Photo: Onianwa Austin
Suspected terrorist herdsmen in the early hours of yesterday, stormed St. Ignatius Catholic Church, Ukpor-Mbalom Parish, Gwer East Local Government Area of Benue State, killing two Catholic priests and 17 parishioners. The latest attack came barely four days after the murder of 10 persons by herdsmen in neighbouring Guma Local Government Area and the destruction of 300 houses by men suspected to be military personnel in Naka, Gwer West Local Government Area of the state. It was learnt that several persons sustained bullet wounds, while the invaders also sacked part of the village, razing close to 60 houses, huts, and farmland, economic trees as well as food barns of their victims. According to a source, the deceased were members of the parish who were in the church to attend the 5:30am Mass and burial ceremony. He said: “There is usually the daily 5:30am mass which many parishioners attend. The services had barely started and worshippers were still coming for the Mass after which a burial ceremony would take place when sounds of rapid gunshots rent the air. “People started scampering and wailing, 19 persons, including Reverend Fathers Joseph Gor and Felix Tyolaha, who were holding the morning Mass were gunned down in cold blood, while many sustained injuries, including bullet wounds. “After attacking the church, the invaders descended on the community and razed over 60 houses, farmland, food barns after carting away what the people had in their barns. “As usual, after killing the helpless worshippers and razing the community, the attackers fled from the scene. “As I speak with you, part of the community is on fire and deserted. People are fleeing to neighbouring villages, hoping to find a safe haven for their families.” Reacting through a statement, the Director of Communications Catholic Diocese of Makurdi, Father Moses Iorapuu, confirmed the attack. Catholic church laments The statement read: “Rev Fathers Joseph Gor and Felix Tyolaha have been confirmed dead in the deadly attack by herdsmen/Jihadists early today (yesterday) on Mbalom village and St. Ignatius Quasi Parish Ukpor-Mbalom. “In their classic style, they burnt down homes, destroyed food items and killed at will. The police seem to know nothing of the attacks which have been going on in other villages within Benue 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. The Muslim North is enjoying a sweet revenge overshadowed by an insensitive regime. “There were over 170,000 internally displaced persons before the Naka invasion and surely with the current situation in Mbalom, Benue will be flooded with thousands more. 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 Dioceses 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!” Tension in Makurdi Meanwhile, there is palpable tension in Makurdi town as the bloody attack has sparked angry reactions from youths in the town who took over the popular Wurukum roundabout and Vandeikya Street junction in protest over the killings. The irate youths made bonfires at both points, stopping all vehicular movements from parts of the country at the Wurukum roundabout. The development has also forced owners of business outlets in the town, including those doing business in the popular Makurdi Modern Market and banks to close shop for fear of being attacked by hoodlums. People of northern extraction doing business in the town were also seen moving in droves back to Wadata, an Hausa settlement in Makurdi town for fear of being attacked by the irate youths. It took the intervention of the Police who fired teargas canisters to dispersed the surging crowd of angry youths in parts of the town from unleashing mayhem in the state capital. Reacting, the Acting Governor of Benue State, Mr. Benson Abounu, said the government and people of the state are saddened by the incident, adding that the state is under siege. Abounu said: “The governor, myself and the entire people of the state are very sad because I can put it now that Benue is under siege. “We have been attacked from all corners and this is unacceptable. What happened today is a calculated attack, well planned and executed. “They must have taken their time, they hit their targets and they got what they desired to do. “As I talk to you, I have got information, I waited all day to get the right information before I brief the press. “I have spoken with the Commissioner of Police who had been there himself with his team and had seen the victims. He was able to see 16 corpses, one had earlier been brought to Makurdi and as I talk to you now, all the corpses have been brought to Makurdi. “I understand that two Reverend Fathers were killed right inside the church. This is a new dimension in the attacks, it has never happened before; therefore, it is very worrying. “I also understand that 17 other people lost their lives, making a total of 19. You can, therefore, see why I said this is another black day in the history of Benue State. “The Commissioner of Police has deployed enough men to the place who are already there. As we speak, the Commanding Officer of 72 Special Forces has also deployed a good number of soldiers to the place.”
Confirming the attack, Benue State Police Commissioner, Fatai Owoseni, said: “We got information that some bandits suspected to be herdsmen attacked Mbalom community, killing two Reverend Fathers.
“We went there and discovered that they invaded the village around 5am and they were about 30 in number. They attacked the venue of a burial ceremony and also attacked the church where the two Reverend Fathers who were holding Mass, also to conduct the burial ceremony, were killed.
“At the time we visited, we were able to recover 16 bodies from the scenes of the attack and those of the two priests. The terrain is made up of thick forests but we are working assiduously and we are combing the entire area and the bushes. We will go after them.
“We are currently working on every piece of information that will help us track these people and bring them to justice.”
Meanwhile, Governor Samuel Ortom through a statement by his Chief Press Secretary, CPS, Terver Akase, announced his decision to cut short his three weeks leave to take full charge of the state. The statement reads: “Governor Samuel Ortom has cut short his vacation to return home and address the security challenge occasioned by the on-going killings of Benue people by armed herdsmen.
“In the Governor’s absence, the Acting Governor, Engineer Benson Abounu has done a commendable job.”