In under a year, Benue State has seen its name changed from “Nigeria’s food basket” to a “killing field”. The sheer number of those killed is such that it is impossible to bury them individually. In four months alone, the state government has conducted three mass burials. The latest was two days ago. It was the mass burial of two priests and 17 parishioners killed by suspected armed herders on April 24. The killings happened during an early morning mass. The two priests were identified as Fathers Joseph Gor and Felix Tyolaha.
The federal government was represented during the mass burial by Vice President Yemi Osinbajo. He said in a funeral dirge that the killers of the priests and parishioners feared neither God nor man and they had gained nothing. “They were killed by those who neither fear God nor man. These killers have gained nothing by their acts. God Himself will console and defend Benue people. The church in Benue is indestructible”.
On his part, Benue State’s governor, Samuel Ortom, said 492 people have so far been killed in attacks by criminal herdsmen since the beginning of the year, “while the government battles to cater for the over 170,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs) kept in the eight IDP camps across the state”. He revealed that 80,000 children are out of school as a result of attacks by alleged herdsmen.“The herdsmen have continued to attack communities in the state on a daily basis since January this year. These slain victims were in church for prayers and not on their farms. This means that the herdsmen have moved the narrative to other motives. We know our killers, but they are not arrested or invited for interrogation. These people have stated at several fora that they would take over our land. Our major concern is those who hire these killers”,
However, Ortom commended President Muhammadu Buhari for approving a military operation in the state and urged the Federal Government not to relent in its efforts to bring an end to the killings. He hoped that the attacks would soon end so that people could go back to their communities.
The mass burial drew global attention. Pope Francis, head of the Roman Catholic Church, sent 50 bishops as representatives of The Vatican. Coinciding with the burial protests were called by the Catholic Bishops Conference of Nigeria across the country.
This is our third editorial in less than five months over the sad developments in Benue. As we did in the previous two, we again condemn the wanton killings that have spread to many more states. We condole with relations of those killed. We commend the coolheadedness of Gov. Ortom who, unlike before, did not lose his cool, blaming everyone but himself for the killings in Benue. This is no time for a blame game but a time for all to come together. We implore the authotities, both federal and state, to work harder at finding a quick and lasting solution to this national security challenge.