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As herdsmen attack Benue church…: 2 Catholic priests, 17 worshippers killed

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• Buhari describe killing as satanic, sacrilege

Rose Ejembi, Makurdi; Juliana Taiwo-Obalonye, Abuja; Stanley Uzoaru, Owerri

There was palpable tension and near breakdown of law and order in Makurdi, Benue State capital, yesterday, following fresh killings by suspected Fulani herders.

In the attack, two Catholic priests and 17 parishioners of St. Ignatius Quasi Parish, Ukpor Mbalom, Ayar Mbalom village, Gwer East Local Government Area were confirmed killed.

Daily Sun gathered that the parishioners and the priests had gone for early morning mass at about 5:30am when the herders invaded and mowed them down.

The Catholic Diocese of Makurdi, in a statement signed by its Director of Communications, Fr. Moses Iorapuu gave the names of the Reverend Fathers killed as Joseph Gor and Felix Tyolaha.

Fr. Gor had raised the alarm about Fulani herdsmen in a Facebook post on January 3: “Living in fear. the fulanis are still around us here in Mbalom. They refused to go. They still grazing along. No weapon to defend ourselves.”
Commissioner of Police in of Benue State, Fatai Owoseni who was one of the first callers at the affected village confirmed the killing saying he saw 16 corpses on the spot in addition to one that had earlier been brought to Makurdi and those of the two priests.

“The information first came at about 8am that some bandits suspected to be herdsmen attacked a church. Immediately we got the information we moved into the village to take a wider coverage of the general area.

“We also went to a church where the incident happened. We were told the attackers came to the church, then to a venue of a burial ceremony where the priest was supposed to officiate.

“We saw 16 dead bodies including the priests that were killed. We have already deployed security with community members to go after the assailants. It’s a wide forest area. We believe the arsonist must have been hanging around the area. These are armed marauders just out to kill people, we will go after them.”
While noting that it was still hasty to conclude as to who the assailants really were, Owoseni said the police had worked on every bit and pieces of information it had got, adding that “by the time we apprehend these attackers, we will know where this is coming from.”

The latest killing had sparked tension in many areas of Makurdi including the popular Wurukum roundabouts, Modern Market area, High Level and Wadata, a development which made the police to beef up security.
Some hoodlums were said to have blocked highways and set up bonfires in different locations across the metropolis while police battled to disperse them even as Hausa within the metropolis were said to have relocated to the Wadata area for fear of reprissal.

The situation made shop owners to hurriedly close their shops even as parents rushed to schools to pick their children while the Modern Market and Wadata Market were closed down.
Following the killing, Governor Samuel Ortom who was on a 12-day leave in China had to cut short his vacation.

A statement by his Chief Press Secretary, Terver Akase said the governor is returning home to address the security challenge occasioned by the ongoing killing of Benue people by armed herdsmen.
However, Iorapuu, the Catholic spokesman, while regretting that the herdsmen in their classic style, burnt down homes, destroyed food items and killed at will maintained that the police seemed to know nothing of the attacks which have been going on in other villages within the state since the Anti-open Grazing Law came into effect last year.

“Many people are asking why the international community has remained silent over the massacre of Benue citizens? The answer is simple: It has been the goal of the Jihadists to conquer Benue and Tiv people who resisted their advance into the Middle Belt and the eastern part of Nigeria since 1804, the people who rejected Islam and fought for the unification of Nigeria in the civil war of 1967-1970. The people of eastern Nigeria, therefore, have little sympathy for Benue people who fought on the side of Nigeria.”

He lamented that there were over 170,000 internally displaced persons in eight camps in Benue before the Naka invasion, stressing that the current invasion of Mbalom would further swell the humanitarian crisis in the state.

“What cannot be said at this point is 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 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,” Iorapuu stated.

•Action vile, satanic, says Buhari
President Muhammadu Buhari described the killing as “vile, evil and satanic.”
In a statement by his Special Adviser on Media and Publicity, Mr. Femi Adesina, Buhari said the killing of priests and worshippers was a calculated attempt to initiate religious conflict and plunge communities into endless bloodletting

He said the country under his leadership would not bow to the machinations of evildoers.
He promised that the assailants would be hunted down and made to pay for the sacrilege committed.

“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 was 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.”

Another black day in Benue –Acting Gov.
Acting Governor of Benue State, Benson Abounu said it was obvious that Benue was under siege.

“This is another black day in Benue. I am saddened, the governor is saddened, the Benue people are very sad. I can say that Benue is under siege from every corner. What happened is a calculated attack, well planned and well executed.”
Abounu who lamented that the priests were killed right inside the church while they were celebrating mass expressed worry about the new dimension the Benue pogrom was assuming.

“We are under siege and I do believe that this has gone beyond the normal herdsmen crisis. What we have is an attack by insurgents and should therefore be given very serious attention. It is no longer the usual herdsmen crisis but an issue of insurgency as we have in the North-east.

“As far as this incident is concerned, I have alerted all security agencies and we have been on top of the situation. The commissioner of police has gone there himself and police and soldiers have been deployed. We believe the attackers are still lurking in the bushes. The security agents must run after these people into the bushes, flush them out and apprehend them.”

Archbishop Obinna: Nobody knows whose next

The Catholic Archbishop of Owerri Diocese, Imo State, Anthony Obinna, who spoke through the Diocesan Media Director, Reverend Father George Nwachukwu described the killing as barbaric and inhuman just as he called on the appropriate authorities to bring the perpetrators to justice.
According to him, the situation has thrown the churches into confusion, not knowing which man of God is next.

“What is happening in our society today is bad. I am not saying the Federal Government is not doing anything about it, but they are not doing much. I don’t know what the country is becoming; people are confused. Today it’s there (Benue), who knows where next and who? It’s a sad situation. We don’t know exactly who is doing this but everybody knows that there is an amalgam of Boko Haram. You can’t differentiate them from each other. This is not good at all.”

In his own reaction, former governor of Anambra State, Mr. Peter Obi condemned the killing of two Catholic priests as some worshippers, saying the spate of attacks seemed to be getting out of control.

He called on government to act quickly and seriously to stop the killings, which he noted would be scary to foreign investors and injurious to Nigerian’s economy.

“Besides,” Obi said, “it negates the fundamental freedom of worship, association and movement and questions our unity as a country.”

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