The recent killing of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) chieftain, Atoza Ihindan and other persons in the state, particularly in the Benue North-East senatorial district has caused a serious stir in the state. Many regard the killing as politically motivated and others feel the victims must have had some issues with a certain militia group operating in the area.
There were also allegations that some aggrieved persons from the opposition PDP who felt they were betrayed, during elections could have masterminded the killings. Allegations also are rife in town that though some persons had received huge amount of money to work for the party they could not do so, a situation that led to the failure of the party in the state. Late Atoza Hindan was one of the strongest supporters of the PDP and was always regarded in some quarters as the political godfather of former governor of Benue state Gabriel Suswam.
Even after the election, and even when his supposedly political godson was defeated at the senatorial election, he remained loyal to his political party the PDP. The deceased PDP chieftain was always seen attending court proceedings of the petition filed at the Governorship Elections Petitions Tribunal in the state by the PDP candidate in the 2015 general election, Terhemen Tarzoor, against the serving governor of the state. This was even as the PDP as a party refused to join in the case and had clearly indicated that they would not take governor Samuel Ortom to court. The beginning of what Benue is now some persons as have viewed experiencing caused, by proliferation of arms in the state, which could be blamed on both politicians, and invasion of the state by Fulani herdsmen.
The proliferation of arms in the state had allowed youths and criminals access to sophisticated weapons, which they were now using against innocent members of the society. Aside from the crisis between Benue farmers and series of kidnapping here and there, the new emerging high level of assassinations and killings in the state, now seems to be taking a disturbing twist. This year alone many people had fallen in the hands of the criminal syndicates some of who form themselves as political thugs and high level militia group.
These according to some analysts are the people, which are now been used by highly placed people in the state to settle their scores. In January one Pharm. Ternenge Labe, was shot and killed in his pharmaceutical shop in Gboko by unknown gunmen. The incident generated a lot of crisis and sparked a protest by resident of Gboko against the assassination of the pharmacist. More than five persons again who were investigating the killing and tracing the assailants were in the process shot and killed.
In March, gunmen attack and shot dead Agbatse Tarkighir and Degeh Ayaahemba, PDP leaders at council level from Kwande who had attended a meeting in Katsina Ala and were returning home to their hometown in Adikpo. The APC at this same time had also complained of attack on their members and destruction of property by thugs highly speculated to have been sponsored by the PDP. In April an Assistant Superintendent of Police (ASP) Baba Ibrahim was shot dead around Cattle Market in Katsina Ala Benue state by unknown gunmen while members of his team were left with serious gun wounds.
The Police Officer was said to have led the Force Taskforce Team on Cattle Rustling for an investigation mission at the cattle market in Katsina Ala when he was killed. Just about this same time again, two policemen attached to Lessel Police Division were murdered by youths allegedly dressed as Political party campaigners.
The same period, gunmen kidnapped the then Provost of College of Education Katsina Ala, Dr. Hans Senwua and whisked him away to an unknown destination. Though Dr. Senwua after a day return unscathed, many believed his release was because of serious protest, in the area by students and residents, which was turning into another security issue.
Within the same first quarter of the year, a trader from Katsina Ala, was kidnapped in a broad day light from his shop in the Tom- Anyiin Market and few days after, his body was found at the River Katsina Ala bridge. Another businessman of southeast origin, owner of Our Choice sachet water was kidnapped, few days after the incident, his body was dumped at the High Level Roundabout Makurdi. It could be noted that series of killings also took place during the election to the extent that INEC had adjudged the state as one of those with high incidents of electoral violence.
Before the election, the Benue state Police Command through the Commissioner, Hycinth Dagala had revealed to newsmen that more than 20 (twenty) persons from both the All Progressive Congress (APC) and the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) involved in political violence were arrested. The election came and went, and when governor Samuel Ortom finally took over mantle of leadership as governor of the state, he made it clear that he would tackle insecurity in the state.
Within his short stay in office, he engaged with traditional rulers, the Joint Civilian Task Force, the Inspector General of Police, the association of cattle owners, as well as other security agencies on the matter. The Governor also established regular touch with the state police commissioner, the Director of State Security services and all heads of military and paramilitary formations in the state. At his inauguration he even announced an amnesty program for possessors of illegal arms in the state and gave them till the end of August, 2015 to surrender the arms or face arrest and confiscation.
The carrot and stick approach proposed by the governor, started yielding results as some people started turning in their arms as was displayed in the Benue Peoples House recently. His efforts also averted reprisals in Zaki- Biam where a soldier and policeman were killed and led to the release of several persons who were kidnapped in other parts of the state. Governor Ortom’s constant advocacy on this matter received wide accolade. He followed this up with the appointment of a security adviser and senior special assistant on security to handle security challenges in partnership with the formal and informal security network.
But as if to spite his effort, killers and assassinators have returned and this time with high profile killing. People were killed almost on daily basis particularly in Sankera axis, which comprises Katsina Ala, Ukum and Logo local government areas in Benue North-East Senatorial District where the immediate past governor of the state Gabriel Suswam hails from. The last one that broke the camel’s back was the assassination of a PDP chieftain Late Pa Atoza Ihindan and close to twenty other persons on Sallah day celebration barely a week ago. The killing threw the state into mourning, and controversies as there were accusations and counter accusations from both party men and individuals.
After the killing of late Pa Hindan, former Commissioner of Police, Abubakar Tsav in a report in Sunday Sun newspaper of July 19, 2015, allegedly accused Governor Samuel Ortom of paying lip service to matters of security and lack of commitment to the amnesty program he announced and that he should have set up a committee to handle the program if he was serious. Alhaji Tsav was quoted to have said the Governor should be held responsible for the killings in the state. But Media Adviser to Governor Samuel Ortom in a swift reaction described the comments accredited to the former Police Commissioner in the newspaper as baseless and mischievous.
He said the true situation on ground was the opposite of what Alhaji Tsav had claimed in the report. His reply read in parts’, “It might be necessary to remind the septuagenarian that the security challenges, especially murders, predate the Ortom administration and yet he did not raise his voice against the immediate past governor. He was silent even when residents of Makurdi where he resides, including the late Gwa Jande of the Benue State University and Pastor Adoor of the Ministry of Land and Survey were assassinated. One had thought that as a former security operative with his credentials and experience he could offer suggestions on how to curb crime in the state rather than making inciting and baseless statements.
The former police commissioner has been most unfair to Governor Ortom if indeed he made the comments attributed to him in the said newspaper.” Son of the deceased PDP chieftain, Mr. Terfa Hindan, who served Suswam’s government as Commissioner, at a press conference was reported to have, allegedly accused Chief Security Officer of Governor Ortom, SP Dickson Orlu Pawa and one Mr. Moses Anaana for the assassination of his father. The statement he made reads in part,’ “While the police are doing their best to unearth the identity of the killers, I am constrained to state that I strongly suspect Superintendent of Police, Dickson Orlu Pawa, the Chief Security Officer to Governor Samuel Ortom who was the Aide De Camp to former Governor Gabriel Suswam for seven years five months and Mr. Moses Anaana, (alias Anaana J.) as the masterminds of my father’s assassination.
I have already filed a petition to the Inspector General of Police stating my reasons why I suspect these men. I am particularly distressed about the political assassinations in Nigeria.” The PDP in Benue on her part also in a Press Statement signed by the Publicity Secretary Godwin Ayihe condemn the killing of late Hindan and alleged that the killings were specifically targeted on their members. In the statement the party said, “we deemed it unacceptable that the perpetrators of those killings are particularly targeting PDP members while the security agencies have so far failed to stop the killings or bring anyone to justice for the crimes, we urged them to rise up to the situation to safeguard the lives and properties of citizens of the state.” Also reacting on the killing of the Late Hindan, former Minister of Interior Comrade Abba Moro noted that, there were increased level of killings of high profile PDP Politicians, in Benue, which he believed to be politically motivated. Moro was quoted to have said, “Elder Atoza Hindan was assassinated on a motor cycle and we believe it is politically motivated. Some highly profile PDP members were killed. This was motivated by the recent case in court.
This is unacceptable, and everything should be done to bring perpetrators to justice. Before now, the killings that were normally recorded in Benue were between farmers and herders but now the story has changed. We blame this (killings) on the APC. We can only conclude that it was politically motivated because of the circumstances that surrounded it.” But why these accusations were on, allegations around town indicated that the killings were masterminded within the ranks of the PDP.
According to the allegations, some of the victims collected huge sums of money to deliver the party but could not, that was why they were being eliminated. In a statement signed by the Benue state Chairman of APC, Comrade Abba Yaro, in reaction to comments credited to former Minister of Interior Comrade Abba Moro, the APC state chairman, stated that it was the PDP that was known for violence in the past sixteen years it held sway. According to the APC Chairman, “ in the build up to the 2015 general elections we reported attacks on our supporters and property including our Governorship Candidate, Chief Samuel Ortom’s convoy by suspected thugs in Adikpo in Kwande local government and the acquisition of arms by chieftains of PDP for use during the 2015 elections”.
The statement reads in part; “ apart from the acquisition of arms the PDP had also looted the resources of the state with the objective of utilizing the loot to overwhelm the electorate so as to retain power”. “ So the violence within the rank party (PDP) could be attributed to disagreements on money sharing as well as accusations and counter accusations on related issues.” The statement further accused the former governor of vowing publicly to attack that his dogs would go after people who collected his money and failed to execute his wish saying the recent killings which are more rampant in the Benue North East Senatorial District and Sankera axis are the direct consequences.
“ With these kind of blood thirsty chieftains, the PDP should look within its ranks to find the killers of its members”, the statement noted. But a Social analyst Terver Ahumbe said’, “no matter the accusations it has become clear that Benue is no longer safe with people dying in unfriendly circumstance and there is need to put a stop to it.” “Though the Benue State Police Command through the Spokesperson ASP Austin Ezeani Monday had disclosed to newsmen the arrest of 14 suspects linked to the assassination of Chief Atoza Ihindan in Katsina-Ala, there is need to step up security in the state.” “It is incumbent on the people to put hands together and team up with government so as to eliminate the alien trend that is gradually realling its ugly head in the state.”
Piqued by the high frequency of killings by the unidentified gunmen, the State House of Assembly also called on Governor Samuel Ortom to as a matter of urgency, reorganise the disarmament and amnesty programme by setting up a committee of credible people to receive arms from those illegally bearing them as a strategy of halting the trend.
The Speaker, Mr. Terkimbi Ikyange, who condemned the ugly incident called on law enforcement agencies to intensify investigation with the view to unmasking those behind the dastardly act. He appealed to the perpetrators to come out of hiding and revealed themselves, and their grievances to enable government commence dialogue with them in order to end the ugly incidence of hunting people. The House also called on the people of the state to join their counterparts in Katsina Ala local government in prayers so that God will touch the hearts of the perpetrators to stop what he described as barbaric act.
-John Shiaondo in Makurdi writes on increasing assassinations of prominent politicians in the State,and the stakeholders call on the government to arrest the ugly trend