Ex­perts fear use of chemical weapon in Benue killings

Daily Trust - - NEWS - From Hope Abah, Makurdi

Med­i­cal ex­perts in Benue State are work­ing to ver­ify the al­leged use of chemical weapons which re­sulted in the death of at least 16 people in ru­ral Sengev com­mu­nity of Gwer West Lo­cal Govern­ment Area of the state.

The bod­ies of six vic­tims are un­der­go­ing foren­sic ex­perts’ as­sess­ment at the Benue State Univer­sity Teach­ing Hospi­tal (BSUTH) to un­ravel the ac­tual cause of deaths.

Draw­ing sim­i­lar­i­ties

An­a­lysts are draw­ing ref­er­ences from the Ghouta chemical at­tack which oc­curred on Au­gust 21, 2013 in the Syr­ian civil war when sev­eral op­po­si­tion-con­trolled or dis­puted ar­eas of the Ghouta sub­urbs of the Markaz Rif Di­mashq district around Da­m­as­cus were struck by rock­ets con­tain­ing the chemical agent sarin. Hun­dreds were killed over a short time early in the morn­ing. The an­a­lysts say bod­ies of vic­tims of the Benue in­ci­dent had symp­toms sim­i­lar to those killed in Syria.

Symp­toms

Wit­nesses to the Syria in­ci­dent spoke of symp­toms that showed vic­tims foam­ing out of mouths and noses, people sleep­ing in their homes and dy­ing in their beds, headaches and nau­sea. Doc­tors who re­ceived the roughly 3,600 vic­tims in less than three hours af­ter the at­tack in east­ern Da­m­as­cus re­ported see­ing pa­tients with froth­ing at the mouth, con­vul­sions, ex­ces­sive saliva and re­s­pi­ra­tory dis­tress, among oth­ers. Though it is yet to be med­i­cally es­tab­lished, and while the chemical agent Sarin may not have been used in Benue, res­i­dents who wit­nessed killings in the state on March 15, 2014 at the bor­der be­tween Nasarawa and Benue said they re­cov­ered bod­ies which had no bul­let wounds or ma­chete cuts.

Wit­ness ac­counts

A wit­ness, Tondo Peter, who is still tak­ing refuge in Naka, head­quar­ters of Gwer LGA, said the vic­tims only foamed from their mouths, thereby fu­elling the sus­pi­cion that they might have in­haled poi­sonous chemical sub­stances.

“It was mid-day that the Fu­lani herders in­vaded our com­mu­nity. Some brave youths de­cided to re­pel the at­tack and pur­sued them to­wards the bor­der, af­ter a while when they were not re­turn­ing and we de­cided to go and look for them and on get­ting there, we saw sev­eral of them dead. Of the num­ber, 16 had no in­jury such as ma­chete cuts or bul­let wounds but they were foam­ing from their mouths while only three had ma­chete cuts and bul­let wounds. The bod­ies had started to de­com­pose a few hours af­ter the killing,” he said. Ter­hile Aon­dokuma, an­other res­i­dent who cor­rob­o­rated the story, added that some bod­ies were not yet found and what height­ened the sus­pi­cion of use chemical weapon is the fact that they saw sev­eral other bod­ies of Fu­lani herds­men in sim­i­lar con­di­tion in the area af­ter the fight.

“In­ci­den­tally, we met with the Fu­la­nis when we came to evac­u­ate the corpses of our people that were killed, they had also come to col­lect bod­ies of their own people and we saw that what they used on our people also killed those who han­dled the sus­pi­cious sub­stance”, he said.

Views of med­i­cal ex­perts

The Di­rec­tor of Pub­lic Health in the Benue State Min­istry of Health, Dr. Joseph Kumba, though did not con­firm it, height­ened the sus­pi­cion when he told our cor­re­spon­dent that there is high prob­a­bil­ity of the use of a chemical sub­stance known as ‘blis­ter’ on the de­ceased.

“We have got­ten sev­eral bod­ies with­out wounds since the cur­rent cri­sis be­gan in the state. Through­out Guma and Gwer West LGAs, some people have been sup­pos­edly killed with an al­leged chemical weapon. Six of the bod­ies at the mo­ment are un­der­go­ing au­topsy. The re­port when re­leased will con­firm the sus­pi­cion,” he said.

Dr. Kumba said ‘blis­ter’ can par­a­lyze the re­s­pi­ra­tory sys­tem, choke the vic­tim so that breath­ing be­comes dif­fi­cult and within min­utes or hours, leads to death, depend­ing on how much of the sub­stance is in­haled and how close the vic­tim is from the point of con­tact.

“The sub­stance can be put into ar­tillery shells and shot into the air and it af­fects people who in­hale it depend­ing on how close they are. Those who come in con­tact with the chemical sub­stance within 30 min­utes or an hour depend­ing on how ac­tive the sub­stance is will be af­fected,” Kumba said. He noted that the at­tack­ers could not have been just lo­cal herders con­sid­er­ing the man­ner of the at­tacks but were per­haps dis­placed ter­ror­ists.The Di­rec­tor Gen­eral, Na­tional Agency for Food, Drug Ad­min­is­tra­tion and Con­trol (NAFDAC) Dr. Paul Orhii re­cently urged the federal govern­ment to ur­gently look into al­le­ga­tion, say­ing dur­ing a visit to the state that the al­leged sub­stance used to kill people in some parts of the state was a sus­pected chemical weapon con­cealed in a can­is­ter shell.

“Chemical weapons have been used on people and for the first time, I saw it. It was con­cealed in can­is­ter shells,” he said.

Dr. Chinedu Nwosu, a pub­lic med­i­cal con­sul­tant, also said “From what I gath­ered, it ap­pears that the symp­toms in­cluded foam­ing from the mouth, sug­ges­tive of chok­ing which af­fected their res­pi­ra­tion as a re­sult of in­hal­ing a chemical sub­stance. I do not know the na­ture of the chemical or its source but it is very pos­si­ble that they died of chemical weapon,” Dr. Nwosu said.

Con­trary view

How­ever, Dr Joseph Ojobi, Head of Depart­ment of In­ter­nal Medicine at the Federal Med­i­cal Cen­tre, Makurdi, thinks other­wise as he said the fea­tures no­ticed on the corpses which fu­elled the sus­pi­cion of use of chemical weapons could have re­sulted from the poor han­dling of the corpses.

“I saw those bod­ies. A few were foam­ing from the mouth. The people had died at least six hours be­fore the bod­ies were re­cov­ered and I think the bod­ies may not have been prop­erly kept,” he ar­gued. Ojobi fur­ther pointed out that use chemical bio-ter­ror­ism be­comes sus­pi­cious when vic­tims’ re­s­pi­ra­tory sys­tems are af­fected and burns are also no­ticed on their bod­ies. He added that ca­su­alty rates from chemical weapons are usu­ally very high, up to 1,000 and all liv­ing things in­clud­ing plants and an­i­mals die within the area where such sub­stances are used. “But there is noth­ing of such yet to show that this is bio-ter­ror­ism,” Ojobi said.

Re­sponses

Re­act­ing to the de­vel­op­ment, the tra­di­tional head of the Gwer King­dom, Chief Daniel Ayua Abomtse, be­lieved that the at­tack on Sengev district in­hab­i­tants of Agagbe town, Mbabuande, Mbapa and Mba­pupuu/Tswarev who di­rectly share borders with Agatu and Apa that joined with herders’ ter­ri­tory on the Loko river­side of Nasarawa State was specif­i­cally de­signed to an­ni­hi­late his people.

“16 per­sons were mur­dered in cold blood in Sengev district out of which three were shot and ma­cheted to death and 13 oth­ers died with no wounds found on their bod­ies, cre­at­ing a huge sense of sus­pi­cion that they might have been killed with a chemical sub­stance. This is most alarm­ing and needs ur­gent at­ten­tion to save the Gwer West people from extinction,” he said. He re­gret­ted that the coastal com­mu­ni­ties bor­der­ing the Nasarawa have be­come preys for herders’ mer­ce­nar­ies as the en­tire people within the area have fled their homes to take refuge in Naka or other towns in the state fol­low­ing con­sis­tent in­va­sion of their an­ces­tral homes.

Benue State Com­mis­sioner for In­for­ma­tion Jus­tine Amase told news­men that about 200 people have been killed with sus­pected chemical weapons in the state since the at­tack on people of the state be­gan early this year. Let me tell you that about 200 people in Gwer West have been killed with poi­sonous sub­stances. When you go through their bod­ies no cut is seen, nei­ther gun­shots nor bruises which show that they died of sus­pected chemical weapons.”

His po­si­tion is sup­ported by the vice-chair­man of Gwer West LGA, Avande Mt­senga who told our re­porter that the in­ci­dent oc­curred at the bor­der area at a point where the youths had pur­sued their at­tack­ers.

“The at­tack­ers who used the chemical weapon were also found dead at the point. The vil­lagers, es­pe­cially women and chil­dren had al­ready de­serted the com­mu­ni­ties fol­low­ing fre­quent in­va­sion so when the at­tack­ers came this time, our youths who were left at home re­sisted them and push them back to the bor­der river where they came from. This had hap­pened three times. When we went the fol­low­ing day to evac­u­ate their bod­ies, we also saw the Fu­lani people who came to carry their ca­su­al­ties. It sug­gested that they too died from the chemical weapon which they re­leased on our people”, he said.

Chair­man of Gwer West LGA, Mrs. Eu­nice Mb­jawa, told Daily Trust that some deaths were linked to sus­pected use of chemical weapons, adding that the on­go­ing post­mortem would end the sus­pi­cion.

How­ever, state Sec­re­tary of the Myetti-Al­lah Cat­tle Breed­ers As­so­ci­a­tion of Nigeria (MACBAN) Garus Gololo de­nied the in­volve­ment of his mem­bers with the al­le­ga­tion.

Vic­tims of in­sur­gent ac­tiv­i­ties in Sengev com­mu­nity of Gwer West Lo­cal Govern­ment Area, Benue State, at a dis­placed per­sons’ camp.

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