Crisis in Kogi town
• Residents task govt on insurgency in Bagana
THE spillover of the Fulani/Agatu clash in Benue State has taken its toll on Bagana, a boundary riverine town in Kogi State.
The fear is that it may become another hot bed of insurgency if urgent steps are not taken to nip the new wave of violence between the warring factions in the bud.
At the last count dozens of lives have been lost while properties of the indigenes have been razed, turning the town into a ghost enclave after the surviving inhabitants fled for safety.
What was the crime of the people of Omala Local Council of Kogi State, one may ask? The gesture of trying to be their brothers’ keeper by giving shelter to fellow Nigerians who were victims of Fulani herdsmen and Agatu clash in Benue State that took refuge in their community, in search of safety, has become their greatest albatross.
They never knew that they would soon become victims of the same crisis as the two warring factions have turned their anger on the indigenes, meting mayhem of very high magnitude on the villagers, which has left many houses, cars and properties destroyed.
The Agatu from Benue have a long history of acrimony with the Fulani herdsmen with whom they have developed deep hatred over previous attacks they suffered in their hands in their own land.
An eyewitness, James Ocholi, said as soon as the displaced people from the crisis zones in Benue state were offered settlements, Bagana town, a commercial nerve centre of the local council and its neighbourhood came under severe attack by the militia of both tribes.
He said the warring factions alleged that the inhabitants of the villages were actually shielding enemies under the pretext of offering help.
Their position was that the displaced people being harboured are using the base as a launching ground for more reprisal attacks.
The militias of the Agatu speaking people of Benue State were alleged to have moved to some towns and villages in Omala Local Council of Kogi State clandestinely to haunt for their perceived Hausa- Fulani enemies who have visited mayhem on them in their farms in Benue for years.
They are alleging that the Hausa-Fulani herdsmen being offered assistance to settle in the border towns and villages of the areas in Kogi were those that killed their people, and decided to run for cover in the state on the pretext of being under attack by them (Agatu-Idoma people in Benue).
Equally, the Fulani herdsmen are said to be nursing grudges against the inhabitants whom they also accused of tacit support for the Agatus that have been at daggers drawn with them for years.
Residents of the villages are at the receiving end of the animosity between mercenaries of the warring sides who are on their prowl in the towns.
As a typical river-bank settlement with an ever flourishing cow market, many tribes lay claim to the town.
It was gathered that the December crisis which led to wanton destruction of lives and property in the area had its seed of discord sowed in June when some people alleged to be of Agatu militia stormed Bagana town on the market day and left with 32 cows and four persons who have not been seen till date.
While the dust was yet to settle, in the third week of December last year, another invasion occurred in the same town and, in the process, two pick up vans, its drivers and 18 cows were also carried away to an unknown destination.
It was gathered that after the third week of the incident, the pick up drivers regained freedom but not the cows. A day after the drivers returned to the town, violence broke out between Hausa- Fulani and the Agatu people in the town, which led to the killing of two Hausa-Fulani youths and burning of many houses, including business outfits.
This particular episode sparked off tension in the town and its environs as speculation of reprisal attacks by Fulani militia gripped the people.
The rush to escape from being caught up with the speculated reprisal attacks prompted the warring factions to lay ambush on possible escape routes for their perceived enemies and, in the process, many innocent persons who were fleeing were killed, as they were mistaken for the rival group. Many are still reported to be missing since the alarm of the impending invasion was raised in the area, even as concerned families have been combing everywhere to find their loved ones.
The Guardian learnt that an average Bagana settler could speak up to 16 different languages.
The dominant tribes in the area are the Igalas, Agatu-Idoma and Hausa-Fulani speaking people. It was also established that each of this original ethnic groups has a strong presence at different axis of the town. While the Hausa-Fulani speaking people settled at the River Benue Guto- bridge end of the town, the Igalas occupy Abejukolo end of the city, and the Agatu-Idoma that migrated from Benue State have strong presence at Icheke (the ancestral home of ex-governor Ibrahim Idris) and Ajokpachi flank of the city.
This structural setting is the fallout of the crises in Benue between the Hausa-fulani and Agatu ‘which made them to flee from the crisis torn areas in Benue villages to find a home in Bagana town and its suburbs in Kogi.
So, it was learnt that as the crisis persisted between the Fulani herdsmen and Agatu-Idoma in Benue over irreconcilable issues, many of them ran to settle with their kinsmen at Icheke, Ajokpachi, Bagana as well as Ibado- Akpacha and Abejukolo villages in Kogi.
According to a resident of Abejukolo, the headquarters of Omala LGA, one Amodu Okpachi, said the warring groups have turned their place to a battle ground and killing their people at any little provocation. “We are being killed for our concern for their plight; it was a mistake on the part of our elders and leaders to accept these people to settle with us from the crisis torn areas in another state. We have lost our loved ones, homes and valuable properties for being magnanimous to them; these people have turned our much cherished villages to killing fields,” Okpachi lamented.
A source said no sooner than the refugees from the crisis areas were allowed to settle on the Kogi soil than the Agatu people ordered the residents of these villages to let go of every Hausa-Fulani they were harbouring in their domain. The residents found this as a hard pill to swallow, and the events that followed has left most of the villages in ruins, with Bagana town as the worst hit of all.
Although, leaders of the area are reluctant to speak over the latest assault, the security agents are said to be on top of the crisis. According to the Kogi Police Command Police Public Relations Officer (PPRO) Elvis Aguebor, over 300 security personnel, including mobile policemen, soldiers, Navy and State Security Services (SSS) had been drafted to the area to quell the crisis.
He, therefore, pleaded with the people that deserted the town to return and continue their normal lives, saying, the security agents had restored normalcy to the affected communities.
However, the PPRO said the command was yet to be briefed on the casualty figures, number of arrests and other related issues from the field officers, saying, allegations of any group of militia still parading the area may not be true as the security agents are in total control of the area.