From Rose Ejembi, Makurdi
Residents of Yoyo, Utange, Mbatyura/ Mberev and Mbayongo Council Wards in Katsina-Ala Local Government Area of Benue State are still counting their losses, days after gunmen suspected to be Fulani bandits invaded their communities and reportedly killed people in their numbers.
The attack, which was allegedly carried out with the connivance of some local boys, reportedly lasted between Saturday and Monday. And residents of the affected communities, who escaped the carnage, have since fled to safer areas.
It was gathered from sources in the area that the invaders came in through Taraba State and wasted no time in attacking the people.
David Dzungwe from Kenvanger Village, Mbatyula Council Ward told our correspondent by telephone on Wednesday afternoon that many people were killed in his community during the attack.
Hear him: “Many of our people were killed by Fulani herdsmen who came in from Taraba. At the last count, 70 people had been killed in our council ward. All we do is to just hurriedly bury our dead and leave so that we don’t get killed too. These days, we cannot even have a proper burial of our dead relatives again.”
Dzungwe, who disclosed that all the villages in his council ward had been deserted, said his people are currently taking refuge in places like Tor Donga, Hahaha and Katsina-Ala town with relatives.
“Even on Tuesday, the attackers still came but did not see anyone to kill because all of us have deserted the village and are currently in hiding. I am speaking with you from my hiding place right now,” he said.
Joshua Nyipira lost his 70-year-old uncle last in Saturday’s attack by herdsmen on their Tse-Atsethem Village in Mbayongo Council Ward. He told the reporter by telephone that his uncle was at home that Saturday afternoon when sporadic gunshots started ringing out, forcing everyone to scamper to safety.
“My uncle was running with one of our cousins, but when the attackers came so close, the younger cousin left him and ran for his life. My uncle was butchered and he died. We later picked up his badly battered remains on one of the empty streets and hurriedly went to bury him. No formal burial was done as his body was just hurriedly buried in the presence of a few family members for fear of becoming victims ourselves. The village is completely deserted as we speak. People ran to Tor Donga and sometimes Katsina-Ala.”
Nyipila said the country’s security agencies seemed to be overwhelmed by the new strategy of attack by the invaders. “The invaders attack many villages simultaneously, thus making it difficult for security to fight back and repel them. Also, from my thinking, I feel that their morale is also low based on what we hear and some of them may have also been compromised.”
A clergyman who pastors an NKST church at Akera Village, Rev. Jacob Bende, told our correspondent by telephone that he had never seen such mindless killings all his life. He alleged that over 150 people were killed in his village and surrounding communities in the four affected council wards while many houses were also burnt. Bende added that many of his church members in Tse-Akera were missing following Saturday’s invasion, which caused pandemonium in communities. He explained further that hundreds of the displaced people who were currently taking refuge at NKST Primary School, Tor Donga were still living in fear.
The cleric said it was for this reason that the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), Tor Donga chapter under the chairmanship of Apostle Oryiman had organised fasting and prayers for God to intervene and fight for the people.
Asked how they were able to bury their dead, Bender said after the attackers had left, the villagers would quickly rush and bury the dead victims and leave.
“We are afraid because our attackers are in the bush and they will just come and attack us whenever they deem fit. If you come to our place now, you will cry because you will see women and children unclad because of the way they had to run out of their villages. Our farms were destroyed; lives and property are gone. My members are taken away and some of us are now taking refuge in Tor Donga, a border town with Taraba State,” he lamented.
Elder Edward Kwaghaondo said the whole of his council ward, along with three others, have been deserted following the killing of many people by the invading herdsmen.
“Initially, the women and children were asked to vacate the community to safer places while the men watched over the communities. But when the attacks became too much, even the men had to run for safety. Many people had died and we cannot even give them a befitting burial. All we could do is dig graves and hurriedly bury them because the attackers have come with an agenda to conquer and take over our land.”
Asked if they had any issues with the Fulani before then, Kwaghaondo said: “We had no issues with the Fulani before now. That’s why we are wondering why they have come to attack us.”
Chairman of Katsina-Ala Local government Area, Alfred Atera told newsmen by telephone on Wednesday that domestic animals have taken over the area as the people of the affected communities have deserted their homes for safer havens. Atera, who had earlier told newsmen that over 100 people were killed in the attacks, said thousands of people from the affected communities have all run away for fear of further attacks by the invaders whom they suspect might still be lurking around in the communities.
Atera, who gave an update on the attack, said he visited Utange Council Ward on Tuesday and discovered that the whole communities in the ward had been deserted. Utange is one of the four council wards that were attacked by the gunmen. He, however, noted that the atmosphere in Utange ward was calm during the visit but added that the communities had been taken over by domestic animals.
“For, now there is nothing happening. The atmosphere is calm. I went to Utange Council Ward, which is one of the four wards affected and I discovered that everybody has run away. “All the houses in the council ward are intact but no human beings were found in the communities. All I saw were domestic animals, which took over the communities. There are domestic animals everywhere and there are no human beings in the villages. The locals ran away from their ancestral homes, it is that bad,” Atera said. He said the displaced people are now taking refuge in Abaji, Tor Donga and Hahaha as well as Katsina-Ala, the headquarters of the local government.
“Everywhere is filled with human beings who ran from their communities. The people told me that Fulani people were in the bushes chasing them, though I did not see any of them. There are people taking refuge in Abaji, Tor Donga and Haaga. They are occupying these places and villages that are close to the major road for fear of being killed.”
The council boss lamented that the development has negatively affected farming activities in the area, regretting that farmers can no longer go to their farms.
“As we speak, no farming activity is going on in the villages I visited because the people have fled. “Security personnel are already patrolling the communities. I also requested that the police and troops of Operation Whirl Stroke (OPWS) be deployed to Abaji in order to protect the community and the main market,” the chairman said.
But the military authorities are not convinced that the villagers are speaking undiluted truth. They have asked those who are speculating that over 100 persons were killed by suspected armed Fulani herdsmen in four council wards of Katsina-Ala Local Government Area to come out and show where bodies of the dead victims were kept. The Sector 2 Commander of OPWS, Lt (NN) Ebenezer Adeola stated this while speaking with journalists in Makurdi. Adeola, who wondered why people could go about misinforming the public that over 100 persons were killed during herdsmen attack in the area, said military troops have occupied every security flashpoint in the area to prevent unprovoked attacks on communities and villages by armed bandits. “There was no such incident to the best of my knowledge. I believe it is the handwork of criminal elements who are bent on causing unrest in the area.
“If the media reported that over 100 persons were killed, where are the dead bodies,” he wondered.
When contacted, the State Police Command, through its Public Relations Officer (PPRO), Catherine Anene, said it had yet to receive information about any attack on Katsina-Ala communities. Also contacted, the Force Commander of OPWS, Brig. Gen. Clement Apere confirmed the incident but that the number of people killed was not close to 100. He said about seven persons were actually killed during the attack.