being exposed to environmental hazards there, there was the fear that the close to 50,000 children may contract communicable diseases, while some of them were already malnourished. Besides, close to 25,000 of the children, who are of school age, may have their education disrupted. The situation is made worse by the destruction of virtually all the educational facilities and schools in the affected communities.
It is indeed a sad story capable of creating a generation of children who might find it difficult to pick up the broken pieces of their lives if urgent steps are not taken to end the Benue herdsmen/local farmers’ crisis.
Speaking on the development, Donald Anundu, 55, and a father of seven, said he fled his home at Yelwata in Guma local government area, with his family after suspected herdsmen raided the community, killing 11 persons including four children.
“I had to run with my family to this (Agan village) camp to secure my children and wife”, he said.
“Two of my children are in secondary school while others are in primary school but, since the beginning of the crisis, they have not been to school because some the schools have been razed and/or destroyed.
“As things are, I cannot tell when we will go back to our community not to talk of when the children will go back to school.”
No more school – Nine-year-old
Also narrating his ordeal, nine-year-old Mkorshima Ioryange, a primary three pupil of LGEA Primary School, Uke Torkula village in Guma local government area, said he could no longer go to school because “some of my friends were killed in cold blood by people who attacked our community and my parents ran with us to this place.”
He added, “Every morning, I wake up to tell my parents that I want to go to school but my mother always tells me that they are still killing people in our village and that, if we go back, we would be killed like my friends.
“Please tell government to stop the killings and arrest the people who killed my friends so that we can go back to school”.
Mkorshima’s account of the crisis and the fate that befell the over 50,000 children housed in the six camps located in the two local government areas affected by the crisis tells the story of the school age children in the camps.
On her part, 60-year-old Mrs. Ugbihi Gbakaan, a widow, who claimed to have fled Atule village, Umenge in Guma local government area in the heat of the crisis, said she escaped with her seven children and six grandchildren to take refuge at the Daudu camp because the village was sacked after 15 residents were slaughtered by suspected herdsmen during the raid of January 2.
“I am here with all my children and grandchildren because our community is no longer safe especially after about 15 of our people were killed in the new year’s day attack”, she told Sunday Vanguard
“The attackers also burnt the schools in our community and I don’t really know if my children and grandchildren will go back to school soon because there are no more schools in our village and you know that it will be difficult for us to have them attend school in another village.
“But the most important thing is that we have to be alive before talking of education, because a dead person does not go to school. So it is life before any other thing.
“However, my worry at the moment is that the facilities at the camp have been over-stretched; children defecate openly; food is not sufficient because the refugee situation is beyond the state government which means that so many things are lacking and the rations we get are hardly enough.
“The implication in the IDP camps is that children are falling sick and the efforts of the state government cannot help the situation because it is overwhelming. My fear is that we may soon start recording deaths of children if nothing is done very fast by the federal government.
“And government should stop these killings and destruction of property to enable us move on with our lives and also help our children get good education to enable them become useful to themselves because, without education, the children have no future and you know what that means.”
Speaking on the issue, the Senior Special Assistant to Benue State Governor on State Emergency, Mr. Vincent Tsea, said the state government had been overwhelmed by the situation.
Tsea said, “The fact of the matter is that over half of the close to100, 000 Internally Displaced Persons arising from the crisis are children. And over 50 per cent of the children are of school age who can no more attend school.
“In fact, most of the communities have had their schools destroyed; so even if they go back today, there will be no school structures in most of the communities where these children would attend school.
“The implication is that most of them will be out of school until something urgent is done to rehabilitate the affected schools to enable the children continue their education.
“Moreover some of the teachers have lost their lives to the crisis and we must also start thinking of how to replace those valuable hands.”
On his part, the Executive Chairman of Benue State Universal Education Board, Dr. Philip Tachin, lamented that the devastation had crippled education in Logo and Guma local governments.
“We have a monumental crisis in the educational sector in both local governments and it has become a source of worry for every discerning mind in the state”, Tachin said
“The situation is certainly beyond the state government because taking care of close to 100,000 displaced persons at this critical time is a Herculean task.
“I am also worried because we have lost our schools though I cannot readily give you the figure right now because the security situation would not allow you to have a precise figure. But from what we have gathered so far from the affected persons, we might be talking of about 90 schools that have been destroyed.”
In her account, the Chairperson, Benue Non-Governmental Network, BENGONET, Rural Development Initiative, Mrs. Rachel Ityonzughul, said the situation was overwhelming.
Speaking on the condition of the children in the camps, Ityonzughul said, “We have so far recorded a case of a malnourished child who was taken to hospital and has been discharged after treatment, but I must tell you that the situation in the camps is overwhelming and requires urgent intervention by well-meaning Nigerians and organizations.”
On his part, the President of Benue Youths Forum, Comrade Terrence Kuanum, disclosed that over 81 schools had been destroyed in the latest attacks on communities in the state since the beginning of the year.
Meanwhile, Governor Samuel Ortom has solicited support from the federal government, public spirited individuals, organizations as well as the international community in tackling the humanitarian challenges associated with the crisis.
The governor, who spoke after visiting three of the IDP camps in Makurdi and Guma local government areas, maintained that influx into the camps across the state had increased the population to about 100, 000.
He directed Commissioners in the Ministries of Health and Water Resources to deploy more staff to the camps and also ensure adequate water supply.
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