Blood flowed freely in a community in Benue state as armed herdsmen slaughtered women and children leaving 26 dead.
Victims of the massacre
Barely two months after close to 80 persons were murdered in cold blood on New Year’s Day by suspected herdsmen in Logo and Guma local government areas of Benue State, about 26 persons mostly women and children, were hacked, butchered and strangulated by suspected herdsmen who stormed the Omusu, Ojigo Ward of Edumoga in Okpokwu local government area of the state last Monday.
According to Vanguard, the massacre came just shortly after the leadership of the local government had convened a peace meeting between the locals and the leadership of herdsmen in the community.
Sunday Vanguard gathered that before the bloodbath, there was a quarrel between the locals who claimed that the herders were deliberately grazing their cattle and destroying their farmlands while the herdsmen said their cows were injured and two of their kinsmen went missing after the squabble.
The authorities in the local government had put the machinery in motion to resolve the issue amicably when, shortly after the peace meeting, pandemonium broke and the entire village was set ablaze by suspected herdsmen.
Narrating the incident, the Chairman of the local government area, Mr. Francis Olofu Ogwuche, said, “We had on Monday held a peace meeting between herdsmen and the locals over an issue of missing cows and two herders in the community.
“It was shortly after the meeting and my delegation had left that I got a distress call around 4pm that armed herdsmen had sacked the village, killing several persons and injuring many.
“When I returned to the village with security personnel, I discovered the entire village was on fire, dead bodies littered everywhere and the people were fleeing to neighbouring villages for safety, but the situation was brought under control by the team of security personnel that went with me.”
Ogwuche stated that the injured and the dead were immediately taken to the General Hospital and Saint Mary’s Hospital Okpoga after a search had been conducted in the entire village for victims.
Meanwhile, Benue State Police Command, in a statement on Tuesday, stated that it received information at about 7pm on Monday, from “the Security Adviser, Okpokwu LGA that some irate youths from Omusu engaged some herdsmen in a fight, maiming some cows, while two herdsmen were missing”.
“A peace meeting was immediately initiated with the Chairman of the LGA and the Head of the Fulani community in the area, while a police search party went in search of the two missing herdsmen, one of who was found killed”, the statement said.
“Unfortunately, as the search and peace meeting were on-going, some herdsmen went on the rampage, resulting in the hacking to death of 15 persons, mainly women and children, while some houses were set ablaze.
“Four suspects have so far been arrested in connection with the killings. An extensive patrol of the community is on-going to be complemented with special forces”.
A native of the community, Anthony Aba, in his account of the massacre, said, “Most of us were busy in the farm when we suddenly started hearing gunshots from several directions.
“We all started running, women and children ran into any available house but that did not save them. From where I hid, I saw heavily armed herdsmen breaking into people’s houses and butchering women and children and the elderly who hid because they could not flee.
“The invaders also embarked on the burning of houses and food barns after which they head toward Adiga and villages in neighbouring Ado local government area.”
On his part, David Ojobo, who claimed he lost his father in the attack, said, “I just recently had a surgery, so I was handicapped when the herdsmen came shooting sporadically and killing anyone they caught up with.
“I managed to hide but the nightmare I will continue to live with was the cold blooded slaughter of my aged father who I couldn’t help from where I was hiding but saw how Fulani herdsmen caught him and put a knife to his throat.
“My helpless father cried and begged for mercy but the heartless armed men slaughtered him like a goat and I couldn’t raise a finger.”
A visit at the Saint Mary’s Hospital and the General Hospital, Okpoga showed many of the survivors, who were nursing bullet wounds, were seen in critical condition and groaning in pain.
Some were, however, able to narrate their close shave with death.
42-year-old widow, Rose Oda, who was shot on her thigh, said she escaped death narrowly.
“My husband died three years ago and, since then, I have been catering for my three children all alone. I do not engage in anything that will create problems for me and my children.
“I don’t know what led to the crisis but I managed to escape with my daughter who was also shot. Our saving grace is that we passed out after being shot, so they mistook us for dead and left.
“But, as I speak with you, two of my children are still missing and nobody has told me of their whereabouts.”
Lying in critical condition on a bed adjacent to her mother’s is her daughter, Mercy, 12, and a primary five pupil of LGEA Primary School, Omusu, who was shot on her leg and hand. Mercy said she was kicked by one of the attackers who also opened fire on her.
Groaning in pain as she spoke, she said, “I was helping my mother to prepare food for my siblings when the attackers came to our village and started shooting.
“We all started running but one of the men kicked me and, when I fell, he shot me twice; after that, he started pursuing other people to one of the houses. I later found myself in this hospital.”
One of the most pathetic cases was 10-year-old Idoko Agbo, who was also shot on his buttock. He cried profusely in his native Idoma language, “They killed my mother, my father and my sister.”
Beside him was John Adah who lay motionless with bullet wound on his neck. He was initially said to have been mistaken for the dead in one of the houses where he was discovered but was resuscitated after he was rushed to the hospital.
The medical personnel attending to him who craved anonymity said his condition was critical but stable, “he will make it alive, we are optimistic.”
Meanwhile, a relation of the victim, who gave his name as Francis, said the teenager was discovered minutes after the attack where he lay motionless and was rushed to the hospital.
Among the first callers to the community and hospitals was Governor Samuel Ortom.
Addressing natives at the Omusu village square, Ortom, who fought back tears when he sighted the remains of an 11-year-old girl being removed from the bush, said killer herdsmen had continued to unleash terror on the people of the state despite efforts by his government to stem the tide.
“Heads of security agencies said people doing this are from other countries, these killings are acceptable. We will not fold our arms and wait for people to come from other countries and invade our land, kill our people, maim our people, rape our women and children and go scot free. This cannot be allowed.
“That is why we have decided at the state security council level to come here for on-the-spot assessment. Already, as recorded by the local government chairman, 24 people were killed just in one day. This is not right and it cannot be acceptable.
“I know that security men are doing their best, but they are overstretched, the police, Civil Defence and the army. The fact is that they are not also spared.
“Even security agencies have become victims of these mercenaries. I think something has to be done and very fast too.
“As leaders we are here to assess the situation and as we go back we will re-strategize and ensure that this did not happen again.
“But let me repeat this, for us in Benue state we have a law prohibiting open grazing. Anyone who wants to live with us here must obey the law. The law is not targeted at any herdsmen or woman or any ethnic group.
“The law is meant to protect the lives of the people of the state and herdsmen alike. No one is discriminated upon and everyone must obey the law because it is what is obtainable everywhere.
“I am aware that when Sharia law was introduced in Zamfara State and several other states in the country, nobody rose up to challenge that law. Why are these people challenging us?
“I still call on security agencies to arrest the leadership of Miyetti Allah Kautal Hore who had threatened to attack since last June.
“All that we seek is justice and justice must be given to our people; that is why we were elected to lead. Anything outside that is not acceptable. We will ensure that security personnel will do the needful and ensure that the herdsmen responsible for this are arrested”.
Responding, a stakeholder in the community, Mr. Itodo Ojobo, who said he lost his elder brother in the attack, assured that the people would not seek revenge by taking the law into their hands.
“We will all adhere to the warning of the governor that we must all be law abiding and not do anything to aggravate the situation.
“So far, we have recorded 26 deaths but 24 bodied were recovered from our community and we are still searching and just now we recovered the body of an 11-year-old girl.
“We will need assistance to bury the corpses because the situation at the mortuary is that there is no space to accommodate them, so we have to bury the corpses before they start decomposing.”
On his part, a former Minister of Interior and a major stakeholder from the local government area, Comrade Abba Moro, who spoke when the Ortom delegation visited to condole with him over the death of his wife, decried the killings.
Moro commended the governor for his quick response and visit to the scene of the crisis and urged the people to support in its quest to find lasting solution to the herders/farmers crisis and the wanton killings in Benue communities.