Suspected armed herders continue to unleash terror in Benue State turning the agrarian state into a killing field, JOHN CHARLES writes
Within the past three and half months, from March to June 12th, 2022, Benue State has been turned into a free killing field with no fewer than ten cases of attacks confirmed by authorities in the state which resulted in the death of 92 people.
The unabated attacks and killings of innocent citizens, particularly during this wet season in the state by herders, have defeated the earlier beliefs that herders are moving southward (as a fallout of climate change) to coastal land to feed their cattle and then back northward.
Investigation shows that most of the attacks and killings by the gun-wielding herdsmen were unprovoked but this has no doubt justified the perception of people of the state that the main reason for constant herders’ invasion of Benue valley is to occupy and take over the state.
Benue State, the food basket of the nation, is gradually losing its status due to the incessant attacks and killings of innocent people and massive destruction of properties by suspected marauding herders.
Among the reported 92 people murdered by suspected herders were a traditional ruler in Logo; two personnel of Nigeria Security and Civil Defense Corps who were enforcing the anti-open grazing law of the state at Adaka, Makurdi; a Deeper Life pastor in Guma; while property worth several millions of naira were also destroyed.
In March this year, four deadly attacks were reported in the state with 20 casualties. Guma, the local government of the State Governor, Samuel Ortom, recorded 17 deaths while Gwer West had three.
The month of April recorded the worst incident as 50 people were confirmed dead in three different attacks that rocked Tarka, the local government of the former governor of the state and now Minister of Special Duties and Intergovernmental Affairs, Senator George Akume, where 15 people were killed.
Also the local government of the erstwhile governor of the state, Senator Gabriel Suswam, Logo, was not spared as four people were killed in the month. Ortom’s council, Guma, also had nine casualties; Gwer West lost twelve people and Makurdi, the state capital, had its bitter pill from the hands of the marauders with the death of two personnel of the Nigeria Security and Civil Defense Corps.
There was a sort of relief in May as only five people were killed in the only attack carried out in Guma, while a couple was also killed at Ikyangwa Tombard near Ayilamo on June 7, followed by the latest attack that occurred on Democracy Day (June 12) at Igama and Effeche communities in the Edumoga area of Okpokwu Local Government Area of the state.
Incidentally, the northern part of the state, that is, the North-East and North-West senatorial districts had been the worst hit by the killing spree by suspected marauding herders. The southern part which is known as Zone C, Idoma kingdom occasionally had a bit of the attack, particularly with Agatu Local Government Area of the state being the hardest hit.
This is the second time herders would be launching deadly attacks on the Okpokwu Local Government Area of Benue South senatorial district. In 2018, 26 persons were killed at Omusu village, Ojigo Edumoga area of the council.
Okpokwu council parades eminent personalities in politics and the entertainment industry, among them are a former Senate President, Ameh Ebute; immediate past Minister of Interior, now senator, Comrade Abba Moro; Tuface Idibia and a host of others.
The attack on Democracy Day at Igama and Effeche communities in Okpokwu, according to eyewitnesses, happened around 7 am, the time the villagers were preparing for morning mass, being a Sunday.
“They came in their numbers around 7:00 in the morning, many of us were preparing for Sunday service. What heralded their arrival was the sporadic shooting that rented the air. It was like a movie, everybody was confused but what amazed me was that they did not focus on some sections of people like children, women and elderly people,” Madam Ogwuche, an indigene of Igama community, narrated to our correspondent.
Corroborating this, the chairman of Okpokwu Local Government, Mrs Amina Audu, said the attackers of Igama and Effeche communities were over 200 in number.
She said, “We had nine corpses on Sunday while we received six more on Monday. The killers destroyed all the buildings in the Igama community. No structure is standing there as I’m talking to you. They also moved to Effeche village but no life was lost there.”
The LG chairman said on Friday that four suspects who were herders were rounded up by security men at a neighbouring Ogbadibo Local Government Area of the state.
“Four suspects have been arrested by security men around Ogbadibo Local Government on Tuesday. They were arrested with arms,” Audu said.
Police Public Relations Officer, SP Catherine Anene, also confirmed the arrest of four suspects, adding that one of the suspects died of injury sustained during a gun duel with security men.
She said, “Police teams deployed to the area in collaboration with other security agents have been on cordon and search operations within the forest.
“On June 15, 2022, at about 05:00hrs, the attackers who were trapped in the bush engaged the police in a gun duel that led to the arrest of the following suspects in their hideout; Umar Nuhu, Dauda Alhaji, Musa Dako and Umaru Alhaji Sale.
“One of the suspects, Musa Dako, sustained injuries and was admitted at St. Mary’s Hospital, Okpoga for treatment where he eventually gave up the ghost and the corpse was deposited at the same hospital.
“Three other suspects are in custody for further investigation.”
Reacting, the leader of the three socio-cultural groups in Benue State, Iorbee Ihagh, a retired Comptroller of Prison, said that the marauding herders had an agenda which was different from the traditional movement of feeding their cattle but to take over the state and the country, adding that the herders were only using Benue to experiment their agenda.
Ihagh, noted that with the killings and other social vices that had bedevilled the country, Nigeria, according to him, is pregnant and expressed deep concern about what it would deliver.
He said, “The plan of the Fulani is to take over Benue state and the whole country, Initially, people thought it was only Benue but they only used Benue to experiment. That was the reason our governor, Samuel Ortom, insisted and was telling the President, Major General Muhammad Buhari (retd.), of his agenda.
“Remember the present administration has been coming up with a series of plans such as the Water Resources Bill, RUGA, National Livestock Plan and cattle colony. All are planned to grab lands across the country.
“Usually, herders come during the dry season to look for grass to feed their cows and return during the rainy season but now they don’t go back. In Benue today, herders have taken over about 13 local governments’ land.
“For instance, Moon ward in Kwade where I come from, Fulani have taken over the place since six years ago. It is Buhari that brought them. Their intention is to stay and take over our land and I have been saying over time that the president was voted in to protect lives and property but if he cannot do this let him throw in the towel or Nigerians should react by protesting across the country.
Ihagh also lamented that Nigerians were too patient, saying, “There was a time in a country that people trooped out in protest against the rising in cost of living and the government had to do something about it. But here in Nigeria, we are too patient, especially, Christians, look at how Deborah was killed in Sokoto, can anyone do that to another religion and get away with it?
“Every day, we pray for several hours without action; it will not work. Look at the outcome of party primaries, particularly, PDP, we wanted the presidency to be zoned to the South but they have brought another Fulani man.
“Fulani say they own Nigeria; they have even made Hausa their slaves. There are so many questions we should ask ourselves. Why are all the service chiefs Fulani? Why did they kill Ibrahim Attahiru, former Chief of Army Staff, who died in a plane crash?
The leader of the three socio-cultural groups in Benue State, Mdzough U Tiv Worldwide, Ochetoha K’ Idoma and Omi Ny’ Igede said one of the effects of the unabating attacks on innocent people of the state was an invitation to famine because farmers had been driven away from their ancestral homes and land were taken over by herdsmen while in other areas, the fear of herdsmen had driven many from going to the farm.
In his own reaction, Benue State Governor, Samuel Ortom, who condemned the last Sunday killing at Igama community in Okpokwu Local Government area of the state, described it as ‘barbaric’ and the murderers as ‘cowards and criminals who must be fished out and prosecuted forthwith.’
He further said, “When I started shouting about the menace of killer herdsmen in my state, many people thought I was playing to the gallery. Gradually, this has spread to all other parts of the country because the Federal Government has refused to act appropriately and decisively against them.
“This is the reason why they have continued with impunity. It has clearly shown that the killing of these innocent farmers in Edumoga, Okpokwu Local Government is yet another barbaric act by Fulani herdsmen. They must not go unpunished.”
The governor said the peaceful attitude of Benue people who accommodates others should not be taken for granted and added that the law must take its course to apprehend the criminal elements no matter how long it took. He urged the people to remain law-abiding.