Trying to put on a smiling face as he ushered our correspondent into his modest apartment , his blue disposition and near inaudible voice showed he had yet to recover from the trauma of the past few days .
Perhaps , not everyone would survive the news Geoffrey Tyolaha , 36 , received while he was on his way to work in the early hours of Tuesday , penultimate week , without passing out .
Of the about 19 persons that were killed in very cruel circumstances in Mbalom, Ayar Gwer East Local Government Area of Benue State by suspected Fulani herdsmen on Tuesday , April 24 , eight of them were Geoffrey ’s family members , including his father , nephew , cousins – aged 39 and 26 respectively – and other family members .
They were all shot dead , in addition to some worshippers at Mbalom Parish and the two Catholic priests in charge , whose death had generated serious condemnation from across the world , including the Pope .
Sadly , it’ s one of the killings carried out across the country , especially in the Middle Belt by suspected Fulani herdsmen .
“I didn ’ t believe it when I received the call that morning that my people had been killed ,” said Geoffrey when our correspondent met with him earlier in the week . “I still spoke to my dad on the phone the previous night and he sounded well . I even promised him I would find time to see him within the coming month , but now he ’s dead .”
Narrating the incident to Saturday PUNCH , Geoffrey said , “I was about leaving my house in Oshodi ( Lagos ) when I received a call from home . It was unusual but I didn ’ t have any reason to nurse any fear . I was told that some suspected Fulani herdsmen attacked our community and that they killed many people , including two reverend fathers .
“When I heard that, my heart bled and I stood still where I was,” he said .
Trying to suppress the thought that the priests could be the same ones he knew, Geoffrey apparently didn ’t know the worst part of the news had yet to be delivered .
“The person who called me then said that was not all ; he said my father , my nephew , cousins and other persons in the house … as the person was still mentioning the names of the other persons, I didn ’t know when the phone dropped and I started crying , especially when I heard that my dad was also killed . To hear they were all gone was most devastating.”
One incident, many casualties
Even though that was about the first main attack in the community in recent times , the people of the community had relied on the promise by security agencies and the government that all was well and they should go about their activities.
Thus , in their usual way of starting their day , worshippers had gone for the morning Mass, which usually starts around 5 : 30 am . But, the service had barely begun , as some had settled while others were still making their way into the premises , when the suspected killer herdsmen entered the church and started shooting into the crowd .
In the process , the attackers killed the two Reverend fathers , namely Joseph Gor and Felix Tyolaha , anchoring the programme and many other worshippers , while some others sustained varying degree of injuries , resulting from bullet wounds and the stampede.
If the attackers had stopped there , Geoffrey ’s trauma would have been minimal , as his father was not in church that morning . But as if the number of souls wasted inside the auditorium was not enough , the attackers entered the community and started killing people in sight. They also set properties , including houses, huts , economic trees and farmland on fire .
After that , they then made their way into one of the closest houses to the church , which was Geoffrey ’ s father ’s house , where they started another round of shooting .
He said , “ My dad used to go for that morning Mass, but that day , he didn ’t go. He was at home. Meanwhile, our house is very close to the church . So , when they finished killing some in the church , they entered our house and started shooting .
“On getting to the house , they started killing my brothers that were around the house . Everybody in the area had heard the gunshot when they were shooting in the church , so people were already scampering to safety , but these killers who came in their numbers ran after them and shot at them .
“I learnt my 70 -year – old dad, who was not feeling too well , was carrying one of my nephews and he was running from the house when they also pursued him into the bush and shot at him and the three -year – old baby he was carrying. You know that when a man sees death coming , strength would come from nowhere.
“When they told me where my dad ran to , I mean where they later found his corpse , I started crying , because he ran for his dear life and it was a long distance but they followed him . Remember , it was relatively early and maybe a bit dark , but they followed people and killed them .
“The Bible says ‘Touch not my anointed and do my prophet no harm .’ But these people went to the extent of killing two priests and children of God . Not just that , I learnt that before leaving the church , they took part of the wafer and wine for the Holy Communion that they were to use in the service that morning . They ate some and scattered the rest .”
Determined to inflict maximum pain on the community , the attackers were also said to have invaded a place where a burial ceremony was to hold , close to the church and disrupted the event .
He said , “They ran to where they were to do a burial, and of course when the people heard that they were coming , everybody ran away . I heard they hit the casket and the corpse fell on the floor . Three teachers were also killed .
“These people succeeded in killing young , harmless people whose major occupation was farming . Honestly, I ’m pained and sometimes it still feels like a dream . One of my cousins left about four children and a young wife while the other one had about six children. These are the only people I have always known as family.”
From his words, which came out with so much effort , one could feel his pain and agony , but not without one thing to be thankful for .
He said his mother could also have suffered the same fate by the gun -wielding herdsmen , but she went to the stream to fetch water when the attackers invaded the house .