Residents of Ukum Local Government Area in Benue State are increasingly alarmed by the surge in violence and are now calling for a state of emergency to be declared in the region. Over the past two months, Ukum has been plagued by a string of brutal killings, including the tragic murder of six individuals. Among the victims were a pub operator and a young man, eagerly preparing for his impending wedding in Chitto community.
The situation has grown so dire that armed gangs have taken control of certain areas, erecting roadblocks near the Agboki settlement. These blockades have rendered the Sankera-Chito-Vase road impassable and have led to the tragic deaths of innocent road users and local residents.
Adding to the chaos are deadly clashes between rival militias in the LGA, which have claimed approximately 10 lives. These clashes have also resulted in the destruction of a market and numerous properties in the vicinity.
The violence in Ukum LGA has reached a critical point, with numerous community members falling victim to the merciless bandits who have held sway over the region for the past month. In a tragic turn of events, Jarule Likita, the commander of Benue State Livestock Guards (BSLSG), was killed by gunshots in Tine-Nune settlement on August 20, 2023.
Subsequent days brought further bloodshed, as eight individuals lost their lives on August 21 and 22, 2023. Five of them perished in Chitto, while three met their end in Gbeji communities of Ukum LGA during clashes between two rival groups.
On August 23, 2023, the bandits once again terrorized the area by blocking the Sankara-Chitto road and senselessly taking the lives of three innocent individuals.
The grim circumstances have forced the district head of the community, Tor Ngene, and countless residents to flee Ukum for their lives. This exodus has left fertile farming lands neglected and has significantly disrupted local businesses and daily activities.
Terfa Akpen, a resident deeply affected by these events, lamented, “These are areas where a lot of farming activities usually go on, with massive production of yam and other food items. But with the development, farmers have all abandoned their farms for safety in other communities and in town because no one is sure of what will happen next.”
In a particularly heartbreaking incident, six individuals, including a young man eagerly anticipating his upcoming wedding, fell victim to an ambush on the road. Another devastating incident occurred in Chitto, where the operator of a drinking establishment was murdered by a gang after they accused him of hosting a rival group at his venue.
Chitto has become a ghost town, as the community grapples with indiscriminate and rampant reprisals by bandits operating in Ukum LGA.
Frustrated and deeply concerned by the worsening situation, Chief Shima Ayati, a respected community leader from the area, is urging the state government to declare a state of emergency in Ukum. He attributes part of the blame to the political class, suggesting that they have failed in their responsibilities to ensure peace in the region. Ayati expressed his disappointment, stating, “It is unfortunate that this is happening. After the last elections, people from that area were elected into various positions. We have the senator, State Assembly member, and others, but some of us are disturbed that we are not hearing anything from these elected people over this matter in order to put an end to it.”
The ongoing violence has instilled fear and uncertainty among the local population. Many are left wondering if there may be hidden motives behind the unrest. It is a deeply troubling situation that demands urgent attention and action.
In response, the Benue State Police Command, led by Commissioner Batholomew Onyeka, has deployed its available resources to combat crime and maintain order in the state. Onyeka issued a stern warning to criminals, declaring, “I will not tolerate criminality in Benue State under my watch. I will fight them as long as I remain the commissioner of police.” He also called upon the people of Benue State to cooperate with law enforcement by providing timely and useful information to aid in tackling the wave of crime.
Despite these efforts, the violence in Ukum continues to disrupt daily life, causing immense hardship for the local population and threatening the region’s stability.