From Rose Ejembi, Makurdi
No fewer than 30 persons, including women and children, were on Monday shot dead, with several other people sustaining various degrees of injury, after gunmen invaded Zaki Biam, in Ukum Local Government Area of Benue.
The attack came 16 years after 2001 Zaki-Biam military invasion.
Daily Sun gathered that the attackers, who also set ablaze several houses and a petrol station in the area, had stormed the Zaki Biam International Yam Market, having arrived on motorbikes and Toyota Corolla cars, popularly known as ‘Dog Yash.’
Sources from the area said the gunmen, who came from Shitile area of Katsina-Ala, stormed the Yam Market at about 3pm and shot many people dead.
A witness said as the guns boomed, “there was stampede and many, including children and women were killed,” adding: “Also, the invaders set several houses and a filling station on fire after which they fled the scene.”
Daily Sun gathered that the situation has caused serious tension in the area, just as the state governor, Samuel Ortom, cancelled all government engagements yesterday to mourn those that were killed.
It was not clear at press time the reason for the attack and those behind it.
Meanwhile, the Benue State Police Commissioner, Bashir Makama, who confirmed the attack, however, said the command was yet to confirm the number of death in the attack.
Zaki-Ibiam was in the news in 2001 when soldiers massacred more than 100 civilians in several villages, as revenge for the killing of 19 soldiers killed in October of that year.
Human Rights Watch urged President Olusegun Obasanjo to set up an independent investigation into the military operation in Benue since October 22 and to bring to justice those found responsible.
After militia of the Tiv ethnic group allegedly abducted and murdered 19 soldiers, whose mutilated bodies were found in the village of Zaki-Biam on October 12, soldiers were deployed to the area to restore law and order, following clashes between the Tiv and Jukun ethnic groups.
The military operation started on October 22, as soldiers from the 23rd Armored Brigade of the 3rd Armored Division of the Nigerian Army opened up fire on indigenes of Gbeji village. Soldiers also invaded the villages of Vasae, Anyiin Iorja, Ugba, Sankera and Zaki-Biam, all located in the two local government areas of Logo and Zaki-Biam.
There was also widespread destruction of property and buildings in the villages, following which terrified residents abandoned their homes.
While the total number of victims was established, survivors and eyewitnesses reported that at least 100 and possibly more than 200 people were killed by soldiers.
There was widespread condemnation, with accusation that then President, Olusegun Obasanjo had publicly urged the security forces to spare no effort in tracking down those responsible, during the burial of the killed 19 soldiers.