Benue State in central Nigeria is in the news again on account of violence. This time, it is the night of bloodshed last night at Okpoga Roundabout, the commercial happening spot of the Okpokwu Local Government Area in the southern tip of the state where six persons were felled by unknown gunmen who struck. The dead are still being counted but, so far, two soldiers, a policeman and the most popular undertaker in the area have been confirmed dead. The soldier scheduled to be given a traditional title today in the nearby Ingle village for communal sense of responsibility had gone for the occasion with a soldier friend of his who is a non-tribe. The two met their death at the Roundabout where they had gone to pick an item or two last night. There is no indication that the soldier was the target of the killers although security contacts told Intervention the suspected killers threatened to kidnap the said soldier’s mother sometimes back but he reportedly told them they would be biting more than they could chew if they carried out the threat.
The name of the policeman who has been confirmed killed is given as Salisu. It could not be established immediately if that is his first or surname but it is understood he is about the longest serving policeman in the local government headquarters. Similarly, an intelligent jester popularly called OMO as used in Yoruba language was also gunned down and confirmed dead. An eye witness told Intervention that the shooting started around 10 pm at the Roundabout but extended to nearby Millennium Hotel, about the most modern of such in the LGA. There is no certainty about this name that was also given as Oko Achiloko as also confirmed dead.
It is still unclear what might have prompted the young men to strike that night and at that spot. Although it is the liveliest spot in the rather desolate headquarters, there is nothing there by way of a cash haul that can explain the attack and the number of people killed, which could go up to 15 if the local language used to convey the enormity is anything to go by. Naturally, there is apprehension, fear and bewilderment while those directly affected are either still coming to terms with the reality or coping with dead bodies – identification, mortuary arrangements, etc or wailing.
The entire Edumoga-Okpoga axis in Idoma South area of Benue State has, for the past two years, fallen into the hands of a band of threat bearers and no manifestation of violence has not emanated from the axis within the period. On September 2nd, 2018, it was the kidnap of an elderly woman from Opialu Village on that axis. It was claimed but not confirmed by Intervention that the only time any action was ever taken was when the bad guys molested someone they did not know is a top officer of the Nigerian Armed Forces. Subsequently, they saw fire, their tribe was significantly reduced but there it seemed to have ended. From his operation, it seems they are back in power.
Why an axis of material poverty such as Edumoga, Okpoga and so on ight fall into rural banditry remains the puzzle. There is nothing in the area other than food crops produced by peasants with declining capacity to still farm even as most of the youths have fled to the urban areas while a few have taken to crime, cultism and thuggery for interested politicians. Rural banditry is, in most cases, the surest indicator of state failure and Sociologists always pay serious attention to it, especially in a pre-industrial society such as Nigeria.
There is no consensus on what to do. While some people say there should be dialogue with the bad guys favour of their employment, others argue a fire-for-fire remedy but who will bell the cat even then? The police? But which section of the police? Certainly not the Area Command which cannot match them in arming. And not when people whisper about a local Sambisa Forest which the police dare not enter. An elite coalition action is said to be shaping up but, for now, only God and time will tell!