The police in Benue are searching for four officers following an attack on a patrol team in Logo Local Government Area on Saturday afternoon.
The men were returning from a confidence-building mission in remote villages when suspected herdsmen opened fire on them in Tse Akpam village, near Azege town, police and residents said.
“We had had an encounter around Azege when a team of mobile police went on confidence patrol,” said police commissioner Fatai Owoseni.
“When they were coming back at a point in Azege, they started hearing gunfire from inside the bush suspected to be from the herdsmen. There was a serious exchange of gunfire.”
Owoseni said the attackers burnt a police van and four officers could not be found as at 7:20 p.m. Saturday.
“One of our vehicles was set ablaze. So far, on their side, we’re still trying to ascertain casualties; while we’re yet to see four of our men,” he said.
The police chief said more officers have been dispatched to the areas to comb for the missing officers.
His statement corroborates what witnesses had earlier informed this newspaper about the development.
Residents told our reporter that a police officer who sustained gunshot injury was taken to the hospital in Ayilamo, the headquarters of Tombo Council Ward about eight kilometres from Azege where the attack occurred.
Enoch Nyikyaa, a chief in Logo LGA, said that the attack occurred in his domain and that the herdsmen who carried it out also destroyed farmlands with their cattle.
He said the attack occurred in Tse Akpam village, which is within Azege.
The herdsmen are still reportedly grazing in some remote villages in Benue despite a subsisting law that prohibits open-grazing in the state.
The attack comes a day after three persons were killed in separate assaults on villages in the same local government area Thursday night.
Three persons who sustained injuries in the attacks are currently undergoing treatments at the hospital.
The Thursday night attack, which occurred near Anyiin, a town in Logo LGA that serves as a base for police special forces, earned the police renewed criticism from those who believe the security agencies are doing too little to resolve the frequent herdsmen clashes, which has claimed over a hundred lives in Benue alone this year.
Residents have also accused the police of being too afraid to move to the dangerous areas where herdsmen are said to be hiding and which they use as bases to launch attacks, a situation that some officers confirmed to our correspondent in confidence last month.
But Mr. Owoseni said Saturday’s attack should be seen as an evidence of police’s proactive approach towards the crisis.
“People are saying police are not working, but going on confidence-building patrol is being proactive,” Mr. Owoseni said. “If we didn’t go on patrol, how would we have suffered this attack?”
The commissioner said Azege and its environs are safe, urging the residents to believe in the ability of police to return peace to the entire state.
“We will not relent, we’ll continue to take the fight to them and give assurances to the people that we won’t wait until they come and attack them,” he said.