From Scholastica Onyeka, Makurdi

For them that lived to tell, their stories was not only pathetic but touchy in a manner that brought tears to the eyes of men and women in Benue state. For Chief Simon Ajoh, Mue Ter Ihyarev and the Kale family, at Abagena community in Makurdi Local Government Area of Benue state especially, life has lost its meaning.

The 19th day of January, 2023, would remain a day to remember as gunmen suspected to be herdsmen militia killed nine persons including a family of six; a husband, two wives and children, and many others injured, in a vicious attacked on Abagena, a community hosting Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) camp, in Makurdi LGA of the state.

To many, it’s a rude reminder of the killing of 79 persons in Benue communities of Guma, Logo Ukum, Agatu and other LGAs, on the 1st of January, 2018. The Abagena attack is one in the series of attacks perpetrated on innocent Benue farmers in the last eight years, to be economical with words. 

In the recent attack, the grief stricken father who narrated their ordeal at the hands of their killers said he lost not just an heir, but a son dear to his heart. He intermittently wiped his face with his handkerchief as he narrated how his 43 year old son was shot, machetes and  killed in cold blood.

According to Chief Ajoh, the herdsmen came in by the time people were preparing to go to bed. “There was no form of provocation or previous quarrel between us. By the time the security came, they had killed nine persons.

“The past incident was one, too many. This is not the first time. We have had series of this incident here. This is about the fourth time we are being attacked where so many people were killed by these herders. 

“That was my first son. He’s about 43 years old. He ran out of his house and at the point of the high way, he was shot dead. They started shooting, killing and maiming people around.”

The Mue Ter who cried out to the federal government to rescue Benue community from armed bandits, said “We are very apprehensive over what is happening not only in my chiefdom but in the whole of Benue and not only in Benue, also in some part of Nigeria. Everyone is worried. 

“We have been crying and the state government have been beckoning on the federal government. The federal government is in charge of security, so they are not doing enough particularly this time that we are approaching election. People are displaced from their places of abode. How do they come back to vote .

“When you look at the way they carried out the last attack you will see that what they are interested in is not grazing their cattle. They have not been grazing here. They just came in to kill. We have no problem with them, we are not at war, no cow was rustled, no provocation whatsoever, nothing,” he said in a troubled and heavy laden voice.

He also said that the herders committed a sacrilege when they beheaded one of the victims and took his head along with them, leaving behind pools of blood and blood stains as they fled the scene.

Relatives of the family of six, Daniel Kale and Vincent Shagbaor were in deep pains when they spoke to our correspondent. “This attack has been happening before and we are not seeing any solution. Where we are now, it has happened many times Sometimes, the government will tell us they have sent security but we would not see any security.

Abagena is a sleepy community located along the Makurdi/Lafia highway. The terrain is a flat land without bushes or trees and allows one to see far as kilometers away.

Kale said “These people come with sophisticated weapons. The weapons are not ordinary weapons. When they came, they were shooting anywhere they faced. There was no where to hide, nowhere to escape.”

Vincent Shagbaor was away and was called that herdsmen entered his father’s house and killed everyone.

“They killed my father, my brother and his family, about seven people. When will this stop. Government have to do something to secure our communities,” he said.

Also speaking, an elderly woman who identified herself simply as Mama Zaan was visibly shaking saying she and her grand children were saved by the whiskers. She lamented that with all the suffering they were already passing through, she would have died hungry that day.

“I had not had dinner when the incident happened. I had just taken my bathe and was about to put my grand children to bed when I heard gunshots. I was so afraid for their lives and mine.”

Grabbing her stomach to show how tight she held unto the children, Mama who spoke through an interpreter said “I held them tightly to my body. From our hiding I heard people running here and there to escape being killed and I prayed to God to spare our lives. It was a terrible experience. As I’m talking to you, I am feeling like it’s happening afresh.”

She lamented that  they don’t have any issues with Fulani herders in the community and wondered why they herders will single them out for such attacks. “We are farmers and we don’t look for trouble but the Fulanis have decided to be killing us. We call on government to protect us because we are Nigerians too,” she said.

Another resident Martins Aza, condemned the incessant attacks on the state and called on the federal government to consider the pleas of the Benue state Governor, Samuel to arm the Benue State Community Volunteers, (BSCVG), to enable them secure Benue.

“Let us be given opportunity to acquire these arms for ourselves so that we would be able to defend ourselves and our land,” he appealed.

Our correspondent reports that after the attack, prominent sons of the state including the state Governor Samuel Ortom, visited the community as well as the hospital where eight injured persons were receiving treatment to sympathize with the community and those who lost their loved ones.

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During his visit to the community, Executive Secretary, Benue State Emergency Management Agency, SEMA, Dr. Emmanuel Shior, could not hold his emotions. On seeing relatives, especially, aged mothers and fathers crying and lamenting over their loved ones, Shior, and most people on his entourage, broke down and wept bitterly.

While he was being awaited to address the mourners and members of the community, he could hardly find words as tears flowed freely from his soul.

When he finally spoke, Shior described the attack as inhuman, barbaric, and unacceptable. He said that nothing should trigger a human being to attack a people who have accepted the faith of their circumstances and go to stay in the camps for safety.

“My heart breaks a thousand times at the rate things keep degenerating retrogressively to an extent that you never can tell who will be the next victim.

He said President Buhari has failed to live up to his constitutional responsibility of defending the country against terrorism and attacks by criminal elements in the country, saying “whether civilian or law enforcement agent, you can fall victim.”

“It’s a shame that the President, who is the Chief Security Officer of this country, wouldn’t rise up to defend the people who entrust their lives into his hands.”

He urged the people to continue to support Governor Samuel Ortom for his stance against the invaders, assuring that the country will one day attend to the cries of the Benue people. He commiserated with families of the deceased and prayed God to give them the fortitude to bear the loss.

Governor Samuel Ortom also visited victims of Fulani herdsmen attacks on Abagena IDPs camp at the Benue State University Teaching Hospital, (BSUTH), Makurdi, where they were receiving treatment.

Governor Ortom was visibly saddened on sighting the victims with various degrees of war-like injuries. He said, “This is my pain, since 2015, I have cried out loud that the Federal Government is complicit to the issues of terrorism raising Fulanis in Niger from Futa Jalon (Senegal), Cameroon, Mauritania and Libya and other parts of the world so that they will come to Nigeria and take it and make it their country. 

“One thing that pains me is that these people have not hidden their intentions and they are known. The Federal Government is protecting them. I have called for the arrest of the leadership of Miyetti Allah Kautal Hore several times. I have written to the Presidency. I have written to DSS, I have written to the Police, and yet they are adamant. It is not that these people are not known, they are known,” Ortom insisted.

While insisting that the Federal Government was protecting killer “Fulani herdsmen”who have continued to perpetrate unprovoked killings in Benue State, Ortom added that “the day that the Federal Government wants these acts of terrorism against our people to end, that will be it. But for now they are complicit. They are working with them to push for the take-over of this country and make this country a Fulani nation.

“I am quoting the Fulani National Movement, I am quoting Miyetti Allah Kautal Hore who are responsible for these recruitment and killings that are going on. No one has attempted to even call these people and question them and do the needful. If we are a country that believes in the rule of law, this will not continue.”

“We are fed up with this kind of lawlessness that is going on. I have restrained myself from becoming a lawless governor or a lawless leader, because this will lead to anarchy and when we get to that level that is war and nobody can pray for war,” he said.

Some of the victims included 14 year old Emberga Ukpoor whose hand was cut-off, Terna Ikyaan shot in the abdomen, Kwaghve Terkimbi, 14 with his ear chopped-off, Agber Ikyume, Regina Gbashaor, Eunice Iyua were inflicted with various degrees of injuries while an aged woman, Esther Num was shot at and the bullet penetrated her waist.

When this correspondent visited the hospital, some of the relatives of the victims said life has been tough for them before but their present situation is beyond what words can describe. 

“When an innocent 14 year old boy’s hand is cut off, his future has been cut off also. He has dreams has been killed. We used to help our parents on the farm, now he can never do that again and if care is not taken, he will be depending on people to do so many things for him in the future. This is not fair. He has not offended anyone, not even the herdsmen,” Emberga’s brother lamented.

They all called the Federal Government to put an end to attacks and killings in the country especially in Benue state saying they are happy it is election time and they will speak their mind through their votes.

The Benue government, in the bid to address insecurity in the state, have recruited, trained and kitted over 1,500 personnel into the state Community Volunteer Guards. According to the Governor, the target is to recruit 10,000 persons to complement the efforts of conventional security agencies in providing security to the state.

Ortom said he had written to the federal government to allow him acquire sophisticated weapons like AK47 to arm and enable the security guards function optimally but the request was declined.

He has, however, gone ahead to provide them with operational vehicles, motorbikes and other equipment to assist them move around the state and perform their duties. The day he presented the vehicles, visibly angry Governor Ortom said Benue has been pushed to the wall with persistent attacks on innocent farmers by herdsmen militia and he is not going to sit and fold his hands and allow the people to be killed.