Leaders of socio-cultural organizations and local government chairmen in Benue have stated that 1,773 people have been killed in the state by armed herdsmen between January 2018 and now.

Briefing journalists in Makurdi, the leaders noted that the number only reflects those whose corpses were traced and accounted for within the period under review.

According to them, over 1.5 other residents have also been displaced within the time under review.

The group, in a statement read by the Ukum council boss, Steve Ayua, lamented that the killers no longer come with cows but with AK47.

“It is on record that open grazing has led to the invasion of farming communities by Fulani herdsmen leading to massive killings and maiming of people including children, raping of women, destruction of property, loss of livelihoods and displacement of persons.”

While recalling the March 20, 2021 assassination attempt on Governor Samuel Ortom by suspected Fulani militia on his way back from the farm, the Benue leaders said it was only by the grace of God that he survived the attack.

“The negative impact of open grazing which often results in attacks on communities in different parts of Benue State has adversely affected the local economy as farmers are prevented from accessing their farms and local markets are also deserted for fear of imminent invasion by the killers.”

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They noted that attacks by herdsmen have also led to mass displacement of persons, desertion of farm lands which they noted, also resulted in the displacement of over 1.5 million people in the State.

“Some of the displaced persons are currently living in Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) Camps and others are living in host communities or with their relatives in townships.

“Farmers who have attempted to go back and till their land are either killed or maimed by herdsmen. This sad development is leading to food insecurity and poverty in the state.”

The Benue leaders disclosed that the herdsmen have so far attacked communities in 21 out of the 23 local government areas of the state with the latest attack being the invasion of a community in Mbayatyo, Mbater Council ward of Logo LGA where scores of mourners were killed at a wake keep for one of their relatives.

“What could be worse than the killing of bereaved people mourning the death of a loved one? While we condemn the act in strong terms, we call on the security formations who have been making efforts to curtail the heightened insecurity in the Sankera axis and other parts of Benue State to arrest perpetrators of the heinous crime and bring them to justice.”

They, therefore, requested the deployment of special forces to entry points into Benue State to stop “the merchants of death who are bent on eliminating our people and taking over their ancestral lands with their genocidal attacks.”