About 36 persons were feared killed and seven villages overrun by suspected Fulani herdsmen in an outbreak of fighting between the invaders and native farmers in Agatu Local Government Area of Benue State on Saturday.
The massacre came barely two days after some assailants struck at Ikpele and Okpopolo communities in the state, killing seven farmers and displacing over 6,000 inhabitants.
Our correspondent gathered that heavy fighting raged throughout Saturday night between the warring parties who only recently engaged in bloodletting.
A native of one of the affected communities, who escaped the assault, narrated that “they (Fulani herdsmen) took us unawares this time; they invaded our villages from Loco in Nasarawa State and Omola Local Government Area of Kogi State.
The victim said in Makurdi, Benue State capital, that “But as I speak to you, well over 36 persons must have been killed on our own side while many are still missing; the situation on ground is horrible because fighting is still going on while women, children and the elderly are fleeing to safety.”
The Benue State Commissioner for Works and Transport, John Ngbede, who is an indigene of the area, confirmed the massacre.
Ngbede said, “Heavy fighting is still going on in Agatu. The attackers are burning down houses, farmlands, economic trees and many are also being killed but i cannot confirm the number of deaths. All I can say is that Agatu is boiling”.
Member representing Agatu Constituency at the Benue State House of Assembly, Sule Audu, also confirmed that seven villages had been attacked while many were killed and several persons missing.
According to him, the villages under siege include Ello, Okpagabi, Ogwule-Ankpa, Ogbangede, Ekwo, Enogaje and Okpanchenyi.
The lawmaker lamented inadequate security presence in the area, regretting that only few soldiers are on ground and that the attacking community do not even have mobility to match the strength of the invaders.
“The attackers are over 5,000 spread across all the communities and unleashing terror on my people without resistance.
“They are moving towards Oshugbudu now and I ask, what can less than 40 soldiers on ground do to stop armed invaders numbering up to 5,000?”
The state Secretary of Myetti-Allah Cattle Breeders Association of Nigeria (MACBAN), Garus Gololo, however denied that the invaders were Fulani herdsmen .
“I don’t know which people are attacking Agatu in recent times. We don’t have any Fulani person currently residing in the area and, as I have said earlier, we need peace; so it couldn’t have been my people,” Gololo said.
The Benue State Police Public Relations Officer, PPRO, Deputy Suprentendent, Daniel Ezeala, confirmed the escalating fighting in Agatu.
He said that “Five Agatu villages are currently under heavy attack. We can’t confirm the exact number of causalities or deaths for now, but I can assure you that a combined team of the police and army personnel have already been drafted to the affected communities to arrest the situation, and the situation is under control.”