February 16, 2024

Sankera: How bandits turned Benue’s yam hub into axis of terror

Sankera: How bandits turned Benue’s yam hub into axis of terror

By Peter Duru, Makurdi

It used to be the place that was envied by all, principally because of yam. Sankera produces and sells more yam than any other place in Benue State.

And the yam produced in that community is special-sweet, good for preparing ‘pounded’ and for peppersoup.

For this reason, Sankera was always swarmed by people struggling to buy the essential commodity, eat as much as they can from the women who prepare pounded yam with bush meat soup and those who eat with draw-soup while on trips to and from the area.

Life was also good then as men, women and the young ones were always active doing one thing or the other with yam.

But the good old days seem to be over because of the invasion of the area by terrorists, armed robbers and kidnappers, who slaughter human beings like animals and capture others for ransom.

As a result of the evil activities of bandits, kidnappers and other criminals, life has been snuffed off Sankera and it is no more the cynosure of Benue StateEvil has since replaced the good life in Sankera and stripped the natives of the economic benefits that yam was bringing to them. 

The Sankera axis of Benue State, which is made up of Logo, Ukum and Katsina-Ala local government areas, is generally known as the economic power house of the state given the number of truckloads of yam that leave that axis to other parts of the country on a daily basis. It is no doubt the hub where over 90 per cent of yam produced and consumed in Benue and hauled to other parts of the country is produced.  

But instead of enjoying benefits of this, Sankera has become topical for its growing insecurity, killings and kidnappings which have begun to force the hordes of yam traders from all parts of the country to desert the place and seek safer markets for their dealings.

The town has witnessed too many killings and kidnapings in recent weeks and months that sent shivers down the spines of the inhabitants. Within a short spell of time, the chairman and the chief security officer of Ukum LGA,  Rev. Gideon Haanongon, were seized by the evil merchants while some persons were killed by hoodlums around Sankera.

Rev.  Haanongon alongside his personal assistant, driver and a police orderly were ambushed and abducted on January 13, 2024 by armed men  at Anyagba, Tongov, along the  Katsina-Ala- Zaki Biam Road  in Katsina-Ala LGA. His captors insisted on collecting N50 million as a condition for freeing them. The security agents were helpless as some money was eventually paid before they were freed.

Before the abduction of the chairman and his team,  a vehicle that left Ugba with seven passengers for Anyiin in Logo LGA was intercepted by armed militants near Mbavuu community. The occupants were kidnapped and taken into the bush. Among the victims was the former Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, Organizing Secretary, Chief Job Tiza.

Earlier in October 2023, the pioneer Chairman of Ukum LGA, Pa  Raymond Erukaa, 81, died in captivity following his kidnap from his home at Tse-Erukaa, by armed men in Zaki Biam, Ukum LGA on September 23, 2023, even after ransom was paid for his release.

His death was confirmed by his eldest surviving son, Charles Erukaa, a former news anchor with Channels Television.

“It wasn’t until the night of Saturday, October 27, 2023 that we received words that my father had died in captivity.

“In total, the family paid a ransom of N2 million for the release of my father from captivity. It is also noteworthy that my father was abducted exactly 24 hours before the abduction of the Benue State Commissioner for Information and Culture, Mr. Matthew Abo who was also kidnapped in Ukum LGA of the state,the former news anchor, said.

The Commissioner who was abducted from his home in Ukum in the presence of his family members by armed men on motorbikes, was however lucky to have regained his freedom   and has since returned to his office as member of the State   Executive Council.

Same was the fate of two traders who were kidnapped in Mbavuur in the Logo LGA but rescued in the domain of a traditional ruler, who was eventually arrested with 17 others for their alleged complicity in the crime.

The state police command in a statement explaining the kidnap saga said that  information was received at Logo Police Division that a group of bandits armed with dangerous weapons mobilised and invaded a market at Mchia, Logo LGA, and kidnapped two traders.

“Upon the receipt of this information which was relayed to Police Headquarters Makurdi, the Commissioner of Police ordered the deployment of tactical teams to raid the area and ensure that victims were rescued.

“And on November 25, 2023 Police team stormed a hideout and the two victims were rescued at the compound of Zaki Tule Nyam, a tax collector. The victims stated that they were held hostage and their families were given one week to source for N10million to pay as ransom for their release before the arrival of the Police.

“Consequently, Zaki Nyam and 17 other suspects were arrested in the compound for further investigation. Items recovered from them includes one dane gun and a matchet.”

Suffice it to state that before this foray of kidnappings, that axis of the state has been witnessing series of security breaches that often times led to deaths and injury of many.

Alarmed by the worsening insecurity in Sankera, a former teacher and now yam trader in the area who identified himself as Jato, lamented that the worsening insecurity was already impacting their trade negatively.

“The number of people who come here from other parts of the country to do business has reduced drastically. And the worrisome dimension it has taken recently could be an indication that security agencies have no other option but to brace up to the challenge or discover that they may be racing against time to save Sankera from totally falling into the hands of bandits who at the moment seem to be calling the shots in some communities in Logo, Ukum and Katsina-Ala LGAs.”

Insecurity has effectively clipped the wings of yam producers, buyers and consumers and denied them of the funds that the tubers used to bring in regularly into their pockets.

But the good days may soon return as the new police commissioner has promised to go after the evil merchants who are now troubling the yam hub Benue State. But will the security agencies succeed to nip the malevolent men in the bud?