By Abiodun OBA

Governor Hyacinth Alia of Benue State has alleged that security agencies are finding it hard to effectively eradicate insecurity in Ukum Local Government Area of the state, because the criminal elements were being shielded by the locals in the area.

The governor alleged while when he visited Ityulugh District, Gbajir, in the Ukum Local Government Area of the state, at the weekend.

Recall, there was a clash between armed herdsmen and bandits in the area which led to the deaths of close to 50 persons including innocent residents of the area.

The Governor, in a statement by his Chief Press Secretary, Tersoo Kula, lauded the proactive approach of the security agencies in the area in their response to the crisis, condemned the politicisation of the security crisis in the state and urged those behind the practice, both within and outside the state, to desist.

Blaming the bloody clash on the activities of armed bandits who rustled the cattle of retreating herders and kidnapped some of their members, Alia lampooned the Senator representing Benue North East Senatorial District, Emmanuel Udende, for not presenting all the facts that led to the buildup to the crisis in his area.

“Sen. Udende is from the area, knows most of the young men there, and is also aware of the real reason why the two militia groups were fighting.

“I call on him to expose whoever is sponsoring the militia groups in his area.”

The Governor pointed out that the major casualties of the armed herders attack in the area were members of the militia, with a few civilian casualties, saying, “it calls for questions on why only that particular village and house was singled out for attack.

“If you are sponsoring any militia gang, which some of them are, as the traditional leaders have pointed out, let them step back. Their communities and the families in their local governments here are larger than them.

“The person that went out there to cry wolf has to come back and answer to his traditional rulers, tender apologies to me as the governor of the state, and then to the entire people of the state.”

The governor assured that his administration would ensure that peace returned to Ukum and called on politicians inciting violence and sponsoring the militia gangs in the axis to stop and allow the state and local governments to take charge of the security in the area.

Throwing more light on the crisis in Gbajir, the governor said, “a 14-day ultimatum had been given, and the response was very encouraging, and the herders were leaving, only for the militia group to attack the herders, kidnap some of them, and rustle 61 cattle.”

He said, “ransom was paid, but only two people were released, which led to the reprisal attack by the armed herders.”

Alia berated the youths for rustling the cattle and kidnapping the herders as they were moving out of the state in respect of the 14-day ultimatum, saying, “they should have realised the implication of their actions, and a lot would have been averted only if the herders had been allowed to retreat peacefully, but their actions had now resulted in putting innocent people in harm’s way.”

Governor Alia called on vigilante groups to be on alert and continue to play their roles so that there would be peace in the area and farmers would return to their farmlands so as to secure food stability in the state.

He directed the Ter Ukum and Chairman of Ukum Traditional Council, HRH Orkaa Kaave, to meet with his chiefs to find out the best approach to handling the situation and to also caution those fanning the embers of violence in the area to desist forthwith, or else drastic measures would be taken by his government.

Earlier in his remarks, the Ter Ukum explained that the attack took place at the Ityulugh Council Ward at the residence of the District Head, Deuti Adzande, on Tuesday morning.

While explaining the buildup to the crisis, the royal father disclosed that on Saturday/Sunday of last week, he had received reports of herders influxing into the LGA, and he reported the issue to the appropriate authorities.

According to him, as the number of herders grew to an alarming proportion, he was later informed that a youth from the area called Chen offended the herders by rustling 61 of their cows and also kidnapped some of their men, as well as collected ransom but later refused to release them.

He explained that the Divisional Police Officer, DPO, of Gbeji, led by the herders, was able to recover their cattle in the Ityulugh District. But after paying ransom for the release of the four kidnapped herders, only two were released by Chen, which triggered the attack by the armed herders.

The royal father explained that the house of the district head of Ityulugh was attacked because the herders felt he was shielding the culprits, as no other place in Ukum was attacked apart from the district head’s residence, where they recovered their cows.

Also, the Ukum LG Caretaker Chairman, Victor Iorzaa, said he was informed that herders were attacking the village, and he called the DPO, and they went and saw the destruction and casualties on ground.

He explained that the attack was carried out by armed herders in collusion with a local militia group, who attacked their rival gang over the killing of one of the herders, which resulted in the recorded casualties and displacement of the locals from the area.

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