From Scholastica Hir, Makurdi

With the emergence of Governor Hyacinth Alia All’s administration on May 29, 2023, Benue State has experienced a relative sense of peace. Herdsmen invasions, maiming, killings and other forms of atrocities executed by herdsmen and criminals dropped drastically.

But just as 2023 was winding, the dreaded Fulani herdsmen resurfaced with a bang and stole the peace of the people. One of their unfortunate victims was Martha Kwaghdoo Anderson, who until her death was a fine telecom engineer. A mother and a two-time victim of kidnapping experiences, had years ago relocated with her family to Abuja for safety.

Those familiar with her tragedy claimed deceased from Gwer West Local Government, could not have died at this time if she had remained Abuja. “It was her decision to return home for Christmas that set the stage for her untimely demise. It was while she was returning from her village in the company of her husband, four children and sister in-law that she ran into the herdsmen on the notorious Naka – Makurdi Road. The herdsmen opened fire on their vehicle, killing her in the process,” Daily Sun was told.

Anderson’s death sparked a wave of anger. When her picture surfaced on social media, it melted the strongest of hearts. Friends and relatives who saw her recent posts of her visit to her village could not believe their eyes when  they read about her cruel death in the hands of the herdsmen moments after. What a tragedy!

But Anderson was not alone in the deepening narrative of insecurity in the state. Many have walked the same pathway. The activities of killer herdsmen are felt in most parts of the state, particularly Guma, Gwer West, Logo, Ukum, Kwande, Otukpo, Obi, Apa and Agatu local government areas.

Sunday Okoh from one of these ill- fated communities, explained that the herders are also fond of attacking security personnel. He recalled the story of Mamud Abubakar, a Divisional Police Officer in Naka, Gwer West LG, killed recently by the herdsmen. According to him, Abubakar had engaged the deadly herders, on several occasions, to rescue commuters kidnapped on that deadly road within his division: “But this time around, they came for him and ended his life.

“After his death, more security personnel were detailed to keep watch and avert any such future occurrence but the incidents continued.”

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Last year, armed bandits suspected to be herdsmen, also hijacked four buses belonging to Benue Links, the state transport company, on Makurdi-Naka Road and abducted their passengers. “There were other times when passengers onboard of Benue Links buses were killed while some were robbed and female passengers raped. Their atrocities had no limits,” alleged an eyewitness.

In November 2023, former Chairman, Okpokwu LG, Amina Audu and her driver were kidnapped. She was travelling through the dreaded Naka-Makurdi Road and ambushed at Tyolaha Ahume. They spent days in the custody of their abductors. They were released only after huge sums of money were paid as ransom.

This year, records of crimes have not changed much. Kidnapping, petty robbery, phone- snatching among others retained their frequency of occurrence. Last Friday, January 12, 2024, a resident of Ayilamo, Logo LG, who pleaded anonymity, informed the police that at about 5;00am on Wednesday, January 10, a Toyota wagon vehicle left Ugba for Anyiin with seven passengers.

On approaching Mbavuur, some hoodlums waylaid the said vehicle and its passengers and ordered everybody to the bush path heading to Afia. Since then, the whereabouts of the vehicle, its passengers and driver remained unknown.

On Saturday, January 13, another criminally minded incident happened. Chairman, Ukum LG, Haanongon Gideon, was kidnapped alongside his personal assistant, driver and police orderly.The reverend father and those with him were abducted along Anyagba, Tongov, in Katsina Ala LG on their way to attend the burial of the Ter Katsina Ala, Fezaanga Wombo.

A resident of Naka, Gwer West LG, Fidelis Igba, lamented: “Most of our villages are no- go areas because of the herders’ attacks. We live in IDP camps; we can no longer go to our farms to farm our own food. We have to wait to be given food. Hunger is killing our people, our children can’t go to school, we can’t travel on our roads because you will be attacked and killed. What else is slavery if not this? We need security. We need more security. We need peace so we can reclaim our normal lives.”

A former councilor, Logo LG, Jonathan Tyonongo, added: “As farmers, we don’t have access to our lands anymore. Even the little we managed to produce, we can’t sell because the Igbo’ people who travel down to buy from us are no longer coming for fear of being killed or kidnapped. What happened to us last year must not be allowed to start again this year.”

Governor Alia was a few days ago in Makurdi and Gwer West LGs to campaign against violence and other forms of criminalities with a warning that it would no longer be business as usual. However, traditional ruler of Naka in Gwer West LG, the Ter – Nagi, Daniel Ayua Abomtse, disclosed: “Since February 8, 2011 till date, my people are being displaced on accounts of attacks by herdsmen. To bring acts of kidnappings and killings in Gwer West to an end, a three-day military onslaught in the Benue forests, by land and air, is needed to make sure that all their territories and enclaves are completely wiped out.

“I think, also, that a state of emergency should also be declared on some of the local governments, so that the military can be deployed there to ensure security of the people.”