Approximately 30 armed Muslim Fulani herdsmen murdered 19 people in Ayar Mbalon village, which is located in Nigeria’s central Benue State. Among the dead were two Catholic priests and a catechist, along with laypeople on Tuesday. Witnesses told local media that worshippers were gathered for Mass at about 5:30 a.m. when the marauders interrupted the liturgy and began shooting. Many of the victims died at the scene, while the wounded were transported to St. Theresa’s Hospital.
The Catholic Diocese of Makurdi has identified the two deceased priests. A statement signed by its Director of Communications of the Catholic Diocese of Makurdi, Fr. Moses Iorapuu, read in part, “Reverend Fathers Joseph Gor and Felix Tyolaha have been confirmed dead in the deadly attack by herdsmen/Jihadists early today on Mbalom village and St. Ignatius Quasi Parish Ukpor-Mbalom.” Fr. Iorapuu noted that the assailants burned down homes, destroyed food stocks, and murdered at will, while the local police appear to know nothing about similar attacks that have been going on in other villages in Benue State since the Nigeria’s Anti-open Grazing Law came into effect last year.
The statement read, “Many people are asking why the international community has remained silent over the massacre of Benue citizens? The answer is simple: It has been the goal of the Jihadists to conquer Benue and Tiv people who resisted their advance into the middle belt [central Nigeria] and the Eastern part of Nigeria since 1804, the people who rejected Islam and fought for the unification of Nigeria in the civil war of 1967 – 1970.” The statement added, “The people of Eastern Nigeria therefore have little sympathy for Benue people who fought on the side of Nigeria.”
The statement by Father Iorapuu lamented that there were 170,000 persons who fled to refugee camps in Benue State as a result of earlier assaults, while he fears that the newer invasion will only worsen the humanitarian crisis the state is already faced with. The statement also claimed that the “silent killings” of Christian missionaries in Nigeria have been ignored by the government for over a year. “To go for the Priests means total destruction of everything we stand for and believe in, as a people,” Iorapuu stated. He added that the Catholic Church continues to provide relief, as well as education and vocational training.
Nigeria’s House of Representatives debated on Wednesday about the continued attacks by the Muslim herders, while some members asserted that President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration has “failed.” The House called on Buhari to appear before the members to describe what he has done so far to stem the killings, but it also called on him to deploy a full military presence in Benue State “within 24 hours.” The members of the House of Representatives called on Buhari to declare the killers as “
The Acting Governor of Benue State, Engr. Benson Abounu, has declared that the state is currently under siege by insurgents.
The attack at Ayar Mbalon came just four days after a similar deadly attack in nearby Goma. In that instance, approximately 20 persons were killed by armed herdsmen who burned homes and businesses.