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Fog of War Obscures Media Coverage of Benue State Riots

Terrorists Kill 21, Burn 200 Houses, As Rioters Burn Down Election Offices

By Olikita Ekani and Mike Odeh James

You can’t smell the smoke 5,000 miles away in Washington, D.C., but by some accounts democracy is burning in Nigeria’s embattled Benue State.

Citizens in Benue‘s Ukum County (Local Governance Area) erupted in violence on Wednesday, July 3, setting fire to the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) office  and other government offices about 121 miles southeast of Makurdi, the state capital.

Angry residents also burned down the County Secretariat, Police Headquarters, and residences of top government officials. The destruction was sparked by the government’s failure to prevent terrorists from attacking and killing people in the area, although the identity of the killers was clouded with language linked to Nigeria’s fog of war.

The immediate cause of the protest was the killing of at least 11 people in a horrific village attack on Tuesday night, July 2, in Ayati Village in Borikyo precinct of Ukum County (Ukum is about 121 miles, Southeast of Makurdi, the State Capital ). 

Daily Trust attributed the killings  Tuesday night to armed  “bandits” and implied without explanation that the protests were instigated by “bandits” as well.    Yet other sources said the attackers were armed militia of  the Fulani ethnicity who invaded Ayati village, shooting and burning homes, leaving many dead and injured.

An aide to the former Governor Samuel Ortom  of Benue State, Livinus Tyodoo, confirmed the attack in a phone interview with TruthNigeria. “Our people are tired of the frequent killing of our people by armed Fulani herdsmen. As I speak to you, more than half of Borikyo Council Precinct  is being occupied by  Fulani terrorists. Both the Federal and state governments have not taken any serious action to end the lingering attacks and killings by those well-armed Fulani militias,” he said.

The Burning of Vote-Counting Offices

Smoldering remains of government offices burned by protestors on July 3, 2024 at the Ukum County Seat. Credit: Olikita Ekani for TruthNigeria.
Smoldering remains of government offices burned by protestors on July 3, 2024 at the Ukum County Seat. Credit: Olikita Ekani for TruthNigeria.

In response, residents, particularly young adults, took to the streets Wednesday, blocking major roads and expressing their anger through demonstrations. Local media reported that the protesters breached the INEC compound and set fire to the building, causing significant damage.

INEC spokesperson Sam Olumekun described the extent of the destruction to Vanguard Newspaper: “Office furniture and other movable and immovable materials, including 10 electric generators, 300 ballot boxes, and 270 voting cubicles, were destroyed in the attack.”

The protesters also marched to the Council secretariat, where they destroyed properties, breaking doors and windows with stones and sticks. Fortunately, no injuries were reported during the protest.

In response to the violence, Benue State Governor Hyacinth Alia imposed a dusk-to-dawn curfew to prevent a total breakdown of law and order. The curfew took effect from 3 pm on Wednesday, July 3, until 3 pm on Thursday, July 4, 2024, and will be in place from 6 pm to 6 am daily until further notice.

Benue Roiled by Tribal Conflict As well as Ethnic Land-grabbing

Benue State is no stranger to internecine warfare between tribes over fertile lands and fisheries.  At the same time, the state for years has suffered horrific attacks by armed militia who speak the Fulfulde language of the Fulani tribe, which claims 9 million members in Nigeria. Fulani herdsmen for four years clashed with former Gov. Samuel Ortom over the state’s ban on open grazing in the lush pastures of the state.  The bloody attack on the village of Ayati Tuesday night was the latest chapter of a series of violent invasions of land by armed militia that have forced more than 1 million Benue farmers off their long-held lands and into camps for internally displace people, where most are facing starvation.

Prior to the attack on Ayati Village in Ukum County, there was a bloody militia attack on Sunday, June 30,  at an Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) camp in Tse Nyamti community, Gwer-West county, 33 miles Southwest from Makurdi, the state capital. In the Gwer West attack, Fulani terrorists killed 3 persons who made the dangerous trek to their farms to get food items for their families.

Orkaha Terfa, the elder brother of one of the deceased, recounted the attack.

 “We were supposed to be at Sunday mass, but we had to go to the farm to get food items so that we could feed our family due to the hunger we experienced that morning. As we were returning from the farm after ending the day’s activities, we started hearing sporadic gunshots from all angles at Tse-Nyamti village.

“I ran and hid myself in a bush and saw the well-armed Fulani terrorists pursuing my brother and the other two friends. I quickly stood up again, ran through the bush, and made my way to Agagbe IDPs Camp. We waited for the three of them, but they didn’t return,” Orkaha Terfa said.

Gwer West County Chairman, Agba Henry, told Truthnigeria in an exclusive interview that Fulani terrorists have long laid siege to Gwer West communities

 “The Fulani militias have been terrorizing rural communities, displacing people, and taking over their land for years. Over half of the county’s population is no longer in their ancestral homes, which will only worsen the food crisis we’re experiencing,” he said.

 “Despite all the efforts by the State and Local Governments to mitigate the raging insecurity in the state and local communities, the Fulani militias are hell-bent on killing their people and taking over their land,” Henry added.

Olikita Ekani and Mike Odeh James are conflict reporters for TruthNigeria.

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