Tuesday, 21 July 2015

Updated: Tension Rises in Two #Benue Communities Over 'Beheaded' Man

Last week news of the beheading of Mr Ajene, 64-year-old farmer in Benue State was unleashed on Nigerians, days after, the police are still unable to unravel the motive for the action even as the communities are chanting war songs.

When 64-year-old Ejah Ajene left his home in Itakpa-Ito village of Obi local government area in Benue State for his farm last Sunday, he had assured his three wives of returning to their embrace later in the day as usual.

But this was not to happen as his headless body was discovered the next day in a shallow grave about one kilometer away from his farm while the police alerted his relations to identify his severed head hours later.

Daily Trust on Saturday gathered from a community leader, Chief Barry Ogbaka, who lives close to the beheaded man's compound that villagers became worried after the deceased's wives raised an alarm on that fateful Sunday evening that their husband was yet to return from the farm.

According to him, the victim had gone to the farm alone at 8:00 am and was due back in his usual practice between 2:30 pm and 3:00 pm but that the family became suspicious and ran to his house when the delay became unbearable for them.

"We sent a delegation immediately to search for him on the farm and bushes around; they found his bicycle, shoes and other personal belongings on his farm without a trace of him. So that night, more search parties were constituted to find him and surprisingly at about 7:00 am on Monday, his headless body was found buried in a shallow grave one kilometer from his farm," Ogbaka said.

The community leader said that while the villagers were still grappling with the reality of the circumstances that had befallen the deceased, information reached the relations at about 9:00 am same day from the police to come and identify a severed head just recovered from an Utonkon man whose name was simply given as Agashe Michael. Utonkon is a town in Ado local government which shares boundary with the Igede people of Obi local government area.

Sadly, according to Ogbaka, between the time the villagers found the body and when police information got to them the youths from Itakpa-Ito, an Igede community, had in protest blocked the access road leading in and out of the community based on the suspicion that the killing was the handiwork of Fulani herdsmen.

He added that unfortunately, a Fulani man was caught in the web and killed by the angry youths before he could be rescued and only for moments later, the real culprit was taken into custody by the police in Otukpo where villagers went to see the horrifying display of their kinsman's head in the hand of his assassin.

Earlier, Benue State police spokesman Austin Ezeani told our correspondent in Makurdi that the suspected assassin, a farmer, had a dispute with the victim and went ahead to commit the crime in a most gruesome manner.

Ezeani also said that the suspect, who is a native of Igede from Oju local government area, committed the crime on Monday and is being held by the Otukpo area command for further interrogation, while his victim hailed from Ado local government area.

But Ogbaka said the police misplaced the men's identities, adding that the victim was Igede from Obi local government area, while the suspect is a native of Utonkon in Ado.

The suspect, according to the police, claimed to have had a long standing quarrel with the deceased over a piece of land and that fresh trouble started for the duo when they met on the farm and started fighting and that the suspect eventually overpowered the deceased and cut off his head, buried him in a shallow grave on the farm and put the head inside a bag before his apprehension by some villagers.

Ogbaka also disputed that saying that: "It was not true that the deceased had any land dispute. In fact, he had never disclosed to anybody about having a land tussle anywhere."

Daily Trust on Saturday further learnt that Michael had used the deceased's own cutlass to kill him on his farm and concealed the head in his bag which he took home but his family started asking questions apparently due to his blood-soaked clothing.

Before long, members of the suspect's family found the head in his bag which prompted them to alert the villagers as they dragged Michael before their traditional ruler who in turn called the attention police.

However, as the police continue with investigation to determine the matter and consequently transfer the suspect to the command headquarters in Makurdi, the two communities in the eye of the storm are no longer safe for the inhabitants.

For Igese village in Ojenyo ward of Utonkon in Ado where the suspect hailed from, school children and market women had to flee the wrath of the bereaved Igede people of Obi on Monday evening as irate youths set ablaze their abodes to revenge the death of Ajene.

The caretaker committee chairman of Ado local government council, Paul Udenyi, told journalists in Makurdi that the incident led to loss of property worth millions of naira while some of the residents who are displaced, are now taking refuge in a primary school even as others are squatting with their relations.

Udenyi admitted there were ongoing efforts in collaboration with retired Col. Edwin Jando, the Special Adviser to the Governor on Security Matters to contain the violence.

Similarly, Chief Ekpe Ogbu, a former chairman of Ado and immediate past special adviser on public utilities to former governor, Gabriel Suswam, has described the incident as "unfortunate," as he however stressed that the two neighbouring ethnic groups have coexisted peacefully for many years.

Meanwhile, police said they have deployed their men to the scene of the incident to forestall any breakdown of law and order just as the Divisional Police Office in Otukpo, Dakwoji has also pleaded with the representatives of both local government areas to prevail on their people to desist from activities capable of causing more mayhem.

On the other hand, the people of Obi are now living in fear of a reprisal attack on them by the Fulani herders who they alleged are preparing mercenaries to invade the community over the killing of the innocent herder.

Ogbaka, who denied knowledge of Utonkon youths razing down Ajene assassin's community, lamented that the situation was tense in his area such that people no longer go to their farms or businesses for fear that Fulani herders have mobilised their kinsmen in neighbouring Nasarawa State and are on the preparing to launch a deadly attack on them.

"As we speak now, we are heading to Utonkon for another peace talks. We have continued to hold a series of all kinds of meetings since the incident happened to calm nerves. We hope we will succeed," Ogbaka concluded.

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