At least 20 persons, including women and children, were killed in New Year’s Day attacks by suspected Fulani herdsmen in five communities of Guma and Logo local government areas of Benue State.
During the youths’ protest in Makurdi, the Benue state capital, against the attacks, three youths were allegedly shot dead by security agents while seven others sustained various degrees of injuries and also receiving treatment alongside victims of the recent attacks.
Several attacks had been carried out by herdsmen in villages in the state, forcing the state government to enact and implement the anti-open grazing law in the state.
Some victims of the attacks and their family members, who spoke when our correspondent visited them at the Benue State University Hospital, Makurdi, described the situation as a plan to annihilate them.
As of late Thursday, the Chief Medical Director, Dr. Swede Terlumun, said that 19 corpses of victims of the attacks and three additional corpses from Wednesday’s protest were at the hospital’s mortuary. He, however, said he could not confirm the number of those on the hospital bed, who were also victims of the attacks.
Mrs. Jessica Peter, who is the wife of one of the victims from the Guma Local Government Area of the state, said her husband was a member of the state Livestock Guards.
Livestock Guards are in charge of enforcing the anti-open grazing law to ensure that herdsmen and their cattle are not allowed to stray into farms and eat or damage crops.
She said, “It is painful that this happened despite useful information provided to security personnel regarding the movement and mode of operation of the assailants.
“My husband had been in the bush for four months, leaving us (his family) at home to join the new guard that was newly introduced by the state government to enforce the anti-open grazing law.
“It was when I got to Makurdi that I got to know that my husband was among the guards attacked by the herdsmen. He had told me that there was a security report that there would be attacks in the state and the report was said to have been presented to security operatives in the state, but they didn’t do anything to forestall them.
“l urge the government to do the needful and stop these attacks on our people; our people cannot go to their farms anymore. Even though we have started harvesting, we cannot go near our farms again for fear of attacks by herdsmen who openly graze on ripe crops.”
Her husband, Zion, on his hospital bed, uttered his words feebly as he wriggled in pains. His head and hands were swathed in bandages.
“I am one of the guards engaged to enforce the new law; I was initially posted to Guma and later transferred to Logo.
“We were at the camp at Tombo at around 9 am on New Year’s Day when about 15 herdsmen stormed our camp and opened fire on us. A bullet hit me in the thigh and prevented me from running away as others did. The assailants rushed to me and cut me machetes before they left,” he said.
A farmer, Caleb Ateze, lost his mother on New Year’s Day following the attacks, while his father was left with serious injuries.
On Wednesday, while returning home from the hospital where his father was being treated, Ateze was also attacked.
“On New Year’s Day, we were returning home from the church when we suddenly saw some gunmen shooting sporadically. A bullet hit my mother and she died on the spot. My father, who was behind her, was also hit. After the dust settled, we were able to carry the injured ones to hospital.
“The remains of my mother are in the morgue here. On Wednesday, I came to see my father and then I had to get some things from the village, so I left for the village. Some herdsmen waylaid me on the road and attacked me. It was the sound of an oncoming vehicle that later drove them away,” he said.
Also, a commercial driver, Ibrahim Mohammed, said that he was taking some passengers from Lafia to Makurdi when he ran into the herdsmen between the boundary of Makurdi and Lafia.
He said the herders stopped him and asked if there was any Fulani man in the vehicle.
”Immediately we said no, they opened fire on us. I lost everything l had and there is no one to take care of my wife and children again with my condition.
“I want to use this opportunity to call on the Federal Government to urgently address this crisis in Benue. Security agencies must wake up to their constitutional responsibility of protecting lives in the state; this evil must be stopped — enough of all the killings, Mohammed said.
Caleb Akaater from Guma described what happened in his village as unimaginable.
“My father and my mother were shot in my presence. My father and l survived but my mother died immediately. I counted over 12 corpses in my compound alone,” he said.
Asked about the identity of the attackers, he said, “You know we have cohabited with the herdsmen for a long time. It is easy to recognise them. We saw them and we know they are the ones killing our people. This is an incident which keeps recurring and there has been no way to curb the violence.”
A Junior Secondary School student in Guma, who identified himself as Mnyanchire Lazarus, narrowly escaped death during Wednesday’s protest.
Lazarus was hit by a stray bullet but he survived.
“I was sent to the market by my mother to buy soaps. On my way, suddenly, I had a strange feeling in my body. I fell down and later found myself in the hospital.
”I didn’t go to where youths were protesting and I was not aware of any crisis; if I did, I would not have gone anywhere. As I was going to the market, I saw people running and l also started running, then a stray bullet hit me.
“My mother loves me so much and only God knows how she must be feeling now because my life is at stake. I can no longer go to school. I was preparing to resume school on Monday but that expectation has now been dealt a big blow. The government must do everything to address the security situation in Benue,” Lazarus said.