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• Indigenes adorn black attires, as victims are buried in mass graves
• We may raise our army, says Unongo
From Juliana Taiwo-Obalonye, Abuja, Rose Ejembi,Makurdi, Gyang Bere, Jos, and Fred Ezeh, Abuja
People from all walks of life and across political and age divide were, yesterday, united in their grief as remains of the 73 persons killed by herdsmen on January 1 were given mass burial in, Makurdi, Benue State.
Majority of the thousands of mourners who trooped into the IBB Square, Makurdi to attend the memorial service and the subsequent burial at the Mobile Barracks, Adeke area in black attires, cursed and wept uncontrollably. All social and commercial activities across the state were paralysed as markets and shops were shut.
As the bodies conveyed in five pailloaders and six ambulances approached the IBB Square for the memorial service, tears flowed freely.
The first and second Bible readings were taken by Governor Samuel Ortom and his deputy, Benson Abounu, from Psalms 55: 1-23 and Revelation 3:4-11 respectively. In his homily, the Catholic Bishop of Makurdi Diocese, Bishop William Avenya described as barbaric, the murder of the Benue people by the herdsmen and insisted that no one had any justification to take lives.
Governor Ortom described the victims as fallen heroes.
“We had looked forward to start a new year with renewed hopes and aspirations when our land was invaded by merciless and mindless herdsmen. Their targets for annihilation include pregnant women, children of all ages, youths and the elderly be they men or women,’’ he said.
Ortom said if the herdsmen thought the killings would make him stop the enforcement of the anti-open grazing law, they had failed.
“We will not be deterred by their thinking because I am ready to pay the supreme price for the implementation of the anti-open grazing. I will continue and insist on the calls for the arrest of the factional leaders of Miyetti Allah Kautal Hore.”
He revealed that the state have lost 73 people to the attacks since the beginning of the new year.
“This figure does not include our security operatives who have also fallen at the hands of these enemies of peace. It does not even include those already buried in their communities. Some of these gallant patriots who survived gun and machete attacks are receiving medical attention,’’ he added.
Ortom who quoted a survey conducted by the Bureau of Local Government and Chieftaincy Affairs in the state, said in 2014 alone, 10 of the 23 local government areas lost hundreds of lives and incurred loses of over N95 billion.
“For several years, these attackers have turned our beautiful and endowed land into their killing fields. The main reason has been clashes between Fulani herdsmen and farmers. So far, 13 of the 23 council areas of the state have been affected in these well planned and executed attacks on churches, schools, hospitals, markets, as well as private houses in addition to farms, foodstuff and all signs of progress in affected communities.’’
The governor sympathised with all families who lost loved ones, orphans who lost parents and breadwinners, parents who lost children, as well as wives and husbands who lost their spouses.
“We pray for God’s comfort at this difficult time of grief and pray that his judgment will be swift in response to the spilled blood which cries to Him day and night,’’ he said.
This is even as grief-stricken ancestral leader of the Tiv Nation, Wantaregh Paul Unongo, warned that if President Muhammadu Buhari refused to fulfill his mandate of protecting lives and properties of Benue people, they would be left with no option than to defend themselves.
“If the Federal Government cannot stop or arrest those behind the killings in two weeks, we shall raise an army of our own because we cannot allow people to colonise us again. We have all it takes to do that. Benue people have sacrificed enough blood for the unity of this country and would not allow a section of Fulani terrorists to come and kill our people in cold blood. I am begging Nigerians that my people cannot continue to be canon foder of this country. If government can’t protect us, we will mobilise and train our people into army to defend us.”
Unongo who is the convener and chairman of Northern Elders Forum (NEF) also called for the arrest of the leader of the leaders of Miyetti Allah Kautal Hore.
While supporting Unongo’s call, Gen. Lawrence Onoja, described the killing in the state as genocidal conspiracy against Benue people, stressing that, “this killings must not continue.”
Former member of the National Assembly, Senator JKN Waku, berated the Fulani herdsmen for the attack.
“It is unfortunate that someone would oppose a law that is legally enacted and begin to kill innocent people and the Federal Government would refuse to make arrest in a quest to end the carnage. This is enough provocation. Nobody has the monopoly of killing. Therefore enough is enough.”
Speaking on behalf of Benue State House of Assembly, Benjamin Adanyi regretted that President Buhari came to Benue during electioneering to beg for votes and was overwhelmingly voted for by the Benue people and after he was voted into power, his brothers began to kill Benue people with reckless abandon.
Former governor George Akume also joined in the call for the immediate proscription of Miyietti Allah Kautal Hore as a terrorists group.
He, however, appealed to Benue communities not to take the laws into their hands but embrace peace and reconciliation as well as continue to pray together as one indivisible family to overcome the present situation.
Chairman, Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), Rev Akpe Leva commended governor Ortom for the charisma and love to die with Benue having passed the anti open grazing Law, adding that the spirit of the departed ones and the God of Benue will rise up to torment suspected fulani terrorists who have brought tears and sorrows.
One of the survivor, Akaatenger Azinga said he was sleeping with his wife when the attackers knocked at the door and his wife went to the door, only for her to be captured and slaughtered by the terrorists.
“I heard my wife scream because they came in the dead of the night and when l went to rescue my wife, I discovered that they slaughtered her and next thing, they started chasing me, machetting me but l escaped narrowly to a nearby bush.”
Lalong blames Ortom
Plateau State Governor Simon Lalong said he had advised Ortom, against implementing the anti-grazing law.
Lalong who was in the Presidential Villa to meet with Buhari to seek postponement of the state visit to February as well as security issues, told State House Correspondents, that it was wrong to start implementing the law without proper alternatives.
According to Lalong, it was not only Fulani that engaged in cattle rearing as agriculture is now an aspect of diversification of the economy of the current administration.
“When Plateau wanted anti-grazing law and I asked against who? And they said against a particular tribe. And I said tell me who in Plateau is not into open grazing. In the 17 local government areas, we are all into open grazing. It’s either you are grazing cattle, goat, sheep, or even chicken because the law will protect and restrict the movement of the all these animals, there are general livestock. If you are talking of this thing, we will take a wholistic approach in preparing for implementation. And when you do that with a lot of consultation like we have done in Plateau… when I got back I heard the Fulanis are moving from state to state sensitizing their people on the need to embrace ranching.”
On the concerns that providing colony is a way of pampering the herdsmen, Lalong said: “Nobody said ranching is only for Fulani herdsmen, like I said in Plateau I said ranching is everybody’s business. Many youths, thousands of graduates have registered ready to go into that business. It is everybody’s business.
“We must help the federal government to find ways of addressing issues because agriculture is not just agriculture now, it is now a means of diversification. And if you have to diversify it is serious business for everyone is not for a tribe. So I said if we have to encourage people to go into ranching I will not use the word anti.”
The governor said Plateau was enjoying peace at the moment because his government brought everyone, including farmers and herdsmen, together and consulted on the need to embrace ranching.
He also said he was convinced about the plan by the Federal Government to establish cattle colonies in states as a way of addressing the perennial crises between farmers and herdsmen and he will give it 100 percent support.
“Let me also say that plateau was one of those that embraced ranching. I had a lot of opposition initially when I said Plateau was keying into ranching. Some states said they don’t have land but I said whether I have land or not we have to provide land for ranching because that is where I see as solution to the conflicts. In Plateau we have gone far, we have donated land voluntarily, many people donated land for ranching.”
However, a conglomeration of churches in Northern Nigeria under the umbrella of Tarayyar Ekklisiyoyin Kristi a Nijeriya, (TEKAN), lashed President
Muhammadu Buhari for turning a blind eye to the killings and maiming of Christians by herdsmen in the region.
Its president, Rev. Caleb Ahima, disclosed this yesterday during the 63rd General Assembly of TEKAN, held at the headquarters of the Evangelical Reformed Church of Christ (ERCC), Akwanga, Nasarawa State.
He said Christians in the country were left to die in the hands of herdsmen who unleashed terror at will and the Federal Government refused to call them to order.
“It is the duty of President Buhari to preserve the lives of the citizenry. It is the responsibility of the Federal Government to maintain law and order and that is what this government has failed to do.
“The so-called herdsmen have traumatized innocent and defenseless Nigerian Christians, the shedding of innocent blood in Adamawa, Southern Kaduna, Taraba and Benue states recently is satanic, barbaric and condemnable.
“The world is appalled and watching keenly, expecting to see justice delivered to the perpetrators of this evil, who unfortunately seem to have defied even the country’s law enforcement agencies with recorded bravery in surmounting certain enemies out her own territory.
“Where government either fails to fulfil her responsibility or chooses to turn the blind eye toward these atrocities, the danger is that defenseless Nigerians may be tempted to use whatever means to defend themselves, with the attending possibility of degenerating into anarchy.”
Rev. Ahima said President Buhari must be reminded of his Constitutional responsibility of protecting all Nigerians without any regards to creed or ethnicity.
He urged Nigerian government to be conscious of security threats the recent killings of innocent Christians posed to the country and stressed that it was the same situation that created warlords, sad and bloody tells of war and death in Somalia.