From Rose Ejembi, Makurdi
Two-year-old Msurshima Iorshie continued to cry restlessly as her young mother, Faith, and her grandmother tried to hold her in place on the hospital bed where she was battling for her life at the Benue State University Teaching Hospital (BSUTH).
The little girl, one of the victims of last week’s herdsmen’s attack on some communities in three local government areas of Logo, Guma and Tarka, Benue State, was reportedly shot in her private part during the raid.
According to the distraught mother, Msurshima, who kept crying during the visit of our correspondent to the hospital recently, couldn’t sleep all through the previous night as a result of the severe pain she was going through.
“This is how she cried throughout last night till this morning. She cannot sleep because of the pain. I don’t know what to do anymore,” Faith said as she battled to hold back tears that were cascading down her cheeks.
Narrating how it all happened, the mother of one said she and her husband had left the little baby in the care of her grandfather in their village, Tyotugh, Tarka LGA, and went to another village to farm. Because they had a little farmhouse, they usually stayed and worked on their farm for days and sometimes weeks before returning to their own village.
Sadly, on Monday night, some suspected armed herdsmen stormed their village while the residents were asleep and shot in all directions, killing several people, including Msurshima’s grandfather and injuring others.
By the time the dust settled, 15 bodies were initially picked on Tuesday morning from the scene of the attack, while three other bodies were later evacuated from the bushes around the village on Wednesday, bringing the total number of deaths from the attack to 18.
Faith said: “l left Msurshima in the custody of her grandfather, my husband’s father, and went to farm with my husband in a neighbouring community, where we used to spend a few days in the farm, because we have a small residence in the farm.
“At the farm, we were alerted that night that armed herdsmen were moving towards our community. We hurriedly ran back only to discover that they had already attacked our village. They were said to be chasing and shooting at anybody they saw.
“Our grandfather had made attempts to escape with my daughter and others but he was shot dead. My daughter that he tried to escape with was also shot her in her vagina.
“After the armed herders retreated, one of my brothers who went in search of our family members saw her where she lay motionless looking as if she was dead but it was discovered that she was still breathing. At that time our grandfather was already dead.
“We hurriedly carried her to a hospital in Wannune, the local government headquarters, for treatment. They revived her and we were immediately transferred to the teaching hospital on the orders of the state government for better treatment.”
Another child, seven-day-old Terswe Aondover, who was also wounded in his right shoulder and hand during the Tyotugh attack, is also recuperating at the paediatric ward of BSUTH, where his grandmother, Joy Aondover, is looking after him.
Like Msurshima, 70-year-old father of seven, Pa David Iortom, is also at the BSUTH battling for his life after he was mercilessly matcheted on his face by marauding herdsmen, who invaded his Iortam village near Ukpiam, in Guma LGA of the state. The attack, which left Pa David with slit nostrils and badly butchered cheeks, was said to have also left some persons killed and others injured.
Although Pa David was asleep when our correspondent visited, his 35-year-old son, Jacob Tesega Iortom, narrated how his father narrowly escaped death after herdsmen invaded their village unexpectedly that fateful day.
“On Sunday, last week, my father and some members of the community were on their way to a nearby farm within our village at Iortam, near Ukpiam, when Fulani herdsmen suddenly appeared from nowhere and attacked them.
“We later heard that some people died in the attack while several others, including my father, were injured. Two of the injured, who were evacuated to the hospital, died in my presence here at the hospital.
“Many more people would have died from the attack but for the quick intervention of troops of the Operation Whirl Stroke (OPWS), who were stationed at Umenger community, who heard the gunshots and rushed to our village to rescue our people. However, the attackers ran away before the soldiers came.
“It’s very sad that we keep falling prey to these herdsmen even though we don’t know what sin we have committed against them that’s so unpardonable to warrant these incessant attacks on us in Benue,” Jacob said.
While noting that his father was gradually responding to treatment, Jacob said the challenge was that the hospital was trying to get a specialist who could carry out correctional surgery to repair his father’s slit nostrils.
Semaka Paul, 47, who was shot six times but, miraculously, none of the bullets pierced his body, has vowed that they would never leave their land for strangers to occupy.
The father of three is the only survivor of last Monday evening’s herdsmen’s attack on Tse-Semaka, near Umenger, in Guma, where five persons were reportedly killed on the spot.
Paul, who was on admission at BSUTH, told our correspondent that they were all eating that evening when, suddenly, gunshots resonated across their village.
Paul said: “At about 7pm, we gathered and we were eating when Fulani came and attacked us, shooting everywhere. Five persons were killed on the spot. I was shot in six places. Luckily for me, none of the bullets entered my body. After they shot me, I managed to run into the bush.
“Soldiers stationed at Umenger heard the gunshots and rushed to the area to rescue us. Before then, the attackers had disappeared. Out of those that were shot, I’m the only one still alive. One died at the hospital, while others died on the spot.”
He said they were not expecting any attack from anywhere, as his people did not have any issues with the Fulani or any other tribe to warrant such an attack on them.
Asked if he fortified himself traditionally, Paul smiled broadly and said, “It’s God.”
He said his people had already vowed never to run away from their attackers but stand to fight back on their ancestral land.
“At the moment, our people have made up their minds not to run away from their ancestral homes any longer. If they like, they should come and kill us all. When I’m discharged from the hospital, I will return home. Enough of this running away from our ancestral homes,” he declared.
Paul, a farmer and student, said they have made up their minds to heed the call of Governor Samuel Ortom for them to defend themselves against invaders, stressing that, “this is no longer time to run away from attackers but time to stay back and fight back to reclaim our land.”
A medical staff at the BSUTH, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorised to speak, disclosed that Msurshima and Pa David required correctional surgery.
He commended Ortom for directing the immediate evacuation of all those who were injured to BSUTH, which, he noted, had contributed to the survival of many of those who were severely injured in the attacks.