Many residents living along the Okpokwu to Ogbadibo Local Government Areas highway of Benue state have raised the alarm over how armed herdsmen have occupied the forests axis of the state.
The residents complained that the herdsmen have taken over the forests, converting them to their haven to launch attacks and kidnap people that ply the Otukpo-Ugbokolo-Otukpa-Orokam road with impunity.
One of the members of Orokam community and a practicing journalist who spoke to Vanguard on condition of anonymity disclosed that the marauders carry out their operations brazenly without resistance.
He said, “from the information we have received so far from persons that were kidnapped and released after ransom was paid, the gang members are made up of Fulani herdsmen. And the hotbed of their operations is that stretch of road between Ugbokolo and Otukpa. There is a thick forest called Okungaga, that is one of the places they have converted to their fortress.
“These are people who wield sophisticated weapons and we heard that from that point they also take their victims on foot for hours through forests to other parts of Idoma land down to Ado LGA and Otukpa in Ogbadibo LGA to hide them while they negotiation for ransom to be paid for their release.”
The journalist further said that the Otukpo-Ugbokolo-Otukpa-Orokam highway is completely unsafe for anyone to travel on, especially at night, adding that security agencies are helpless and confused as to what to be done to bring normalcy to the area.
Describing their mode of operation, he said, “they usually appear in military camouflage and at night they barricade the roads pretending to be security personnel in a bid to rob and kidnap unsuspecting road users.
“Owukpa, where you have a very large expanse of forests between Benue and Enugu state is another of their fortresses. The people live in fear and they have become helpless.”
The traditional ruler of Ogbadibo LGA, HRH Emmanuel Odeh had recently decried the worsened security situation in part of his kingdom, lamenting that armed herdsmen had taken over the expansive forests in the area from where attacks are launched on innocent citizens.
Lamenting the lack of security presence in the area, the king said: “This leaves us vulnerable to attacks, compounded by the extensive forest areas that provide cover for kidnappers.”