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IBB squares was thrown in state of mourning as People appears in black dresses, weeping women, frightful kids and 73 polished mahogany caskets. It was all at the funeral of the victims of the herdsmen killings that have sparked a big outrage.
The sober ceremony, to many, marked the 41-year-old state’s most tragic moment. The herdsmen invaded villages in Guma and Logo local government areas at night and dawn on January 1, killing people on farms and in their homes. Thousands of people, including prominent citizens of the state, led by the paramount ruler, the Tor Tiv, His Royal Majesty Prof James Ayatse, were at the IBB Square, venue of the mass burial.
Manny shed tears, women rolled on the ground as trucks bearing the caskets snaked into the arena. Vigilante members in black tee-shirts and black trousers accompanied the vehicles. Makurdi’s streets were deserted. Governor Samuel Ortom had declared yesterday a public holiday after the two previous days were observed as mourning period.
The Catholic Bishop of Gboko Diocese, Most Rev. Williams Avenya, prayed for the repose of the souls of the dead and called for prayers for the survivors of the attacks. Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) Benue State Chairman Rev Akper Leva praised Ortom for his charisma and love for Benue, having passed the Anti-Open Grazing Law, adding that the spirit of the departed ones and the God of Benue would rise up to torment the terrorists who brought tears and sorrow to the state and the people.
After the admonition came the grim task of laying to rest the dead in a row of graves dug and paved with blocks. One by one the 73 caskets were lowered. Before then, the atmosphere had been charged with relatives of the dead wailing as they crowded around the row of caskets. A survivor, Akaatenger Azinga, told reporters that he was asleep in his house with his wife when the marauders came and knocked at the door. His wife went to open the door but was captured and killed.
He said: “I heard my wife screaming because they came in the dead of the night and when l went to rescue her, I discovered that they had killed her and the next thing, they started chasing me but l escaped narrowly to a nearby bush.”
Ortom led the moving speeches. He said he was ready to lay down his life to implement the Anti-Open Grazing law. He was supported by the leaders of thought.
The Tor Tiv said the attack was the 47th in five years by Fulani herdsmen. He likened the killings to genocide.
He said: “I, therefore, call on the Federal Government to act swiftly by putting an end to these killings; this act of impunity must stop.”
He encouraged the governor to stand firm in his resolve to implement the anti open grazing law, no matter the threats from the Miyetti Allah Kautal Hore – the umbrella body of the cattle breeders.
Ortom said if the recent killings were meant to intimidate the state government to repeal the law, the herdsmen had failed woefully.
He blamed the killings on the silence of the Federal Government and others responsible for the security of lives and property. To Ortom, if the Federal Government had acted on the reports he gave it on the threats of attacks by the Miyetti Allah Kautal Hore, the killings would have been averted.
He urged the Federal Government to arrest the leadership of the Miyetti Allah Kautal Hore, which he accused of making inciting statements against the state.
He condoled with the families of the dead and the injured as well as those who lost their property.
Ortom’s wife, Eunice, Deputy Governor Benson Abounu and his wife Mary as well as APC national Chairman John Odigie-Oyegun attended the ceremony.
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