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Fulani Islamist Terrorists torch strategic bridge linking attacked Benue Communities

Video of the burning bridge 25 MILES west of Makurdi, state capital of Benue State, as captured by a security personnel and sent to Truth Nigeria. The lush vegetation of palm and avocado trees seen on the video illustrate Benue’s rich and productive soil highly prized by land grabbers.

By Steven Kefas

(Makurdi) The wooden bridge connecting the agrarian communities of Ijaha, Adija and Ugbobi, 25 miles west of the capital of Makurdi in Benue state, once stood as a vital lifeline, allowing the flow of people, goods and security forces.

But now, its charred remnants serve as a haunting symbol of the escalating violence that has engulfed the food basket of the nation.

The bridge – crossing the River Ochekwu, is in Ugbokpo Ward of Apa County (LGA) – described by security personnel as “strategic “  It was burned down March 26, 2024 by dozens of Fulani Islamist militants that the villagers claimed to have sighted alongside their herds of cattle.

“The bridge has been burnt down,” said Felix Adah, a local policeman. Frantic efforts to extinguish the flames proved futile. “It was the shortest route we could use to move security teams into most of the affected communities,” Adah said to TruthNigeria.

Commercially important minerals and soil the focus of population displacements?

The destruction of this crucial bridge was no mere act of arson but a calculated stratagem by the militant Fulani herdsmen who have been waging a relentless campaign of terror against the local farming communities, according to local sources who spoke to TruthNigeria. By crippling this key infrastructure, they aimed to hamper the movement of security forces and render villages even more vulnerable to their deadly attacks. Farming communities in Ijaha, Adija and Ugbobi have been under sustained attacks by Fulani herdsmen militias since January 2024, according to TruthNigeria reports.

The three communities span mineral-rich counties (known in Nigeria as Local Governance Areas), of Agatu, Apa and Gwer West. Agatu is the mining venue for  Limestone and Kaolin. Apa has proven deposits of Limestone, Kaolin and Glass Sand (see map below). Gwer West has deposits of Limestone, Barytes and Coal. All three counties are covered in lush Savanah forest and pastureland, atop some of the most productive soils in Africa. All three counties have become killing fields for Fulani Islamist massacres since the beginning of 2024.

The ramifications of this sabotage were swift and devastating. The sleepy village of Ugbobi suffered a horrific massacre, on March 21,  its once-peaceful streets transformed into a nightmarish tableau of bloodshed and carnage. Twenty-one innocent lives were extinguished in a single, brutal onslaught even though the Nigerian media reported that only 15 persons were killed.

“There is a strong suspicion that the burned bridge may not have only allowed for the massacre in Ugbobi but was a strategy to force security operatives to change strategy,” Adah said. “It seems they want us to take the longer route, which appears to my eyes as a road with many spots for easy ambush.”

Police ambushed during inspections

A soldier speaks to traumatized women in Ugbobi, after they narrowly escaped the March 26 attack. Photo credit, Zariyi Yusuf
A soldier speaks to traumatized women in Ugbobi, after they narrowly escaped the March 26 attack. Photo credit, Zariyi Yusuf

His fears were confirmed in a heartbeat. As soldiers and local vigilantes attempted to navigate the treacherous alternate path to rescue survivors and transport those who had fled into the forests, they found themselves ensnared in a deadly ambush laid by the Fulani fighters.

“We escaped one attempt due to the swift action of the security operatives,”  Adah recalled, his voice tinged with a mixture of relief and simmering rage.

In the wake of these attacks, entire communities have been left utterly desolate, their residents forced to abandon their homes and livelihoods in a desperate bid for survival. The once-vibrant town of Ikobi, a farming hub renowned for its bountiful harvests, now lies eerily silent, its streets empty, its fields untended.

A community leader who gave his name as Elder Ezekiel Aliya told TruthNigeria that 90 percent of the communities are now deserted, whereas the 10 percent still in the area simply lack resources to flee.

“Best as I could observe, the once vibrant community of Ikobi is over 90 percent deserted,” lamented Aliya, his voice heavy with sorrow. “I actually wonder how that could not only happen in those communities but go silently even though they are a good voting block that voted representatives for the local, state and federal levels.”

The attacks, though underreported, continue unabated, even though local people known the motivation: repel local people with the Fulani cattle-herding ethnicity.  The Fulani militants make sure those who depart leave for good: they leave behind scouts to monitor any attempt by the displaced villagers to return and reclaim their possessions, according to Aliya.

“They roam almost freely and attack any community in the Local Government,” said a shopkeeper, John Jato, his voice laced with trepidation. “Even as we speak, they can attack any part of the Local Government Area.”

Barely 12 hours after this chilling confession, an ambush was sprung upon a group of community members who had ventured forth in a desperate attempt to locate relatives stranded in the forests since the initial onslaught.

The presence of a handful of security forces, though tangible, appears woefully inadequate to stem the rising tide of violence. Outnumbered and outmaneuvered, their efforts are continually hampered by the scorched-earth tactics of the armed Fulani fighters, who are known to be fierce Islamists, according to Ijaha residents who spoke to TruthNigeria.

Tragically, the very elected officials entrusted with protecting their constituents seem alarmingly detached from the plight unfolding in the ravaged communities they claim to represent. As the death toll mounts, and the humanitarian crisis deepens, their voices stay muted, their actions ineffectual.

In the wake of this unfolding tragedy, the once-fertile fields that sustained entire communities now lie fallow, their promise of abundance replaced by the specter of hunger and deprivation. The vibrant tapestry of life that once defined these villages has unraveled under the relentless onslaught of terror.

Despite an air of despair, a flicker of resilience endures. The displaced cling to the hope of returning, of reclaiming their lands and rebuilding their shattered lives. But for that hope to be realized, the world must bear witness to their plight, and those entrusted with power must finally act to stem the tide of violence that threatens to consume all in its path.

For the people of Benue state, the road ahead is long and treacherous, fraught with peril and uncertainty. But their indomitable spirit, forged in the crucible of adversity, remains unbroken. They are survivors, united in their determination to rise from the ashes and reclaim the promise of a future untainted by fear and oppression.

Steven Kefas is a conflict reporter for TruthNigeria in the Middle Belt of Nigeria

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