Two weeks after Nigerian Army withdrew troops from Benue, attackers said to be clad in military fatigues stormed two communities in the north-central state shortly after sunset on Tuesday, killing at least 10 villagers and wounding multiple others.
Locals who provided details of the killings to our correspondent feared the death toll in one of the communities could rise three-fold by the time emergency services and security agencies finally arrive to properly access the situation.
The first attack occurred in Gbeji Village in Ukum Local Government Area at about 6:00 p.m. Tuesday, with attackers first opening fire at the playground of a Catholic Church parish where children were playing football before making their way into the village proper, witnesses said.
“They stopped at the church in their Army uniform and shot and killed an old man who was watching football and the children dispersed immediately,” said a Garfa Iorhe, 31, from Gbeji.
Mr Iorhe said he could tentatively confirm seven people were killed in the attack, but repeatedly stated that they expect the number to rise.
“We counted seven bodies when we sneaked into the village this afternoon,” he said. “But we’re still waiting for the police and SEMA (Benue State Emergency Management Agency) workers to arrive and go inside the village very well.”
“We expect that they would recover maybe 25 or 30 bodies or more from the village,” he said.
The second attack claimed three persons in Channel One, a small village about two kilometres from Gbeji. Channel One, traditionally known as Gbwer, is in Logo Local Government Area.
“We suspect that the same herdsmen who attacked Gbeji also came to Channel One to kill people there because they also dressed like soldiers,” said a resident who pleaded anonymity because he’s a member of local security unit and was not authorised to give information to the media.
Residents are fleeing the villages and others nearby, leaving some of their dead and seriously injured loved ones behind, it was gathered. They said a police unit was near the village along Wukari-Anyiin Road, but was too helpless to put up any resistance against the attackers.
Benue police commissioner, Mr Fatai Owoseni, did not immediately provide updates about the killings Wednesday night.
Mr Richard Nyajo, chairman of Logo LGA, said he had been informed of all the attacks and had passed the sad news to the police.
“It’s unfortunate,” he said. “The killings have become everyday experience for people here.”
Nyajo said he learnt from the fleeing residents that the attackers were in military uniforms, expressing grave concerns about the looming humanitarian disaster as more villagers are trooping to relatively safe towns in the local government.
The attacks are the latest of resurgence assaults following the end of ‘Exercise Ayem Akpatuma’ by the Nigerian Army. The military ended the exercise and withdrew the troops despite saying it had extended the exercise by two months to further stabilise the region, residents said.
Over 250 people have been killed across three states alone since the Army withdrew the troops two weeks ago.
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.