Like none before it, the killing of the people of Guma and Logo communities in Benue State by marauding herdsmen is an extremely sad development, writes George Okoh
Last Thursday in Benue State was a day of grief, anguish, hopelessness and helplessness as families of the 73 people killed in Guma and Logo Local Government Areas of the state by suspected Fulani herdsmen were laid to rest in an emotion-laden ceremony organised by the Benue State government. People of different classes and status, who were at the Ibrahim Babangida Square, venue of the memorial service, mostly wore black as a sign of mourning, grieving with the bereaved.
The event became charged, when the corpses of victims of penultimate Saturday’s attacks were brought in open truck loaders. As the requiem, the grieving families cried uncontrollably, reflecting on how their loved ones were slaughtered in cold blood by the armed herdsmen.
One of the survivors, Akaatenger Azinga, whose wife was killed, said he was in his house sleeping with his wife when t
he attackers came and knocked on his door and his wife went to open it, only for her to be captured and slaughtered by the attackers.
“I heard my wife scream because they came in the dead of the night and when I went to try and rescue my wife, I discovered that they had slaughtered her. The next thing, they started chasing me with machetes but I escaped narrowly to a nearby bush,” he said.
Governor Samuel Ortom said never again would the herdsmen kill the people of Benue, stating that the herdsmen had failed woefully if they thought that by killing innocent citizens, his administration would be forced to repeal the law on Anti-open Grazing Prohibition, insisting that the federal government must arrest the leaders of the Miyetti Allah, Kautal Hore, a faction of the main cattle dealers’ association.
He maintained that since the state does not have adequate land for farmers, there was insufficient land for colonies that map out grazing routes.
The Silent Night…
The persistent crisis between the Hausa Fulani herdsmen and their host native Tiv community, took a disturbing dimension on New Year’s Day, when a group of Fulani herdsmen stormed some communities in Guma and Logo Local Government Areas of Benue State, killing scores of people with mindless dispositions.
The killer herders brought a sorrowful end to about 73 unarmed locals, who were still celebrating the cross-over night. A survivor of the gruesome attack, Terna Acka, said the invaders came into Logo council area at about 10 am, shooting sporadically as worshippers were coming out of churches in Ayilamo, Turan and Gaambe-tiev areas of the local government.
In his account, he claimed several persons were killed while many are still missing and several houses and property destroyed in the process.
Holding back tears, he also narrated how three members of the newly constituted Livestock Guards set up by Governor Samuel Ortom for the implementation of Anti-open Grazing Law were murdered in cold blood.
On the same day while the attack was going on in Logo, another group of herders in their hundreds invaded Akor, Umenger and Tomatar in Guma council area, country home of Governor Samuel Ortom, killing and maiming any living object in sight. They left in their wake over twenty dead persons in a very gory state.
This killing is coming weeks after a similar attack took place in Ado and Otukpo local government areas of the state, leaving over six dead and several homeless with no source of livelihood. Houses, huts and food storage bans were also destroyed by the invaders.
Worst hit by the carnage were women and children, most of whom had taken shelter at nearby forests and bushes. The invaders, who were suspected to be Fulani mercenaries, matched from Nasarawa and Taraba border villages to take on their victims without any resistance from the native Tiv.
Another victim, Francis Akile, who claimed to have lost his younger brother in the attack, said tension was building up before the attack as the herders in large numbers and their cattle were seen moving around and afraid to enter their communities due to the Benue State anti-open grazing bill that was recently signed into law by the state government.
“They have been lurking around while threatening us that they would come in and graze whether we like it or not but surprising to us without any provocation, they came in on Sunday night and macheted people, killing as many people.”
When contacted on the situation, the member representing Makurdi, Guma in the House of Representatives, Mr. Dickson Tarkighir, regretted that youths, women and children were hacked down with machetes by the rampaging herdsmen, who also destroyed farm yields and seedlings of the farming populace.
“The situation is really pathetic because most of the affected people, apart from being displaced, can hardly feed themselves”, he said, adding that he was still in shock over the attack, which he described as barbaric, inhuman and sad.
“We were in the New Year mood and celebrating a bumper harvest of last year, when these marauding evil mercenaries came in and killed us en mass even as we have been relatively safe due to enforcement of the anti-open grazing law”
He called on the Fulani herdsmen to respect the laws of the land, adding that the anti-open grazing law was not targeting anybody but was done to protect both the herders and farmers in the state. He therefore called on the federal government to immediately bring succour to the communities affected.
“As you can see, this year’s farming season will be greatly affected and may even lead to famine as people in our farming community are leaving en mass out of fear of further attack.”
Meanwhile, some of the surviving victims of the invasion are yet to overcome the shock of the nightmare.
Uja James of Ayilamo village, who lost his cousins in the crisis, said life would amount to nothing if the perpetrators of the crime were not brought to justice. He recounted that the aggressors matched into the village from neigbouring Nasarawa State, armed with guns and machetes with which they killed.
“It was around 3am, when we were woken from sleep by heavy foot match and shouting in the neighborhood and when most of us came out of our houses we discovered that the Fulani herdsmen had taken over our entire community burning and killing anything in sight. Our houses, huts, farm seedling, food and economic trees were all destroyed in one fell swoop.
“In the midst of that confusion, one was left with no other option but to run for safety. It was in this confusion that they killed my cousins,” he said, adding that the slain members of his family were butchered and dismembered by the mercenaries, who also ensured that all his farm produce and household items were not spared.
“What they have done to our community is highly condemnable, because we could not imagine what prompted the provocation and resort to violent attacks and killing of women and children in such a manner.”
Benue Governor Ortom while taking an on-the-spot assessment on the level of casualty at the Benue State Teaching Hospital Mortuary, where the corpses of the deceased were deposited expressed shock at the number of persons murdered.
“What I have seen here is far beyond the report we received. Several innocent people have been killed. Women and children murdered with their throat slit open. Many people are still missing while several houses have been destroyed. The whole of Guma and Logo have been turned into desolate lands. The security agencies in this country are aware of this because warnings were given out and this seems to be a tip of the iceberg,” the governor fumed.
He frowned at the lukewarm manner the security agencies and the federal government have so far handled the issue and called on President Muhammadu Buhari to rise up and give his people protection to show that they are also citizens of this country.
“We have told our people to be law-abiding but there is a limit the people can go. This is not fair and right and we cannot accept it,” Ortom said.
While the survivors are still recuperating, anger pervaded Makurdi town as the people staged a protest against government’s alleged insensitivity to the attacks. The protester carried placards and called on President Mohammadu Buhari to resign from office over his failure to provide adequate security for the state.
The entire Makurdi metropolis and adjoining towns were locked down in protest against the killings by suspected Fulani herders. The inaction of the federal authority and its security agencies to take proactive action to stem the needless killings was also questioned.
They however blocked the entrance point to the state around the North Bank Bridge, Yagba village, Wurukun and Apir, where they had confrontation with security operatives for hours. The protesters, mostly youths pelted security men with stones. Some cars were burnt down in the process.
Ortom, who went to the scene of the protest, was turned back by his security attaché, when the irate youths refused to listen to his appeal for calm insisting that president Buhari must come and address them.
But the governor sued for calm and called on residents of the state not to take laws into their hands but abide by the law. He disclosed that more casualties from the attacks were still being brought to Makurdi, even as he confirmed that the carnage had been reported to the president.
“I have reported the matter to the president and we are expecting action. Some of the people we have evidence against are the leaders of Miyetti Allah who, have been threatening the state. We are calling on the president to arrest them immediately,” saying “If not, they are saying Benue is not part of Nigeria”