Finally, gunshots, well coordinated assassinations and murders have given way for the return of peace! Skirmishes and bloody attacks which consumed 12 soldiers, a top traditional ruler and many others came to an end.
Peace has finally prevailed over the bitter war between the neighbouring Tiv-speaking Bonta community in Konshisha and Igede-speaking Ukpute in Oju Local Government Areas of Benue State.
The fierce battle over control of land, which erupted in June 2020, claimed many lives, including 12 military personnel on a peace mission, children, women, a traditional ruler as well as houses, huts, food barns, farmlands and economic trees. The crisis became a challenge that almost defied all efforts by the state government to nip in the bud.
Government had convened meetings of stakeholders from the communities and issued marching orders to political leaders and traditional rulers on both sides to bring the needless crisis to a halt but to no avail. But determined to put an end to the crisis, Governor Samuel Ortom, few days back, summoned leaders of the communities, including political and traditional rulers as well as youths of the areas, to peace meetings. In the event, the death knell of the crisis tearing the war-torn communities apart was sounded.
Present at the peace meetings, which held in Bonta, Ukpute and Aliade, were top government and security personnel, including the federal lawmakers representing the two warring communities. These are Senators Gabriel Suswam and Abba Moro as well as Reps Herman Hembe and Samson Okwu. Hours of matter-of-fact talks were held to reach a truce and a peace agreement.
Addressing the meetings, Governor Ortom cautioned leaders of the communities against stoking the crisis and encouraging the youths to take up arms against each other. He urged the people to cooperate with government to ensure lasting peace in the affected communities, warning that without peace there would be no meaningful development.
“There should be no more hostilities. I enjoin you to embrace peace and dialogue because without it there cannot be meaningful development; that is why we are here to put an end to the crisis today,” he said.
Governor Ortom said his government was already working hard to demarcate the boundary between the two communities and sued for their cooperation. He assured that he would liaise with the police hierarchy to establish a police post at their boundary as requested, but warned against a repeat of the incident in Bonta where army personnel were murdered.
Senators Suswam and Moro re-echoed the need for the people and the youths to give peace a chance, warning that escalating the crisis would not serve any useful purpose. They pleaded with the people to give them the opportunity to permanently end the crisis and ensure peaceful coexistence in the area.
The paramount rulers of the communities, Tor Jechira, Chief Clement Uganden who represented Tor Tiv, and Oche Otukpo-Ohimini, Chief Mike Okochi representing the Och’Idoma commended the peace initiative of the governor; saying with his determination, the two communities would witness peace again.
Speaking on behalf of the youths from the warring communities, Terkula Akaakar, Emmanuel Akpen and Mike Ube, said they had agreed totally to the peace message brought by the governor, but appealed that concrete steps should be taken to amicably resolve the issues. Reacting to the resolutions reached by the parties, President General of Tiv Youth Organization, TYO, Chief Timothy Hembaor, said: “It is a welcome development. We have a lot of issues that are confronting us. It is time we got united and face our common enemies. If we remain divided we will create an in-road for the enemies to come in”.
On his part, the National President of Igede Youth Council, Comrade Andyson Egbodo, thanked Governor Ortom, Senators Moro and Suswam for stepping in to resolve the dispute and lauded them for “the practical steps towards re-establishing peace between Bonta and Ukpute people”.
He added: “I can confidently say that it was a decisive action by Benue State government against a crisis that had lasted a year and three months over a very small piece of land that is not up to half a square kilometre. In fact, the fight was totally unnecessary if you ask me. In the past, stakeholders of the two communities were invited to Makurdi for peace meetings.
“But it is not about stakeholders because those fighting are there in the bushes. And after about seven of such meetings, the governor saw the wisdom to go to the people fighting in the bushes and follow them up.
“I think that is the practical step that should be commended. We are very hopeful that the bold step will bring lasting peace. We pray that as brothers, the Bonta and Ukpute people who have lived together for over 100 years will still continue to live together in peace. Our message to the Tiv youths through their official platform, the Tiv Youth Organisation, TYO, is to continue to preach the message of peace, just like we are doing in our own communities.
“Benue today seems to be the second most terrorised state in Nigeria. We cannot on our own be fighting among ourselves when we have other external forces fighting us. So for us it was a landmark achievement by the state government towards restoring peace between the feuding communities. We hope and pray that the peace accord signed by the two parties is sustained,” he said. (Vanguard)