It was about 10am and the sun was already rising, making it a bright day.
For the little children at Agan Internally Displaced Persons’ Camp located at Old Toll Gate area, Makurdi, it was a normal day for football as some of the kids chased after a dusty ball.
Our correspondent, who visited the IDPs’ camp in Guma Local Government Area of the state observed that the camps were dominated by children of nursery, primary and/or secondary school age.
Apart from their inability to access schools, food is another major challenge being faced by the internally displaced persons at the camps.
The displaced persons therefore appealed to both the state and federal governments to find a lasting solution to the herdsmen/farmers crisis in the state to enable them to return to their homes and live a normal life.
For Tyohemba Joy, a primary four pupil at St. Alfred Nursery and Primary School, Torkula in Guma LGA, life has been hell without her school and the opportunity to study.
“Our village was attacked by some people, who were killing us and we had to abandon the place. Since then, we have been living in this camp.
”We had just resumed school in our area when the herdsmen came to attack our village. My parents’ property was all destroyed by the herdsmen. We were able to escape with the help of security agents.
“It is a shame that I cannot go to school now. Every morning when I wake up, I think about my friends who must be heading to school while I waste my time here,” she said.
Shor described her experience as terrible as she said a word of prayer for the souls of those who lost their lives to the attacks and those who were yet to experience such in life.
“Nobody would pray to have that experience or see their fellow human beings being killed or denied of what is legitimately their right; it was a sad experience,” she said.
Similarly, it has been a gloomy period for Mrs. Rebecca Orgugar, who hails from Tokula village; she said that children in the axis had stopped going to school because schools were often the targets of the attackers each time they struck.
She said many teenage girls of school age were still missing as a result of the suspected attacks by Fulani herdsmen in Kadarko.
”Since the herdsmen attacked our community, two out of my five children have been put at risk of dropping out of school because they are supposed to register for their West African Senior School Certificate Examination, but my farm and its produce, which should raise money for their registrations, have been destroyed by herdsmen.
“Now, I have no hope of getting money anywhere,” she stated.
Orgugar also urged the government to act fast to end the menace so as to allow those affected by the attacks to return to their various homes and live normal lives.
A retired solider with nine children, Thomas Agede, from Gida Sule in Guma, said that suspected Fulani herdsmen came to his residence early on Sunday morning to attack them.
He said one of his children, who was in Primary Five had been missing since then, adding that the development had made him to develop high blood pressure.
”At about 4 am on Monday, we heard that some Fulani had entered our village and killing people, so I started to gather my family members so that I could move them out, but before l was set, they had reached my area.
“I watched them slaughtering innocent people as if it was during the Biafran war. I thought l was in a war, but l could not do anything. They were with heavy guns, so l hid myself and allowed them to finish their evil act before leaving my hideout. Now my child is missing,” he said with a note of sadness.
Dooter Osuhu, a primary six pupil at Wisdom Primary School, Hagher, said her school had been shut down indefinitely because of the recent attacks.
”I have seven siblings, but all our schools have either been shut down or now being used as IDPs’ camps. This development has forced us out of school. I am calling on the Benue and Nasarawa state governments to jointly resolve this problem before it consumes us all,” she said.
James Tyor, who is a Junior Secondary School 1 student at Comprehensive Secondary School, Kuduku in Keana LGA, Nasarawa State, has taken refuge at Tse- Finds camp in Guma.
He noted that apart from lack of adequate space to sleep, water, security, health personnel and facilities, he was also worried that he had been forced out of school.
According to him, his parents lost everything to the suspected herdsmen’s attack and the situation will make it even difficult for him to return to school.
“I’m worried that I cannot go back to school, and the problem has affected many of us as many schools have been closed. We are young children, we should all be in school but we are in IDPs’ camps,” he said.
There is no doubt that Benue State is presently facing a grave challenge due to the recent killings by suspected Fulani herdsmen in two local government areas of the state. Before the recent attacks, Benue, in the last five years, had been turned to a theatre of war occasioned by constant attacks by suspected herdsmen.
That scores of people lost their lives in the recent killings is no longer news; the growing number of children of school age who are being forced out of school due to the attacks is what is also giving the people of the state sleepless nights.
According to the state governor, Samuel Ortom, over 100,000 people had been displaced by the recent attacks on Guma and Logo local government areas of the state.
A government source told our correspondent that no fewer than 75,000 of the number were youths scattered across seven designated internally displaced persons’ camps.
The Benue State Universal Education Board had said that at least 10, 000 pupils had been forced out of schools in the two local government areas. The chairman of the board, Rev. Philip Tachin, said many schools were affected as many families fled their homes alongside the children to different camps following the attacks.
An official of State Emergency Management Agency, who spoke on condition of anonymity, described the current situation as ‘shocking and alarming’.
The source said that the figure kept rising every day as a result of continuous attacks, adding that about 35,000 children of school age had been forced out of school and now living under difficult conditions in the camps.
The SEMA official also that some of the new entrants at the camps were from the troubled Kadarko area in the neighbouring Nasarawa State.
Further checks revealed that a faith based institution had opened camps in some parts of Benue State to tackle the influx of displaced people in need of refuge.
The source said, “It was disheartening to see thousands of school children forced out of school by the invasion of suspected herdsmen on some communities in Guma and Logo LGAs; the state government is making frantic efforts to attend to the welfare of the displaced persons for now while we hope that peace will soon return to the state so that those children will be able to return to school.”
The SEMA official, who said he was not authorised to speak on the matter, even as the Executive Secretary of the agency was indisposed as of the time of filing this report, said there were about 4,000 children of school age in one of the camps in Guma alone.
“This is the multiplier effect of this genocidal operation. There are seven IDPs’ camps in these two affected local governments and if the statistics of these school children are the same across the IDPs’ camps, over 35,000 children might have been forced out of school. Understand that in one camp here in Guma, there are over 4,000 children of school age,” he said.
He added that if the Federal Government failed to decisively stop the killings, then its efforts in education would be a mere waste of resources.
“Many schools have been affected; though, we are yet to ascertain whether school buildings have been destroyed the same way houses in villages were destroyed. We spoke with one of the policemen that were attacked by the armed herdsmen and he confirmed that they were Fulani.
“They were heavily armed; the Federal Government should be honest by not playing politics with this serious security problem because it is capable of conflagration. We want one Nigeria and we shouldn’t be pushed to having a divided country,” the source added.
The Senior Special Assistant to the state governor on SEMA, Vincent Tsea, disclosed that there were 6,000 children of school age in one of the new camps in Daudu, while registrations were still ongoing as a result of the crisis, which broke up in Kadarko area of Nasarawa State.
He stated that the Wednesday’s attack in the council area made the number of school children to rise beyond what the SUBEB had earlier stated.
According to him, when registrations in those additional new camps are completed, he will be able to give out the exact figures of children of school age in the camps.