THE killings and arsons in the Middle Belt areas have continued unabated. This time it seems to have progressed into something more insidious and dangerous with the killing of two Catholic priests and 17 parishioners at an early morning mass by suspected herdsmen at St. Ignatius Catholic Church, Ukpor-Mbalom in Gwer East Local Government Area of Benue State.
Less than 24 hours later, the marauders again launched fresh coordinated attacks in the heavily-embattled Guma Local Government Area of the state, killing no fewer than 39 persons.
Nigerians were yet to recover from the shock of these killings when gunmen invaded another church, the Africa Church, Mbamondo, Ukemberagya/Tswarev ward of Gaambe-Tiev in Logo local government area of the State the following day, killing seven persons.
Only a few days earlier, 10 persons were slaughtered by these faceless marauders in same Guma. It was also within this period that people suspected to be military personnel burnt down 300 houses in Naka village also in Gwer West Local Government Area, allegedly to avenge the death of a soldier by a local mob. The attack on churches and massacre of worshippers by these unrelenting killers has introduced a new, more worrisome chapter in the herdsmen crisis which appears to have epicentres in Benue, Taraba and Zamfara communities.
It is beginning to justify the claims which had for long been peddled that these attacks have religious underpinnings. What else can be adduced to rationalise the massacre of innocent worshippers? How does this fit into the picture being painted by Federal Government officials that the Middle Belt attacks are “clashes” between herders and farmers? Since the military has already acknowledged that the burning down of Naka village was a quest for vengeance by its personnel, we want to know in which part of the civilised world the military resorts to self-help when its officers fall victim at the hands of criminal elements within indigenous localities?
This Naka incident brings back the ugly memories of the Odi (Bayelsa) and Zaki-Biam (Benue) episodes during the President Olusegun Obasanjo administration when such military vengeance missions also led to mindless destruction of lives and property. We wish to reiterate our call for another look at the killings nationwide to enable us know exactly what we are faced with. Following the New Year Day 2018 massacres in Benue, a Presidency source confirmed a report by the security agencies, especially the Department of State Services, DSS, that the Islamic State in West Africa, ISWA, had established cells in the Middle Belt and South-South.
Since this disclosure was made public, very little effort has been made to give it the national response it requires apart from launching Operation Cat Race, Ayem Akpatuma, which appears to be achieving very little.
The scale of the siege and attacks has ballooned and the military has increasingly come under scathing criticisms for its unsatisfactory response to the challenge of protecting the lives and property of Nigerians.
The Federal Government should go beyond expressing sorrow and revulsion to these attacks and do its job of protecting our people. Enough of this growing sense of helplessness!