- Benue House caucus seeks extension to military operation against herdsmen
John Shiklam in Kaduna, Geroge Okoh in Makurdi, Wole Ayodele in Jalingo and James Emejo in Abuja
A total of 23 persons were thursday feared killed in Benue, Taraba and Kaduna States by Fulani herdsmen and bandits respectively.
While 10 persons were killed in Benue State, five others were killed in Taraba State by herdsmen who have been terrorising the state, while a village head and seven five others were killed in Kaduna State by bandits.
The attack in Benue State took place in Mbakyondo, Mbakpa and Sengaev communities in the Agagbe area of Gwer West Local Government Area.
According to an eyewitness, the attackers stormed the three communities in the early hours of yesterday, shooting sporadically and burning down houses in the communities.
â€œThey came in their numbers wielding sophisticated weapons, shooting anything on sight and razing peopleâ€™s houses.
â€œAs we speak, not less than 10 persons may have been killed, most of them were gunned down while fleeing while some were burnt alive in their houses.
â€œScores have been injured while many are also unaccounted for, though there is total confusion and palpable tension in the entire Gwer West council area at the moment.
â€œThe crisis has led to the mass exodus of people, mostly women and children, from the affected communities to Naka, the local government headquarters.
â€œOur fear is that the attackers who were moving unrestrained, may storm Naka because the residents of Naka have also started fleeing their homes. Some are currently moving towards Adoka in Otukpo Local Government Area.
â€œWe may have a huge humanitarian crisis in Naka if nothing is done urgently to stem this problem,â€ the eyewitness said.
When contacted, the state Police Commissioner Mr. Fatai Omoseni, said the situation in Gwer communities was due to panic on the part of the residents who are moving out for fear of reprisal by Fulani herdsmen, after an alleged attack on some herdsmen by some bandits.
He claimed that there were no casualties from the latest attack.
In Tabara, the attack took place at Utile in Donga Local Government Area.
The killing, which took place few hours after herdsmen killed a family of four at Mbiya village in Takum Local Government Area, brought the number of those killed by the gunmen within 24 hours to nine.
A resident of the community, Mr. Aondofa Ianna, who spoke to journalists on phone, said the attackers, numbering over 30, invaded the community in the early hours when people were still sleeping and started shooting sporadically, killing five people in the process.
According to him, â€œThe attackers came in the early hours of today (yesterday) when people were still asleep. The attacks have now spread to Shaakaa village, and we have so far recovered five corpses while people have continued to flee the community.â€
He further disclosed that attacks were still ongoing in the community which may swell the number of casualty, saying the area remains very volatile.
â€œThe casualty figure may rise as shooting is still going on. The areas under attack are still volatile so we could not go to other places for fear of being attacked, and you know the attacks began in the night when the people were still asleep, so, there is every tendency that more bodies would be recovered,â€ he said.
Confirming the attack, Chairman of Donga Local Government Area, Hon. Nashuka Ipeyen, said he was yet to be properly briefed, and promised to provide journalists with a detailed report on the incident as soon as possible.
Efforts to reach the state Police Public Relations Officer (PPRO), David Missal, proved abortive as he was not reachable on phone.
The killings in Kaduna State which included a village head were perpetrated in Asso and Sarari in Jamaâ€™a and Birnin Gwari Local Government Areas of the state respectively.
The attack in Asso was said to have occurred at about 10a.m. when the victims who took a relation to a hospital in Kafanchan were returning home.
The unknown gunmen were said to have opened fire on them close to their community.
Nicholas Shehu Garba, a member of the House of Representatives for Jema/Sanga federal constituency, who confirmed the incident, said the attack was the third on the community in recent time.
He appealed to the military task force based in Kafanchan to work harder to fish out those behind the killings.
The attack on Sarari was said to have occurred at about 2p.m. when bandits invaded the village and went from house to house shooting people.
A resident of the area who confirmed the incident said the village head of the community and five others were killed while eight people sustained injuries
The bandits were said to have arrived the village on motorcycles in large number. â€œThey were well armed and they went from house to house shooting at people. â€œEvery body was running for safety. Our village head and five other people were killed
â€œThose wounded were said to have been rushed to a Primary Health Centre in Oduwa town, a neighbouring town,â€ the source said.
The attack came few days after the Minister of Interior, Abdulrahman Dambazzau, and the Deputy Inspector General of Police (DIG), Operations visited the area following persistence attacks by bandits in the Birnin Gwari area.
Efforts to confirmed the incident from the police proved abortive as the Aliyu Mukhtar, spokesman of the Kaduna State Police Command did not respond to phone calls or a text message sent to his phone.
Meanwhile, the Benue State Caucus in the House of Representatives yesterday called on the federal government to immediately explain to Benue indigenes and the Nigerian people why the military operation tagged Cat Race which was launched in response to recent deadly attacks by herdsmen in the state was terminated without a resolution of the issue.
It further demanded that the federal government deploy a proper military operation to the state as well as create military units in restive communities until the herdsmen menace is properly dealt with.
The lawmakers also urge the federal government to immediately declare the deadly herdsmen as terrorists in view of their inhuman, volatile and destructive activities.
The caucus called on the international community to pay more attention to the ongoing pogrom of Benue people and appeal for their intervention in the provision of aid to the over 190,000 internally displaced persons at different camps in the state.
â€œWe believe it is only when these criminal and vicious elements are properly designated and treated as terrorists that the spate of killings would be put to rest,â€ the group stated.
Addressing journalists over the termination of the military exercise in the state, the caucus noted that a similar exercise was recently extended by two months in Taraba State and wondered why the reverse is the case in Benue where the killings had continued unabated.
The Chairman of the caucus, Hon. Dickson Tarkighir, who spoke alongside other members including Hon. Emmanuel Udende, Hon. Mark Gbillah and Hon. John Dyegh, said: â€œWe, the Benue caucus of the House of Representatives in the National Assembly with a deep sense of loss and grief have cause once again to raise an alarm to the entire nation and the international community about the state of perpetual mourning that has been fostered upon the hapless citizens of our state by the endless and unhindered killing of our innocent and defenseless people by armed herdsmen.
â€œAs it was with the New Year attacks, the herdsmen have been on rampage in several communities in Guma, Gwer-west and Logo Local Government Areas since the day after Easter killing and maiming women and children and destroying homes and farmland without any intervention by security operatives even though the federal governments exercise Cat Race or â€œAyem A Kpatemaâ€ is supposed to be in place.
â€œWe are very seriously concerned and alarmed at the withdrawal of Personnel of exercise Cat Race from Benue when the herdsmen menace has not been curbed and the reasons for their continued deployment to other states in the region which has left Benue even more vulnerable and has paved the way for the recent despicable and premeditated attacks by the herdsmen in our communities.
â€œWe view this decision as very suspicious, condemnable and ill-advised and leaves one to wonder about the militaryâ€™s strategy or lack of it in the fight against the killer herdsmen.
â€œWe are worried that there is still no evidence of the disarming of these killer herdsmen by the military, police or any other security agency and the apparent refusal by the Police to enforce the open grazing prohibition law constitutionally enacted by the Benue State House of Assembly which has emboldened the flagrant disregard of the law by the herdsmen who continue to openly graze cattle in several communities of the state with impunity.â€
Reacting to the recent call by Gen. Theophilus Danjuma for self-defence, Gbillah said: â€œWhat I will talk about is what the statute of our law provides. All of us know that in our criminal law code every Nigerian citizen is allowed to defend themselves if there lives is at risk.
â€œThis is statutorily provided and this is a right to every Nigerian. So the only thing I will say regarding this even as Benue citizens have the right to protect ourselves under attack, we have no right to premeditatedly attack anybody.
â€œBut if you are going about your business as a law abiding citizen and your life is at threat and you are being attacked, our laws provide for you to be able to defend yourself and the consequences thereof are covered by law. And thatâ€™s my own personal opinion in that regard.â€
However, Dyegh said the Benue people are currently defenceless and they donâ€™t seem to have a powerful figure in the class of Danjuma to protect its interest.
He lamented that all its generals have passed on.
He said: â€œWhereas, heâ€™s former Chief of Army Staff and Minister of Defence…he has all it takes to protect his own people and he can call on them to defend themselves.
â€œBut, we donâ€™t have any such retired general; all the generals we have are dead and nobody reckons with any Benue person again and we donâ€™t know and canâ€™t see how we can defend ourselves in the face of people who are carrying AK 47 openly and the federal government is doing nothing.
â€œWe dare not come against such people; we donâ€™t have the power- we are defenceless anyway. As much as I agree that we have the rights to defend ourselves, we donâ€™t have the weapons to defend ourselves. We donâ€™t have anybody to speak for us.
â€œAnd so we are still appealing and calling on good-spirited Nigerians to appeal on the federal government on our behalf, weâ€™ve talked and talked and nobody is listening to us.â€
He said: â€œWe are begging Nigerians to join us talk to the powers that be to see reason why operation Cat Race 2 in Benue should be extended.
â€œWe donâ€™t know why theyâ€™ll extend the military operation in Taraba State. Is it because they have Danjuma which we donâ€™t have?
â€œBut we are also bona fide Nigerians, weâ€™ve no other place than this country- this is a God given place to us, we canâ€™t go out of this place and so constitutionally, we must be defended. We must be protected by the government of the day, itâ€™s a right.
â€œWe canâ€™t defend ourselves, we donâ€™t have the weapons to defend ourselves, we are falling back to the constitution that we should be defended by the federal government where we belong.â€