From Scholastica Hir, Makurdi

Over 45 persons, including a family of seven, have been reportedly killed in Gbagir community and other places in Ukum Local Government Area, (LGA), of Benue State, by gunmen suspected to be armed militia gangs operating in the area.

Our correspondent gathered that the attack was carried out by local rival bandits and cult groups who have been engaging in a supremacy fight to oust one another in the Sankara area.

According to sources from the area, most of those who died were members of the rival militia gangs while about 12 innocent farmers were caught in the cross fire which also left over 30 persons injured with many others reportedly missing as at press time.

A traditional ruler in the area who pleaded not to be named for fear of attacks, said the bloody clash started Tuesday morning, March 5, 2024, after a militia leader in Ukum LGA, kidnapped another militia leader, one Alhaji Gana and his family members, who were known for banditry and kidnappings, from neighbouring Chinkai community in Wukari LGA of Taraba State.

He said, “after kidnapping them, he asked for N100 million ransom but he was given N5 million. After collecting the money, he killed the hostages.

“The murder of the hostages sparked outrage among his gang members in Taraba State. This happened over the weekend.

“What followed was that another militia gang leader in Ukum now went and join forces with the militia gang in Taraba to help them eliminate the rival gang in Ukum that killed their leader, Alhaji Gana.

“The essence was to enable him be the head of the militia in Ukum. The combined forces of the militia gangs in Taraba and Ukum started moving into the bushes of Gbagir in their hundreds from Sunday to sack the gang that killed Alhaji Gana. And on Tuesday morning the bloody fight ensued.”

The traditional ruler said “From what we gathered, over 45 persons who were mainly bandits have been killed, though we have record of about 12 farmers who were caught in the cross fire. Over 30 others were injured while some are also missing.

“Sadly caught in the cross fire were a family of seven in Tse Adzandeh Mbasaa, Mbajiga, Ityuluv, Torov. They were all members of the Adzandeh family.

They include Michael Adzandeh, Iorfa, Akirghorga, Tyowuese Tetsee, Terngu and Terkaa Adzandeh.

He lamented that the armed men have also spread to the bushes of Gbeji, Chito and Afia in their numbers but could not move into the residential area because of the timely intervention of troops of Operation Whirl Stroke, OPWS.

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“In fact, when people noticed the movement of the armed militia into Benue communities, the Chiefs informed the political leaders who immediately briefed Governor Hyacinth Alia who equally alerted the military for swift action.

“It was this timely response of the Governor to the intel and the intervention of the OPWS that saved the people of Ukum LGA because we gathered that they planned to kill hundreds of people in Ukum as revenge for the murdered militia leader but it is their gang war and innocent residents have nothing to do with that.

“Over 1,000 of them have laid siege on Ukum LGA as we speak that is why we are appealing to the military to save us before they wipe out our innocent families.

“We need more security posts in and around the area and we also appeal to the Governors of Benue and Taraba States to team up and put an end to the activities of these cross border criminals. They should support the military with logistics also.”

“As we speak these people are still in the bushes in Ukum, they have not moved back to Taraba. The Fulani militia are being supported by a Tiv militia group to eliminate another Tiv militia gang and as they fight the innocent locals will be killed.

“There is urgent need to protect the other three villages because we are hearing that the first phase of the attack is in Gbagir while Chito, Gbeji and Afia might be next.”

“We are also appealing for fortified military presence in all the Benue and Taraba border communities.”

Confirming the killings, a senior military source who refused to be named said it was a clash between two militia groups.

He said the villagers know those carrying out the dastardly act but were shielding them.

He said several dead bodies were recovered but refused to mention any figure.

“These are militia men killing themselves. Yes, we acknowledge that probably people may have been caught in the cross fire, but the majority of the people that were killed are members of the militia gangs in the area.

“Currently, we are in Kwande and are trying to contain the situation in the area and as you can see, calm has been restored to the area. We have been able to flush the herdsmen out of the area and can assure you normalcy would be restored.

“Our troops are in Ukum, to ensure that the attack does not affect innocent people.