Many residents of Makurdi in mourning gathered on Thursday at the IBB Square as bodies of the victims of the Fulani herdsmen attacks of January 1 and 2, 2018, in parts of Benue State were given a mass burial.
Offices, commercial banks, markets and schools were closed in the state capital as the government had, a day earlier, declared Thursday, a work-free day in honour of the 73 victims.
A leader of the Tiv nation and the chairman of the Northern Elders Forum, Wantaregh Unongo, said if President Muhammadu Buhari failed in his responsibility of protecting lives and property of Benue citizens, the people would train their own army in the state to defend them.
Unongo recalled that a large number of Benue sons and daughters were among the contingents that fought the Nigerian civil war.
“Benue people sacrificed blood for the unity of this country and will not allow a section of Fulani herdsmen to kill our people in cold blood.
He said, “I am telling Nigerians that my people cannot continue to be cannon fodder for this country. If the government can’t protect us, we will mobilise and train our people into an army to defend us. We are 100 per cent in support of what Governor Samuel Ortom has done. I am the spiritual and ancestral leader of the Tiv nation; enough is enough.”
Unongo stressed that the entire people of the state were watching President Buhari and had joined in the persistence calls by Ortom that the Federal Government should take drastic steps to urgently address the killings and also arrest the leader of Miyetti Allah Kautal Houre.
“If the Federal Government cannot stop or arrest those behind the killings; in two weeks, we shall raise an army of our own. We cannot allow people to colonise us again, we have all it takes to do that,” Unongo said.
Also speaking, a former military governor of Plateau and Katsina states, Maj. Gen. Lawrence Onoja(retd.), who described the killings in the state as a genocidal conspiracy against the Benue people, emphasised that the killings must not continue.
The Benue-born general said, “Some of us, in 1966, fought the Nigerian civil war; Benue has contributed to the unity of this country. If the Federal Governmrnt refuses to address the killings in Benue and if we decide to raise our army as advocated by our elders to defend ourselves, l will not mind to command that army despite my age.”
He appealed to the government at the centre to replicate Operation Python Dance or Fulani Dance in Benue as being done in other states of the federation. He urged sons and daughters of the state to rally round the governor for the successful enforcement of the anti-open grazing law.
A former member of the National Assembly, Senator J.K.N. Waku, maintained that the Benue people were known for peace, love and honour.
He said, ‘’It is unfortunate that someone would oppose a law that is legally enacted and begin to kill and the Federal Government will refuse to make arrests to end the carnage. The provocation is enough; nobody has the monopoly of killing.’’
Speaking on behalf of the Benue State House of Assembly, the Majority leader, Benjamin Adenyi, expressed sadness that Buhari came to Benue State during electioneering and after he was elected, he looked the other way while Benue people were being killed.
A former governor of Benue State, George Akume, urged Buhari to declare a faction of the Miyietti Allah as terrorists, saying the action of its members showed they were terrorists.
He appealed to people living in Benue communities not to take the law into their own hands, but follow the path of peace and reconciliation.
The representative of the United Nations, Dr Mathins Ejibike, offered his condolences to the government and people of the state, saying what was happening in Benue required international attention.
“We want an enlightened approach to this matter. We should pray that this killing should be the last in Benue State.”
He stated that the UN had received a report that over 20,000 refugees were already in camps and promised that the body would look into their plight.
In his speech, the paramount ruler of Tiv nation, Prof. James Ayatse, claimed that Tiv people residing in Nasarawa and Taraba states were being killed by Fulani herdsmen on a daily basis since the Benue killings started.
“We must put an end to these killings. This is the 47th time that Fulani people would attack the Benue people.”
The paramount ruler enjoined Ortom to continue to do the needful in his bid to bring peace to the state, saying the Benue traditional rulers were behind the governor.
Ortom, in his remarks, said the latest killing was the most heartless.
He said, “If the herdsmen think that the killing of our people will make us to stop the enforcement of the law, they have failed. We will not be deterred because I am ready to pay the supreme price for the implementation of the anti-open grazing law. I will continue to insist on the arrest of the factional leader of Miyetti Allah Kautal Houre.”
Ortom rejected the idea of creating a cattle colony or grazing routes for herdsmen.
He said the suggestions were not acceptable to the Benue people.
He explained that the state did not have adequate land for farmers, not to talk of space for grazing.
Also speaking, the state Chairman, Christian Association of Nigeria, Rev. Akpe Leva, commended the governor for signing the anti-open grazing law.