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Benue killings: Tears as 73 victims get mass burial

New Year killings most heartless – Gov. Ortom

.Says action won’t stop anti-open grazing law

.Rivers killings: Police arrest principal suspect

Tears followed freely on Thursday as thousands of people in Benue State trooped to the IBB square, Makurdi, the state capital, to bid the 73 victims of the New Year attacks who were given a mass burial farewell.

But the development was not without knocks on the Federal Government who all speakers at the requiem service blamed for the massacre of the departed souls.

Among dignitaries in attendance were Benue State Governor Samuel Ortom, his wife, Mrs. Eunice, deputy governor, Engineer Benson Abounu and wife, Justice Mary.

Also in attendance were the National Chairman of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), Chief John Oyegun, chairman, Northern Elders Forum (NEF), Paul Unongo, Gen. Lawrence Onoja (rtd), Senator George Akume, religious and traditional leaders.

In an emotion laden voice, Governor Ortom described the New Year killings as the most heartless in Benue, saying the herdsmen came, destroyed their homes and properties.

Ortom insisted that the killings would not stop the implementation of the anti-open grazing which came into being in November 2017.

He said: “If the herdsmen think that the killing of our people would make us stop the enforcement of the law, they have failed. We will not be deterred by their thinking because “I am ready to pay the supreme price” for the implementation of the anti-open grazing. I will continue and insist on the calls for the arrest of the factional leader of Miyetti Allah, Kautal Houre”.

Also speaking, chairman of Northern Elders Forum (NEF), Wantaregh Paul Unongo, noted that the state would not hesitate to raise its own army if the herdsmen attacks on Benue persist.

He added that a large number of Benue sons and daughters had contributed to the greatest contingents that fought the civil war.

He said, “Benue people sacrificed enough blood for the unity of this country and would not allow a section of Fulani terrorists to come, kill our people in cold blood.

“I am begging Nigerians that my people cannot continue to be cannon fodder of this country. If the government can’t protect us, we will mobilise and train our people into the army to defend us. We are 100% in support of what Governor Ortom has done. I am the spiritual leader and ancestral of Tiv nation, enough, is enough.”

Unongo stressed that the entire people of the state were watching President Muhammadu Buhari and had joined in the persistence calls by Governor Ortom that Federal Government should take drastic steps to urgently address the killings and also arrest the leader of MAKH.

“If the Federal Government cannot stop or arrest those behind the killings, in two weeks, we shall raise an army of our own. We cannot allow people to colonise us again, we have all it takes to do that,” Unongo added.

Also speaking, Gen. Lawrence Onoja (rtd), who described the killings in the state as a genocide conspiracy against Benue people, said the killings must not continue.

He said, ” Some of us in 1966 fought the Nigerian Civil war. Benue has contributed to the unity of this country, therefore if Federal Government refused to address the killings in Benue and if we decide to raise our army as advocated by our elders to defend ourselves, l will not mind commanding that army despite my age”.

He appealed to the Federal Government to replicate Operation Python Dance or Fulani dance in Benue as being done in other states to the federation, and urged sons and daughters of the state to rally round the governor for the successful enforcement of the law.

Also, one-time senator, Senator Joseph Waku, who lamented the killings, said that the attackers were taken the advantages of the peaceful manner of Benue but submitted that Benue people have endured peace for this long.

“It is unfortunate that someone would oppose a law that is legally enacted and began killings and the Federal Government would refuse to make arrest in a quest to end the carnage. This is enough provocation; nobody has the monopoly of killing. Therefore enough is enough”.

The former governor of the state, Senator George Akume noted that Federal Government has failed in its responsibility of protecting lives of the citizenry.

He urged President Buhari to proscribe the faction of the Miyyetti Allah as terrorists because their actions are treasonable as it is only terrorist that killed.

A representative of the United Nations, Dr. Mathins Ejibike, consoled the government and people of the state for the loss of their loved one, saying that what is happening in Benue demands an international attention.

“We want an enlightened approach to this matter. We should continue to pray that this kind of killings should be the last in the Benue State”.

He disclosed they have received a report that over 20,000 refugees are already in camp and promised that they shall look into their plight.

In his address, the paramount ruler of Tiv nation, Prof James Ayatse, lamented that Tiv people who are residing in Nasarawa and Taraba states were being murdered by the herdsmen on a daily basis since the Benue killings started.

The royal father said, “There is ethnic cleansing agenda going on in Benue. We must put an end to these killings. This is the 47 times that Fulani would attack the Benue people and killed them mercilessly”.

He said that Buhari must rise as a man of integrity to arrest the situation, adding that the people of Benue voted massively for him and so he must not allow the Benue people to be completely killed before his tenure ends.

He thanked those who came from other states to condole with Benue people and prayed that such mindless and heinous killings should never happen again in the state.

The paramount ruler urged Governor Ortom never to be weighed down by the herders’ attacks but continue to do the needful in his bid to bring peace and tranquility to the state, assuring that the entire Benue traditional rulers are solemnly behind the governor.

The State chairman, Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), Rev. Akpe Leva, commended Governor Ortom for the charisma and love to die with Benue having passed the anti-open grazing law, saying that the spirit of the departed ones and the God of Benue will rise up to torment suspected Fulani terrorists who have brought tears and sorrows.

One of the survivors, Akaatenger Azinga, said that he was in his house sleeping with his wife when the attackers came and knocked at the door and his wife went to the door, only for her to be captured and slaughtered by the terrorists.

“I heard my wife screamed because they came in the dead of the night and when l went to rescue my wife, I discovered that they had slaughtered her and next thing, they started chasing me but l escaped narrowly to a nearby bush.”

Meanwhile, the Nigeria Police has arrested one of the principal suspects of the notorious kidnap for ransom gang that killed over 20 people in Omoku communities in Andoni Local Government Area of Rivers State in the early hours of New Year day, January 1, 2018.

The suspect, Desmond Okotubo (32) , a native of Egbenma from Unelga LGA Rivers State, was arrested by the police in Mpape, a suburb of Abuja on January 9, 2018.

A statement in Abuja on Thursday by the Force Spokesman, CSP Jimoh Moshood, said Okotubo had confessed he participated in the gruesome murder of innocent people with the late cult syndicate leader, Don Wanny on January 1, 2018.

The IGP-Intelligence Response Team working on an actionable intelligence identified Desmond Okotubo, who escaped on January 3, 2018 to Abuja, after a shoot-out with the Police Team in a location in Imo State, was trailed to Mpape, Abuja, where he was arrested after serious resistance on January 9, 2018.

The police said: “The police response team attached to the Joint Police Special Investigation Team (had) engaged some of the suspects in their hideouts in Awara Forest boundary between Imo and Rivers State in a shoot-out that lasted for several hours resulting in the death of six of the suspects.

“While others escaped with bullet wound injury to other locations in Rivers, Delta, Imo and Bayelsa states even as the Police teams embarked on their trail.”

The Force spokesman said Okotubo had “confessed to be one of the masterminds of the gang and actively participated in the killings of innocent people in Omoku Rivers State on the New Year day”.

He further gave details of how the gang planned the operation in Awara Town Imo State before they carried out the act.

Okotubo also revealed to the Police how their gang leader, Don Wanny, gathered them and briefed them on the night of December 31, 2017 on the mission to attack and kill the residents of Omoku town.

He said 30 of them armed with over 20 AK-47 rifles crossed the river from Awara to Omoku forest and proceeded to Omoku town and opened fire on innocent citizens celebrating the New Year.

Meanwhile, the Force spokesman said investigation is being intensified to arrest other members of the gang still at large in order to get to the root of the matter.

Moshood added that the suspect would be arraigned in court on completion of investigation.

Andrew Orolua, Abuja and Joy Anyim (Lagos)

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