Herdsmen: Untold story of recent Benue massacre


Some new insights have been provided into the recent raid of Omosu village of Edumoga community in Okpokwu local government area of Benue state by suspected herdsmen, with unconfirmed sources saying that the attackers were aided by persons from a rival community.

The Benue State Police Command had earlier confirmed that 24 natives and a herdsman were killed in the attack on Omosu village, while another herder got missing.

Speaking with newsmen, the state Commissioner of Police, Fatai Owoseni, narrated that some youths in Okpokwu had engaged some herdsmen in a fight, adding that the fracas led to killing of some cows while two herdsmen were found missing.

He added that a peace meeting was immediately initiated with the Chairman of Okpopkwu LGA, leaders of the Fulani community in the area, father of the two missing herders as well as the police.

But two versions have followed this narrative, indicating that the people of Omosu were framed up and were made to wrongly suffer the wrath of suspected herdsmen out on a revenge mission.

While elders of Omosu village said they are in the process of producing an official spokesperson to “carry their cries to the world”, DAILY POST learnt from one of the elders, who would not want to be named, that the herdsmen raided the community barely a week after someone from another village warned them against using their cattle to muddle River Ogege – the only source of drinking water in the community.

He recalled that this was not the first time the herdsmen would strike as they had last December opened fire on a man riding on a bike with his two wives while returning to the community from Utonkom. The man died instantly while the wives’ demise followed later.

It was gathered that on Monday afternoon, the herdsmen struck while a peace meeting called by the Okpokwu local government chairman was going on at Okpoga, the local government headquarter. The meeting attended by Omosu elders, local government officials and Fulani leaders in the area was called following the altercation at River Ogege.

The herdsmen had promised to return after they were prevented from “polluting” River Ogege; this promise by the herders to return made villagers apprehensive, with some deserting their homes. It was also said that Fulani men in the village moved their families to the police station at Okpoga, ahead of the attack.

According to the Omosu elder, police operatives who were safeguarding the community, had at about noon left “in search of what to eat”, and purportedly accosted the would-be raiders but did not stop them when the herdsmen claimed they were going in search of their missing cows.

His words, “It was reported that some Fulani herdsmen and their cattle were polluting their water, River Ogege, which seems to be the source of drinking water there. They had their cattle passing through the water, drinking and muddling the place.

“So somebody from a neighboring village saw them and challenged them saying you can’t be doing this. You people need to get your cattle from here. So an altercation ensued so he ran and called in the vigilante because they had set up community vigilante. And he called them to say you people need to get these Fulanis to get their cattle from the water. The vigilante were said to be shooting in the air to force the herdsmen away, resulting in an altercation.

“After the clash, the Fulani said they were leaving but would come back for revenge. This happened a week before the attack. With this development, the villagers became apprehensive, the elders informed a member of the community who is a serving general in the air force.

“They also informed a doctor of law who is a lecturer. So these people now called the local government chairman to intervene in the matter. So the local government chairman immediately asked the DPO to move policemen there. Because the people were in panic and had started moving out of the community.

He narrated further that, “The local government chairman sent the group of people including the elders to meet with the Fulani herders in order to resolve whatever issue that was coming up and prevent any attack. So they fixed last Monday as date for the meeting.

“Some of the community leaders were already at the meeting in Okpoga, the LG headquarters with local government officials and representatives of the Fulanis. While the meeting was ongoing, at about noon, the policemen guarding the place said they were going to look for food to eat or something and they left.

“Along the way, it was reported that the policemen even ran into the would-be attackers and they asked them ‘where are they going to’ and they said they were looking for their missing cows and the policemen left them and from 2pm to about 4pm of Monday whilst the peace meeting was ongoing, the militia were slaughtering villagers of Omosu.

“From what we got, these Fulani herdsmen have a militia group that move along with them. It is not the ones that live among the community that carry out the attack.”

Providing a different account of how the attack happened, an Abuja-based legal practitioner with roots in Omosu, Barr. George Itodo, told DAILY POST that some persons from a rival community, Okana led by an ex-service man reportedly connived with the herdsmen to carry out the attack.

He stated that Omosu and Okana, which are both separated by River Ogege, had for long been embroiled in a land dispute. They have been in court over the use of ancestral land, which the court ruled in favour of Omosu people, asking the former to pay compensation to the latter.

Against this backdrop, Itodo narrated on the basis of what he gathered from sources at the village, “There is this elder (names withheld) from Okana, said to be the one causing trouble between both communities. The court had said that by the 15th of this March, if the man and the others involved in earlier crisis do not pay, they will be jailed.

“So, he now tasked his people to pay the sum of 40,000 to be used in compensating the Omosu people and his people refused. So, in order not to face the backlash, the man was said to have organised and they killed some cows of the Fulani herdsmen. He now informed the Fulani people that it was the Omosu people that have attacked and killed their cows including a herdsman.

“These Fulani people went to Okpoga because the head of the Fulani clan lives there so they went to report the matter to him; we heard it was there they all decided they would be carrying out a reprisal attack.

“The survivors are saying, it wasn’t just the Fulani people that carried out the attack that the Idoma people were also among. One of the persons that survived the attack was reported to have said that the Idoma man shooting had said, ‘you can’t run inside with your wife?’

“It was said that the people who chased the ones that went towards the river were Idomas while somebody was helping the children to cross the river. But the Idoma among the attackers didn’t have the intent to kill. Majority of the attackers were Idomas. It was mixed with Fulani and Idoma people.

“But we can’t say they were from Okana. We don’t know them facially. After the attack, this man was supposed to be settled. After their attack, the herdsmen went to Okana but instead of settling him, they killed him; burnt some houses and even shot a pregnant woman, attacking other people there.”

On what he thinks is the casualty figure of the attack, the lawyer said, “Somebody who came from the village said about 41 lives were lost in the attack; that they had been picking corpses from the farm.”

Our correspondent tried to get confirmation of these fresh angles to the attack from the Police Public relations Officer, PPRO, in Benue state, Moses Yamu, who said he was in a meeting and could not pick his call as at press time. Calls put across to the Secretary-General of the Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association of Nigeria, Othman Ngelzarma went unsuccessful.


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