■ Survivors tell tales of horror
By Rose Ejembi, Makurdi
“They killed my sister and burnt my shop. Why should they have to kill her? They should have just taken everything and leave my sister. Now I have lost everything and my beloved sister also. Why? Why? Why?”
These were the exact words of a grieving woman, Madam Gloria whose sister, Ogechukwu, a young mother of one was shot dead last Monday, when Zaki-Biam was invaded by yet-to-be-identified gunmen.
Ogechukwu’s only son, two-year old Chikansu Anya, who was also shot twice in his groins is in critical condition at the Light of Grace Hospital, Zaki-Biam, where he was taken to for medical attention.
The little boy is one of the lucky survivors of the attack by the heavily armed men who invaded Zaki-Biam, headquarters of Ukum Local Government area of Benue State that fateful evening.
Though still too young to understand, the sad event of March 20 will forever remain indelible in the life of baby Chikansu.
He will forever remember that day as a day of blood, anguish and pain; a day he became motherless by the cruelty of blood-thirsty men who did not only kill his mother but also pumped the hot lead into his groins twice.
Not many residents of the community were lucky as most of them were killed in what could be termed as another Zaki-Biam massacre reminiscent of the military invasion of the same town in 2001.
Several buildings, cars and other valuables including the popular Zaki-Biam International Yam Market were burnt by the rampaging armed men.
According to Madam Gloria, her sister, Ogechukwu was in her beer parlour situated close to the Yam Market about 4pm when suddenly, sounds of gunshots resonated across the sleepy town, sending everyone into hiding while the agents of death moved from one end of the town to another, looking for people to prey on.
Madam Gloria who sobbed throughout the short interview said somehow, one of the gunmen saw her sister where she was hiding with her son and wasted no time in shooting her point blank killing her on the spot just as he shot at her son too.
Another victim, Ayem who was shot in the thigh said he was riding his commercial motorcycle when he suddenly started hearing sounds of gunshots everywhere in the town.
“I quickly disembarked from my ‘okada’ and began to run when one of the gunmen shot at me and it hit me in the thigh. I fell down but made efforts to escape into hiding. I must have lost so much blood before help finally came but thank God I’m alive.”
Sharing her experience on that fateful day, Mercy Godwin, a food vendor at the Yam Market said one of the gunmen entered her shop where she was hiding with her neighbour and and shouted at them asking if they were Tivs.
“When the gunman asked if we were Tivs, my neighbour, an Idoma woman quickly answered and said we are not Tivs but Idomas. The gunman then pointed the gun at my head and fired at me but I dodged it and held up my hand. His bullet caught my finger.”
Doctor Chkwunonso Ndulue of Light of Grace Hospital, Zaki-Biam where seven of the patients were taken to said he was able to initiate resuscitation on the patients but that arrangement was being made to transfer them to specialist hospital because some of their vital organs were affected.
Recounting how it happened, some youths told Sunday Sun they were playing football at a field close to the International Yam Market when the attackers stormed the area in a fully loaded Hilux van, a Dog Yash car and seven Bajaj motorcycles.
“Some of the invaders were in military uniforms while others were dressed in black with bulletproof jackets. A woman was among them and she seemed to be the one calling the shots. They entered the Yam Market and started shooting and killing people while some of them were burning down buildings.”
“And because they were heavily armed, they were not in a rush but took their time and operated for over three hours before they finally left. By that time, several people had been killed and many others injured. They were chanting war songs and daring anyone who thought he had power to come and confront them.”
Another resident who simply gave his name as Terngu narrated how he helplessly he was when a young yam marker was killed.
“The young boy who was hiding behind a heap of yams was so afraid that at a point when the gunshots became too much, he raised his head, probably to look for a safer place to hide. But that was a mortal mistake he made as one of the gunmen who sighted his raised head shot him on the forehead. I watched from my hiding as he died immediately.”
Sunday Sun gathered that the invaders had earlier sent a letter that they would storm the town and cause colossal damage to lives and property.
Corroborating the claim, a security personnel who pleaded anonymity said they had a security report that the gunmen were coming to attack public institutions in the area which made the Divisional Police Officer (DPO) to mobilize and deploy policemen to strategic public institutions like hotels, banks and schools at the time the attackers invaded the area.
According to the DPO, “unfortunately, no one knew they were going to attack the market and so, no security man was posted there. They came in a large number and started shooting sporadically, killing everyone in sight. Thirteen people were killed in the market alone. Several others were also killed in other parts of the town.”
Some of the youths who commended the effort of the police boss, said his repeated assurance to them to remain calm while the shooting lasted helped to keep the casualty figure to what it was.
Mrs. Theresa Alex whose entire building was razed in the attack said she had just come back from her farm and was trying to prepare dinner for her family when she heard gunshots and people began to run helter-skelter.
“I quickly picked my children and ran into hiding with them. By the time the dust settled, our building and all our belongings had been burnt by the inferno. I lost everything to the fire,” she cried.
Also, Samuel Injughul, a tailor who said he had gone into the market to buy some material for his sewing business when the attack happened showed Sunday Sun his shop where his sewing machine and all his belongings were burnt down.
Although, the locals insisted that over 50 lives were lost in the mayhem, the Police Commissioner in charge of Benue State, Bashir Makama put the death toll at 17 with 11 others injured.
“17 deaths were recorded, 11 persons including small children also sustained various degrees of injuries. This has nothing to do with Fulani crisis. It looks like communal but it is not. Whoever they are, we are going to follow them.”
Makama who disclosed that some arrests had been made in connection with the invasion stated that investigation had just commenced and assured that the public would be updated as issues unfold.
Asked if the wanted militia leader, Terwase Akwaza, alias Ghana was responsible for the invasion, the Police Commissioner said, “information is trickling in about whether or not Ghana is involved. Ghana is a common criminal and everyone knows his antecedents. We are calling on whoever has useful information to give us.”
Governor Samuel Ortom reacts
Meanwhile, Governor Samuel Ortom who canceled all his engagements last Tuesday and made an assessment tour of the ravaged town insisted that the act was perpetuated by Ghana and his group.
This act is perpetrated by Ghana and his group. He has been killing people. Just last week, about eight people were killed in Ayati village in Ukum and some other people were also killed in Katsina-Ala. We know where this is coming from.”
The Governor in a chat with newsmen lamented that despite the efforts of government and security agencies, Ghana was still residing in Gbishe, his village in Katsina-Ala. He accused his people of shielding him from arrest.
“Up till now, Ghana is still residing in Gbishe area. The police and security operatives cannot do it alone. That is why we need information from people. Traditional rulers in Sankera axis have asked for a decisive action on this. We will hold a security meeting and we would take a decisive action on that.”
Governor Ortom, while addressing stakeholders at a meeting at the Benue Peoples House, insisted that Ghana’s days were numbered.
“Those who are afraid in Katsina-Ala and Sankera to talk about Ghana are just wasting their time. Ghana’s days are numbered. People from Sankera are shielding him which is not good,” Ortom had said at the meeting.
Ortom who also described the loss of lives and property in the invasion as massive directed that the injured be moved to the Benue State University Teaching Hospital (BSUTH) for proper medical attention while also disclosing that all medical bills of the injured and burial expenses for the dead would be paid by the state government.
And for those who lost their buildings and property in the mayhem, Governor Ortom promised that all the damages would be evaluated with a view to assisting the victims while also directing that security be beefed up in the area.