Two Catholic priests and 17 others were yesterday killed when Fulani herdsmen early morning attacked Catholic Church/ Parishioners who went for 5.30am Mass in a village at Ayar Mbalom in Gwer East local government area of Benue state. The priests killed were named to include Rev. Fathers Joseph Gor and Felix Tyolaha serving at St. Ignatius Quasi Parish, UkporMbalom.
The attack has come barely four days after the murder of 10 persons by herdsmen in Guma local government area and the destruction of 300 houses by men suspected to be military personnel in Naka, Gwer West local government area of the state.
Acting governor of Benue state confirmed the incident, saying “it is no longer herdsmen, farmers’ crisis as earlier believed, but terrorists’ attack on the state.” He said the attack had taken a different dimension from what the state had been experiencing, adding that the attack on the church was the first of its kind.
“This is another black day in Benue; I am saddened the governor who is on leave is also saddened. Benue people are very sad because I can put it now that the state is under siege. We have been attacked from all corners and this is unacceptable.
“We have been attacked from all corners, it’s a calculated attack, well planned and well executed. They have taken their time; they hit the target and got what they desired to do. “As I am talking to you, based on the information I got 19 people have been killed in the attack including two Catholic priests.
“What we are having at the moment is attack by insurgents and therefore should be regarded as a very grave and serious matter. The federal should no longer look at this matter as the usual herdsmen farmers’ crisis, but as an issue of insurgency as we have in the Northeast. “I have directed that security should go after the attackers and apprehend them and it is by doing this that we can find the root of the attackers.”
Confirming the incident, after an on-the-spot assessment, the Commissioner of Police, Benue state Command, Fatai Owoseni, said 18 bodies had been recovered, including those of two Catholic priests. He said some bandits suspected to be herdsmen as early as 5am attacked a Catholic priest and other worshipers. He said after the attack the herdsmen proceeded to where locals were having a burial ceremony and started killing them.
“The attackers were thirty in number. Their targets were the church and burial where the priest was supposed to go and conduct the burial ceremony. At the time we left the place we were able to recover 16 bodies and that of two priests one of which was killed right in the church.
“We have deployed our men in the place and they are going after them to see how we can lay our hands on the killers. We have a thick forest in the areas but we can deploy all resources available to us to get into the place to apprehend the attackers. We believe these people must have been hanging around to have done this. These are marauders who are just out to kill their victims,” he said.
One of the locals Peter Iorver, who survived the attack, said the herdsmen killed her step mother and burnt more than 35 houses, destroyed food and farm crops as they retreated to their base. “My step mother is one of the victims; she was at the burial where the attack also happened.
I was also attending the burial when I heard gunshots and saw people running helter, skelter.” Director of Communications, Catholic Diocese of Makurdi, Rev. Fr. Moses Iorapuu, who confirmed the incident, said two of the priests were killed by the herdsmen in the attack which also left many parishioner and locals dead. Fr. Iorpuu, in a press statement yesterday in Makurdi, lamented the attack which he said seemed to elude even security men’s watchful eyes.
He said: “In their classic style they burnt homes, destroyed food items and killed at will. The police seem to know nothing of the attacks which have been going on in other villages within Benue state since the Anti Open Grazing Law came into eff ect last year. “Many people are asking why the International community has remained silent over the massacre of Benue indigenes. There were over 170, 000 internally displaced persons before the Naka invasion and surely with the current situation in Mbalom, Benue will be fl ooded with thousands more. “What cannot be said at this point are the consequences of the death of Missionaries in the silent 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 go for the Priests means total destruction of everything we stand for and believe in, as a people!” Following the killings in the state Benue Governor Samuel Ortom cut short his vacation to return home. The governor had been away in China for two weeks which started on April 12, and was expected to end on April 27.
A statement by his Chief Press Secretary, Terver Akase, read: “Governor Samuel Ortom has cut short his vacation to return home and address the security challenge occasioned by the ongoing killing of Benue people by armed herdsmen.
” Buhari reacts Meanwhile, President Muhammadu Buhari in his reaction described the killings as “vile and satanic.” “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,” he said.
Stressing that the country would not bow to the machinations of evildoers, the President said the assailants would be hunted down and made to pay for the sacrilege. Yari suggests solution In a related development, the chairman, Nigeria Governors’ Forum, Governor Abdulazeez Yari Abubakar of Zamfara state has again called for state police to enable governors to fully take charge of the various security challenges in the states.
Yari made the call yesterday, when he received a delegation of the Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ) that was on Democracy Dividends Media Tour to the state in Talata Marafa. He said: “Today, I feel we are now mature for the creation of state police. Sometime in 2014, during the constitution amendment, we came up with the issue of state police. As at then, they were not viable to my Nigerians because of the nature of state executives.
“Then many governors kicked against state police because of the former governor of Plateau state, Jonah Gang, but now, with our situation, as our democracy keeps growing on a daily basis and we are having a very big problem of who controls the states’ borders.” Continuing, he said: “By the way, it is only salary that we are not paying to the police posted to Zamfara. Any officer that sleeps on duty, outside the police post, we pay them; they are on our pay roll.
We equip them; it is only arms and ammunition that we don’t buy for them. But all their logistics is on the shoulders of the state government. So, if we can do all these, then we can take care of all the other responsibilities.”