•I will not surrender my government to criminals, Gov Ortom vows
By Peter Duru, Makurdi
On Good Friday, as Christians marked the killing of Jesus by being nailed to the cross at mount Calvary, Katsina/Ala local government area of Benue State was thrown into chaos following a bloody conflict between the Shitile and Ikurav clans which claimed over 11 lives and left scores maimed.
Armed men, suspected to be members of the Shitile clan, reportedly ambushed and killed the 11 victims said to be returning from Good Friday service in an attack at Tse-Aye and Tse-Ngibo communities of the local government area.
Residents claimed that the attack was a fall out of the deep rooted rivalry between Shitile and neighbouring communities in Sankera area of the state comprising Logo, Ukum and Katsina/Ala local government areas.
The attack, which spiralled into reprisal killings, has crippled socio-economic activities in an area where the people who are known for their prowess in the farming of yam tubers and grains.
The bloodletting also created mass movement of the locals who fled to neighbouring communities for fear of being killed by arm wielding youths.
According to a highly placed government official who preferred anonymity, the crisis in the Sankera had, over time, defied efforts by stakeholders to end it.
“These attacks have been recurrent of late. For some time now, Ikurav has come under repeated attacks. Sometimes, young men in that community would be abducted at the border area for no reason whatsoever and nobody will see or hear from them again”, he said.
“From available records, this crisis can be tied to a battle for supremacy in Sankera and several innocent lives are being lost to a mindless and needless conflict.”
Lamenting the crisis, a university lecturer in Makurdi, who preferred anonymity, claimed he lost family members in the Good Friday attack.
He regretted that the conflict was unwarranted and unjustified.
“Just tell me, what can any of the masterminds of the crisis claim he has achieved by embarking on the killings and the sacking of our communities? “There is nothing in contention in this matter and we all cannot tell why innocent lives must be wasted in this manner.
“But I know one thing and every other person from Sankera also know that this monster was created years back by the political elite and it has come to haunt everyone and nobody is safe anymore.
“If you visit Sankera today looking well-to-do, you might not come out of that area because you will be kidnapped, robbed or killed. The implication is that we are now all afraid to visit home and, if you must, just make adequate arrangements for your safety.”
Leave cut short
The bloodbath compelled Governor Samuel Ortom to cut short his annual leave and summoned an emergency meeting of stakeholders from the area.
At the end of the meeting, which had in attendance former Governor Gabriel Suswam, former and serving federal and state lawmakers, among others, Ortom attributed the crisis to acts of criminality and negligence on the part of those entrusted with responsibilities in the troubled communities.
He said, “On Thursday, I held a meeting with stakeholders from that area that lasted about eight hours where everyone spoke frankly on the matter and all the root causes of the conflict were made known.
“It was obvious that some persons entrusted with responsibilities were failing in their duties and government will not hesitate to wield the big stick to mete out sanctions but, beyond that, what we see happening in Katsina/Ala is pure criminality.
“Regrettably, all efforts in the past to have the matter resolved were resisted by the people themselves but, today, they have resolved to end it with government’s intervention because, as we speak, no activity, both social and economic, is going on there.
“I have met with security chiefs and I must appreciate the personnel of Operation Whirl Stroke, OPWS, for their decisive efforts to end the conflict. “After our meeting, we resolved to take action to stop the kidnappings, robberies and killings and restore peace in the area.”
According to the governor, timely intervention of the OPWS personnel and the police, which had restored relative peace in the area, also led to the recovery of high calibre firearms from bandits.
“I will not surrender my government to criminals. We will continue to liaise with security agencies to ensure peace in the state which is paramount to the government and people of Benue”, he added.
On his part, the paramount ruler of the nation, His Majesty, Prof. James Ayatse, assured that the Tiv Traditional Council would collaborate with political leaders to ensure an end to the crisis.
“The political leaders have taken the initiative and also declared a stand to put an end to the crisis and, on our part, we will give them all the necessary support to ensure that peace returned to Katsina/Ala,” the royal father said.