Armed Fulani herdsmen unleashed terror on Ayar Mbalom community in the Gwer East Local Government Area of Benue State on Tuesday, killing 19 persons, including two Rev. Fathers.
The deceased Rev Fathers were identified as Fr. Joseph Gor and Felix Tyolaha.
Also among the victims were two school head teachers and a secondary school principal, identified as Peter Dick, Ape Chia and Michael Tor, respectively.
It was gathered that the Catholic faithful had gone for morning mass around 5.30am and unknown to them, the militia herdsmen had laid ambush in the community.
The armed men later surrounded the church and killed all the early callers in the church.
The herdsmen were said to have set ablaze houses in the village, shooting indiscriminately as villagers fled.
Our correspondents learnt the attackers burnt down over 100 houses during the attack.
The Tuesday attack came barely four days after the murder of 10 persons by herdsmen in the Guma LGA, and the destruction of houses in the Naka, Gwer LGA by men suspected to be military personnel who claimed to be searching for killers of a soldier.
Last Wednesday, the Acting Governor of the state, Mr. Benson Abounu, had raised the alarm of planned attacks on five communities in the state.
Abounu had said, “We have received security reports which indicated that a large number of armed mercenaries have moved into Benue valley and had mapped out five different locations in the state to launch attacks on five communities.
“The reports showed that the mercenaries would carry out the attacks on the communities occupied by people in the riverine areas of the state.”
One of the natives of Gwer LGA, who spoke to our correspondent on the telephone on condition of anonymity said the death toll could rise.
He said, “The numbers (19) are the ones we are taking to mortuary right now (3.27pm). The victims include two priests, two head teachers and the principal of a secondary school in Ayar.
“We left people behind who were searching the bush around the village. They could find more bodies,” he said.
Confirming the attack on the church, The Director of Communications, Catholic Diocese of Makurdi, Rev. Father Moses Iorapuu, said, “Rev. Father Joseph Gor and Rev. Father Felix Tyolaha have been killed in the deadly attack by herdsmen/Jihadists early today (Tuesday) in St. Ignatius Quasi parish in Ukpor-Mbalom in Mbalom village.”
Iorapuu, who stated that the herdsmen also burnt down homes, destroyed foodstuffs, said, “to go for the priests means total destruction of everything we stand for and believe in as a people.”
“The police seem to know nothing of the attacks which have been going on in other villages in Benue State since the Anti-Open Grazing Law came into effect last year.
“Many people are asking why the international community has remained silent over the massacre of Benue citizens.
“The answer is simple: It has been the goal of the Jihadists to conquer Benue and Tiv people who resisted their advance into the Middle Belt and the Eastern part of Nigeria since 1804; they are people who rejected Islam and fought for the unification of Nigeria in the civil war of 1967 – 1970.”
According to the Catholic spokesman, the people of Eastern Nigeria have little sympathy for Benue people who fought on the side of Nigeria, adding that the Muslim North is enjoying a sweet revenge overshadowed by an insensitive regime.
He noted there were over 170,000 internally displaced persons before the Naka invasion, adding that with the situation on the ground in Mbalom, Benue would be flooded with thousands more.
“What cannot be said at this point is the consequences of the death of missionaries in the killings that have been ignored by the government for over a year.
“The Catholic Diocese of Makurdi, which is one of the largest dioceses in Nigeria, has been active in providing relief materials, including education and skills acquisition lessons, to victims of the attacks,” he added.
Our correspondents reported that there was apprehension in Makurdi, the capital of Benue State.
The situation reportedly became tense when the remains of the two Rev. Fathers were brought to St. Theresa Catholic Hospital morgue, High Level, Makurdi.
Following the tense atmosphere in the area, leaders of Wurukum and Wadatta markets in the capital city were forced to close the market while traders rushed out of the area for fear of breakdown of law and order.
The Commissioner of Police, Benue State Police Command, CP Fatai Owoseni, said that some armed men suspected to be Fulani herdsmen numbering about 30 attacked a church, killing two priests and others.
“Immediately we got this information, we quickly moved there for an aerial surveillance in pursuit of the attackers.
“We also went to the church where this incident happened. That was where we were told that the attackers came by 5am, went into the church, the venue of a burial Mass that was going on.
“These attackers were about 30 in numbers and the target was the priest and the venue of the burial. As of the time l left the place, we were able to see 16 dead bodies, including those of the two priests.
“The police have taken over the corpses and we have deployed men in the village.
“We will intensify our search to go after these people wherever they may hide. We will also work on the information from the members of the public there because we believe that they must have been hanging in the area to have been able to commit the act at 5am. We believe that they would still be in the village.
The acting governor expressed concern, saying the attack was well planned, coordinated and executed.
“This is another black day in Benue. Benue is under siege. We have been attacked from all corners and this is unacceptable.
“The police have been able to recover 16 corpses but one had earlier on been brought to Makurdi,” Abounu said.
Protests in Makurdi
The killing of the two Catholic priests and worshippers has sparked off protests across the state, particularly Makurdi.
While the corpses of the victims were being driven to town, a large number of youths took over the major roads and streets, including the busy Makurdi/Gboko, Makurdi/Kafia, as well as the Wurukum Roundabout.
The irate youths also set bonfires on major streets in Makurdi metropolis.
All the major markets including Makurdi Modern Market, Wurukum Market, Wadata Market and High Level Market, as well as commercial banks and schools were shut.
Many parents rushed to schools of their children to take them home.
Though there was a large number of security agencies in the state capital, residents still entertained fears of further attacks and called on the state government to protect lives and property of the people.
Ortom cuts short vacation
The Benue State Governor Samuel Ortom has cut short his vacation following the Tuesday attack.
According to a statement by his Chief Press Secretary, Terver Akase, the governor had cut short his vacation to address the “security challenge occasioned by the ongoing killing of Benue people by armed herdsmen.”
Ortom had embarked on the two week vacation on April 12, 2018, and was expected to resume on Friday, April 27.
“In the governor’s absence, the Acting Governor, Benson Abounu, has done a commendable job,” the statement added.
Buhari says killings vile, satanic
President Muhammadu Buhari on Tuesday described as “vile, evil and satanic” the killing of worshippers and two priests in Benue.
The President’s position was contained in a statement by his Special Adviser on Media and Publicity, Mr. Femi Adesina.
Buhari described the killing as a calculated attempt to stoke up religious conflict and plunge communities into endless bloodletting.
He said the country under his leadership would not bow to the machinations of evil-doers.
He promised that the assailants would be hunted down and made to pay for the sacrilege committed.
The President said, “I extend my sincere condolences to the government and people of Benue State, the Mbalom community, and especially the bishop, priests and members of the St Ignatius’ Catholic Church, whose premises were the unfortunate venue of the heinous killings by gunmen.
“This latest assault on innocent persons is particularly despicable.
“Violating a place of worship, killing priests and worshippers is not only vile, evil and satanic, it is clearly calculated to stoke up religious conflict and plunge our communities into endless bloodletting.”
We can’t continue like this, PFN tells FG
The Pentecostal Fellowship of Nigeria has lamented the continuous killing of “innocent Nigerians by suspected Fulani herdsmen and other bandits in the country.”
It, therefore, called on the Federal Government to put words to action by identifying, arresting and prosecuting the perpetrators.
The National President of the PFN, Rev. Felix Omobude, made the call on Tuesday in a statement in Edo State, a few hours after suspected herdsmen killed 18 worshippers in Benue State.
Omobude lamented that many Nigerians lived with the fear of losing their lives and property due to attacks by criminal gangs, even as he urged security agencies to live up to their responsibilities.
He stated, “We cannot continue like this as a nation and as a people. A situation whereby some criminally-minded people are holding the nation and Nigerians hostage is not acceptable.
“Every day, you hear of killings by Boko Haram, herdsmen or other armed criminal gangs operating in the country. This is barbaric and the security forces should do more to stop the senseless violent killings and destruction of property.
“It is time for the government to do the needful by protecting lives and property of its citizens. Perpetrators of these heinous crimes should be apprehended and adequately punished for their crimes.”
The PFN president further urged politicians and elected political leaders to take urgent steps to address the challenge ahead of the 2019 general election.
While expressing concern over the continuous stay of the Dapchi schoolgirl, Leah Sharibu, in captivity, he urged Buhari to reduce the suffering of the victim by securing her release.
Omobude said, “The leadership of PFN and other good Nigerians are worried over the continuous incarceration of the Dapchi schoolgirl, Leah Sharibu, by the Boko Haram sect.
“She should not be made to continue to suffer inhumane treatment in the hands of Boko Haram members because of her refusal to renounce Christianity and accept Islam as her religion.”
CAN, others condemn attack
The Christian Association of Nigeria and the Benue Valley Professionals Network have condemned the attack.
The Special Assistant (Media and Communications) to the CAN President, Pastor Bayo Oladeji, stated that Christians had become endangered species in the country.
He added that security agencies had failed the nation by their inability to curb the killings.
Oladeji said, “CAN reiterates its position that our security agencies have failed the country; Christians have truly become endangered species in the country. Until they wake up from their slumber, the killing of innocent Nigerians with impunity will remain unabated.”
The Benue Valley Professionals Network in a statement by Ier Jonathan, asked Buhari and his security team to end the killings.
The group said, “We also ask those who have friends and family in high places to plead with President Muhammadu Buhari, his security team, Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association of Nigeria to use all power at their disposal to end this senseless slaughter of unarmed defenceless people in the Benue Valley, Middle Belt, Zamfara and everywhere else in the country.”
It asked the global community to come to the aid of the farming communities in Benue and other parts of the country by ending the terror attacks across the nation.
“We reject in totality the ungodly idea that cattle matter more than human lives and call on all who have an iota of human feeling in them to end this madness before it consumes us all and leaves us without a country,” the group said.
Also, Director of Communications, Catholic Archdiocese of Jos, Rev. Fr. Alex Dung, in an interview with The PUNCH, condemned the killing.
He said, “The attack is a very sad development, not only because priests were killed, but because the life of everybody is important. It tells us the gravity of what is going in Benue State.
“We pray that the government and the country will have a way out of this predicament that we found ourselves in.”
Source: Punch Newspaper