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Attacks, Killings: Is Benue Under Siege?

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For over two weeks, Benue State has been under siege as herdsmen terrorists launched series of attacks against helpless residents in various parts of the once peaceful state.

Before the latest horrifying attacks on innocent residents by the suspected herdsmen, the state’s acting Governor, Engr Benson Abounu, had raised fresh alarm that security reports made available to him indicated that a large number of hired armed mercenaries had occupied Benue valley planning to launch simultaneous attacks on five major communities in the state.

Abounu averred that according to the reports he received, mercenaries have already occupied five different locations and communities along the riverine areas of the state, waiting to launch possible attacks.

The acting governor who disclosed this shortly after he came out of the State Executive Council (SEC) meeting held at the Government House, Makurdi, called for the federal government’s urgent intervention to safeguard the lives and property of Benue people and other people residing in the state.

He said “we have received security reports which indicated that large numbers of hired armed mercenaries have moved into the Benue Valley and had mapped out five different locations in Benue state to launch possible attacks on five major communities in the state simultaneously.

“This development is absolutely worrisome and unhealthy to our state and we condemn it in totality.

“The reports further showed that the hired mercenaries would be carrying out their nefarious attacks on those communities occupied by people around the riverine  areas of the state.

“Since we got this report, we have never rested on our oars. I have been meeting with all the  heads of security formations in the state for us to find ways of stopping these people “, Abounu stressed.

He appealed to the federal government, to as a matter of urgency, deploy more security personnel to the state to be mounted in and around all the border communities so as to protect those living along the banks of River Benue.

Shortly after the acting governor raised the alarm, a 65-year-old man and a 24-year-old graduate were burnt to ashes, while 300 houses set on fire in phase 2, Naka, Gwer- west Local Government Area of the state by suspected armed military men who were said to be searching for their missing colleague.

Confirming the incident, the chairman of the local government, Francis Ayaga, disclosed that the Nigerian Army in the early hours of Thursday arrived Gwer in six hilux trucks, with inscription, 72 Special Forces Battalion.

According to him nobody was informed about the arrival of the soldiers, even though about 10  communities had been under continuous attack by the marauding herdsmen for the past two months, that quantum of military personnel were not sent to safeguard the area.

Before then, he said there was a rumour that a soldier was allegedly killed by armed bandit in Naka town.

“We were investigating the issue alongside other security personnel and I was in constant touch with the CO at the 72 battalion, we even made some arrests, only for the Army to wake up load six trucks of Army to go and raze Naka town, the headquarters of Gwer West local government. Everyone was afraid as residents continued to flee their homes for safety as they saw the Army in that large number, all of a sudden, the said Army started setting houses ablaze, where two people lost their lives in the inferno, we lost everything,” he said.

He continued “a 65 -year -old man who was unable to run and could not be carried by his family members was burnt inside the house, while a 24 year- old university graduate in the process of running was engulfed by the flames where he fainted and died instantly. Several others are in the hospital including a retired civil servant who fainted because he lost everything he toiled for, how can the Nigerian Army who we think will protect us are turning against us destroying our properties, instead of going after these herdsmen that are killing us alongside security agents, “he lamented.

Confirming  the incidence, the assistant director, Army Public Relations, 707 SF Brigade, Major Olabisi Ayeni, said on April 18, 2018, at about 3:30 pm, troops of the 707 SF brigade deployed to  Naka in Gwer West Local Government observed the absence of PTE Danlami Gambo from his duty post, but his riffle was there.

He said “It was then gathered that the soldier was last seen receiving a phone call, but left in search of a clear network and did not return. Troops immediately conducted patrols to search for him at about 6:10pm the troops observe blood stains along a foothold path leading to a newly dug grave”.

According to Ayeni, the troops immediately dug the grave and the remains of the missing soldier was found brutally butchered and was later exhumed and deposited at the Nigerian Air Force mortuary, Makurdi.

Ayeni explained that already preliminary investigations revealed that some locals were responsible for the killing of the soldier which has led to the arrest of some suspects.

He disclosed that a team has dispatched from the unit to the scene of the incident, adding that investigation is on going to unravel the circumstances that led to the death of the soldier.

Also, Tuesday, April 24, 2018 was another black day for the people of Benue as two Catholic priests Rev. Fathers Joseph Gor and Felix Tyolaha, alongside 35 worshippers  who were worshipping at St. Ignatius Quasi Parish Ukpor-Mbalom Gwer local government area of the state were gruesomely murdered by suspected herdsmen during the early morning mass.

Director of Communications, Catholic Diocese of Makurdi, Rev. Fr. Moses Iorapuu, who confirmed the deaths of the two Reverend Fathers said the herdsmen in their usual style attacked the church when the priests were celebrating morning mass, killed them and other parishioners who came for morning prayers, burnt down homes and destroyed food items.

According to him, the police seem to know nothing of the attacks which have been going on in villages within Benue State since the Anti-Open Grazing Law came into effect last year.

“Many people are asking why the International community has remained silent over the massacre of Benue citizens.The answer is simple: It has been the goal of the Jihadists to conquer Benue and Tiv people who resisted their advance into the middle belt and the Eastern part of Nigeria since 1804.

“The people of Eastern Nigeria therefore have little sympathy for Benue people who fought on the side of Nigeria during the 1967 civil war.The Muslim north is enjoying a sweet revenge overshadowed by an insensitive regime,”he stated.

According to him, there were over 180, 000 internally displaced persons before the Naka invasion and surely with the current situation in Mbalom, Benue will be flooded with thousands more.

“What cannot be said at this point is the consequences of the death of missionaries in the silent killings that have been ignored  by the government for over a year.

“The Catholic Diocese of Makurdi, which is one of the largest Dioceses in Nigeria, has been active in providing relief materials including education and skills acquisition lessons to internally displaced persons. To go for the priests means total destruction of everything we stand for and believe in, as a people”.

He appealed to the federal government, to as a matter of urgency, deploy more security personnel to the state to be mounted in and around all the border communities so as to protect those living along the banks of River Benue.

Reacting to the attack on the church in the early hours of Tuesday, Benue State acting Governor, Engr Benson Abounu said that the “persistent killings in the state are beyond the farmers/ herdsmen crises and called on the federal government to treat the attackers as insurgent just as it is done in the North East of the country.”

Abounu who described the attack as barbaric and senseless said, the killings  have now taken a new dimension.

“This is another black day for the people of the state, the attackers who they said are over 30 targeted a burial ceremony and the church in the area. This, I can say is a calculated genocide on the people of the state, and what is happening now is a clear demonstration that the state is under siege because the state is being attacked in all corners, this is unacceptable.

“It is a calculated attack, well planned and well executed and I am directing the security agencies not to take this as the usual herdsmen/ farmer crises, let them go after the attackers and apprehend and interrogate them to know the root cause of the crises” .

According to him the bodies of 19 worshippers including two catholic priests have already been recovered.

Confirming the killings, the state’s  commissioner of police, Fatai Owoseni, said the attackers who came around 5:30am targeted a burial ceremony where the priests were to officiate a mass, shooting at anyone in sight.

He disclosed that the command has deployed enough security personnel in the area alongside soldiers to go after the attackers and ensure their arrest,  urging the members of the community to assist the security agencies in the area with useful information to help them work better.

“After doing a wider coverage of the general area, we also went to the church where this incident happened. That was where we were told on the spot that these attackers came by 5am, went into the church and to the venue of a burial that was going on where the priest was supposed to officiate.

“We will intensify our search to go after these people wherever they may hide. We will also work on the information from the members of public there because we believe that they must have been hanging around the place to have committed the act at 5am. So, we still believe that they they would be somewhere around there,” he added.

Our correspondent gathered that the latest  attack came barely four days after the murder of 10 persons by herdsmen in Guma Local Government Area and the destruction of 300 houses by men suspected to be military personnel in Naka, Gwer West Local Government Area of the state.



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