Herdsmen in Church: The Benue experience By Kingsley Alumona

 

The incessant security problem of the country is really a big headache to Nigerians. If it is not Boko Haram abducting school girls and bombing people, it is marauding herdsmen destroying farms and killing farmers. Prior to 2018, some of these cruel acts were restricted to some parts of the northern states. These days, it is almost every part of the country that is bearing the brunt.
This year alone, over 1,000 Nigerians have reportedly lost their lives to herdsmen-related killings, particularly in Benue, Taraba, Plateau, Nasarawa and Kogi states. If it is not a mass burial, it is a state mourning. If scores of people are not massacred, houses and property are burnt down. On a daily basis, the media satiate us with gruesome images of death and suffering of Nigerians, with the perpetrators at large.
To add insult to injury, the President Muhammadu Buhari government seems not to care. This is reflected in his inability to bring the doers of this evil to justice. Condemning the killings will never stop them. Condoling the victims is not enough. Blaming the late Muammar Gaddafi of Libya for the killings trivialises the matter. Since the security personnel and their boss are in slumber, the marauding herdsmen are now in charge. The farms and villages are no longer enough for them to exercise their domineering dispositions. They have sinisterly diversified. Churches are now where the fun is. Perhaps, farms have bored them. Churches are now where the game is. Who knows, government houses might be their next target.
There is no gainsaying that Benue state has suffered the worst inhumane act in the bloody hands of herdsmen than any other state in the country since this year. The overt killings and widespread violence across 18 out of the 23 local government areas of the state attest to this. April 24, Benue people witnessed the height of religious sacrilege on their soil committed by armed herdsmen. This hearth-numbing act, which occurred during a morning mass at St. Ignatius Quasi Parish located on Ayar Mbalom in Gwer East local government area, was no doubt a well-calculated, well-planned and well-executed crime, not just on Benue people, but also to humanity.
The deaths of the two St. Ignatius Catholic priests and other 17 people—depending on who is counting-by the herdsmen are shocking and unpardonable. These victims believed that the government they voted into power could protect them. But that government has, once again, failed. The Black Sunday of this New Year day in Benue had repeated itself. Must every day in Benue be black? The mass burial of January 11, is about to repeat itself again. When would the mass burials stop?
Not satisfied with the church killings, on the same Tuesday, the herdsmen extended their terror to other villages, burning down houses numbering about hundred. On Wednesday, barely 24 hours after the church killings, some armed herdsmen stormed Guma communities and killed more than 14 people. On Thursday, no fewer than seven internal-displaced people taking refuge in African Church and LGEA Primary School, Mondo, were killed in their sleep at about 12:22 a.m. by herdsmen. This is madness. All these brutal acts within three days and in one state? It is now clear that Buhari cannot protect the Benue people and the state governor is playing politics with the situation.
To say that the enforcement of the Anti-Open Grazing Law is what precipitated these atrocities is not true. Any law-abiding herdsman would adhere to the law or find an alternative for his cattle than to cause mayhem in the state. By all definition, herdsmen are supposed to be in the bush or ranch tending to cattle, not in the church with arms, wreaking havoc to worshippers.
These past days, these endless systematic killings have triggered some protests in the streets of Benue. The seven-day prayer and fasting by Christians under the umbrella of CAN over the recent security challenges in the state, which started last Monday, is a welcome development. Calling for the arrests of the president of the Miyetti Allah group and suing the group over the killings by the state governments is also a welcome development. Notwithstanding, it is time Benue people held the bull by the horn.
The international community, just like Nigerians, wants these killings and mayhems to stop. Speaking with President Buhari in the White House on Monday, the US President, Donald Trump, said the killings in the country is unacceptable and will not be tolerated. The House of Representatives is now on the necks of the president and his service chiefs. On the other hand, the president and the vice president’s condolences and crocodile tears over the killings are not enough. Nigerians need to see the perpetrators of this murders and arson brought to book. The Benue people need justice and reparations.
With all these killings, arsons and sacrileges done to the Benue people over these past months with impunity, their common destiny is in their hands. Either they continue to live in peace with their killers or to defend themselves, as TY Danjuma preaches. The latter, if the security situation in the state keeps deteriorating, seems unavoidable.

Alumona writes from Ibadan

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