Benue Killings: Youths Stone Ortom, Buhari Orders Arrest of Culprits
- Police apprehend eight suspects
- Atiku, APC, PDP, others condemn killings
Omololu Ogunmade, Onyebuchi Ezigbo in Abuja and George Okoh in Makurdi with agency report
Anger spilled out onto the sreets of Makurdi, the Benue State capital, Wednesday over the gruesome killing of about 50 persons by suspected armed herdsmen in Guma and Logo Local Government Areas of the state on New Year day and Tuesday.
Protesting residents, mostly youths, booed and stoned the state governor, Samuel Ortom, forcing the government to draft troops to quell the massive protest in the state capital and neighbouring towns and to prevent mayhem.
The governor had gone to placate the restive youths at Wurukum where the protest was taking place in Makurdi Wednesday but he was met with angry youths who were incensed over his seeming inability to keep the marauding herders in check.
The placard carrying protesters also called on President Muhammadu Buhari to resign over his failure to provide adequate security for the state.
The president, however, condemned the mindless killings and wanton destruction of property in the state, and ordered the security agencies to bring the perpetrators to book.
This is just as the police in Benue said Wednesday they had arrested eight herdsmen over the deaths of 10 persons and seven livestock guard in the Guma and Logo on Monday.
There has been tension in the state since the passage of the Anti-open Grazing Bill into law last November.
The law is meant to encourage ranching and check the menace of herders and their cattle, which often destroy farmlands in Benue and has led to bloody clashes and attacks in the past, resulting in the deaths of hundreds of people in the state.
However, since the enactment of the law, the cattle breeders association, known as Miyetti Allah, have vowed to resist the law and were accused of threatening to carry out attacks against citizens in the state.
But in order to quell the protest in Makurdi Wednesday, soldiers from the 72 Battalion North Bank were brought in to control the protesting youths and restore order, after word got out that two protesters had been wounded.
The protesters called on the presidency to bring the culprits to book and carried placards with inscriptions such as “presidential intervention needed”, “why value cows more than humans”, and “stop this incessant blood bath”.
Some of them chanted: “We will not vote for the present administration again at both the state and federal levels if this crises don’t stop.”
According to the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN), the protesters also barricaded major roads leading in and out of Makurdi, and vowed not to leave the streets until the presidency spoke on the killings.
They also called on the government to intervene in the series of other attacks on rural communities by armed herdsmen.
A resident, Mr. Terhemen Anum, told NAN that residents of Guma and Logo were yet to determine the number of peasant farmers, women, children and the aged that were massacred during the two-day killing spree.
Also, Mrs. Ruth Agba said the killing of Benue farmers and destruction to their homes and farms was no different from Boko Haram activities in the North-east.
Despite the anger, Ortom, while briefing reporters, called for calm over the situation and asked residents not to take the law into their hands.
He disclosed that more casualties of the attacks were still been brought to Makurdi, and confirmed that the carnage had been reported to the president.
“I have reported the matter to the president and we are expecting action. Some of the people we have evidence against are the leaders of Miyetti Allah who have been threatening the state. We are calling on the president to arrest them immediately,” he said.
He said the federal government should rise to its responsibility “if not they are saying Benue is not part of Nigeria”.
Buhari Orders Arrest
Reacting to the wanton killing spree in Benue, Buhari Wednesday in Abuja commiserated with the state governor and ordered the security agencies to fish out the killers.
The president, according to a terse statement by his media aide, Malam Garba Shehu, expressed immense sadness over the attacks on the two local government areas in Benue, describing them as wicked and callous attacks on even innocent children.
Shehu said the president assured the governor and people of the state that the relevant security agencies had been directed to do everything possible to arrest the culprits of the regrettable incidents and avert further attacks.
Describing the destruction as “one attack too many”, Shehu said the president added that “everything must be done to provide security for the people in our rural communities”, adding that Buhari also commiserated with families of the victims and wished those injured speedy recovery.
Also commenting on the wave of killings in the country in recent days, a former vice-president of Nigeria and chieftain of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Atiku Abubakar, described as unacceptable the cycle of blood-letting that has led to the loss of precious lives across the country.
Atiku made the charge against the backdrop of recent killings in Rivers, Kaduna, Benue and other parts of the country, including Wednesday’s early morning suicide bombing at the Gamboru mosque in Borno, barely three days into the New Year.
The Waziri Adamawa, according to a statement by his media office in Abuja Wednesday, said the killings in those states, and other senseless killings and reprisal blood-letting that had preceded them in the past across the country were ungodly, “a throwback to the stone age, and a hindrance to the promotion of peace and unity in the country”.
Atiku stressed that the diversity of Nigeria remains one of its strongest points, reminding leaders of all persuasion and at all levels to ensure that they promote the things that unite Nigerians rather than those that create divisions.
“That the Almighty in His Wisdom made us a nation of different tongues and tribes; made us Africa’s most populous nation with more than 300 tribes is no accident. If well enhanced, our diversity should be our biggest strength.
“There cannot be development when innocent lives are being lost in a seemingly endless cycle of attacks and reprisals. While we should hold every life as precious, it is more painful that the victims of these attacks are women and youths – the demography that we depend upon to drive development,” he said.
The former vice-president called on Nigerians to use the opportunity of the New Year to reflect on these needless killings and to resolve to live in peace and harmony.
He also prayed for the fortitude of the bereaved families.
In its reaction also, the national leadership of the PDP condemned the recent terror attacks and killings unleashed on innocent Nigerians in Benue, Kaduna and Rivers States.
While reacting to the unfortunate incident Wednesday, the party’s National Publicity Secretary Kola Ologbondiyan said the president should take immediate steps to arrest all those behind the dastardly act.
“PDP condemns the wanton killings in some parts of our nation, particularly Benue State. We urge President Muhammadu Buhari to order the immediate arrest of the criminal herders murdering the people Guma and Logo Local Government Areas of Benue State.
“These killings are horrible, senseless and wicked. This is a time when silence is not noble,” he said.
Similarly, the Benue State chapters of the PDP and the All Progressives Congress (APC) condemned the horrific killing of innocent people in the local government areas by suspected herdsmen.
The Benue PDP, in a press statement signed by its publicity secretary, Mr. Bemgba Iortyom, said the state chapter of the party totally condemned the barbaric act, which it said qualified by every standard as an act of terrorism employed in the pursuit of an agenda that was genocidal in character.
“Our hearts go out in sympathy to the victims, the dead, those injured, and the displaced ones wandering about terrorised, dehumanised and thrust into the cruel, merciless embrace of destitution and hardship,” the state PDP said.
The party said it was unacceptable that Buhari has continued to concentrate on the deployment of security resources of the federal government solely on the Boko Haram challenge, while turning a blind eye to the bloody carnage of armed herdsmen in Benue communities and a deaf ear to the cries of their helpless victims.
Adding that Buhari must, as a matter of duty, urgently shift or share his focus from an “already defeated” Boko Haram to the rapidly growing menace of armed herdsmen killing helpless farmers and burning down their properties, it said this will be in fulfillment of the oath he took to protect one and all Nigerians from harm and injustice, without fear or favour.
The spokesman of the APC in Benue, Mr. Abba Yaro, also described the massive killing of over 50 people by the herdsmen as an invitation to civil war.
In a statement issued Wednesday, Yaro decried the recent killings as an attempt to spark a second civil war in Nigeria, insisting that it was a clear case of ethnic cleansing around the Benue valley, which must be stopped immediately.
While calling on Buhari to immediately call the herdsmen to order and direct the security agency to apprehend the killers, APC also called on all Benue sons and daughters, irrespective of party affiliations, to rise in defence of their communities.
“This is above party politics, it is about human lives. How can you kill a pregnant woman and remove the unborn child and slaughter it? It is barbaric, unspeakable and generally unpalatable,” the APC statement read in part.
APC said the Anti-open Grazing Law in Benue was not targeted at any set of persons but for the general security of the state, a measure against cattle rustling and a solution for herders/farmers perennial clashes.
It maintained that its enforcement was ongoing and the state APC was in support of the governor and will not be deterred.
“The Anti-open Grazing Law has come to stay,” the state chapter of the ruling party maintained.
It also warned that if the herdsmen are not called to order by the relevant authorities and refuse to stop the ethnic cleansing, Benue people shall take the law into their hands in self-defence.
Eight Herdsmen Apprehended
Meanwhile, the police in Benue said Wednesday that they had arrested eight herdsmen over the deaths of 10 persons and seven livestock guards in Guma and Logo Local Government Areas of the state on Monday.
The police public relations officer in the state, Moses Yamu, who made this known during a briefing in Makurdi, said: “Eight herdsmen, six in Guma and two in Logo, had been arrested in connection with the attacks.”
He added that the state police command had made additional deployments in the troubled areas to forestall further attacks and restore the confidence of the people.
Yamu stressed the situation in the two local government areas had been brought under control while investigations were ongoing.
He said: “They attacked Tomater village in Sengev council ward, Akor village in Nzorov council ward, and Bakin Kwata village in Umanger council ward of Guma LGA.
“Among those killed were seven members of Benue State Livestock Guards, their vehicle burnt and an uncertain number of persons injured in separate attacks between 31/12/2017 and 02/01/2018.
“Again, Agba-Uko near Azege village and Tse-Aga village of Logo LGA experienced the same fate, where one person was killed, one motorcycle burnt and four persons injured.
“All the injured from both LGAs are currently undergoing treatment in various hospitals in the state.”
According to him, five combined teams of riot and conventional policemen led by the Assistant Commissioner of Police, Operations, Emmanuel Adesina, had engaged the armed herdsmen in a gun duel in Guma.