By Peter Duru Makudi
Zaki Biam, a bustling commercial town in Ukum local government area of Benue State, renown for massive production of yam tubers, last Monday, came under the siege of gunmen who, for over three hours, unleashed a bloodbath never witnessed in the history of the state after the military invasion of the town in 2001.
Two and half year old Chichi
An eyewitness told Sunday Vanguard that the invaders, decked in military camouflage, stormed the town at about 3pm on motorbikes and cars shooting sporadically with a view to killing anything in sight.
While the invasion lasted, there was pandemonium in the town. Traders ran for their lives. Over 40 persons, including women and children, were said to have been killed in cold blood , while many sustained varying degrees of injuries.
The attackers also reportedly razed over 150 houses, shops and huts, thousands of heaps of yam at the renown Zaki Biam International Yam Market while cars, trucks and motorbikes were also not spared.
“ It was around 3pm when the well armed gang came in from Shetile area of Katsina/Ala LGA and drove straight in their cars and motorbikes to the International Market area and started shooting sporadically. They went from street to street as they shot at their victims,” the eye witness narrated..
“Everyone started running. In the confusion, there were gunshots from everywhere like what we see in the movies. There was stampede, children and women were gunned down.
“In the midst of the confusion, the armed men set several houses ablaze. There was wailing and crying everywhere as there was blood flowing from all corners of the town.
“Nobody knew the reason or motive for the attack and the masterminds were also not known. We have not seen anything like this in Zaki Biam after the military invasion of 2001.
“After that military invasion, we have lived in this town like one big family irrespective of tribe but I must tell you that we have been wounded. We live in fear and terror. Biam is in a somber mood.”
He sobbed like a baby.
At the time Sunday Vanguard visited the devastated town, family families were seen fleeing Zaki Biam while the community had become a ghost of itself.
One of the victims of the attack narrate their experiences
Many of the injured were rushed to hospitals in the town while the dead were deposited in hospitals that were over- stretched.
Boy injured, pregnant mother dead
While the mayhem lasted, Governor Samuel Ortom was in Makurdi, the state capital, holding a meeting with stakeholders on how to find lasting solution to the several bloody clashes rocking Benue.
Soon after the news of the attack filtered into town, Ortom headed to Zaki Biam to assess the damage.
He visited hospitals where victims were receiving treatment and morgues where the dead were deposited. He expressed shock at what he saw.
When he visited Saint Anthony’s Hospital, Zaki Biam, where about 15 bodies of the victims were taken, the facility was over-stretched and mortuary attendants were seen battling to find space for some of corpses in the open.
Several other hospitals in town were also contending with victims of the bloody attack, most of whom were nursing bullet wounds.
One of the victims, a two and half year boy, who was identified as Chichi, had bullet wounds but lost his pregnant mother in the attack. He was rescued by a trader who rushed him to Light of Grace Hospital where he is receiving treatment but in critical condition.
Another victim, Mr. Ogbonaya Anya, a yam seller from the eastern part of the country, who is recuperating at same hospital, recounted what happened.
He said he had alighted from a commercial motorbike and was about entering the yam market when he was greeted by a barrage of gunshots from the gunmen whom he initially mistook for fellow traders.
“On hearing the rapid gunfire, I noticed that people were running in different directions but I just lay flat on the ground to avoid being hit by stray bullet. Then one of the attackers walked up to me where I was lying, pulled out a knife and stabbed me on my shoulder after asking what I was doing where I was,” Anya narrated.
“I immediately managed to jump to my feet and attempted to run. At that point, a shot was fired at me by another gunman but the bullet brushed my face but left me with injury close to my eyes. I fell down and couldn’t walk anymore.
“I was later rushed to this hospital by some persons after the attackers had left the scene”.
Another victim, Mathias Mnvendega, who lay motionless in same hospital with bullet wounds on his head and leg, said, ” I don’t know what actually happened but I was at the market when some men came in cars and motorbikes and started shooting and I was hit by bullets. I don’t know how I got to hospital.”
It was tales of woe from many other victims who could hardly utter a word as they groaned in pains.
Speaking after his visit to Zaki Biam, Ortom blamed the wanted militant leader, Terwase Agwaza, also known as ‘Gana’, for the bloodbath.
The governor said, “Our suspicion on this is clear. This act was perpetrated by “Gana” and his group. He has been killing innocent people. It’s a shame. Few days ago, he also slaughtered eight people at Ayati town.
“It’s disheartening. I’m going to summon a meeting of the traditional rulers of this area and ask them to produce him because Gana is being shielded from arrest. But you can see the consequences of living with a terrorist.
“I will also call a meeting of the security council because we will have to set up a joint security patrol team in this area to ensure intensified security surveillance in the town. I can assure you that we are taking decisive actions to address the matter”.
Ortom also directed the transfer of some of the victims of the attack to the Benue State University Teaching Hospital, Makurdi for proper attention, promising that government would pay the medical bills of all the victims.
On his part, the state Police Commissioner, Bashir Makama, who said the Command had recorded 17 deaths and 11 injuried in the attack, said investigation into the matter had commenced.
One of the victims of the attack narrate his experiences
Shortly after the governor’s visit, alongside members of the state Security Council, to the devastated town, it was gathered that the Police High Command had drafted a crack squad to the state for a special operation to fish out the masterminds of the attack.
Speaking to Sunday Vanguard, the Police Commissioner said the team, comprising the Police Mobile Force, Counter-terrorism units, Special undercover agents and surveillance aircraft, was deployed on the directive of the Inspector General of Police, IGP, Ibrahim Idris.
He said the team, which would be based in Zaki Biam, would, in collaboration with the state Police Command, commence an operation that would lead to the arrest of ‘Gana’ and his gang.