Benue attack: How herdsmen killed our husbands –Widows

Bereaved students lament, seek help
Wives of victims of herders’ attack on Saint Ignatius Quasi-Parish in Benue State yesterday recalled their horrible experiences when the invaders suddenly turned them to widows. This came barely eight months after armed herdsmen believed to be of Fulani extraction invaded Saint Ignatius Quasi-Parish in Ayar-Mbalom in Gwer East Local Government Area of the state, killed two Catholic priests and 17 parishioners inside the church. Reverend Fathers Felix Tyolaha and Joseph Gor were among those murdered in cold blood on that fateful day while conducting an early morning mass.  

The killing and burial of the priests and other 17 parishioners attracted the attention of the Catholic Pontiff, Pope Francis, and the American President Donald Trump who both condemned the killings and called for an end to it. Our correspondent, who visited the area during the Rite of Atonement and Purification mass in honour of the fallen worshippers, spoke with some of the widows, who gave a vivid account of their experiences on what transpired on that day.
Some of the widows, who were in the state of despair and hopelessness, wept profusely in remembrance of their loved departed husbands and other relatives killed in the attack. Children of the deceased were also crying, a development which elicited emotions from Governor Samuel Ortom and the Catholic Bishop of Makurdi Diocese, Most Reverend Wilfred Anagbe, who could not also hold back their tears. Bullets fired by the invaders were still visible on the walls of most houses in the Ukpo settlement area where Rev. Fr. Tyolaha fell. The crucifix of Jesus Christ was hoisted and prayers were offered for God to cleanse the land.

The mass threw the entire Mbalom community into a state of mourning as all the villagers suspended farming activities in memory of the departed worshippers. A 41-year-old woman, Mrs. Elizabeth Nomor, who could not control her emotions, said she was inside the church about 10a.m. when the attackers came “with the intension to wipe out all the men in the area”. She said: “Their target was to kill the men but one woman was also shot dead. They were speaking in Fulani dialect. They carried sophisticated weapons one of which was used to kill my husband.

They came at the time the priests were about to give us (the worshippers) the Holy Communion. “When I saw them, I fainted and did not know what was happening, so they passed and went but when I regained consciousness, I learnt they pursued the priests and killed them a few yards away from the church for preaching the word of God.” Nomor, who said her husband left her with many children, expressed grief that she was going through difficult times with the passage of her husband. Also narrating her ordeal, Mrs. Grace Akule, whose compound is located beside the church, said her husband, who was secretary of the church, was not spared by the attackers.

She disclosed that on the morning of that particular day, her husband asked her to prepare water for him to bathe and attend the mass. According to her, shortly after he left for the mass, one of their children spotted the invaders with guns and shouted: “Daddy see Fulani, Daddy see Fulani with guns.” She said: “What followed was sporadic shooting during which my husband was killed. My son, who was shouting, and other women rushed back home to tell me that my husband was also killed, but my son who is an altar boy was spared.” On her part, Mrs. Roseline Ivor, said her husband, who was the Catechist of the church, was also murdered.

Ivor said during the mass, which also coincided with the healing mass, the priests admonished them not to relent in prayers to overcome the challenges of the world. According to her, she has children, most of who are going to school. She added: “As we were praying, suddenly we saw many Fulani militias with weapons who began to shoot randomly when my dear husband was also shot dead. There was nothing I could do. I lay flat with my face on the ground and was praying to the Almighty God.”

Ivor appealed to the Federal Government to do everything possible to end the killing of innocent people in Benue and other states for enduring peace to reign. She also prayed for the safe return of thousands of displaced persons currently wallowing in penury at the Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) camps.

Wife of the Principal of the school located near the church, Mrs. Grace Dickson, said her husband, Mr. Peter Dickson, ran into the attackers on his way to the church and was killed instantly. Dickson, who wept profusely while narrating her ordeal, said her husband left her with six children who, according to her, are in school. She appealed to spirited individuals to come to her aid as she alone could not carry the burden left for her. Another widow, Mrs. Elizabeth Tor, said her husband took her to the church on that day but did not know he was going to be killed. Tor said the killings started after they had recited the Catholic Angelus, adding that when Rev. Father Felix Tyolaha sighted the Fulani already surrounding the area, he alerted everybody in the church to run for their lives. She said: “I heard those Fulani people shouting ‘kill am,’ ‘kill am’.

They were all speaking in Fulani language. I am praying to God to grant my husband eternal life. He left me with four children and other grandchildren. “I am also praying that the killing going on in the state should not occur again because it has thrown most people into untold hardship.” A young boy, identified simply as Terfa, who is a student, wept uncontrollably while speaking with our correspondent. He bemoaned the killing of his father by the herders. According to him, the death of his father has greatly affected his desire to be educated.

He said: “What has pained me about my father’s death is that when he was alive, he was sponsoring of my education. But now that these wicked Fulani herdsmen have killed him, I don’t know who will help me. My father was a caring father but where can I go now?” Terfa appealed for assistance from philanthropic individuals. Also, a five-year-old primary three schoolgirl known simply as Sewuese, who lost her dad in the attack, said though her father was killed, “he is resting in the bosom of the Lord.” “Each time I am thinking about my father I remember how he used to play with his children, buy clothes for us and take us to school. “I am appealing to good Samaritans especially God to help me because I want to go to school. But since Fulani people have killed my beloved father, my hope in that direction has been dashed.”

A farmer, Najime Tyonongo, who also spoke on the killings, said the main agenda behind such wicked act was to occupy the rich soil naturally given to people of the state by God because of the green vegetation to feed their cattle. Tyonongo commended Governor Ortom and the state House of Assembly for promulgating the Anti-Grazing law to check open grazing of cattle. He reaffirmed the strong support of the people of Mbalom for the law.

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