Suspected herdsmen dressed in military uniform yesterday killed 16 people at Agagbe community in Gwer West Local Government Area of Benue State while several others were either injured or displaced. The gunmen invaded the community about 4.30a.m. But the Commander of Operation Whirl Stroke, (OPWS), Major General Adeyemi Yekini, said only seven people whose bodies had been recovered by his men in what he described as reprisal were killed. The OPWS Commander in charge of Gwer West Local Government Area, Flying Officer Mohammed Abubakar, who, along with Yekini, briefed journalists at the Tactical Air Command of the Nigerian Air Force (NAF) in Makurdi, said the invaders were sighted in Agagbe forest rustling cows and he quickly mobilised his men to the area and opened fire on them. According to him, three of the rustlers were killed by troops and were taken to hospital in the area.
He said: “We later traced them to Ter Nagi’s Palace and discovered 22 cattle, but he (the Ter Nagi) claimed that the cattle belong to him even before the coming of OPWS to the area. “Thereafter, we made contact with the DPO who equally identified the rustlers as members of the Livestock Guard who disguised in military uniform to rustle cattle and butcher them for sale at the Naka market. As I speak with you, they are selling the meat at the market. The DPO also gave names of seven persons who are members of the Livestock Guard involved in the attack. “Just this afternoon, our men went on mop up patrol and discovered four additional dead bodies at the scene of the incident.” On his part, Yekini expressed regrets over the attack, noting that some unforeseen forces were deliberately trying to heat up the state.
Yekini assured the people of the state that his men would continue to perform their job by chasing the armed herdsmen away from the state, but advised those bent on ensuring chaos in the state to desist to avoid being caught by the law. But in a swift reaction, the Ter Nagi, Chief Daniel Abomtse, said there was heavy attack in some communities in his domain. Abomtse said the OPWS had been helpful but sometimes, troops would kill cows belonging to herdsmen and chase them away only for the herders to come for a reprisal on his subjects. The Chairman of Gwer West Local Government Area, Francis Ayaga, confirmed that 16 persons were killed by suspected herdsmen, adding that three communities were also not spared.
Meanwhile, Governor Samuel Ortom yesterday described the killing of 16 people at Agagbe as unfortunate. The governor said in a statement by his Chief Press Secretary (CPS), Mr. Terver Akase, that “it was wrong for OPWS to allege that members of the Livestock Guards were involved in the killings and tasked the troops to always verify their source of information rather than relying on unverifiable ones before passing judgement.” He said: “This Operation Whirl-Stroke comprises of professional soldiers who supposed to act professionally. They can’t rely on information from unverifiable source to come and say members of Livestock Guards are instigating crisis. Livestock Guards are not armed, neither were they given military uniform by Benue government. So the military should be objective and unbiased in their actions.”