•How 25 women, children, others were killed in Iye market •Over 300 killed in 2 months


From Scholastica Onyeka, Makurdi


Monday, May 21, 2023, will remain a red letter day for the people of Iye community in Guma Local Government Area of Benue State, where 18 people were killed in cold blood in an attack that took place on a market day by gunmen suspected to be herdsmen militia.

In this last attack, a middle aged woman had her hand cut off from the wrist while a two-year-old child she was carrying on her back was killed in cold blood. The attackers burnt down over 200 houses.

Our correspondent reports that the Iye market attack was one in the series of similar attacks by armed herdsmen who have waged a relentless war against the people of Benue State. On November 3, 2022, killer herdsmen invaded Ukohol market, along Makurdi-Lafia road, also in Guma LGA, and sprayed bullets on the traders, killing 18 persons among them women, children and the aged.

Iye village is located immediately after former University of Agriculture, Makurdi (FUAM), now Joseph Saawuan Tarka University, Makurdi (JOSTUM), and not up to 20 kilometres from Makurdi, the state capital.

Between April and May this year, more than 300 people have been killed in Benue State as a result of herdsmen’s attacks just as the state needs help in form of food, water, shelter and medication to combat the mounting humanitarian crisis with over two million residents living in IDP camps.

The latest attack on Iye has spread fear and agony in the agrarian community as residents have fled their home for fear of further attacks.

The attack which came barely 24 hours after herdsmen attacked and killed six people in Apa, Local Government Area while several others were injured. The invaders also burnt down many houses, destroyed other property, including food barns worth millions of naira.

Locals from the area initially said the 18 corpses which were recovered and were burnt beyond recognition including women and children.

A resident, Jonah Ihundu, said the figures have risen as they have discovered more dead bodies bringing the figure to 25. According to him, the attack occurred on Iye market day when people were busy trading and going about their business.

He said: “On that fateful day, villagers were in the market doing their trading and suddenly the herdsmen entered the market and surrounded it. Before people know what was going on, the herders started shooting.

“On hearing the gunshots, people started running for their dear lives but those who made to run out out of the market were gunned down.

“On the first day, 18 dead bodies were recovered but as the search continued, more dead bodies were recovered, making the number 25.

“These attacks happen almost on daily basis. Most people have lost up to five or six members of their families in the attacks.

“We are shocked that while people are relaxing in their homes or going about their businesses to make ends meet, people will just come and kill them without provocation. This is no longer about grazing. Something is wrong somewhere and the authorities must nip it in the bud.”

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Another local from the area, Tersugh Kur, described the attacks as not only a crime against humanity but an afront against the Benue people.

“How can people be in their home or farm or market places and you will come and kill them. Many people have lost their young ones, the worst is that women are being made widows, men are made widowers and children have become orphans.

“Our people are being forced to leave their villages. We can no longer go to our farms, now it’s happening on market days. This is unacceptable,” he lamented.

Meanwhile, the police in the state while confirming the attack, said seven corpses were recovered on the first day. In a text message, the police public relations officer, Catherine Anene, a superintendent of police, said: “Seven corpses were recovered and one of the attackers died during the attack.”

As at the time of filing this report, Anene, who could not confirm the death of 25 person, simply said: “We saw eight bodies.”

But narrating the incident, the security secretary, Guma LGA, Mr Christopher Waku, confirmed that 19 people were killed at Iye village that day.

He said: “On that fateful day, at about 5pm, I got a distress call from the community that there is a presence of the Nigerian army in the community and they want to know if the military are for the community or against the community. I told them to wait let me find out from the sector commander.

“First, I called my local government chairman to brief him what was going on and he said he will call the sector commander and I waited for 30 minutes and he didn’t call me. So I decided to call the sector commander myself. I told him that my people are complaining about the presence of the army in their community and that for the past two weeks, they have been under threat and that with the army there, I want to know if he knows about them.

“He said he will find out and later he confirmed that they were there on patrol. But I told him that the people are complaining that in the past after seeing the army come to their community like that, they were attacked and he said that this time there would be no problem.

“After a while, he called me and said that they have pulled out of the community and 25 minutes later I was called that the community was set ablaze by the herders. That day was a market day and there was a lot of casualties. About 19 bodies were recovered and they said some people later died but I have not confirmed the figure.

“One woman was seriously macheted. In fact they cut her left hands from the wrist and her other hand was macheted, some fingers were almost of and her left leg was macheted. Everyone affected in the attack was killed and even the child the woman was carrying was killed. The child was just two years old. What offence did she commit but she is taking treatment in the hospital.

“This is genocide. Imagine people doing their normal business in the market and you come and open fire on them. This is inhuman. It is genocide.

“Right now, people have deserted the place. Iye is about 18 kilometres from Makurdi. Now we are seeing the presence of security personnel but their number is not encouraging.”

Waku appealed to the federal government to intensify efforts to put an end to the incessant killing going on in the area. He lamented that despite the fact that this is rainy season, the people are not allowed to access their land.

“This is planting season, farmers have prepared their land, some have planted and some have not and you now come and chase them away from their ancestral land. Imagine the damage. As I speak to you, over 200 houses were burnt. If government can come to their aid and urgently too, it will be fine,” he appealed.

Meanwhile, the new governor, Rev. Fr. Hyacinth Alia, has expressed his resolve to secure ives and property in the state.

Alia, in his inaugural speech on May 29,  acknowledged that has the state had had its share of crisis and needs to be curtailed. According to him, “our state has been tested by crises that have steeled our resolve and proved our resilience.

“We, therefore, promised to prioritize the security of lives and property of our people by ending insecurity occasioned by farmer/herder crisis, returning our Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) to their ancestral homes and provide them a means of livelihood in a new economy.

“As your governor, I am committed to working with security agencies and the federal government to ensure the safety of lives and property in our state. We will also work tirelessly to address the root causes of insecurity, such as poverty, unemployment, and social exclusion.”