Governor Samuel Ortom shed tears in Omusu village, Okpokwu local government area of Benue state, where no fewer than 26 persons were mowed by suspected herdsmen.
During the attack, several persons were injured and many missing. Several houses, huts and food barns were also set ablaze by the marauding herdsmen while the entire community has been deserted.
A source in the area stated that the well-armed herdsmen stormed the village at about 4 p.m. shooting sporadically at anything on sight and burning down houses in the community.
“It was a bloody evening in Okpokwu, armed herdsmen stormed Omusu village and opened sporadic fire on the locals killing and butchering anyone and anything they came across,” the source said.
Addressing some people at Omusu village square, the governor said killer herdsmen had continued the reign terror on the people of the state despite efforts by his government to stem the tide.
“Heads of security agencies said people doing this are from other countries, these killings are unacceptable. We will not fold our arms and wait for people to come from other countries and invade our land, kill our people, maim our people, rape our women and children and go free. This cannot be allowed.
“That is why we have decided at the state security council to come here for on the spot assessment. Already, as recorded by the local government chairman, 24 people were killed just in one day. This is not right and it cannot be acceptable.
“I know that the security men are doing their best, but they are overstretched, from the Police, Civil Defence and the army. The fact is that they are not also spared.
“Even the security agencies have become victims of these mercenaries. I think that something has to be done and very fast too.
“As leaders, we are here to assess the situation and as we go back we will re-strategise and ensure that this does not occur again.
“But let me repeat this, for us in Benue state, we have a law prohibiting open grazing. Anyone who wants to live with us here must obey the law. The law is not targeted at any herdsmen or woman or any ethnic group.
“The law is meant to protect the lives of the people of the state and herdsmen alike. No one is discriminated upon and everyone must obey the law because it is what is obtainable everywhere.
“I am aware that when Sharia law was introduced in Zamfara state and several other states in the country, nobody rose up to challenge that law. Why are these people challenging us.
“I still call on security agencies to arrest the leadership of Miyetti Allah Kautal Hore, who had threatened to do what they are doing today since last June.
“They have gone scot free and living and moving about freely in Abuja and directing their mercenaries that they brought from other countries to come and kill our people. This is not acceptable.
“All that we seek is Justice, and Justice must be given to our people. That is why we were elected to led. Anything outside that is not acceptable. We will ensure that security personnel will do the needful and ensure that the herdsmen responsible for this are arrested.
“I am happy that we have gotten some of their equipment that we will use in tracking them. We will assist security agencies to do the needful to get the masterminds arrested.
“As a government, we will continue to of our best because we cannot surrender our state to criminals. Storming a community and killing 26 people in one fell swoop is certainly unacceptable. We must all rise up and stop this evil that is posing a great danger to all Nigerians.
“If we allow these people to continue to kill and go scot free, tomorrow they will attack our security personnel and also attack us the leaders of this country. We must do something and it has to be now, there is no better time.
Speaking further, the Governor said, “I believe that two wrongs can never make a right, if you were attacked by whosoever and your cattle and people are missing, the best thing to do was to report to law enforcement agencies. This was done and efforts were being made by the local government council chairman to arrest whoever was responsible.
“So what was the basis to come and attack and kill innocent people who knew nothing about your problem?”
“How can the herdsmen justify the killing of an 11-year-old girl, other children and the elderly over allegation that cattle were rustled.
The Governor also directed the Okpokwu local government council chairman, Olofu Ogwuche to make arrangements to have the corpses recovered buried.
Addressing persons displaced as a result of the crisis at Ojapo, the Governor directed the State Emergency Management Agency to avail the displaced persons both food and non-food materials to ameliorate their condition.
Earlier, Mr. Itodo Ojobo, a stakeholder in the community, who said he lost his elder brother in the crisis, assured that the people would not seek revenge by taking the laws into their hands.
“So far, we have recorded 26 deaths but 24 bodied were recovered from our community and we are still searching and just now we recovered the body of an 11 year old girl.
“We will need assistance to be able to bury the corpses because the situation at the mortuary is that there is no space to accommodate the corpses so we will have to bury the corpses without delay before they start decomposing.”
Earlier, Mr. Ogwuche, Chairman of council, intimated the Government delegation on what led to the crisis also added that two of the surging victims had died at the hospital while seven more bodies had been recovered from the village making the figure of the dead 26.
Ogwuche said several persons were in critical conditions at the General Hospital and Saint Mary Hospital Okpoga.
He said “we had earlier on Monday held a peace meeting between the herdsmen and the locals over an issue of missing cows.
“It was shortly after the meeting that I got a distress call around 4 p.m. that well armed herdsmen had sacked the village, killing several persons and injuring many.
“When I returned to the village with security personnel I discovered the the entire village was on fire, dead bodies littered everywhere and the people were fleeing to neighbouring villages, but the situation was brought under control by the team of security personnel.”
Meanwhile the Benue State Police Command in a statement earlier Tuesday stated that the command received information at about 7 p.m. on Monday, from “the Security Adviser, Okpokwu local government area that some irate youths from Omusu engaged some herdsmen in a fight, maiming some cows, while two herdsmen were found missing.
“A peace meeting was immediately initiated with the Chairman of the LGA and the Head of the Fulani Community in the area, while a Police search party went in search of the two missing herdsmen, one of who was found killed.
“Unfortunately, as the search and peace meeting were ongoing, some herdsmen surreptitiously went on rampage, resulting in matcheting to death of 15 persons mainly women and children, while some houses were set ablaze.
“Four suspects have so far been arrested in connection with the gruesome murder. An extensive patrol of the community is ongoing which will be reinforced with the Special Forces.”