BY PETER DURU
MAKURDI — It was a sad and sorrowful day for Benue State again, yesterday, as no fewer than 26 persons were confirmed killed Monday evening in a bloody attack on Omusu village, at Ojigo Ward, Edumoga in Okpokwu Local Government Area of the state by suspected herdsmen, just a day President Muhammadu Buhari through his media aide, promised to visit the state.
It will be recalled that the New Year day attack on two local government areas of the state left over 73 persons dead and attacks and killings have become a recurring development in the state since then.
Last Monday’s night attackers also left several persons injured and many others missing, while the entire community has been deserted. Several houses, huts and food barns were set ablaze by the marauding herdsmen.
A source in the community disclosed that the well armed herdsmen stormed the village about 4p.m., shooting sporadically at anything they sighted and burning down houses in the community. His words: “It was a bloody evening in Okpokwu. Armed herdsmen stormed Omusu village and opened sporadic fire on the locals, killing and butchering anyone and anything they came across.”
Ortom visits, fights tears
Among the first callers to the deserted community was Governor Samuel Ortom, who led members of the state security council for an on-the-spot assessment of the area.
Addressing the people present at the Omusu village square, Governor Ortom who fought back tears as he spoke, said killer herdsmen have continued to rain terror on the people of the state despite efforts by his government to stem the tide.
“Heads of security agencies said people doing this are from other countries. These killings are not acceptable. We will not fold our arms and wait for people to come from other countries and invade our land, kill, maim, rape our women and children and go free. This cannot be allowed to continue.
“That is why we have decided at the state security council level to come here for on-the-spot assessment. Already, as recorded by the local government chairman, 24 people were killed just in one day. This is not right and it is unacceptable.
“I know that the security men are doing their best, but they are overstretched; from the Police, Civil Defence and the Army. The fact is that they are not also spared. Even the security agencies have become victims of these mercenaries. I think that something has to be done and very fast too.
“As leaders, we are here to assess the situation and as we go back, we will re-strategize and ensure that this does not occur again.
“But let me repeat this, for us in Benue State, we have a law prohibiting open grazing. Anyone who wants to live with us here must obey the law. The law is not targeted at any herdsman or woman or any ethnic group.
“The law is meant to protect the lives of the people of the state and herdsmen alike. No one is discriminated against and everyone must obey the law because it is what is obtainable everywhere. I am aware that when Sharia law was introduced in Zamfara State and several other states in the country, nobody rose up to challenge that law. Why are these people challenging us?
Arrest the leadership of Miyetti Allah
“I still call on security agencies to arrest the leadership of Miyetti Allah Kautal Hore, who had threatened to do what they are doing today since last June. They have gone scot-free and live and move about freely in Abuja and are directing their mercenaries that they brought from other countries to come and kill our people. This is not acceptable.
“All that we seek is justice and justice must be given to our people; that is why we were elected to lead. Anything outside that is not acceptable. We will ensure that security personnel do the needful and ensure that the herdsmen responsible for this are arrested.
“I am happy that we have gotten some of the equipment that we will use in tracking them. We will assist security agencies to do the needful to get the masterminds arrested.
“As a government, we will continue to do our best because we cannot surrender our state to criminals; that will not happen. It is not acceptable. Storming a community and killing 26 people in one fell swoop is certainly unacceptable. We must all rise up and stop this evil that is posing a great danger to all Nigerians.
“If we allow this people to continue to kill and go scot-free, tomorrow they will attack our security personnel and also attack us, the leaders of this country. We must do something and it has to be now, there is no better time.
“I believe that two wrongs can never make a right. If you were attacked by whosoever and your cattle and people are missing, the best thing to do is to report to law enforcement agencies. This was done and efforts are being made by the local government council chairman to arrest whoever was responsible.
“So what was the basis to attack and kill innocent people who know nothing about your problem? How can the herdsmen justify the killing of an 11-year old girl, other children and the elderly over allegation that cattle was rustled?
“Our people do not rustle cattle, it is herdsmen that rustle cattle, not our people. I can assure you that we will get justice over this matter,” Ortom stated.
The governor also directed the Okpokwu council chairman, Olofu Ogwuche to make arrangements to bury the recovered corpses.
Addressing persons displaced as a result of the crisis at Ojapo, the governor directed the State Emergency Management Agency to avail the displaced persons both food and non-food materials to ameliorate their condition.
Earlier, a stakeholder in the community, Mr. Itodo Ojobo, who said he lost his elder brother in the crisis assured that the people will not seek revenge by taking the laws into their hands.
“So far, we have recorded 26 deaths but 24 bodies were recovered from our community and we are still searching and just now we recovered the body of an 11-year old girl.
“We will need assistance to be able to bury the corpses because the situation at the mortuary is that there is no space to accommodate the corpses, so we will have to bury the corpses without delay before they start decomposing.”
On his part, former Minister of Interior, Abba Moro, a major stakeholder from the area, commended the prompt response of the state government to the crisis.
“All hands must be on deck to support the state government find a lasting solution to these crises that have bedeviled our state and communities,” he said.
Earlier, Chairman of council, Mr. Ogwuche intimated the state government delegation on what led to the crisis, adding that two of the surviving victims had died at the hospital while seven more bodies had been recovered from the village, bringing the figure of the dead to 26.
Ogwuche said several persons were in critical conditions at the General Hospital and Saint Mary Hospital, Okpoga.
He said: “We had earlier on Monday held a peace meeting between the herdsmen and the locals over an issue of missing cows. It was shortly after the meeting that I got a distress call around 4p.m., that well-armed herdsmen had sacked the village, killing several persons and injuring many.
“When I returned to the village with security personnel, I discovered that the entire village was on fire, dead bodies littered everywhere and the people were fleeing to neighbouring villages, but the situation was brought under control by the team of security personnel.”
Meanwhile the Benue State Police Command in a statement earlier, yesterday, stated that the command received information about 7p.m., on Monday, from “the Security Adviser, Okpokwu LGA that some irate youths from Omusu engaged some herdsmen in a fight, maiming some cows, while two herdsmen were found missing.
“A peace meeting was immediately initiated with the chairman of the LGA and the Head of the Fulani Community in the area, while a Police Search Party went in search of the two missing herdsmen, one of whom was found killed.
“Unfortunately, as the search and peace meeting were ongoing, some herdsmen surreptitiously went on rampage, resulting in matcheting to death of 15 persons, mainly women and children, while some houses were set ablaze.
“Four suspects have so far been arrested in connection with the gruesome murder. An extensive patrol of the community is ongoing which will be reinforced with the Special Forces.”