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Benue: How 7 were killed, burnt in Gboko

They were feeling fulfilled that Wednesday morning when their vehicle arrived the bus station in Gboko. Their trip was a success. A baby had been…

They were feeling fulfilled that Wednesday morning when their vehicle arrived the bus station in Gboko. Their trip was a success. A baby had been born and they had traveled all the way from their base in Okene, in Kogi State, to Taraba, to welcome it to the world and give it a name. In their culture, welcoming a new life deserves all that and more. From Gboko, they had just few hours left to finally return home. But they did not, as a rampaging crowd pounced on them.

The travelers had arrived Benue State at a time the state was recovering from the killing of 73 residents of Tiv descent by suspected herders. Unfortunately, for the seven, all of them were Fulani, the ethnic group suspected to be behind the attack on the 73 people that were given a mass burial in the state capital barely two weeks earlier.

Since the attack, which was widely condemned across the country, tension had been high in the state and it almost reached a crescendo and spilled into violent reprisals when the corpses of the 73 slain villagers were paraded in the streets of Makurdi, the state capital.

Reports show that it took the intervention of security personnel to prevent the grieving natives from falling on non-indigenes residing in Makurdi, in the name of retaliation, even as two residents were said to have fallen victims of the crowd.

Unaware they could be targeted that fateful Wednesday, the innocent seven went into the bus station to catch a vehicle for home. But soon as they were noticed, a crowd built up around them, siezed, killed and roasted their corpses. So, their journey to welcome a new life ended in the tragic end of their own lives. 

Explaining how they met their death in a cruel manner, the state’s commissioner of police said they were hacked to death by suspected criminal elements.

Fatai Owoseni, who briefed newsmen on return from assessing the scene of the incident, asserted that the attack had no religious, tribalism and political undertone.

He said the victims were believed to be either going to somewhere in Okene or Taraba State to do menial jobs in coco plantation.

“About 11am today (Wednesday), we got a report that the Gboko area of the state, which before now had been very peaceful, was being disturbed. The incident happened between 9am and 10am, some passengers believed to be of Fulani extraction were attacked at the motor park and killed by some criminal gang.

“The victims were attacked right in the park while trying to board a vehicle to Okene. Some said they were going to Taraba. The police rushed to the park on getting the information and the report was that the criminals threw stones on police, which made the situation out of control,” he said.

A number of arrests, according to the police commissioner, were made in connection with the killing. Of the arrests, the police commissioner also disclosed that the Divisional Police Officer (DPO) in charge of Gboko had been taken into custody for questioning over alleged slow response to the distress calls as he maintained that he (Owoseni) felt that the response was not prompt enough as to have saved the lives of the victims.

The Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association of Nigeria (MACBAN) in Benue State has insisted that the seven travellers killed in Gboko on Wednesday are people of Fulani ethnic stock.

The state coordinator of MACBAN, Garus Gololo, said the victims had attended a naming ceremony at Jalingo in Taraba State and were on their way back to their base in Okene, Kogi State when they were attacked and killed.

“They were from Jalingo going back to Okene after attending a naming ceremony. The vehicle they boarded had entered the Gboko motor park to exchange them into an Okene-bound transport services when some miscreant youths attacked them right inside the park. They could have been saved, but the mob overpowered the police. The victims were killed and burnt to ashes,” Gololo said.

The leader of Fulani in Gboko area could not be reached at the time of this report, but the leader of Fulani in Otukpo Local Government Area, Ardo Risku Mohammed, told our correspondent that the victims were Fulani.

Victims not Fulani

However, the chairman of Imam Forum in Benue State and Chief Imam of Gboko, Mallam Yahaya Dangiwa Suleiman, told our correspondent, that preliminary investigation revealed that the victims were labourers who chattered a vehicle from their base in Taraba State and were on their way to Akure before they met their untimely death in Gboko.

Suleiman also said the deceased were not of Fulani extraction as earlier believed by many people, following the information gathered from one of them who was lucky to escape the mob action that befell them. 

“The truth was that the people killed were not even Fulani. One of them escaped and I was reliably informed that they were not Fulani. They were mere labourers travelling to Akure to engage in menial jobs. They didn’t even have transport fare, so they reached an agreement with the driver to take them to their destination and that their master would pay the fare on arrival.

“Sadly, some miscreants trailed them, and noticing that they were carrying their tools, mistook the implements for either weapons or money and carried out the dastardly act against them. Sincerely, I had weighed the matter critically and discovered it was purely an act of criminality,” Suleiman narrated.

The chief Imam, who claimed that he was born and had lived all his life in Gboko, dismissed any religious or tribal sentiment to the unfortunate incident as he repeatedly emphasised that it was not an attack on Fulani or Hausa people, neither was it targeted on the Muslim community.

He said the Hausa and Muslims in Gboko had never been molested in the face of recent happenings in the state, stressing that some criminals who wanted to cause uproar by taking advantage of the herders-farmers crisis made the issue look like a particular tribe or religion was targeted.

The religious leader condemned the act in its entirety, adding that he was aware of the security operatives’ move to apprehend the suspect who masterminded the killings of the innocent travellers.

Similarly, a youth leader in Gboko, Rapheal Nyior, who regretted the ugly development, said the young people under his control did their best to intervene and forestall the uproar caused by the criminally minded mob action from escalating in the area.

Nyior added, “We have already taken measures to guard against future occurrence. As far as Gboko youths are concerned, we believe that such barbaric incident would never happen again.”

Also, a community mobiliser and President/Founder of Awoken Gospel Culture International, Ortindi Baka, expressed dismay over the killings, noting that it was barbaric for anyone to take the life of another under whatever guise.

“Human beings can’t create a soul, and as such, it is barbaric to take the life of another. If ethnic people become lawless and take up arms against each other, it is simply an invitation to war, but this is a case of criminality and should be viewed as such,” Baka said.

The chairman of Gboko Local Government Council, Mrs. Becky Opine and the traditional head of the area, Ter Gboko, Gabriel Shosum, could not comment on the matter after several calls and text messages put through their telephone lines were left unattended to.

Benue State has witnessed spate of attacks in communities by suspected herders, cultists and militias recently. 

Last month, the military apprehended members of a militia group allegedly sponsored by the Benue State Government, with AK-47 rifles in Taraba State. The state government has denied the allegation.

On Friday, the Inspector General of Police, Ibrahim Idris, accused Governor Samuel Ortom of causing the raging crisis between farmers and herders in Benue and neighbouring Nasarawa State.

The IG, who was summoned by the Senate to explain why he failed to arrest the killers of the 73 people in Benue before the expiration of the 14-day ultimatum given by the legislators, also identified the state government’s implementation of the anti-grazing law and arming of Tiv militia as causes of the crisis.

“Also worthy of mention is the public display of corpses, coupled with unguarded and inciting speeches by the Benue State governor before and during the mass burial of the victims of the crisis. These utterances renewed tension leading to youths of Tiv ethnic group unleashing violent attacks on residents of Makurdi,” the police boss told the lawmakers behind closed doors.   

Fulani, Tiv flee Kadarko over fear of reprisal attacks

The twin attacks that left seven people dead, two Fulani herders missing, 73 cows killed, and over 200 others rustled in Kadarko town of Keana Local Government Area of Nasarawa State, have continued to generate fears in the community.

The first incident took place when hundreds of gunmen, alleged to be Tiv militia, last Sunday morning attacked Fulani herders, allegedly kidnapping two of them, killing 73 cows and injuring many others.  Barely 48 hours after the first attack, another attack was launched, where seven people, including a woman, were killed in a night raid by suspected Fulani militia.

Hundreds of people, including the Tiv ethnic group and Fulani herders, have deserted Kadarko and surrounding villages.

Abdullahi Alhaji Hassan, 60, who is the head of Fulani herders in Kadarko, narrated his ordeal during the attack by suspected Tiv militia.

He said: “More than 200 men who dressed in black cloths came, armed to the teeth and stormed our settlement at the outskirts of Kadarko around 5am on Sunday. We were about to observe our (Subh) morning prayers when we heard sporadic gunshots all over the place. The shots came from different directions, killing the cows. You could hear them (the cows) screaming because majority of them were tied together. A total of 73 died instantly. They rustled over 200 cows, 60 sheep and crossed into Benue State.

“We all fled from the area for our safety, and because it was dawn and the atmosphere was still dark, we ran into Kadarko police station and reported what was happening. When the militia left, the police visited the scene of the attack and saw the dead bodies. One of our boys who escaped from the militia told us that they communicated in Tiv language.

“As I’m talking to you, there are close to 100 cows in the bush that sustained various degrees of injury. Others are roaming between Kadarko and the border with Benue State. We cannot enter the area and recover our cows and sheep because of the security challenge in the area.’’

Abdullahi Adamu, 35, is the elder brother of the two Fulani herders abducted by the gunmen and the owner of 73 cows killed during the attack.

Adamu said, “I was preparing for the early morning prayers when hundreds of armed people stormed our area and opened fire. I just heard sounds of gunshot from different directions. The attackers wore black cloths.

“I became very scared and confused and took to my heels. I ran to the town barefooted; in the process I got injured in my legs. I met the leader of Fulani in Kadarko, Ardo Usman, who calmed me down and took me to the hospital because blood was gushing from my legs.

“We are three in the family. Out the 197 cows we had, only 11 survived the attack. And all the 11 sustained gunshot wounds. We sold them to butchers at give away prices – N200, 000 all together. In normal circumstances, each one of them could cost more than N200, 000.  We also had close to 100 sheep.

The attackers also stole my motorcycle and 30 sheep, including 10 big rams. I am now left without cow or sheep to rear. This is the only occupation I learnt how to do since my tender age. I am not educated nor have any other business to take care of my two wives and six children. The only thing I know is rearing my cows and sheep.

The leader of Fulani herders in Kadarko, Ardo Usman Adam, who is taking refuge in a nomadic school in Daddare town Obi Local Government Area, said they needed the assistance of security operatives to recover their injured cows and sheep scattered in the bush. 

Both sides counting losses

Baba Adoki Azugu, a retired military officer, lost his nephew, Michael Akwaga, in the attack. According to Azugu, the late Akwaga was among the youths who went out to see where the gunshots were coming from. He said that in less than an hour, corpses of two people were recovered when the gunshots subsided. 

Azugu insisted that the attackers were Fulani herders, adding, “I fainted when I discovered that my son (nephew) was killed. I cried like a baby because he was the one taking care of me. I am still mourning his death; my heart bleeds. I am almost 90 years old with no one to cater for me. 

“I want to return to my village. I am appealing to the government and all stakeholders to do their best to restore law and order in all the villages so that everybody can go back to his place.’’

Another victim, a 60-year-old Peter Anyande, who is now taking refuge in Agwaragu, a town close to Kadarko, said that for a long time, silent killings had been going on between the Tiv community and Fulani herders. He said the case of Kadarko was pronounced because of the number of lives and cattle involved. Anyande said he lost his son, Godwin.

“Members of the Tiv community here are not from Benue State. If the Fulani herders have problems with the Tiv in Benue, they should not bring it to Nasarawa. We are not part of this madness.

“I am really disturbed by the current situation in Kadarko and surrounding villages.  I am now a refugee in my state. Government must step in to salvage the situation.

But the Nasarawa State branch of the Miyatti Allah Cattle Breeders Association of Nigeria (MACBAN) has debunked the allegation that the attack which claimed the lives of seven people was a reprisal.

“This is not a farmers/herders crisis. It is a different gimmick planned to drag the two communities into fresh violence. What happened on Sunday and Monday were not reprisal attacks. If it were reprisals it would have happened in the area of first attack, but nothing affected the people around that area. 

“I and the president of Tiv Development Association (TIDA) went round together to see what happened in Kadarko. There was the need to talk to our people to embrace peace and not allow undesirable elements from Benue to drag us into crisis,’’ the state chairman of MACBAN, Muhammed Hussaini, told Daily Trust on Sunday.

Calling on members of the Tiv community to embrace peace, the president of TIDA, Bonifice Ifei said, “This crisis is unfortunate. We are innocent people who are not involved in what happened in Benue State. We are peace-loving people. 

“Some Fulani herders claim they are attacking Tiv communities to show their dissatisfaction to the anti-open grazing law in Benue State. To cry out loud, this is Nasarawa State, not Benue. Those who lost their lives are indigenes of Nasarawa State. 

“There are other ethnic groups in Benue State, like Idoma, Agatu, Edege and many others. I don’t know why Fulani herdsmen chose to use the Tiv ethnic group as scapegoat. If the Fulani claimed that the militia who attacked and killed their cows in Kadarko were from Benue, why didn’t they go to Benue and attack them?

“I am a Tiv man, and I know we share the same culture with the Tiv in Benue, but I totally disagree with what happened. We need to live in peace and develop our state. The Tiv are peace-loving people; despite the loss of lives and destruction of properties, we still love people around us. We want peace because without it we cannot move.

“I am appealing to the state and federal governments to ensure that peace is restored. Thousands of our people are displaced. As I speak with you, virtually all the settlements in Awe, Obi, Keana and Doma have been burnt down. Some are settling in internally displaced persons’ camps, while others are in some major towns and cities.’’

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