By Ciara Linda Ogah
For 23rd March, 2016
In commemoration of the 2016 World Poetry Day and in honour of those killed by Fulani herdsmen in Benue State, the SEVHAGE Literary and Development Initiative, SEVHAGE Publishers in conjunction with the Benue Writers 4 Peace held a reading and candlelight vigil at the George Akume Hall of the Local Government Service Commission, Makurdi on the 23rd of March, 2016.
The day started with a protest gathering organised by the Movement Against Fulani Occupation (#MAFO) at the Cool Off Park in Wurukum. Different people and groups spoke against the killings by herdsmen in various parts of Benue and Nigeria. The highpoint of the event was a dramatization by several old women showing how they were being killed. After the protest gathering, everyone left to prepare for the evening of readings and candlelight recitations for the victims.
As the scheduled time of 5.00pm drew close, Benue writers gathered together over a candle light to put their voices into poems aimed either at the assailants or the victims of the Fulani attacks. The event began with an interactive session introduced by Su’eddie Vershima Agema, the immediate past ANA Chairman and SEVHAGE Team Leader. Writers got the chance to share their thoughts about the massive killings orchestrated by the Fulani Herdsmen. Some of the writers, including Kator Hule-Ingya and Sam Baki, shared their experiences of the attacks in their villages. Slides showing the pictures of the killings, of people lying dead in their farmlands, were projected and left several eyes with tears. After this, the lights were put out. It was in this serene mood that the writers proceeded to light their candles and gather round on one stage to begin the readings.
The writers lit a first candle in honour of the grandmother of Bash Amuneni, a Benue poet, who was kidnapped and found dead.
After this, went on a photo slide of the aftermath of the Fulani attacks where human beings were seen in pieces, farmlands destroyed and innocent blood running like a free flowing stream.
Su’eddie Agema performed the first poem, ‘For the living, we cry at death’ an adaptation of a poem from his collection, Home Equals Holes: Tale of an Exile. The concluding part of the poem was aimed at encouraging the Benue people to stand strong and never to lose all hope.
The next reading was done by Debbie Iorliam performing “What my grandmother told me.” Debbie in this piece recounts nostalgically what life used to be like as told to her by her grandmother before the invasion of evils like the Fulani Herdsmen. Her poem ended tragically with the death of her grandmother by the hand of a Fulani herdsman. Sam Baki read ‘Breaking Point’ from his collection, Euphoria of Sophistry. The end of the poem creates the bleak atmosphere that death ushers us into.
Apkadiaha Godwin read a poem, titled “Untitled blood at Agatu” which creates a picture of life amongst the people in their regular activities before the invasion of the Fulani men which leaves them dishevelled. His poem at first advocates silence from the victims for the sake of the country’s peace but at the end took a different turn of defiance in the event of the Fulani herdsmen consistency and brutality.
Ciara Ogah was next and she did a poem titled “we are not victims”. This poem which started by an outlook on the pretentious nature of the Fulani herdsmen who acted like fellow men and brothers until showing their true colours as brutal animals ended up with a defensive stand of strength and a promise of vengeance.
Jacob Sende then came forward to read two poems corporately titled “Two verses for us and them.”
After this, Ene Odaba came to read a piece titled “at the last moment” from the poetry collection, Home Equal Holes: Tale of an Exile by Sueddie Vershima Agema. She followed this up with a song of inspiration encouraging the victims of the attacks to stand strong and keep on dreaming. Her song was titled “
Kator Hule-Ingya took over from her reading a piece titled “They married forever in peace” a tale of a love couple whose story ended up in death by Fulani men just before they said “I do”, a tragic one indeed.
Aondosoo Labe took the final single piece, performing a poem, ‘A Day in Protest’, full of imagery and pain that brought momentary silence all over.
After some minutes, the writers joined their voices together to sing “Amazing Grace” which was concluded with a piece titled ‘Bring grace to this place’ performed by Su’eddie Agema.
Following this, all the poets/performers came forward to introduce themselves and declare their thoughts, passing their messages of peace in one line.
In concluding the vigil, the BenueWriters4Peace represented by Su’eddie Agema spoke out their stand against the insurgency and asked that the government and everyone take action immediately to ensure that a lasting peace is restored in all parts of Benue and our nation, Nigeria.
After a few more concluding events including messages been written and signatures collected as a sign of solidarity against the killings, the event came to an end at about 10:00pm.
#BenueWriters4Peace Public Statement and Stand Against Insurgency
In commemoration of the 2016 World Poetry Day and as a mark of our stand against the insurgency in Benue state, we take a stand as Benue writers to declare that the Fulani occupation and killings in every part of our state from Agatu to Buruku, Gwer and Guma, among others, is wrong and against the spirit of humanity. We therefore strongly condemn the killings and ask that the insurgency stop. Even as we take our pens to put our thoughts to paper, we also commit ourselves in action to speak against this evil. We shall keep talking, writing, acting and doing all we can till this stops. We call on the government, all stakeholders and the general community to stop the killings in Benue.
As long as we are silent, we remain culpable. As long as the government takes no action, or put up reactions that amount to a fraction of what they ought to do, they remain complicit.
Stop the killings in Agatu! Stop the killings in Buruku! Stop the killings in every part of Benue and our entire nation!
WE shall bleed our pens and bleed our souls even as we mourn because we know every life is worth our stake. Please, STOP THE KILLINGS!
Pictures Courtesy: Su’eddie Vershima Agema and Aondosoo Labe