Virtually all the communities in Benue State have become theaters of war, no thanks to the activities of suspected herdsmen who, in the last few years, have been killing, raping, stealing and occupyings part of the vast land that makes up the agrarian state.
The invasion has continued despite the outcry by the locals.
Today, majority of the inhabitants of the affected communities have become refugees in their own land, thus abandoning their farming activities.
From Makurdi to Zaki Biam, Otukpo to Agatu, it is same sad story of bloodletting and devastation that left hundreds killed, property destroyed and farmlands and food barns razed.
While the recent genocide in Agatu left hundreds of persons dead and most of the council wards in the local government area, LGA, sacked, the herdsmen have now bared their fangs in Ukum and Logo, the two LGAs regarded as the food basket of the state.
Renown for their massive production of yam tubers and grains sold across the country, persistent invasion of the economic nerve centre of Benue in the last six weeks could lead to the collapse of what is left of the state’s economy.
The killing spree has become a recurrent decimal in communities with over 100 farmers killed in Vaase, Igbongum, Swende, Tsukwa, Ugondo, Tyovgbenda, Ankyor, Chambe and Anawah settlements at Gaambe-Tiev; Dusa villages in Turan council ward, Uzzar, Anyii and several others, all in Logo and Ukum LGAs.
Some of the dead had their heads chopped off, some had their legs and hands severed from their bodies while many were shot at close range and the death toll keeps rising.
Sometimes corpses were dumped in rivers in some of the beleaguered communities, thereby polluting the water source while the flow of blood leaves stenches.
However, the outpouring of condemnation that, few days ago, trailed the killing of a septuagenarian, Elder Bemgbee Akuta, who was butchered alongside three of his family members, including his wife, Mngusee, at Ankyor community in Tsaav Ukum, LGA, clearly indicated that the Benue blood letting is not about to end.
In this particular instance, eyewitnesses said over 30 persons were hacked to death by armed herdsmen numbering over 100 who besieged the communities from a village in Taraba State. On the heels of the incident came another incursion in Tiza village in Tombo ward, where Samuel Wayo, a primary school supervisor with Logo LGA, was killed along with one Msugh Oriin.
Shortly after that attack, a fresh offensive was launched on parts of Chambe and Anawah settlements in Gaambe-Tiev in Logo Local Government Area by the marauders. According to an eyewitness, armed herdsmen stormed the villages, singing war songs, shooting sporadically and razing houses, huts and food barns in the communities.
He said, “Like the cases before now, the attack was unprovoked, the armed herdsmen stormed the settlements shooting sporadically and singing at the same time.” He stated that over 25 lives were lost in that attack while several others sustained machete cuts and bullet wounds.
He continued: “As if that was not enough, after chasing the people away, they took over and occupied the affected settlements while some houses and huts were set ablaze. “That is the situation we have found ourselves in this part of the country. We are helpless, our women and children are also being tormented and killed almost on weekly basis. Maybe the herdsmen want us to vacate Benue for them.
“At the moment, most of our people are moving in large numbers from villages adjoining the attacked communities. Majority of them are fleeing to Anyii, the local government headquarters, where most of the wounded are receiving medical attention.”
Reacting to the attacks on Tse Aondo, Tse Ankyou and Igbogom communities in Ukum LGAs where 10 people were killed and scores injured, the state Deputy Governor, Mr. Benson Abounu, lamented that Benue was under the siege of herdsmen despite the efforts of government to stop the killings.
The Deputy Governor said the information at the disposal of government indicated that the attackers stormed the affected communities from neighbouring Taraba State.
Abounu said, “This attacks clearly show we are a state under siege. That is the mildest way anybody can put it. These killings are quite unfortunate. Just when you think that the matter has died down, one wakes up to the news of another ugly attack and killing of innocent people.
“This ugly trend will no longer be condoned. Worse still is that these attackers came in with their cows from neighbouring Taraba State to unleash mayhem on the people”.
Governor Samuel Ortom, on his part, lamented that his government was helpless and could not contain the rampaging herdsmen.
According to Ortom, “After killing, maiming and raping women, they sack the locals from their homes and occupy the ‘captured territory’.”
The governor urged the herdsmen to either live in peace with their host communities or leave the state.
He said he had continually restrained his people from carrying out reprisal attacks on the marauders, but cautioned that the people could resort to self-help if security agencies are unable to prevent the killings.
Ortom said, “It is a bad situation. Everyday you hear how my people are being killed, raped and maimed by these mercenaries, they do not have respect for the rule of law nor for security personnel.
“The situation has gotten to a point where we contain the crisis in one community and they would move quickly to another to massacre the people. “These are wicked mercenaries under the guise of herdsmen who are attacking us and taking over our farmlands. I have said it several times that we do not have land for grazing in the state, let them move out of the state if they cannot respect the rule of law and the sanctity of human lives.
“There is a limit to how I can appeal to my people to restrain themselves from reprisal attacks; if all of them are killed then I might be the next target. We are helpless and if nothing urgent is done, we might have a major crisis in our hands.”
The governor, who debunked the allegation that the crisis was sparked by rustlers in the affected communities, said, “Those behind cow rustling are the herdsmen themselves because they are the only ones that speak the language that cows understand.”