The Catholic Bishop of Gboko, Most Reverend William Avenya, has accused the federal government of being discomfortingly silent in the face of the wave of attacks by Fulani herdsmen on 14 out of 23 local councils in Benue State.
The Bishop made this known while delivering a homily at the interdenominational funeral service for the victims of the recent Fulani herdsmen attacks in Benue State. At the service, which held at IBB Square in Makurdi, capital of Benue State, Reverend Avenya, prayed to God to give the victims' families the fortitude to bear the loss and solicit the irreparable loss. He also solicited for peace in the state.
The clergyman stated that the attacks are genocidal in nature and have been against defenseless people to which there has been collective silence.
"We have for the most part remained silent both as individuals and groups. It will be recalled that silence was maintained by the international community in the past concerning the holocaust in Germany against the Jews in 1933, the genocide in Rwanda in 1994 against the Tutsis, the ethnic cleansing against the Armenians in 1992-1995 and until recently, the failure of the world to stand up against the Rohingya persecution in Myanmar. All these, have stained the moral conscience of the world," he said.
In Nigeria, he said the government has remained silent on issues involving genocide against the people in local governments like Katsina-Ala, Logo, Ukum, Kwande, Guma, Gwer West, Gwer East, Buruku, Tarka, Makurdi, Ogbadibo, Agatu, and Apa.
He added that the people of Benue State do not deserve what has befallen them, given their sacrifices for national unity.
"Now, it seems, our payback for this sacrifice is the silence and sometimes seeming complicity in the senseless killings, the wanton destruction of the means of livelihood and impoverishment of our people. Our deceased brothers and sisters have suffered the fate of dying gruesomely, dying under intense and inhuman torture, dying in an undignified manner for no fault of theirs. We also remember not only those lying here before us today but by extension all those who have been killed since the beginning of these attacks perpetrated by diabolic, criminal terrorists. May the blood of these martyrs bring healing to our land, may their death usher in a new dawn of peace in Benue State, may the excruciating torture they experience to unite the people of Benue state more than ever, and usher in a culture of civilization of love, true justice, peace and end the culture of impunity in our land," said Reverend Avenya.
He equally noted that he hopes the people of Benue in the administration of President Muhammadu Buhari, whom they voted for in the 2015 general elections, have been dashed.
"We had high hopes in 2015 general elections that ushered in a new government; expecting a nation that defends the weak against the powerful, a nation that will protect itself not only against terrorists in the North East, but also unarmed farmers, against vicious terrorists masquerading themselves as herdsmen whose expansionist territorial appetite seems to be insatiable and to the conquest of the Benue Valley," he further said.
He disagreed with the description of the events in the state as communal clashes, adding that the lack of federal presence is exemplified in the deplorable state of federal roads from Makurdi-Gboko-Katsina-Ala, and Otukpo-Enugu casts doubts on the integrity of the Buhari administration and leaving many to wonder whether if there is a government in Nigeria at all.
The Bishop recalled that the Fulani pastoralist of old was a peace-loving neighbor, not criminal and diabolic.
"The Fulani man that we know used a shepherding stick, but not an AK-47 rifle. Of course, society is dynamic and keeps changing. So a Fulani man may not only walk on foot, but move on a motorbike; he not only drinks fura de nunu, but drinks beer and eats pepper soup. These are indices of a changing society. Hence, we call on the Fulani man to adapt to the modern worldview and engage in activities that will be beneficial both to him and to society in general," he counseled.
Speaking on the suggestion of cattle colonies recently made by the federal government as a solution to herdsmen/farmers' clashes, the Bishop wondered if the federal government has endorsed the anti-open grazing bill passed into law in Benue state and assisted in providing a more sustainable measure for its implementation.
"While we applaud the good intention concerning the cattle colonies, we call on the federal government to animate the full force of the law on the anti-open grazing bill in Benue State. Given the changing trends of the time, the Benue State government and the Benue House of Assembly have after consultation with the Benue people passed into law the anti-grazing open bill. This bill was received by the people of the State with a popular acclamation. We have to acknowledge that this is world best practice as far as care for our people is concerned. Unfortunately, we doubt if the bill has enjoyed the full support of the federal government.
All we want is ranches. Let there be ranches and there will be peace in the land. This is our appeal," he demanded.
He called on the various governments and agencies in the country to put in place practical measures to prevent the re-occurrence of this crisis.