Islamist Fulani Herdsmen have killed over 30 people in a predominantly Christian village in Benue State.
The attack took placed in Zaki Biam on Monday (21 March) early afternoon when “gunmen stormed the yam market on about 12 ‘Bajaj’ motorcyles and four Toyota Corolla cars and started shooting at anyone in sight.”
Eye witness accounts say the attacker scame right into the market spraying bullets and killing men, women and children who were at the market.
The attack, they said, was unprovoked and a complete surprise for a town that has not had any conflicts or prior friction with the Islamist herdsmen.Many cars, and a petrol station were burnt by the marauding Fulani Herdsmen.
An eyewitness said it was simply a “bloodbath.”
The State Commissioner of Police, Bashir Makama, declined to confirm the number of casualties saying investigations were ongoing.
The Benue State Governor, Samuel Ortom, in a statement released by his Special Adviser on Media and ICT, Tahav Agerzua, “condemned the dastard act.”
The statement added that the “Governor Samuel Ortom has cancelled all his engagements for tomorrow, including the scheduled swearing-in of new members of the State Executive Council.
“The Governor’s directive is in respect of recent attacks in the Sankera area of the state particularly today’s murder of innocent people at the Zaki-Biam market in Ukum local government area,” according to the statement.
A statement released on Tuesday by a Christian group in the state, Tiv Professionals, said: “Between 2013-2016 alone, Fulani herdsmen killed more than 1,878 men, women and children in cold blood, from twelve Local Government Areas of Benue State. Another 750 were seriously wounded while 200 are missing. Over 99,427 households were affected in Benue State and property worth billions of naira destroyed through a brutal scorch-earth strategy.
“In Taraba State, more than 1,159 men, women and children were killed in seven Local Government Areas during the same period. More than 24,562 people were internally displaced. 171 Christian places of worship were destroyed in addition to whole settlements and farm produce.”
The group criticised the Kaduna State governor, “Mallam Nasir El-Rufai has cleverly identified and handsomely paid some of these trans-border militia herdsmen. Emboldened, they operate as criminal gangs; mercenaries, kidnappers and cattle rustlers from safe havens within the country.”
They claimed that the security agencies were in the hands of the Fulani herdsmen.
In the statement the indigenous group, TPG, warned the Nigerian government, “Our willingness to stay in one united country should not be taken for granted by Fulani herdsmen. We can no longer tolerate their incessant attacks and the slaughter of our people in their sleep on their ancestral lands. The Fulani have crossed the line and for the sake of our country, they must be called to order.”
The Benue state government had earlier decided to expel Islamic Fulani herdsmen in certain conflict prone villages in Benue state to reduce the incidences of the attack and killings. Governor Ortom said it would be impossible for the Islamic herdsmen and predominantly Christian farmers to live peacefully side by side adding that he will not fold its arms and allow people fall prey to foreigners and killers.
President Muhammadu Buhari, in a tweet on Tuesday, 21st March said, “I am saddened by the recent attack by gunmen on a market in Zaki Biam, Benue State, and which resulted in the loss of lives. I commiserate with the Government and people of Benue State.”
There have been protests on the streets over the killings. This attack in Zaki Biam follows a spate of attacks last week in two other communities. Seven villages were destroyed by Fulani herdsmen in Agatu Local Government Area of Benue State. This happened barely two days after another attack on Ikpele and Okpopolo communities that killed seven farmers. Over 6,000 were displaced in that attack. In yet another attack over 5,000 Islamist Fulani Herdsmen attacked Oshugbudu. The member representing Agatu Constituency in the Benue State House of Assembly, Sule Audu, said, “What can less than 40 soldiers on ground do to stop armed invaders numbering up to 5,000?”
Fulani herdsmen attacked Mkgovur village in Buruku local government area killing 10 people, last Friday, 17th March, forcing many in Buruku and neighbouring Gboko local government area to flee their homes.
In response, the Benue state chairman of Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association, the political and pressure group umberella of the Islamic group, Alhaji Garus Gololo, said the attacker were not ‘indigenous Fulani’,
“they came from Taraba and went to Mkgovur village on Friday but were resisted by the villagers… It is our agreement now that any Fulani man not known to any host community should not be allowed to stay in any community in Benue, so when the herders entered Mkgovur village they were resisted, I think that was what provoked them to invade the village this (Monday) morning.”