Benue State Governor, Dr Samuel Ortom is on his way to Omusu where an early evening raid yesterday has left no less than 60 dead. There is no police confirmation of this figure but that is the closest estimate as at this morning from figures put together by relations, police and vigilante members working on evacuation of dead bodies to the hospitals at Okpoga, the headquarters of Okpokwu Local Government Area in Benue State where Omusu Village falls. Even the figure of 60 is considered a very conservative one as corpses were still being discovered early this morning in addition to those who gave up in the hospitals overnight. There is a strong belief that killing continued through the night.
Intervention is reliably informed that a unit of the Mobile Police might be in place in that axis before the end of today. Already, a detachment of the military is in place at Omusu Village where police and the vigilante members have been escorting relations to search for those that can so far not be accounted for. Those that cannot be accounted for are not necessarily dead since many of the neighbouring villages have become ‘IDP camps’ since late yesterday evening.
The surprise element in the attack is said to explain the high death toll. Although there had been a local intelligence sharing about the arrival of suspected fighter herdsmen somewhere in Orokam, no one was prepared at Omusu as there did not appear to be a history of animosity between the herdsmen and the host community. The claim that the community killed three herdsmen has no evidence anywhere in the village either. Hence, the speculation that the attack on Omusu might have been based on wrong information or mistaken identity.
Unless magic happens, Governor Ortom would be meeting a completely empty village. An eye witness following developments in the area claimed that bread had to be bought from Okpoga to feed the soldiers deployed to the village because, according to him, “there is not a single soul in Omusu now”. Nonetheless, the governor journeys there, with an entourage that Intervention learnt has some officials from Abuja.
The question about whether the attackers are herdsmen or ‘herdsmen’ would remain crucial, given that they were reported to have arrived in army camouflage, disguising as genuine troops. If it is herdsmen, where did they keep their cattles to engage in raiding? If it is ‘herdsmen’, then who might be sponsoring them? When Intervention put this question to a community leader, his answer was that whenever herdsmen are set to confront any community, they first pack out of the community. Intervention’s stringer has reported that this has happened in this case.
Herdsmen violence has come with all the variables in Nigerian politics and made its resolution complex. How this fresh round of the attacks is contained beyond peace enforcement remains a hot puzzle for conflict managers, particularly at a time President Buhari is saying that conflict management is not the exclusive responsibility of the government but also of stakeholders. Many consider his statement made in Taraba State yesterday as capable of complicating the situation since the Nigerian State is defined by its monopoly of legitimate use of violence, the ultimate in conflict resolution as there must be a certain atmosphere before any other peacemaking activities – dialogue, mediation, reconciliation, confessions and forgiveness – can take place.