â€¢ Death toll from latest attack rises to 29, Ortom demands arrest of killers
George Okoh in Makurdi
For the second time in two months, the Benue State Government has said that it will organise a mass burial on Friday for the latest victims of suspected herdsmen attacks in the state.
Governor Samuel Ortom, who spoke on plans by the Benue State Government to hold the mass burial for the 29 persons who were massacred Monday evening in an attack on Omusu village in Okpokwu Local Government Area of the state, also demanded the arrest and prosecution of the suspected herdsmen.
Fourteen of the victims were women while two were children.
The attackers had invaded the community after they reportedly lost their cattle and two herdsmen.
Last January, the state buried 73 persons who were allegedly killed by herdsmen in two local government areas.
The governor, who was adamant that the killers must be apprehended, made the call during an assessment tour of Omusu when he visited the village Tuesday to ascertain the level of destruction and provide immediate relief for the displaced.
Ortom described the attack as unfortunate, saying such barbaric acts were unacceptable in the 21st century.
He reiterated his call for the arrest of the leadership of Miyetti Allah Kautal Hore whom he said were sponsoring the Fulani herdsmen militia and still moving freely in Abuja and giving directives to the mercenaries.
While directing the State Emergency Management Agency (SEMA) to immediately provide relief materials for the displaced persons, Ortom appealed to the community not to embark on reprisals, stressing that the security agencies had been mobilised to forestall further attacks on the community.
The governor visited St. Maryâ€™s Hospital, Okpokwu, where the injured were being treated and proceeded to the general hospital in the town where the bodies of dead victims had been deposited.
The governor had initially announced that 24 were killed in the Monday attack, only to get to the hospital where another three victims had died from their injuries.
Another two bodies were also discovered in the village, bringing the death toll to 29.
Ortom also paid a condolence visit to Mr. Abba Moro, a former interior minister who lost his first wife recently.
He directed that arrangements be made for the mass burial of the victims on Friday.
Moro condemned the killings, just as he called on the federal government to beef up security in the area.
He commended the state government for its proactive measures by visiting the area to console the people.
In his reaction, the Deputy Speaker of the Benue House of Assembly, Hon. Okefe Ejimbi, commended Ortom and security agencies for securing the area, even as he condemned the killing of innocent people.
The state Police Command said trouble started after two herdsmen were declared missing on Monday at about 7.30 a.m.
Some irate youths from Omusu were said to have engaged the herdsmen in a fight, during which some of their cows were rustled.
Subsequently, a peace meeting was convened by the chairman of the local government area, Mr. Olofu Ogwuche, and the head of the Fulani community in the area, while the police were mandated to look for the missing herdsmen.
However, before the peace initiative was concluded, one of the herdsmen was reportedly found dead, resulting in the reprisal later in the day.
Ogwuche, while speaking to reporters, said 29 persons were killed in the incident.
Ogwuche disclosed that 17 corpses were recovered on Monday, 12 Tuesday while 10 were receiving treatment in Enugu and at St. Maryâ€™s and the General Hospital in Okpokwu.
He said other neighbouring villagers from Okana and Okpolikpo had deserted their homes and relocated to Ojapo and other neighbouring communities for safety.
In a statement also, the spokesman of the Police Command in Benue, Mr. Moses Yamu, said the â€œherdsmen surreptitiously went on the rampage, resulting in stabbing to death of 15 persons, mainly women and children, while some houses were set ablazeâ€.
He added that four suspects had so far been arrested in connection with the incident, while security was reinforced in the affected area.
One of the community leaders, Mr. Itodo Ojobo, acknowledged the swift response of the security agencies to their distress call and appealed for assistance to enable family members bury their dead and take care of those being treated in various hospitals.