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Benue killings: Giving hope to displaced school children

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Benue killings: Giving hope to displaced school children

 

It is barely nine months ago since suspected Fulani herdsmen attacked the people of Logo and Guma Local Government Areas, homes of incumbent Governor of Benue State, Samuel Ortom and his predecessor, Dr. Gabriel Suswam.

No fewer than 73 victims of the attack were given mass burial by the present administration.

The armed herders also touched other local government areas where 24 people were gruesomely murdered in a midnight attack in Omusu-Edumoga community as well as Makurdi, Gwer-West, Kwande, Gwer-East, Buruku, Tarka, Ogbadibo, Agatu and a host of others.

Most worrisome is the fact that children, mostly of school age whose future academic pursuits have been frustrated are vulnerable to the attacks. The State Emergency Management Agency (SEMA) indicates that more than 80, 450 children have been trapped in eight IDP camps across the state.

Analysis of the figure put the total number of 47,353 as male while 39,909 are female children. A further breakdown of the figure indicated that the LGEA Primary School camp and the UNHCR Shelter camp, all in Daudu, Guma Local Government Area, house a total number of 10, 871 children, 6, 527 are male while 4,344 are female.

 

The Tse-Ginde camp also in Guma Local Government Area, with a total number of 10, 021 children, 4,468 of them are male while 5,553 are female children.

At the Gbajimba camp, where 9, 393 children are currently taking refuge, 2, 941 are male while 6, 453 are female children.

At Abagena, popularly known as the Agan camp, in the outskirt of Makurdi, the state capital, of the 16, 583 children taking refuge in the gigantic camp 8, 773 are male while 7, 810 are female. According to the figures from SEMA, the Anyiin camp in Logo Local Government Area of the state is playing host to 19, 283 children. Of this number 9, 845 are male while 9, 438 are female.

At the Abeda camp also in Logo Local Government Area, 6, 730 children are currently taking refuge in the camp. Out of this number 1, 677 are male while 3, 688 are female.

The camp at the LGEA Primary School Ugba, in Logo Local Government headquarters houses 7, 569 children.

The male children are 5, 312 while the female are 2, 623. Meanwhile as at March 1, the total number of persons displaced as a result of the lingering crisis stood at 175, 070.

Speaking on the development, the Executive Secretary, Benue State Emergency Management Agency, Mr. Emmanuel Shior, lamented that the state was facing a huge humanitarian crisis that had overwhelmed the state government. “What we have at hand is a huge humanitarian crisis that has already overwhelmed the state government given the financial implication.

 

“Catering for the 175, 070 IDPs caused by the herdsmen crisis and the 10, 940 refugees from Southern Cameroon who are currently taking refuge in Abande and Imande- Agbatse the two camps established in Kwande Local Government Area are obviously a huge challenge that requires urgent help from well meaning organisations, individuals and the international community”, Shior added.

But similarly, health workers have confirmed to New Telegraph that over 120 births and 15 deaths had been recorded in the eight IDP camps in Benue State since the Fulani herdsmen invasion of the state in January this year till date.

Apparently miffed by the plight of children in the camps, the Senate President, Bukola Saraki, who visited the Abagena IDP camp on Sunday, May 27 this year and celebrated Children’s Day with them, assured the displaced children that they “are not alone in the ordeal”.

 

The Senate President, who was accompanied on the visit by the Senators Barnabas Gemade, George Akume, Emmanuel Bwacha and Fatimat Raji-Rasaki, was received by Ortom who led the delegation to the camp.

 

Saraki, who condemned the killings across the country, further noted that government was working towards finding a lasting solution to the problem.

 

While commiserating with the people of Benue over the loss of lives and properties occasioned by incessant attacks by bandits, Saraki reiterated the call of the Senate for increased funding for security agencies to enable them combat violent crimes across the country.

 

Ortom, who has been deeply touched over the pains and plight of the children, had established make-shift classrooms at the various camps and employed teachers to cater for the educational yearnings of the affected children, who have not allowed the situation affect their interest in education.

 

One of the teachers, Ninbei Abeche, from Tokula Community of Guma Local Government Area, had been pursuing his passion in teaching despite his present situation as an Internally Displaced Camps Person resident in Abagena, located in the outskirts of Makurdi, the state capital.

Ninbei and his students have continued their classes in the IDP camps following the takeover of their community by armed herdsmen.

 

During a visit to the Abagena IDP camp which was dominated by children of nursery, primary and/or secondary school age, the children who spoke to New Telegraph lamented life in the squalid environment, saying instead of going home to continue with normal academic work, they were wallowing in the camp.

 

They also lamented the difficulties they were facing at the camp, particularly lack of water, medical facilities and school to attend or teachers to teach them.

They appealed to both the state and Federal Government to find a lasting solution to the herdsmen/farmers crises 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 cam.”

 

“We had just resumed school in our area when the herdsmen came to attack our village. My parents’ property were 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.

Another victim, Vivian Shor, who is a Junior Secondary School One student of RCM-UBE, Kadarko, said that she had just gotten admission to the school but had to abandon her studies and run with her parents to the IDPs’ camp in Daudu in order to secure her life.

 

Concerned about the education of the displaced children, Ortom himself had shown a good example by taking time to teach the pupils in makeshift classrooms at the Internally Displaced Persons camp at Abagena.

He undertook the assignment while inspecting facilities at the Presidential Committee on Flood and Rehabilitation building shortly after it was temporarily handed over to him.

 

The governor thereafter interacted with the pupils and students in JSSI, who were taking lessons in their makeshift classrooms at the time of the visit.

 

He commended the committee for approving the use of the facility to house over 34, 000 IDPs, saying it would have been pretty difficult for the state without the building.

The governor had earlier posed for a snapshot with 12 women who had given birth in the camp and prayed that the children would grow to be useful to the society.

At least, over 50 public primary school structures have been destroyed during the herdsmen’s attacks in the affected areas in the state with more than 20, 000 children forced out of school.

Chairman of the Benue State Universal Basic Education Board, SUBEB, Rev. Philip Tachin, who disclosed this to New Telegraph, during an inspection of ongoing primary school projects constructed under the Benue State government and the Universal Basic Education Commission, UBEC, intervention also said that over 16, 000 of the children were taking refuge in various Internally Displaced Persons, (IDP) camps in the state.

Tachin, who disclosed that 426 projects have been completed while 229 were still under construction and rehabilitation, noted that 79 of the projects have been terminated.

According to him, the board also procured thousands of modern plastic seats, tables, computers and other learning aids using the counterpart funds.

The state government, it could be recalled, had on assumption of office, paid N3.8 billion as counterpart funding to match UBEC’s N3.8 billion and accessed the total of N7.6 billion for the facelift of primary schools.

It is on record that despite complaints of hardship in the camps, the Ortom administration, as well as foreign aid agencies, philanthropic individuals and organisations and corporate bodies have not rested on their oars in ensuring timely supply of assorted relief materials to cushion the suffering of the victims.

While efforts of the President Muhammadu Buhari-led Federal Government in trying to quell the intractable crisis between crop farmers and nomadic herdsmen must be applauded, it is equally the feeling of people of the state especially the displaced victims that it is high time they returned to their various ancestral homes to continue with normal farming activities and for the children to also continue with their normal academic activities bearing in mind that they are leaders of tomorrow who must strive to lay their respective foundations on a solid base that cannot shake.

 

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