With impunity, the killers are returning.

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On April 1, 2023, Tarnongo Mike Utsaha was laid to rest in the community of Mbabai, which was originally a part of Benue State’s capital city of Makurdi Municipality. It wasn’t included in the Guma local government region of northwest Benue until 1987. Additionally a Guma native, Samuel Ortom currently serves as the governor of Benue State.

The River Guma, which empties into the River Benue and is a component of a network of freshwater sources that have historically designated that region of Nigeria as the country’s food basket, gives the LGA its name. This is a neighborhood that should typically be busy at this time of year, as it is surrounded by agricultural terrain that is drained by several freshwater springs in the foothills of the rainy season.

My journey into Guma revealed the opposite. Mbabai and its neighbouring villages had long been drained of life by mass atrocity. Mourners to the funeral needed the forceful presence of a massive deployment of hundreds of well-armed soldiers along the route and in surrounding bushes to reassure them about their safety. The compound in which the burial itself took place was nearly desolate.

A capacious country home belonging to Mike’s dad, a retired judge, had been burnt twice over in attacks reportedly perpetrated, the villagers said, by armed herders. All the mourners could do was linger in the village long enough for the body to be laid into the ground before everyone scampered, grateful that there were no atrocity incidents.

It was impossible to avoid wondering how the inhabitants of Guma, who almost all lack the resources to pay the kind of military force that accompanied Mike’s cortege, bury their dead as the mourners left. Finding out did not take long.

Another settlement in Guma, not too far from Mbabai, is called Mgban.Similar to Mbabai, Mgban has also been completely destroyed by ongoing armed herdsmen attacks.By an arrangement involving the state government and the Benue State Emergency Management Authority, the Benue State Police Command deployed several police officers every evening to guard the Local Government Education Authority (LGEA) primary school in Mgban, so that those left in the community can go there to sleep at night.

That was until one week after the burial of Mike Utsaha. Shortly before midnight around Good Friday, according to survivors, the police officers deployed around the LGEA Primary School in Mgban all entered their vehicles and left the premises without warning. The villagers already at the school to pass the night had no place else to hide. Moments after the police retreated, armed attackers arrived, making game of every person in sight, mostly the aged, women, and children. By morning, there had already been more than 43 fatalities. After the atrocity, another 45 people in serious condition had already been transported to surrounding hospitals by the end of the morning. A hasty, mass burial was performed for the deceased.

A second attack on mourners in Umogidi, Entekpa-Adoka District of Otukpo LGA, on Wednesday, again during Christian Holy Week, is said to have left at least 52 people dead, less than 36 hours after the Mgban Massacre. All they could acquire was another mass grave. 48 hours before to the killing at Umogidi, a similar raid in Ikobi village, Apa LGA, killed at least 47 unarmed residents, including the local chief.

Samuel Ortom, the governor of Benue state, traveled to Port Harcourt, Rivers State, around April 6, reportedly to attend the commissioning of projects by Nasir El-Rufai, the governor of Kaduna state. Both of them were guests of Rivers state governor, Nyesom Wike, who has since lost the ability to visit his village in Guma safely. It was a typically careless journey made by a man who had long since forgotten what a governor’s job actually entailed.

The symbolism of the encounter in Rivers state between the governors of Benue and Kaduna states, once implacable political foes, was not lost on many. In Port Harcourt, they could have been mistaken for a compatibly contented political pairing. Less than two years ago, in May 2021, they were at each other’s throats exchanging choice epithets with the abandon of drunken sailors in a bar-room brawl.

These two individuals have arguably presided over two of Nigeria’s worst records of mass atrocity during the past eight years. In the first eight weeks of 2023, Kaduna state recorded at least 125 fatalities and 60 kidnappings. Those who specialize in keeping track of these situations vouch that these figures distort reality. Benue state suffered at least 134 fatalities in a killing spree that lasted for five days in the first week of April 2023. Over 400 people are said to have been killed in Benue state alone since the end of the presidential election in February.

It is important to note the timing of these massacres. According to a Daily Times article from April 8, 2023, “[p]alpable fear permeates the entire horizon as renewed incidents of banditry, kidnapping, and killings take center stage after a ‘cease-fire’ noticed in Nigeria ahead of the general elections in February and March.”

Onje Gye-Wado, a well-known law professor and former deputy governor of Nasarawa state close to the Federal Capital Territory, had been kidnapped the day before. The journal also detailed the startling increase in kidnappings and massacres of children in numerous states across the nation, including Benue, Edo, Imo, Kaduna, Kano, Nasarawa, Lagos, and Zamfara, among others, after the election.

Confronted with this trend, President Muhammadu Buhari, whose primary job is to guarantee the safety and security of all these people, had a statement issued in his name calling for “an end to extreme violence”. It was disconcerting to see the president mistake himself for a non-governmental organisation and be reduced to condemning violence and calling for something to be done about it as if he had forgotten that it was his place surely to do that something. The statement also seemed to imply that violence was alright if it was not considered “extreme”, but provided no criteria with reference to which to determine what extreme violence means. It was a very odd kind of thing for a president to say. But this Nigerian president has built his brand around toxic awkwardness.

Three days later, on April 11, the president walked off to Saudi Arabia for a nine-day vacation, completely in keeping with his eight-year record of showing little concern for Nigerians. Uncertainty regarding his purpose for going there was exacerbated by his team’s desperate attempt to disseminate misleading information about the trip through the media.

Samuel Ortom swiftly announced the demobilization of the Benue State Livestock Guards, the militia unit formed to uphold the state’s anti-open grazing ordinance, while Buhari was still in Saudi Arabia. Many interpret this to suggest that the law itself is suspended. The governor argued that the law was still very much in effect and refused to say who would now assist him in enforcing it.

Nobody has to be concerned any longer if they are wondering how long these massacres have continued and intensified. Governor Ortom of Benue state certainly knows a few things that most people may not be able to say because of a law that has no enforcement and a state that is quickly turning into a graveyard. First, the perpetrators of the heinous murders in Nigeria have returned following the election rigging scandal. Second, it’s not hard to figure out who they are.

The Catholic Bishop of Sokoto, Matthew Hassan Kukah, knew what he was talking about when he stressed the urgency of assisting Nigeria “recover from the feeling of collective rape by those who imported the men of darkness that destroyed our country” in his Easter address.

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