The horror killings of residents of Shikaan Village of Katsina-Ala in Benue earlier in the month are due to the collusion of a group of militants with Fulani herdsmen.
The widely circulated story on social media was that the killings were solely perpetrated by notorious ‘Fulani herdsmen’. But
Foundation for Investigative Journalism reports that the attacks were only successful with support from a local militant group loyal to late Gana Sule, the most wanted crime kingpin in Benue who was captured and killed by soldiers.
Overnight on Thursday, a contingent of the Fulani herdsmen and local militants simply identified as ‘Gana Boys’, who were heavily armed with guns and machetes, descended on the Shikaan, a village around Abaji area of Katsina-Ala.
Minutes after the invasion of these armed group, lifeless bodies of defenceless citizens, including women and children, were found.
An initial report had stated that 36 residents lost their lives in the attack but eyewitnesses and victims who spoke with FIJ said the causalities were up to 50.
“In the morning, we counted 36 bodies only,” said a resident of Katsina-Ala, “but as I am talking to you more corpses have been recovered from bush paths. We have seen about 10 more persons that were killed and we’re still counting. The casualties should be more than 50.”
The killings had trended on Twitter, with the hashtag #BenueUnderAttack.
Since 2020 when Gana was finally killed by the soldiers, his boys had continued to terrorise Benue communities, including Katsina-Ala town, killing and kidnapping innocent citizens indiscriminately.
When the killings became unbearable, community leaders and village heads collaborated with local vigilantes to fight Gana Boys, who would not desist from invading their homes.
“When they saw that the vigilante group formed were overpowering them, they decided to collude with Fulani herdsmen to empower in killing their own brothers gain,” said a source in Katsina-Ala.
Following the death of Gana, another gang leader simply identified as Azonto had vowed to uphold his predecessor’s legacy by unleashing terror on Benue towns.
In March, Gana Boys shot dead one Terkula Suswam, elder brother of Senator Gabriel Suswam, at his hometown around Katsina-Ala during one of their many attacks. Following the death of his brother, Suswam, as a former of Governor of the state, mobilised the military to beef up security in the communities.
“The gang leaders Azonto and Oshaka are now using Fulani men to kill. The herdsmen are empowering them with guns and bullets to attack,” another local source told FIJ.
“The militants became powerless since Suswam involved the military after they killed his brother. So Gana Boys joined forces with the herdsmen and started killing indiscriminately.”
On May 26, over 100 persons were massacred while many others were rendered homeless during attacks in areas like Yoyo, Utang, Mbatyu/mberev and Mbayongo of Katsina-Ala.
Locals from Katsina-Ala told FIJ that more than 200 persons have been killed in the communities in the month of May by a combination of the militants and herdsmen.
Catherine Sewuese, spokesperson of Benue police command, had told TheCable on Friday that she had not confirmed the killings.
“I have not been able to confirm that from any of the officers on the ground because there were no reports,” Sewuese said.
“They have gone out now to trail those areas where these allegations are coming from because they earlier alleged that 100 persons were killed. We went and didn’t see any corpse, now they say 32. We have deployed men again to go back there. Maybe later in the day, if I get anything I will let you know.”
Meanwhile, Samuel Ortom, Governor of the state, had said he was tired of announcing deaths of innocent citizens killed by Fulani herders. He urged residents of the state to defend themselves against the marauding herders using local weapons.
“I will no longer announce the deaths of those killed by Fulani herdsmen; rise up and defend yourselves with weapons not prohibited by law, bows and arrows, spears and knives,” he said.
“Get a licence for dane guns from local government chairmen and use them to defend yourselves. God assured me some time back that as long as I lived within the circle of his presence, no weapon fashioned against me shall prosper.”