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on 1 April used to be part of the municipality of Makurdi, the capital of Benue State. It only became part of Guma Local Government Area in Benue North-West in 1987. The current governor of Benue State, Samuel Ortom, also comes from Guma.
The LGA derives its name from River Guma, which empties into the River Benue, part of a network of fresh water sources that have historically defined that part of Nigeria as the nation’s food basket. With arable land drained by an abundance of freshwater sources on the foothills of the rainy season, this is a neighbourhood that should ordinarily bustle at this time of year.
The journey into Guma with Mike’s remains revealed the opposite. Mbabai and its neighbouring villages had long been drained of life by mass atrocity. Mourners to the funeral needed the forceful presence of massive deployment of hundreds of well-armed soldiers along the route and in surrounding bushes to reassure them of their safety.
The compound in which the burial itself took place was nearly desolate. A capacious country home belonging to Mike’s dad, a retired judge, had been burnt twice over in attacks reportedly perpetrated, the villagers said, by armed herders. All the mourners could do was linger in the village long enough for the body to be laid into the ground before everyone scampered, grateful that there were no atrocity incidents.
As the mourners left, it was impossible not to ask how the people of Guma, nearly all of who cannot afford what it takes to secure the kind of martial deployment that accompanied Mike’s cortege, bury their dead. It did not take long to find out.
Mgban is a village also in Guma, not too far from Mbabai. Like Mbabai, Mgban has also been decimated by regular attacks from armed herders. Most of the village lives in internal displacement. By an arrangement involving the state government and the
, the Benue State Police Command deployed several police officers every evening to guard the Local Government Education Authority (LGEA) Primary School in Mgban, so that those left in the community can go there to sleep at night.
That was until one week after the burial of Mike Utsaha. Shortly before midnight around Good Friday, according to survivors, the police officers deployed around the LGEA Primary School in Mgban all entered their vehicles and left the premises without warning. The villagers already at the school to pass the night had no place else to hide.
Moments after the police retreated, armed attackers arrived, making game of every person in sight, mostly the aged, women, and children.
By the end of the morning after the massacre, another 45 had also been evacuated to nearby hospitals in critical conditions. The dead received a quick and perfunctory mass burial.
Less than 36 hours before the Mgban Massacre, on Wednesday, also in the Christian Holy Week,
in Entekpa-Adoka District of Otukpo LGA reportedly killed at least 52 persons. Another mass burial was all that they could get.
48 hours before the massacre in Umogidi, a similar attack liquidated at
Amidst this orgy of massacres,
, reportedly to attend the commissioning of projects by his counterpart in Kaduna State, Nasi El-Rufai, both of them as guests of Rivers State Governor, Nyesom Wike. It was a characteristically thoughtless journey by a man who had long ago lost any sense of what a governor exists to do.
The symbolism of the encounter in Rivers State between the governors of Benue and Kaduna States, once implacable political foes, was not lost on many. In Port Harcourt, they could have been mistaken for a compatibly contented political pairing. Less than two years ago,
, they were at each other’s throats exchanging choice epithets with the abandon of drunken sailors in a bar-room brawl.
Between them, these two men have presided over arguably two of the worst records of mass atrocity in Nigeria in the past eight years. In 80 days in the first quarter of 2023,
. Those who specialise in tracking these incidents would swear that these numbers massage the reality. Over five days in the first week of April 2023, Benue State lost at least
in a killing spree. In the period since the end of the presidential election in February,
The timing of these massacres is significant. On 8 April,
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