By Peter Duru, Makurdi
Benue State has been in the news for the wrong reasons for more than one week after armed gangs took arms against each other in a fight for supremacy in Ukum Local Government Area of the state.
Reports say the fight which started penultimate Thursday and Friday between the ‘Chain’ and ‘Full Fire’ gangs festered all through last weekend, lingering into the week and leaving over 40 persons dead and several others sustaining serious injuries.
The first day of the bloody encounter, it was learnt, recorded at least 22 deaths in Chito and Tyo Akosu communities.
A local source said, “It all started Friday afternoon and it was a fight for supremacy between kingpins of crime in Ukum LGA who are known as Chain and Full Fire gangs with their operational base located in the Council area.
“Both of them are looking for each other’s neck. Full Fire employed the services of a banditry group to help kill the Chain gang who got wind of the plan and laid ambush for them.
“They opened fire and killed all of them. Some persons claimed that 10 persons were killed in the bloody fight while others said they counted 15 bodies.
“But it was a fight for supremacy among gangs and not a communal crisis. In fact, locals ran away because they feared for their lives. They feared that they might be caught in the cross-fire and reprisal despite being innocent.”
It was gathered that after the Chito exchange penultimate Friday evening, a gang of armed penultimate Saturday evening stormed a drinking spot at Tor Akosu village and opened fire on customers at the bar killing seven persons and injuring several others, some of whom later gave up the ghost before receiving medical attention.
The Sunday Vanguard source said, “Though we cannot say for sure that it was an extension of the supremacy fight, we cannot rule it out because that is what it looked like, and we cannot tell who belongs to whatever groups anymore.
“Ukum has become something else, we are all living in fear as we speak because we cannot tell who is who among our local boys.”
And just when the people were yet to come to terms with the outbreak of the bloody fight, three more persons were last Sunday reportedly killed at a gathering as armed men took the fight to Ayati community in the same Council area.
It was gathered that the spillover to Ayati was not envisaged by the people.
“Nobody expected it but information making the round was that the attack was an extension of the fight that started at the weekend in Chito and Tyo Akosu”, a local said.
“The fact is that we cannot tell who is sympathetic to any group and who is not.
“That is why the fight is getting messier and they are killing human beings as if they are animals.”
And while tension continued to mount in Chito, Tyo Akosu and Ayati communities, the bloody exchange last Monday shifted to Ukoosaa-Atam village in Sai, a community about one kilometer from Ayati.
A source in the area who disclosed that the armed men who belonged to one of the rival gangs sneaked into the community, stormed the village and opened fire on passengers on motorbikes and occupants of tricycles killing 10 of them and injuring others.
The source narrated, “The spot where the attack and killings happened on Monday evening was Ukoosaa-Atam which is just about one kilometer from Ayati town headquarters of Borikyo Council Ward of Ukum LGA.
“The armed men, who everyone suspected are part of the ongoing gang fight in Ukum, came on a Bajaj motorcycle to the village and opened fire on passengers of Keke NAPEP and commercial motorcycles, killing 10 persons while others sustained injuries.
“This is one among the several attacks that have been going on in Ukum communities recently and people are now forced to flee their homes for fear of being killed.
“But we must thank God that He has made them to turn their weapons against each other because in doing so we have some respite.
“We pray they continue to kill each other and maybe at the end of the day help us eliminate themselves for peace to reign in our communities. This could be a way of God fighting for us in Sankera comprising Ukum, Logo and Katsina-Ala LGAs where armed men have in the last 10 years reigned with impunity, killing at will and sacking communities for no justifiable reasons.”
Speaking on the security situation in the LGA, the lawmaker representing Ukum State Constituency in State House of Assembly, Mr. Ezra Nyiyongo, who lamented the worsening insecurity in his constituency, said it was time for the state government to step up its strategy to address the situation.
The lawmaker said, “The situation is not too far from what has been happening. We have had that problem well before now. It is just that it has taken different turns and twists but generally we have security challenges.
“You are aware when the serving Commissioner for Information Matthew Aboh was picked. One of our elder statesmen was slso picked and he later died in their hands. So, we have been having these re-occurences. You will hear that today 24 people were killed, other times 11 and it keeps on happening every other day.
“You will sympathize with my people in Ukum and by extension Benue State. We as a government need to step up our strategy. I am particularly pained so much and I believe the government is looking at it critically. At my end, the options I have are limited for now but I think I will meet up with the Executive.
“As a legislator I have reported to my Speaker and we will take it up with the Governor and I believe we will have headway sooner or later.
“I recall that the Governor during our electioneering campaigns promised to do everything to bring peace even if it means bringing the carrot approach to the so-called boys in the bush.
“And I believe that takes time because you have to start planning on where do you take them to and if the Federal Government accepts to forgive them, all is a process which I believe is ongoing. In the interim, I feel pained and sometimes I am ashamed because if it were external aggressors that are attacking us, then you can say there is breakdown of law and order but here we have a situation where same brothers from the same mother and father are pointing guns at each other.
“Who is going to report who? This is the situation I am facing. It is devastating; it is really terrible.”
On his part, the Special Adviser to the Governor on Security and Internal Affairs, Joseph Har, who confirmed that the crisis was between rival armed gangs, assured that the state government was taking steps to put an end to it. He said, “It is gang fight and not a communal crisis, but I can assure you that government is adopting measures include using the carrot and stick approach to ensure that the boys are persuaded to come out of their hiding and embrace peace.”