Nigerians woke up on New Year’s Day to the sad news that up to 50 persons had been killed in Logo and Guma Local Government Areas of Benue State. The attack, said to have been perpetrated by herdsmen, left many people injured at Tomater village in Sengev Council ward, Akor village in Nzorov council ward and Bakin Kwata village in Umanger council ward of Guma LGA. Similar attacks were also launched at Agba-Uko near Azege village and Tse-Aga village of Logo LGA.
Already, many people have suggested that the killings could be linked to the legislation outlawing open grazing in Benue State. The Benue Anti-Open Grazing Law came into effect on November 1, 2017 and stipulated a five year jail term or an option of N1 million fine for violators. A day after the attack, thousands of protesters stormed major roads in Makurdi. The protest turned violent when Governor Samuel Ortom tried to prevail on them to remain calm. Ortom had blamed the Federal Government for not protecting the people. He announced three days’ mourning and said the attack victims would be given mass-burial. He also said the federal government was alerted on the herdsmen’s threat because they vowed to resist the state’s anti-grazing bill.
Benue Police Commissioner Ibrahim Idris said security had been stepped up and that eight people were arrested in connection with the attack. Last Tuesday President Muhammadu Buhari directed Police Inspector General Ibrahim Idris to move to Benue to restore law and order, and he arrived in Makurdi yesterday. The IG also moved five more Units of Police Mobile Force making a total of 10 Units in the State. Police also deployed more Units of Police Special Forces, Counter Terrorism Units and conventional policemen to Benue.
With the IG’s presence and this additional firepower, we urge the police to fish out the perpetrators of the heinous killings and bring them to face justice. It was failure to apprehend culprits in the past, instead blaming the attacks on unseen “herdsmen,” that enabled these terrible attacks to continue. Days after the New Year’s Day attacks, another 15 people were reportedly killed in Tse Akombo, Tse Vii and Tse Agule communities in Logo local government area of Benue State, also by suspected herdsmen. In the wake of the attacks, Ortom also called for the arrest of the leadership of Miyetti Allah Kautal Hore. He said they threatened to invade Benue State and that they made good their threat.
Chairman of Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) in the state Rev. Akpen Leva also accused President Buhari of long silence over “the persistent massacre of Benue people by herdsmen,” saying it “is a Jihadist agenda against Benue people.” However, Vice President Yemi Osinbajo said at a church service last Sunday to mark 2018 Armed Forces Remembrance Day that recent incidents must not be politicized. “But we recognize that as dangerous and deadly, as heartless as these killings are, (there) is also the danger of allowing politics to play a part and to sometimes, as they say, pour petrol into already burning fire. We must not permit the politicization of this tragedy,” he said.
We urge political and religious leaders to guard their utterances in times like these. The root cause of the problem revolves around conflict over farming and grazing lands. It is not true, as some Nigerians now believe, that pastoralists are on a mission to wipe out some communities. They too are victims of attacks and cattle rustling and they believe that theirs are reprisal attacks, dastardly though they are. The arrest of a heavily armed militia by the army on the borders of Benue and Nasarawa states, who reportedly said they were sponsored by Benue State government, shows that some state governments have adopted a wrong solution to the problem and are actually aggravating it. We hope the Federal Government’s initiative with last Monday’s meeting of critical stakeholders and concerned state governors will finally produce a lasting solution to this problem.