The Benue State government has countered allegations by the Minister of Transportation, Rotimi Amaechi, that the residents were responsible for the killing of two Catholic priest and 17 worshipers at Mbalom in Gwer East Local Government Area.
Amaechi made the comment when he appeared last Sunday on a Channels Television programme, Hard Copy.
A statement by the Special Adviser to the Governor on Media and ICT, Tahav Agerzua, described the comment as a deliberate strategy by the All Progressives Congress (APC) to change the true narrative on the killings.
The statement recalled that APC’s National Chairman Adams Oshomole had also made a similar claim.
It said: “Unfortunately for both APC stalwarts, investigations and interviews conducted by reputable media organisations revealed, without any doubts, that the killers are Fulani herdsmen militia out on a conquest and occupation agenda of the Benue Valley and other territories in Nigeria.
“Two of these organisations, Al-Jazeera and Television Continental (TVC), aired their findings on their stations on May 7 and August 20.
“These investigations and testimonies of the victims and witnesses debunk Mr Amaechi’s statements regarding the murder of the Mbalom 19 as not only false but also reckless, mindless and a shameful dance on the graves of the victims.
“Curiously, this is not the first time that a Minister of the Federal Government had made mockery of Benue people with inflammatory statements bordering on herdsmen attacks and killings in the state.
“Amaechi, after stating categorically that the Mbalom 19 were killed by their own people, failed to provide any evidence to back his claim but rather went on to allege that some of the suspects arrested in connection with the killings were working with Governor Samuel Ortom.
“It is, therefore, clear that the objective of the minister is to smear the governor’s reputation.
“Amaechi apparently forgot that one of those accused of complicity in the Mbalom murder was recently released from detention without arraignment and any proof to link Governor Ortom with the murders.
“However, whoever murdered the priests and the other worshippers as well as carried out any other killings in Benue State and anywhere in Nigeria, it is the responsibility of the Federal Government to fish out and bring them to book.
“That the agents of the Federal Government of Nigeria have shirked their responsibility and rather embarked on a deliberate effort to change the narrative indicates that they are accomplices.
“More so that Fulani leaders, including Garus Gololo, claimed responsibility for the Benue attacks and killings, citing justification for rustled cattle; yet, none of them has been arrested and prosecuted.
“Amaechi’s unguarded comments on the unfortunate incident in Mbalom bring to mind earlier statements by the Minister of Defence and the Inspector General of Police (IGP), who described the herdsmen invasion and killing of Benue people as a ‘mere communal clash’.
“We wonder why those occupying sensitive positions in the current Federal Government have chosen to play games with the lives of Nigerians. How committed and sincere are such persons in their advice to the President, if they can’t hide their biases on issues affecting ordinary people?
“We expect Amaechi to publicly prove his allegation on the Mbalom killings or retract his comments and tender a public apology to families of the victims as well as the government and people of Benue State.”