• Benue mourners cry as 73 victims of herdsmen attacks get mass burial
• Stop sending representatives, come and see for yourself the magnitude of the killings in our land, Tiv monarch tells Buhari
•Father laments as pregnant wife of son, killed just after finishing NYSC, gives birth
BY PETER DURU, MAKURDI
It was all scenes of tears everywhere last Thursday as the remains of the 73 persons killed by suspected herdsmen in Tomatar and Umenge, Akor villages in Guma local government area of Benue State, and Ayilamo, Turan and Ngambe-Tiev in Logo local government area were laid to rest at a special cemetery located at Genabe village on the outskirts of Makurdi, the state capital.
The thousands of people who turned out to witness the funeral service at the IBB Square, Makurdi went into frenzy, demanding justice for the unarmed victims, including pregnant women, children and the elderly, who were gruesomely murdered by suspected herdsmen on new year day and the days after.
Most of the people who turned out for the mass burial service wore black dresses to show their mourning mood while businesses and commercial activities in the state were brought to a halt to honour the departed.
Recurrent attacks by suspected herdsmen, dating back to 2012, have left at least 17 of the 23 local government areas of the state in ruins with over 4,000 lives lost and property estimated at N95billion lost.
But the new year day attacks, coming barely two months after the commencement of the implementation of the Open Grazing Prohibition Law in Benue, were seen by many as a major affront to the law, the people and government of the state given the alleged threat by the leadership of the Miyetti Allah Kautal Hore to invade the state and resist its implementation.
Following the massacre and the tension it generated, the Inspector General of Police, IGP, Mr. Ibrahim Idris, was directed by President Buhari to relocate to Benue and beef up security.
But before then, the police, in conjunction with the military and other security agencies, had commenced an operation to return peace to the troubled areas.
Meanwhile, the killings continued unabated and the police also bore the brunt of the suspected herders who, in their usual guerrilla warfare style, attacked Tse Awashua and Gambe-Tiev in Tombo council ward of Logo local government area and slaughtered two policemen deployed there.
The development triggered the criticism of the police chief who had in an interview classified the killings as the products of communal crisis.
At a stakeholders meeting with the IGP immediately on his arrival in Makurdi to aggregate the people’s views on the happenings in the state, speaker after speaker, including youths, women and the leaders of the three socio-cultural organisations in Benue, lampooned Idris for the statement credited to him.
The IGP tendered an unreserved apology for the comment which he attributed to a misconception.
“I want to apologize for the misconception over the statement I made at a press briefing I made in Abuja”, he said.
“What I tried to convey in that statement is that we should live together and regard each other as our brothers’ keepers and also ensure peaceful coexistence.
“Irrespective of where you come from, we should be seen as one people who should live in peace and show love for one another.
“So, in essence, my statement should not be seen or regarded as my support for anyone but must be seen to be an advice for the greater unity of our country”.
Idris assured that adequate men and materials had been drafted to the state to stop the killings and to ensure the return of peace and order in the state.
Governor Samuel Ortom informed the gathering that 73 bodies had been recovered from some of the attacked communities, assuring that arrangements were on to accord the deceased persons a befitting burial at the end of the three days of mourning declared by government.
So, on Thursday, the governor led thousands of Benue people to accord their last respects to those whom he described as martyrs in the struggle against the enemies of the state.
Addressing those in attendance at the funeral service, Ortom cautioned that if the Federal Government failed to put a halt to the killings by suspected herdsmen, the country could relapse into anarchy.
He reiterated his call for the arrest of the leadership of the Miyetti Allah Kautal Hore for their alleged complicity in the killings, saying Nigerians were tired of the criminal activities of herdsmen.
Earlier in a state broadcast, the governor had lamented that the invasion of the state was an orchestrated plot to exterminate the people and take over their land for grazing.
He noted that the bandits attacking Benue communities were being camped at Tungwa in Awe local government area of Nasarawa state from where they had been invading.
He appealed to the Federal Government to move against the Miyatti Allah Kautal Hore and bring them to justice since they had allegedly earlier issued threats to invade the state to resist the Open Grazing Prohibition Law in the state.
He warned that if the Federal Government failed to do justice in the matter, the blood of those killed would cry for justice before God.
Speaking at the funeral, elder statesman and a former Minister of Steel, Wantaregh Paul Unongo, cautioned that, as the spiritual leader of the state, he was being compelled to mobilize the people to raise a million-man army to defend their land and ancestral homes.
“If the people we voted for cannot defend us we will teach our people how to defend themselves”, Unongo said.
“We cannot accept anybody coming to our state to kill and rape our children and wives anymore. We will not allow it again.
“I serve a notice to the leaders of this country and we are saying enough is enough. If government cannot defend us, in two weeks, we can raise an army to defend us.
“We are not going to allow this to happen again in our land and watch helplessly.”
On his part, the paramount ruler of Tiv Tribe, His Majesty, Prof James Ayatse, remarked that the killing of the 73 persons by suspected herdsmen was part of ethnic cleansing agenda.
Ayatse said, “I want to draw the world’s attention to the fact that what is happening is not only happening in Benue but also in Nasarawa and Taraba against the Tiv nation.
“We want to believe that what is happening is a clear signal that there is a programme of genocide against Benue State.
“I call upon the Federal Government to rise up and put an end to this wickedness and impunity”.
He urged President Buhari to visit the state to calm frayed nerves and to reassure the people that Benue was still part and parcel of the country.
The monarch expressed disappointment that after the alarm raised by the state government foretelling the attacks by suspected herdsmen in the state, nothing was done.
Decked in a mourning regalia, Ayatse said, “I am yet to understand the reason for the slaughtering of our people. We feel very unhappy that it is happening to us as citizens of Nigeria. We sacrificed for the unity of this country.
“There is no household that you go to in Tiv land that you will not find a soldier who fought for this country or lost a loved one in the civil war. I am sad because the killings have continued even as I talk with you.
“I am therefore expecting that the President will come to Benue but if he does not, then that means he is not treating us as friends. Even if he comes and waves at the people and says, ‘I feel your pain and sorrow’, it will do a lot of good. When he comes himself, his whole being will be here and the impact on the people will be greater than sending representatives.
“If he does not come at all, we will not be happy as a people because he has been visiting places where we didn’t record this magnitude of killings.”
Continuing, he said, “Though the Federal government has made some efforts to stem the crisis but I am not satisfied with the efforts.
“It is a well-planned, barbaric and coordinated genocide on my people to take over our land; it is unfortunate and very saddening.
“We have been restraining our people against any form of reprisal, so I expect government to act fast before this snowballs into what nobody can control.”
On the proposed establishment of cattle colonies by the Federal Government, the royal father said the move was alien especially to an area where the people were not cattle rearers, maintaining that the grazing law enacted in the state should be supported by the federal authorities to succeed “because it is a global practice.”
Also speaking, Senator Joseph Waku said the killings in Benue were unacceptable and unwarranted, stressing that the people would resist further attacks if the Federal Government failed to protect lives and property.
In his homily at the requiem service, the Bishop of Gboko Dioceses, Most Reverend Williams Avenya, who took his reading from the book of John 11, 21 and 32, consoled those who lost loved ones warning that the wanton killing in the state would no longer be accepted by the people of the state.
Also speaking, Gen. Lawrence Onoja (rtd) said, “What we see in Benue today is a genocidal conspiracy hatched in the highest places.
“I align myself with the proposal by Elder Unongo; if we get to the position of raising an army, I don’t mind commanding that army so long as Benue is protected.
“I therefore urge the Federal Government to come to Benue and replicate the ‘Operation Python Dance’ that was introduced in the South East to address the herdsmen killings in our state.”
On his part, former Governor George Akume lamented that the sanctity of human life was being violated by herdsmen and nothing was being done by the Federal Government to stem the tide.
Meanwhile, the United Nations Country Coordinator in Nigeria, Dr. Martins Ejidike, called on the federal authorities to ensure that the killings were investigated and the masterminds brought to justice.
The Country Coordinator assured that the world body would muster resources to provide assistance to the over 60,000 persons displaced in Benue as a result of the attacks.
In a related development, some of those who lost loved ones in the attacks urged the Federal Government to apprehend the masterminds before the people resort to self-help or reprisal attacks.
To Philomena Orakaanya, who lost a 68-year-old uncle in one of the attacks, the silence of President Buhari on the killings was an indication that the suspected killer herdsmen enjoyed the backing of the authorities.
“This is not the first time herdsmen were invading Guma local government to chase our people away from our ancestral homes in order to take over and graze their cattle”, she lamented.
“It has been happening and despite our pleas to the Federal Government to stop them, nothing has been done; the herdsmen are being emboldened by the silence of government.
“This time they came to Tomatar on January 2 and killed our people including my uncle, Julius Gwa, who was in his farm harvesting rice.
“They caught him in the farm and butchered him like an animal after which they dumped his body on the farm, leaving his six children fatherless and his two wives without a bread winner.
“How long will we continue like this? Our people asked and got the grazing law from the state government believing that it will bring an end to the killings but these people are clearly showing us that some people own this country more than others.”
In the case of the Sende family, their pains knew no bounds after their patriarch, 60-year-old Asamoga Sende, was killed alongside his son, Shikaan, 30, and granddaughter, 11 months, in one of the latest attacks.
Also narrating her ordeal, newly married Ifeoma Ene, 26, said she lost her husband, Samuel, in the attacks. According to her, she and her deceased husband had barely opened their shop at Tomatar around 6am on the fateful day when the sound of gunshots sent everyone running helter-skelter.
“We came to the shop around 6am because buying and selling starts very early in the community. I was busy sweeping when we started hearing gunshots.
“The herdsmen who were carrying sophisticated weapons matched into our shop and on seeing my husband they shot him on the chest and asked me to run away. But before I could run, they asked me what I was carrying in my bag, but I was dumbfounded.
“One of them snatched my bag and collected the money there and cell phones and warned that I should run and not look back. Even when I pleaded that they should allow me carry my husband, they threatened to also shoot me.
“I ran away but when they left and I returned to the shop, I discovered that my husband was already dead and all the goods in our shop had been looted.”
Narrating his own story, Comrade Mike Vember said the assailants struck on January 2 at Iornongh, Bakir Kator, on Umenge – Keana Road and hacked to death his cousin, Julius Gwar, a bulldozer operator.
“After that, on January 3, as early as 5am, they struck again; this time, they killed another of my cousin, Abende Aloysius; since then, the entire village has been deserted and I learned that the herdsmen have made several attempts to take over the village but they were chased away by the army personnel patrolling the community who also confiscated their motorbikes.”
To 17-year-old Tarkubu Iorpuu, the gruesome murder of her father, Ger Iorpuu, a member of the Benue State Livestock Guard, was huge setback to the family.
She said, “Because of the attacks on our community, my father and other men in the community asked us to leave our homes at Gbashia village in Logo local government area for another village for fear that we might not be able to run if the Fulani people came to our village.
“That same night, they came and attacked our village; my father, who is a member of the Livestock Guard, was killed. We are completely helpless because I am the eldest and still in secondary school while my siblings are very small with no one to take care of us.
“We are pleading with government to stop these killings and also arrest those who killed my father. I am also pleading that they help us pay our school fees because my mother and step mother may not be able to cater for our needs like our father did when he was alive.”
The gruesome murder of Augustine Attah, a library and information science graduate of Benue State University, who only few weeks back completed his Youth Service, has left his father in deep shock
“I am yet to understand why my son, who I spent all my life savings to give education, could be murdered just like a common criminal by people who do not value human life”, the bereaved father said.
“He had gone to my village at Kasiyo in Guma local government to harvest our farm produce and they were coming back to Makurdi through Amua Jogo when they met some armed herdsmen who opened fire on them.
“Some occupants of the vehicle conveying him managed to escape but my son was not that lucky, he was killed on the spot by the armed men who fled after the shooting.
“He died, leaving his heavily pregnant wife who gave birth two days ago. The young man just passed out of Youth Service in Kamte, Taraba State. That is the pain the present Federal Government has given my family and I for voting them into power. The blood of my son will surely cry for justice and all those supporting the wanton killing of innocent people will pay, if not now, in the very future.”