WEST AFRICA NETWORK FOR PEACE BUILDING
Women Unite For Peace and Human Security in Benue State
We the women of Benue State convened by the West Africa Network for Peacebuilding Nigeria (WANEP- Nigeria) in collaboration with Urgent Action Fund – Africa on behalf of over 200 member organisations spread across the six geo political zones wish to express consternation at the on-going agro – pastoralist conflict in Benue State. WANEP-Nigeria, a network established to provide an organized platform for collaborative peacebuilding in Nigeria by indigenous Non Governmental organizations working in the area of conflict, peace and security organized a peace march on March 6, 2018 in solidarity with the people of Benue State and to provide a united front for the women to call for peace and human security amidst incessant killings within communities by suspected Fulani herdsmen.
Noting that over the years, the North-Central geo-political zone has remained in the spotlight as the epi-center of agro-pastoralist conflicts recording huge loss of lives and livelihood with Benue State worst affected in the zone. The quest for territorial control of arable land for grazing activities among other reasons has led to destruction of farmlands and products. Revenge killings emanating from alleged theft/killing of livestock and sexual violence especially rape of women and girls, attributed to herdsmen has continued to heighten insecurity in Benue state. More so, the conflict has become more alarming and destructive with the proliferation of small arms and light weapons resulting in high fatality and internal displacement.
Recently on 1st January some armed Fulani herdsmen organized coordinated attacks on fourteen communities in Logo and Guma LGAs. The attacks resulted in the death of more than 100 persons including pregnant women, children and Police officers with several persons reportedly injured. The affected communities included: Tomatar in Saghev ward, Tse Akor in Nzorov ward and Umenger in Mbadwem ward of Guma LGA and Ayilamo, Turan, Agba Uko, Tse Aga, Meeme, Akenawa, Tse Tor Adi, Ukemberagya and Tswarev communities in Logo LGA. These attacks were the first major set of violent incidents after the enactment of the Open Grazing Prohibition and Ranches Establishment Law, which became effective on 1st of November, 2017. Again, on March 5, 2018 fresh attacks were recorded in Okpoku Local Government Area with over 24 persons killed and several others injured. These violent attacks if allowed to continue, food, peace and security would be jeopardized, especially as the country prepares for the 2019 general elections.
The gathering of about 120 women and men draws attention to the fact that armed conflicts often tend to exacerbate violence against women. These have manifested in Benue State through cases of rape, abduction and attacks reported across farming communities. Thus, many communities in the state are living under the threat of severe insecurity. Women are denied their rights and are unable to protect themselves, thus limiting their ability to participate in making decisions that affect their well being.
The aftermath has resulted in over 160,000 Internally Displaced Persons according to the Benue State Emergency Management Agency, SEMA. The increasing number of displaced population is quite worrisome as these internally displaced persons continue to take shelter in poor neighbouring communities within camps and host families, placing additional strain on scarce resources and leaving the women highly vulnerable to sexual violence.
The spill-over effect of conflict in Benue State has been witnessed in other states namely Edo, Delta, Enugu, Kaduna, Kogi, Nassarawa, Ogun, Ondo, Plateau, Taraba etc. This has drawn attention to the fact that the agro- pastoralist conflict in Benue State should be viewed as a national issue. The situation has so far attracted diverse reactions and consultations among varied interest groups while State Governors and security agencies have been agencies tackling reprisals and spillover effects to other States in the nation. The proposal by the Federal Government put forward for the creation of cattle colonies as a means of containing the pervasive crisis has been opposed by the people who fear to lose their farmlands and incur further aggressive attacks in the event that they put up resistance.
We stand with the Women of Benue State to salute the courage and interventions of the Federal and State Governments. However, we appeal to the government to implement strategies that are people oriented and focused at promoting peace rather than intensifying fear among the people. We believe that the best approach to cattle rearing is ranching, creating security for both humans and animals.
We reaffirm that violent clashes between farmers and Fulani herdsmen will lead to food insecurity as farmlands are being destroyed and farmers are unable to go to farm. We say no to killings and displacement as this translates to empty food baskets and proliferation of small arms in the state. We stand united to say “No to conflict”, let us live together as one and build peace within our communities.
WANEP- Nigeria uses this platform to call for a holistic approach to address the protracted violence between farming communities and Fulani herdsmen in Benue and other States experiencing similar attacks in Nigeria.
Specifically, WANEP-Nigeria calls for the following:
1. The security agencies such as the Police, the Nigeria Civil Defence Corps and other security agencies should coordinate activities towards providing an integrated security framework that promotes civil-security relationship to forestall further attack or crisis.
2. Benue State should consider setting up a Peace and Security Commission to realise peace architecture in the state.
3. A Federal government should partner with state governments, civil society organisations including traditional and religious institutions in addressing the underlying causes of conflict between farming communities and Fulani herdsmen in the affected states.
4. Benue State government should set up an inter-ethnic dialogue forum with representatives of the different ethnic groups of the farmers and Fulani herdsmen to proffer solutions to the recurring agro-pastoralist conflict in the state.
5. The development of an early warning and response mechanisms by relevant government agencies in partnership with civil society organizations, women’s groups, traditional and faith based institutions to proactively respond to causal factors of agro-pastoralist conflict in Benue State.
6. The Federal Government and Development Partners should provide appropriate humanitarian assistance to affected families including trauma healing and rehabilitation of Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) especially women and children.
7. The National Orientation Agency should work with CSOs and corporate institutions to develop, disseminate peace messages in local languages and English on tolerance, respect for existing National and State laws as well as community dialogue to forestall the recurrence of herdsmen attacks in Benue State and other high risk areas in the country.
8. Consideration should be given towards the creation and empowerment of a ‘North Central Development Commission’ as a post-conflict rehabilitation strategy to discourage further reprisal attacks.
Together, We Stand United in the Call for Peace and Human Security in Benue Statem, the Food Basket of the Nation.
March 6, 2018