By Peter Duru, Makurdi
Once again Benue has been thrown into deep mourning, no thanks to heartless marauding herdsmen who last Monday afternoon stormed Omusu village, Ojigo ward of Edumoga, Okpokwu local government area of the state killing 26 persons mostly women and children, injuring scores while many are still unaccounted for.
The invaders also razed houses and food barns and property of their victims after which, as usual, they disappeared in a gorilla fashion without any trace.
The latest bloody attack came about two months after the new year day killings in Logo and Guma local government areas that sent close to 80 persons including pregnant women, children and the elderly to their early graves.
The global outrage that greeted that pogrom could have been enough to force the militant herders to sheath their sword but alas the blood of the innocent has continued to flow in Benue communities where the stench of blood has become more or less an odour the people have come to live with.
Regrettably, after the new year day killings and the mass burial accorded the victims of that massacre, pockets of killings continued unabated and thousands of Benue sons and daughters numbering close to 170,000 rendered homeless only to find solace in eight IDP’s camps established by the state government for their upkeep.
The bloodletting in the state that turned over half of the state into theatres of war compelled helpless though decorous Governor Samuel Ortom to advise the people of the state to learn to defend themselves even if with sticks and pestle.
In a state owned radio programme monitored in Makurdi the state capital the heartbroken Governor Ortom said “I think the people should have the right to defend themselves and not make themselves easy prey to be killed in their homes.
“So any lawful means you can adopt to defend yourself just go ahead in Benue state. We are not going to wait for the Inspector General of Police to do it because he has failed in his assignment.
“It is unfortunate. The man should resign because he has failed woefully. He doesn’t have the capacity and has become the mouthpiece of our aggressors. There are many good Police officers who can take over that job and perform creditably by turning around the security architecture of this country and make things work and protect lives and property. That man has no business being the IGP.” The Governor had said.
Perhaps, of special note in the Benue killing spree is the fact that immediately the Governor urged the people to defend themselves from the militant herdsmen the Inspector General of Police, Ibrahim Idris issued an order to state Commissioners of Police to, as a matter of urgency, disarm all militias, vigilantes and other armed protective units set up by state Governors across the country.
The IGP also warned state Governors who had set up such armed security outfits that they had no powers to do so.
Interestingly, in what appeared a case of deliberate double standard on the part of Nigeria’s number one Police officer and the federal government, the directive to Commissioners in the various state commands made no mention of herdsmen who roam the nooks and crannies of the country with AK47 rifles and other highly dangerous sophisticated weapons with which they unleash horror and terror on the citizenry across the country.
Hence while the directive was being implemented in Benue and undoubtedly enjoying the cooperation and support of the people of the state, armed herdsmen have ignored the directive and they appear to run a exclusive government of their own, killing and maiming.
Interestingly, in late 2015 Governor Samuel Ortom had introduced an amnesty programme in Benue through which majority of those in possession of illegal weapons in the state willingly surrendered same to the government for a fee.
At the end of that exercise close to 1,000 different calibre of weapons and firearms were surrendered to the government and later destroyed in public in 2016 in partnership with the Presidential Committee on Small Arms and Light Weapons in commemoration of the United Nations’ Arms Destruction Day.
So as it were, Benue people were seemingly unarmed ab initio despite the threat posed by armed herdsmen and plea by the people to the federal government to check the excesses of the herdsmen especially the leadership of Miyetti Allah Kautsl Hore who had threatened to resist the Benue Open Grazing Prohibition Law that came into effect in November 1, 2017.
Hence since the order to disarm all armed groups in the county was issued by the IGP on January 31, killings by herdsmen in Benue had continued unabated.
A timeline of these killings includes the murder of six persons in a heavy gun battle between officers of the Benue state Police Command and over 200 suspected herdsmen at Yogbo community in Guma local government area of the state.
February 5: Herdsmen attacked Waku village and a part of Gbajimba town in Guma local government area of the state, killing two and destroying Governor Samuel Ortom’s farm house.
February 8: Herdsmen killed another three and injured scores in Anyiin in Logo local government area.
February 9: Another black day in the state when four personnel of the state Police Command were confirmed missing and unaccounted for after they came under heavy attack by suspected herdsmen at Adzege village Ayilamo in Logo local government area of the state.
Two of the officers were later found dead while two others escaped to safety.
This was followed by the killing of two operatives of the National Security and Civil Defence Corp, NSCDC, Mr. Adams Godwin and Abah Patrick who were reportedly murdered by suspected herdsmen at Awange near Kasseyo town in Guma local government area of the state on the February 12.
It was the turn of over 5,000 inhabitants of Mbatoho Chile, an Island close to Benue State Government House, at Mbalagh council ward of Makurdi local government.
The invaders on February 26 also rendered the Tiv inhabitants of the community homeless after destroying several houses, farmlands and food barns of their victims. They were reported to have asked the locals to quietly vacate the land for their own good.
March 4: No fewer than five persons were ambushed and shot dead at Umenge village in Guma Local Government Area of the State by herdsmen when the victims reportedly sneaked into the besieged community to assess the possibility of retuning back to the community since the military had commenced the Exercise Ayem A’ Kpatuma or cat race, to ensure the safety of the locals but non of them left the community alive.
Then came the bloodiest of all the killings after the new year day killing which claimed 73 lives in Guma and Logo local government areas.
On March 5, no fewer than 26 persons, mostly women and children were murdered in cold blood in a bloody Monday evening attack on Omusu village at Ojigo ward Edumoga in Okpokwu local government area of Benue state by suspected herdsmen.
The attackers also left scores injured and many others missing, several houses, huts and food barns were also set ablaze by the marauding herdsmen who invaded the quiet community shooting sporadically at anything on sight.
Suffice it to state here that several of these killings occurred even after the launch of the military spike operation in the state code named Exercise Ayem A’ Kpatuma to stem the incursions of herdsmen in the state.
Regrettably. The exercise has not stopped the wanton killings in Benue which prompted an outcry by the people that the military exercise was rather abating the herdsmen to kill the more and also take over Benue communities.
Reacting to the development, the chairman of the joint leaders of the Benue ethnic leaders, Chief Edward Ujege described the order of the IGP as a bait to further the operations of the herdsmen in Benue state.
According to Chief Ujege, “why have the killings continued if the IGP is sincere about the order to disarm all armed groups in the country?
“It’s all double standards because from all indications that order is not applicable to armed herdsmen, that is why they have continued to kill our people unchecked, it’s just unfortunate. The federal government is complicit in the entire affair and we are totally disappointed.
“Until all herdsmen are disarmed and the killings stopped, we will continue to hold firm to our belief that the federal government has remained unfair if not taken side in this matter.”
On his part, the leader of a right group, the Independent Human Rights and Crime Monitoring Group, IHRCMG, Patriot Solomon Adodo, maintained that “the IGP must come clean with his order because information at our disposal clearly indicated that herdsmen are not being disarmed hence the ongoing killings despite the order.
“We expected that the order would be enforced totally but that is not the case at the moment so we suspect double standards in the entire drama that is currently playing out.”
Lending his voice to the issue, Comrade Terrence Kuanum, leader of the Global Human Rights Watch, “the order by the IGP is noting but double standards. It has further given armed herdsmen leverage to perpetrate violence and killings in Benue unchecked because they still kill at will and move around with sophisticated weapons in Benue communities without hindrance.
“We want to see decisive action from security personnel and we can only be convinced when we start seeing the arrest of the masterminds of the killings which have continued despite the order from the IGP.”
Few days ago, Governor Samuel Ortom also raised fresh concerns about herdsmen incursions in the state, lamenting that there had been influx of over one million cattle into the state after the launch of Exercise Ayem A’ kpatuma by the military to check herdsmen killings in the state and the order of the IGP directing state police commands to disarm all armed groups in the country.
According to the Governor, more than 60 people have been killed since the mass burial in the state for the 73 killed on new year day. This is aside the 26 women and children killed at Omusu village, Okpokwu local government area of the state.
The Governor who reiterated that there were no loose arms in the state, haven disarmed the people of the state at the inception of his administration through his amnesty programme urged the relevant security authorities to do the needful by totally enforcing and implementing the order of the IGP without bias.