Rose Ejembi, Makurdi
As the remains of two catholic priests, Fathers Joseph Gor and Felix Tyolaha, and other parishioners killed by Fulani herdsmen militia were laid to rest Tuesday at Sesugh Maria Pilgrimage, Ayati, Vice President Yemi Osinbajo has prayed God to console and defend the people of Benue.
Leading the funeral orations to console the Catholic Church, Vice President Professor Yemi Osibanjo, who noted that the killers of the slain victims feared neither God nor man, posited that they had gained nothing by their act.
“They were killed by those who neither fear God nor man. These killers have gained nothing by their acts. God Himself will console and defend Benue people. The church in Benue is indestructible.”
While expressing the determination of the Federal Government to ensure that justice for the victims of the attacks across the country, Osibanjo, who observed that the attacks, killings and destruction of communities by criminals have been on for a long time, stressed the need for the government to rebuild ravaged communities.
On his part, Governor Samuel Ortom, who noted that it was the third time the state was conducting a mass burial, disclosed that 492 people have so far being killed by herdsmen since the beginning of the year, while the state government battles to cater for the over 170,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs) interned in the eight IDP camps across the state.
He revealed that 80,000 Benue children are currently out of school as a result of the herdsmen attacks and invasion of the state.
“The herdsmen have continued to attack communities in the state on a daily basis since January this year. These slain victims were in church for prayers and not in their farms. This means that the herdsmen have moved the narrative to other motives.
The Governor, who stressed that ranching remained the only solution to end herdsmen-farmer attacks, called for the arrest and prosecution of leaders of Miyetti Allah Kautal Hore (MAKH) who he accused of masterminding the attacks.
“We know our killers, but they are not arrested or invited for interrogation. These people have stated at several fora that they would take over our land. Our major concern is those who hire these killers,” the governor said.
Ortom, who commended President Muhammadu Buhari for approving a military operation in the state, urged the Federal Government not to relent in its efforts to bring an end to the killings, and expressed hope that the attacks would soon end so that the people can to go back to their communities.
Also speaking, the Tor Tiv, Professor James Ayatse enjoined the people to remain prayerful, united and vigilant so that their enemies will not succeed in their plans to overrun Benue and take over the land.
In his funeral message, the Archbishop of Abuja Diocese, Cardinal John Onayekan, who noted that killing people in worship whether in churches or mosques, is an affront against God, said the time had come for authorities to ensure that the killings in the country stop, to avoid the situation getting out of hand.
Catholic Bishop of Makurdi, Bishop Wilfred Anagbe in his welcome address stated that the diocese decided to bury the victims at the Sesugh Maria Pilgrimage Center, Ayati, because they were martyrs of the church and prayed that their death would bring peace to the state.
As early as 7 a.m., thousands of Catholic faithfuls and sympathizers from across the country started arriving Benue for the burial along the Makurdi-Otukpo highway, close to Ikpayongo town.
By 9 a.m., the corpses of the slain worshippers in white caskets with their names inscribed on each of them, were conveyed in a truck and two ambulances to their final resting place amid wailing from families and friends.
But just as the requiem mass was commencing, there was a heavy downpour of rain, a development which many had attributed to the acceptance of the souls of the slain victims by God.
Vice President Osinbajo, Catholic bishops, traditional rulers, politicians as well as dignitaries from all walks of life, however, defied the early morning rains to attend the burial service.
Meanwhile, all markets, banks, schools, offices as well as other businesses, were under lock and key particularly in Makurdi, the Benue State capital, in compliance with the work-free day declared by the state government.