Nigeria (Morning Star News) – A mass burial on Sunday (Jan. 7) was announced for 49 of at least 65 Christians killed in Muslim Fulani herdsmen attacks in Benue state, Nigeria that began on New Year’s Day, sources said.
Benue Gov. Samuel Ortom announced on Saturday (Jan. 6) that coffins would be provided for the state-sponsored funeral as he visited Benue State University Teaching Hospital-Makurdi’s hospital morgue. Brandishing heavy weaponry as well as cutlasses, Muslim Fulani herdsmen attacked several predominantly Christian villages in the Guma and Logo Local Government Areas (LGAs) on Jan. 1-2 and on Friday and Saturday (Jan. 5-6).
The governor of the Middle Belt, majority-Christian state told journalists that 49 corpses recovered from the Christian communities in Guma and Logo Local Government Areas had been kept in morgues across the state. He said a mass burial was necessary because the bodies were decomposing. The governor announced three days of mourning to be observed after the funeral.
“What I have seen here is far beyond the report we received,” he said. “Several innocent people have been killed. Women and children murdered with their throats slit open. Many people are still missing while several houses have been destroyed. The whole of Guma and Logo have been turned into desolate lands.”
The state has begun implementing an anti-grazing law passed on Nov. 1, 2017 that Muslim Fulani herdsmen have ignored. Guards armed only with cutlasses assigned to protect the predominantly Christian farmers’ lands were reportedly helpless against the attacks, with several losing their lives. Local residents said more than 50 people were killed in the Jan. 1-2 attacks.
Gov. Ortom said herdsmen groups have issued threats since the passage of the anti-grazing law.
“Now, those people who have been killed, their blood will cry to the federal government and, if the federal government does not do something, their blood will cry to the Almighty God, and I’m sure that God will deal with the situation Himself,” Gov. Ortom said. “This is not fair, and it is not acceptable.”
The Benue State Police Command reported arresting eight herders in connection with the killings in the Guma and Logo areas. Police spokesman Moses Joel Yamu said in a statement that herdsmen were suspected in the slayings.
Demonstrators took to the streets in Makurdi, the state capital, on Wednesday (Jan. 3) to protest President Muhammadu Buhari’s silence over the attacks. Barricading roads, making bonfires and chanting, they reportedly called on him to act immediately to stop continuous killings by gunmen in Benue state or resign.
The protest reportedly turned violent, with three people losing their lives and many injured.
The Benue State chapter of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) said in a statement that incessant attacks by Muslim Fulani herdsmen violate fundamental rights and Nigeria’s constitution. State CAN Chairman Akpen Leva lamented the failure of the federal government to halt the unprovoked killings and destruction of property.
Jan. 6 Attack
Following the New Year’s attacks that claimed at least 50 lives, on late Friday night and early Saturday (Jan. 5-6) Muslim Fulani herdsmen killed at least 15 Christians in the predominantly Christian Logo area’s Tombu and other villages, sources said.
Area resident Joseph Anawa told Morning Star News that all the victims were members of the Universal Reformed Christian Church, in Nigeria known as the NKST (Nongo U KristuU I Ser Sha Tar). He identified some of them as evangelist Kwaghkighir Ukende; Kwaghve Baaki, 70; Suushater Kwaghve, 7; Mlahaga; Terhile Tyozho; Verinumbe Jam; Pinega Mbavuur; Iana Kpenger; Mnenge Ayaibo; Kwaghve Baaki; Terhemen Kwaghve; Ioryue Tsehemba; Zahemen Tsavkuleve; and Ahemba Shaku.
Villages attacked included Tse Akombo, Tse Vii, Tse Agule, Turan, Ukemberagya, Tswarev, Gaambe-Tiev, Tswarev, Tse Toradi, Channel One, Akenawe, and Meeme, Anawa said.
“So far, corpses of Mr. Verinumbe Jam and Mr. Pinega Mbavuur of Mbaamase were discovered at Toradi village, while those of evangelist Kwaghkighir Ukende, Mr. Iana Kpenger, and Mr. Mnenge Ayaibo were picked up at Channel One settlement, all in Tswarev District, Logo LGA,” Anawa said.
Cephas Hough, another resident of Tse-Kimbir village, identified five of those killed as Kwaghve Baaki, Terhemen Kwaghve, Ioryue Tsehemba, Zahemen Tsavkuleve, Ahemba Shaku, and an unidentified victim.
“The herdsmen went from house to house, shooting sporadically and killing six Christians,” he told Morning Star News.
Richard Nyajo, chairman of the Logo LGA, told Morning Star News by phone that the casualty figure is higher than reported as many women and children are missing and unaccounted for.
“Thousands of people have been displaced,” Nyajo said. “Corpses of those killed have been evacuated to morgues in hospitals in Katsina Ala and Gboko. We are still taking records of the victims, both the living and the dead. The true casualty figures may not be known now, but we are hoping that in weeks to come we shall have detailed information on these attacks.”
New Year’s Day Attack
Attacked on New Year’s Day were the villages of Tse Igbudu Taraka, Tomotar, Tse Abi, Nongov, Mbashav, Mbagber, Turan and Gaambe-Tiev, all in the Guma or Logo LGAs.
“Many have been forced to flee their homes,” area resident James Gbudu told Morning Star News.
Some of the wounded were taken to NKST Church Hospital in Anyiin, area resident Peter Ugondo told Morning Star a News.
Authorities of the Benue State Police Command said the New Year’s Day attacks began around 10 a.m. as Christians were at church worship services and lasted until 2 a.m. on Jan. 2.
Benue State Police Command spokesman Yamu confirmed the attacks.
“The communities came under heavy attack by well-armed herdsmen who stormed the communities late Friday night till the early hours of Saturday,” he said in a statement. “The fact is that much more must have been killed, but we will confirm that in the coming days as more bodies are recovered from the affected communities.”
Last year Muslim Fulani herdsmen launched attacks that killed at least 29 Christians in the first 10 weeks of 2017, and in February 2016 more than 300 in the Agatu area of the state were slaughtered in attacks by the herdsmen.
Christians make up 51.3 percent of Nigeria’s population, while Muslims living primarily in the north and middle belt account for 45 percent.
Nigeria ranks 12th on Open Doors’ 2017 World Watch List of countries where Christians suffer the most persecution.