Hon. Ibellogo Tor- Tyokaa, is the Executive Chairman of Ukum LGA of Benue State. In this interaction with select journalists, he speaks on the recent crisis that rocked his area, which led to the loss many lives and property. AUSTINE TULE was there for The AUTHORITY Excerpts
Recently, your local government was engulfed in a crisis that led to loss of several lives and property, Can we get the background as to could have inflated that mayhem
The whole thing started like a joke, a Tiv young man and his Jukun friend had issues at Kente market in Taraba state on the 31st of March. However, the security agencies who were invited came in swiftly and the situation was arrested. Following the disagreements, the Tiv man was arrested and detained in Kente and we also learnt that the Jukun man was also detained in Gbeji, and when it became clear that these arrests were creating tension from both the Tiv and the Jukun divides, both the Divisional Police Officer at Gbeji and the Army Captain overseeing the security operations in Kente acting on advise decided that they be released in order to pave way for peace and that was done, believing that the crisis had been resolved.
However that was not to be because by 10 pm of the same day, the Jukun youths went back, mobilized and attacked Tse -Atsenga, a border town between Benue and Taraba states and raised down the whole place, killing an aged woman in the process.
I made a call to the chairman of Wukari Local government and we both met in Kente the next day, where we all agreed to go back home and calm our people. I went back and did exactly as the terms of our meeting demanded, but that did not stop the situation because the Jukun went back and mobilized again and attacked all Tiv settlements in Wukari and border towns here in Benue.
And so to me, this was not just about what happened in the market between those two friends, I want to strongly believe that there may have been a plan by the Jukun to attack the Tiv people and this issue that started like a joke only provided the opportunity for them to actualize their plan.
So, how many persons could you confirm lost their lives during the crisis?
Well, I might not be able to tell you exactly the number of persons who have lost their lives because not only the Tiv people in Benue that were killed but I can confirm on good authority that over a hundred people have been killed. In all the villages attacked, people were killed, over ten villages were sacked and in all this places, people were massacred in cold blood by this Jukun militia with property valued in hundreds of millions also destroyed.
What effort is your council making towards ending the crisis?
Like I told you, I was the person who initiated the peace process, I invited the Chairman of Wukari Local Government to discuss with him on the need for us to seek for an amicable resolution to the crisis and we met, the result been the first peace pact that was agreed upon that we should go back and address our people on the need for them to halt the attacks and embrace dialogue. I also reported the matter to the Special Adviser to the Governor of Benue State on Security who called his counterpart in Taraba State and we met with the Aku Uka, on the 3rd of April, we went back on the 5th with my First Class Chief, the Tor Sankera HRH Abu King Shuluwa, and during that meeting I presented a Jukun girl who was held hostage by our youths to Chief Shuluwa, who in turn handed her over to the Aku Uka, all in efforts aimed at ensuring peace but unfortunately, this peace efforts have not been reciprocated by our Jukun brothers.
Even with these efforts of yours, there seems to be no peace at sight, So what would be your next action?
As a step further, the Benue state government and that of Taraba under the leaderships of the Tor Tiv and Aku Uka alongside the two deputy governors and other stakeholders met in Wukari with the Aku Uka (Paramount Ruler of the Jukuns) where a ten man peace committee comprising Stakeholders from Benue and Taraba states was set up with all parties agreeing to cease- hostilities. The committee has since started work and we believe that its findings and recommendations will go a long way in bringing the crisis to an end.
Otherwise, even as we speak, there are still pockets of attacks from the Juku militia at Igbongom Ayu and Iorshar villages.
Can you confirm the reports that Fulani herdsmen are aiding the Jukun in the attacks on the Tiv villages?
That is very true, the Fulanis have been looking for an opportunity to invade Benue with their cattle and when the crisis came, it provided the opportunity for them to invade our villages. Let me give you an instance, when we were going round to access the level of damage, myself and the Deputy Commissioner of Police, we saw some herdsmen with their cattle running away on seen our convoy and he asked me why the herdsmen were running on sighting us, and I told him those were Fulanis who came in with their cattle from Taraba state to feast on the crops the Tiv from Benue left behind and fled, owing to the crisis, and on seen us they were running back to Taraba, and himself was shocked. It is not an insinuation, the Fulanis are actively aiding the Jukun so they can also have our land open for their cattle to graze on.
The chairman of Wukari local government has been accused in some quarters of not taking any action to persuade his Jukun people from stopping the attack of the Tiv. How trus is this allegation?
Yes, I want to agree with that. The very day I invited him on a see it yourself mission , he came along with Jukun militia, immediately after Igbongom, the militia jumped into the bush and when we got to Kente, they came and surrounded the whole place and were shooting sporadically , I was there with my Traditional Ruler, The Mue Ter Ucha (Kindred Head of Ucha), Chief Utongu Nyagba, who was not even able to come out of the vehicle because of the shock and I asked him if we were going there for peace or violence and I insisted that I was not coming out of my car, but he assured that since I was with him I should not worry. When I asked him if he knew those that were shooting, he said no but he kept assuring me that I was safe since I was with him and to me , that was worrisome because I did not understand the rationale behind his coming to a peace meeting with armed militia.
Another instance was when I went to Wukari, I went to his village, where I rescued about 31 persons that were been held hostage in his house, and right there in his house I could spot those youth and so, I have every reason and evidence some of which I can’t state here to believe that the Chairman of Wukari Local Government is one of those behind the crisis.