BY Isaac Aimurie, Tarkaa David, Abuja and Hembadoon Orsar, Makurdi
The military authorities and the Benue State governor, Samuel Ortom, have arrived at conflicting figures of casualties in the on-going military operation in some communities in Konshisha local government area of the state.
While Governor Ortom claimed that eight people including militia members were felled by the bullets of soldiers, the Defence Headquarters said it only dealt with some bandits that ambushed and attacked its personnel while on a mission in the area.
This is even as conflicting figures and reports about the military mission fly about the Internet.
Governor Ortom said eight people were killed during the military operation but appealed to those fuelling the crisis to desist from the act and support the government in its effort to find lasting peace.
But reacting, the Defence Headquarters (DHQ) debunked reports of alleged massacre in the state and called on community leaders to present proof.
Governor Ortom during an interview with newsmen in Makurdi said the appeal to the federal government to prevail on the military to cease fire became necessary to prevent the loss of more innocent lives in the affected communities.
He expressed sympathy with victims of the crisis and assured the people that his administration would ensure that no more lives are lost.
He stated that out of the weapons seized from the military by youths of the area, three had been recovered while he had directed the local government chairman, traditional rulers and other stakeholders to see that the remaining arms are recovered.
He said, “I want to say here that whoever is saying over 70 people lost their lives in the crisis in Konshisha and Oju, should come out with proof. Why should people make inflammatory statement capable of escalating more crises rather than dowsing tension?”
The director, Defence Media, Brig Gen Onyema Nwachukwu, while reacting to various media reports alleging mass killing of innocent Nigerians and destruction of houses by troops at Bonta Community in Konshisha said there had been incessant cases of communal clashes in recent times between the people of Konshisha and Oju over boundary demarcation of which the Benue State Government had held series of meetings with stakeholders from both local governments with a view to arriving at amicable solution to the problem.
He noted that appreciable progress had been made and a final date was fixed for all stakeholders to meet in the disputed areas to fully demarcate the boundary so that peace could reign.
He said trouble, however, started on the eve of the final meeting during Easter holiday with reports that fresh fighting had broken out in the area.
“All along, 72 Special Forces Battalion has troops deployed on the Oju side of the boundary and troops of the battalion were on their way to replenish their colleagues on 5 April 2021, when they were attacked by armed bandits at Bonta in Konshisha.
“The troops who were under command of a Captain were seized at a checkpoint mounted by the so-called “Bonta Boys” and taken into Konshisha forest where they were all brutally murdered. Not satisfied with killing the soldiers, the bandits proceeded to burn all the 11 soldiers and their officer beyond recognition while their weapons and ammunition were carted away.
“Military reinforcements were dispatched to Bonta the following morning. Unfortunately, the reinforcement also came under attack from close to 500 armed youths who by this time had fully occupied Bonta. The sheer number of youths involved in the attacks suggest that the armed bandits cannot be from Bonta alone, but were joined by bandits from other parts of Konshisha LGA.
“The military repelled the attack after more than four hours of intense fighting during which military helicopter provided close air support to ground troops. 20 armed bandits were killed during the fight with the rifle of one of the killed-in-action soldiers recovered from the bandits who fell casualty during the exchange of fire.” he explained.
He further stated that apart from the initial bandits, there were no other civilian casualties recorded in any part of Konshisha till date.
“We therefore challenge anybody from Konshisha to present to the public the 200, 70 or 30 dead bodies of innocent persons, male, female or children killed by troops in Konshisha,” he said.
“There was never a massacre as being touted by some mischief makers. The remnants of the armed bandits that escaped from Bonta withdrew into neighbouring villages where they kept on attacking troops as they continued with the search operation through Bonta into other parts of Konshisha.
“Knowing the implications of killing troops in cold blood, most of the villagers fled their homes which were then occupied by armed bandits who kept firing at troops from the settlements as they advanced into Konshisha. Troops repelled the attacks and destroyed the houses and other buildings which the criminals used as hideout for the attacks.
“The use of abandoned settlements by armed bandits to attack troops is popular with insurgents. The aim is to draw military fire into the dwellings and then turn round to blame soldiers for the destruction. This is common guerrilla tactics armed bandits designed to whip up public sentiment against security forces and this is what played out in Konshisha. This accounts for some of the burnt houses being reported in the press.
“Some of the phones of the dead soldiers were also tracked to some of the settlements. We should therefore blame the armed bandits for the destruction since they used these settlements as hideout for attacks. It will be wrong to blame soldiers who are in Konshisha on legitimate duties when some of them were murdered in cold blood. Some of the buildings being paraded today were actually burnt during earlier communal clashes between Konshisha and Oju, all of which the sponsors of the mayhem are now blaming on the military.
“Finally, the Defence Headquarters wishes to state that soldiers deployed to Konshisha displayed commendable restraints by adhering to the rules of engagement in the face of unprovoked attacks and therefore deserve accolades. In addition to the return of all carted away weapons, the local leaders of Konshisha must bring the main actors responsible for the mayhem to security forces to face justice. They must also surrender all other weapons in their possession. The military will not tolerate the jungle justice attitude and dastardly acts leading to the gruesome murder of patriotic soldiers on legitimate duty to keep the peace. We look forward to working with the Benue State Government in its promise to support security forces in fishing out those fomenting trouble in Konshisha. Once again, there is no massacre in Konshisha and the stories making the rounds are fabricated by bandits and their sponsors to smear the military after murdering troops in cold blood.”
Security of life, property no longer guaranteed – PDP Governors’ Forum
Meanwhile, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) Governors’ Forum has said the security of life and property in Nigeria is no longer guaranteed under the present government as a result of leadership incompetence and mismanagement of the nation’s affairs.
A communique signed by the chairman PDP Governors Forum Chairman, Aminu Waziri Tambuwal, at the end of a closed-door meeting held at Government House Màkurdi, Benue State condemned the alarming drift of Nigeria which the forum said if allowed to continue, would make the country a failed state under the watch of the APC-led government.
The PDP governors also reaffirmed their conviction that an urgent devolution of power and restructuring of the country in a way that brings together various groups and tendencies in the country appears to have become imperative and timely now as Nigeria cannot afford another civil war.
“We the PDP governors are deeply worried that indeed, all our fault lines and differences are being stretched to the limit by a government that clearly lacks the capacity to govern, and this has given rise to ethnic and tribal tensions, religious divisions and various forms of social and political cleavages,” he said.
While agreeing that Nigeria is in dire need of leadership at the federal level to avert the looming disaster, the PDP governors regretted that their hands are tied behind their backs as the entire coercive authority in the country is monopolised by the APC-led government.
The time has come to take advantage of the ongoing Constitution Amendment process to decentralise the security architecture of Nigeria and involve states and local governments.
“We call on the Revenue Mobilisation Allocation and Fiscal Commission to send a new Revenue Allocation Formular that allocates more resources to States and Local Governments to Mr President for National Assembly’s action. It is a scandal that 21 years after the 1999 Constitution came into being, no new Revenue Formula is in place.”
The statement added, “We condemn the double standards that are applied by the APC-led Government to intimidate PDP controlled states. To this end, we call on President Muhammadu Buhari to lift the so called “No flight zone” and other intimidating tactics, imposed on Zamfara State lamenting on why similar measures have not been extended to similar states with security challenges like Kaduna, Borno, Katsina, Yobe and others.”
The PDP governors who also noted with concern the alarming rate of unemployment in the country said Nigeria is also the second highest poverty rate in the world.
The communique however commended the PDP-controlled states governors for their innovative approaches to governance in many fields especially infrastructure, education, health, women and youth initiatives and the timely delivery of developmental projects, across the country.