Armed intruders have struck again in Benue, one of the troubled states experiencing deadly attacks and destruction of properties in central Nigeria, killing 41 villagers in simultaneous assaults overnight, residents and officials have told PREMIUM TIMES.
Residents who informed PREMIUM TIMES in separate exchanges between Thursday morning and afternoon said the killings occurred in two communities in Logo and Ukum Local Government Areas, Benue State.
The residents also said the death toll may rise sharply in the coming hours, as more bodies are still being removed from nearby bushes.
The attacks come a day after 10 people were killed by gunmen said to be wearing military uniform.
“The first attack happened in Tse Hwer in Ukemberyge/Tsweray Council Ward in Logo Local Government around 6:30 p.m. to this morning,” said a senior state government official who did not want to be named, saying he had been warned by federal authorities for talking to the media in the past. “Some people are saying their families are missing, but we haven’t been able to confirm how many exactly.”
The victims were said to be two men and one woman.
When they arrived at about 6:00 p.m. in Jande-Ikyura in Ukum Local Government Area, the gunmen appeared determined to wipe out the entire community, said a resident of the area who said he had been to the village Thursday morning to witness the aftermath. Jande-Ikyura is a border community between Ukum LGA in Benue and Wukari Local Government Area in Taraba State.
“It was like they wanted to be sure that all the villagers were killed before they would run back to their hideouts,” said 48-year-old Isaac Ihiev. “They killed 22 people who were living there.”
Mr Ihiev said three of the attackers who were killed when some youth responded to the assault were found in military uniform.
“Three of them were killed and they dressed like soldiers when their bodies were moved out from the bush,” Mr Ihiev said, adding that he lives in a nearby village that falls under Wukari LGA in Taraba State.
He said efforts were underway to find the missing people. Mr Ihiev had mistakenly described Jande-Ikyura as being in Wukari LGA due to its proximity, but government officials have now clarified this confusion to PREMIUM TIMES.
A resident of Zaki Biam, seat of Ukum LGA, who arrived at the scene around 12:15 p.m. told PREMIUM TIMES the corpses have risen to 41 as at 2:09 p.m. Thursday, and still raised fears the number could unavoidably rise.
PREMIUM TIMES could not independently verify the claims as at 2:49 p.m. Thursday, but they have a history of raising alarms about their ordeal that would later be corroborated by security agencies.
Terver Akase, a spokesperson for Governor Samuel Ortom, said he had heard of the killings and expressed sadness about the shocking death toll.
David Akinremi, the police commissioner in Taraba, and his Benue counterpart, Fatai Owoseni, did not immediately return PREMIUM TIMES’ requests for comments about the attacks early Thursday afternoon.
Emmanuel Bello, a spokesperson for Governor Darius Ishaku, said news of the killings had spread to Jalingo, Taraba State capital.
He, however, said he didn’t have all the details as yet. He said a military panel probing alleged complicity by soldiers in the ongoing killings has arrived the state and is sitting in Jalingo.
The killings come two weeks after the Nigerian Army ended ‘Exercise Ayem Akpatuma’ and withdrew troops from the villages in Benue, Kogi and Taraba, despite pleas from residents that doing so would expose them to wanton killings by gunmen.
Although the Army denied withdrawing the troops, residents across three states insist there is no evidence to show that the exercise was extended as announced, and PREMIUM TIMES requests to the Army for the location of the troops participating in the exercise were rebuffed. The residents, including a local government chairman, told PREMIUM TIMES the troops left their villages on March 31, exactly the same day the exercise was initially billed to end.