Tiv residents begins rebuilding process one year after Herdsmen attack

In what may seem like a diehard resolve to reclaim their ancestral lands, some Tiv farmers in Nasarawa State have started rebuilding their homes, which were burnt down during the farmers/herdsmen clashes.

In the armed attacks carried out by the herdsmen, buildings and farms in over 200 Tiv villages in the five local government areas in the state were completely razed and stocks of harvested foodstuff awaiting sales were also destroyed by fire. In the resulting flow of blood, more than 100 people lost their lives. Almost all the Tiv people in the five local governments were suddenly turned into internally displaced persons for over a year.

With peace and gradual return to normalcy to an area once prone to armed attacks to Fulani herdsmen, a lot of the Tiv farmers and widows who lost their husbands in the vicious, murderous and savage attacks orchestrated by the herdsmen have returned to their villages.

A visit to most of the villages revealed that the Tiv farmers and widows have summoned the courage to return to their villages and rebuild their homes for the ongoing farming season. Sunday Sun reporter, who interacted with some of the widows, got a day-to-day account of life in the settlements.

The trip to the affected areas involved a tortuous ride of several kilometers on a commercial motorcycle on winding narrow roads, in the pouring rain that made it very difficult for the tyres of the motorcycle to grip the road surface.

Notwithstanding their precarious situation, the farmers were full of hope of being able to pick up the pieces of their fractured lives as they return to their desolate villages despite the dangers posed by the armed herdsmen.

In the face of the emotional strain on the returnees, the lucky few were able to reunite with family members. However, for many widows and orphans the memory of the massacre of their husbands as well as parents in the razed villages was forcefully brought back to them upon beholding their devastated homelands, especially as they have to start life afresh. The herdsmen destroyed the entire Tiv communities in Nasarawa state – homes, schools, harvested foodstuff, health centers and churches were not spared. The invaders also destroyed water pumps and polluted wells by dumping corpses in them.

As would be expected, abandonment of the farms has led to shortage of food, which the result that malnutrition is beginning to manifest among the children. Several Tiv farmers in most villages were seen rebuilding houses with materials like corn stalks, wood, grass and mud. This was a far cry from the more permanent structures which the herdsmen destroyed, but notwithstanding the nature of the building materials, having a roof over their heads offered some protection against the elements.

In the effort to rebuild, everyone helped out, even the young children. It was a pleasant sight to see young children help their fathers put up mud wall huts. Church activities resumed despite the little left of the buildings. Many who could not afford the cost of building new huts, gathered under trees or stayed in the ruins of their former buildings.

As at the time filing this report, and despite the fear of occasional attack, the local markets had resumed operation, which is an important step towards reviving their economy. One of the widows, 25-year-old Mrs Josphine Terungwa, who hails from Giza, a Tiv community in Nasarawa State said she was four months pregnant when the marauding herdsmen attacked and sacked her community, killed several persons, including her husband.

In that attack, she said the herders caught up with her while she was trying to escape. But fortunately she was able to reach an IDP camp in the outskirts of Makurdi, Benue State. She cuddled and breastfed  her newborn baby as she recounted what happened on the fateful day of the attack:  “The herdsmen came one early morning in January 2018 shooting, killing and burning our houses, huts and farmlands.

Many of our people including my husband, neighbours, were killed in that attack but many others managed to escape. At that time I was pregnant and I had a three-year-old child. We were not lucky. They caught up with us, I begged that I was pregnant and that was why I could not run. The one who caught me wanted to shoot me and my son, but changed his mind. They held me and continued to burn houses and looting all the food they saw in our barns and property of our people. After that they turned to me and my child; one of them later suggested that they should spare us. They finally decided not to kill me but all I can remember was that one of them threw me to the ground and shot me on the leg. I pleaded profusely, crying for help but help was not forthcoming. They left me as I continued to bleed. I thought I was going to die. I was there in the village, alone and finally passed out.”

Continuing her story, Terungwa said: “I woke up at Dalhatu Arab Specialist Hospital in Nasarawa State, where I was told that it was the police that later came to my aid and took me to the hospital where doctors battled to save my life. After my survival and treatment, I was told my husband was not lucky in the attacks. I cannot continue to stay in the IDP camp, it will not help me. I have suffered much in the camp. Since some people were returning, I decided to join them so that I can do small farm work for my survival. It is not easy for me. Where to start is a big problem, who will help me is a big issue, that is what herdsmen have turned my life into, but I am back and doing my best. I was suffering in IDP camp without food to eat and am nursing a baby that is why it is better to be in the village where we can farm and do a little business. I wish my husband were alive,” she lamented.

She said that though she has returned, the farms are not safe. In Tseagber, Obi Local Government Area of Nasarawa State, Mrs Mary Abunde, a widow told Sunday Sun: “I returned to encourage other women to do the same. One year ago I became a widow when the village was attacked by herdsmen who burnt down the entire village. While I tried running for my life alongside the little children, my husband stayed behind with other able young men to defend and protect their properties from being burnt down with the foodstuff. He was gunned down by the herdsmen and I lost him.”

One year after the tragic incident, coupled with persistent attacks, fewer men have returned to the village. “I returned so that other women and farmers would be encouraged to do same. We can’t desert our ancestral homes simply because we have been attacked. Hunger will kill us because a good number of the Tiv farmers are not going to the farms now. Many of our women have lost their husbands, because the men, the breadwinners, were massacred; our children cannot go to school, we have lost many of them without even graveyards. Most of the widows do not know where to start from since their return,” Abunde lamented.

She called on the government to intervene, to ameliorate their plight, stressing that the human carnage and corpses left in the wake of the several brutal attacks have contaminated drinking water sources and the fear of an outbreak of cholera looms. She added that farming equipments were destroyed. In the few villages that survived the attacks, people are starving because most of the areas are not safe yet people to go the farms alone. It will take our communities a long time to recover from this traumatic experience.

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