Wednesday, 24 January 2018

Weeks After Benue Attacks, Villages Not Accessible To Residents

Despite claims by the Nigerian police that normalcy has returned, and residents can go back to Benue communities recently attacked by herdsmen, the affected villages in Logo Local Government Area are still unsafe for both villagers and security agents, PREMIUM TIMES can report today.

Armed herdsmen attacked seven villages in the local government area on January 1 and 2, leaving scores dead and many more injured.

Guma local government areas was also attacked. The state government conducted mass burial for 72 victims on January 12, although residents say more than 100 people were killed.

Following widespread outrage, including allegations by Governor Samuel Ortom that the federal government knew the killers, President Muhammadu Buhari ordered a whole-scale security measure to address the situation.

The seven villages that recorded losses include Tse Ukange, Tsukwa, Tse Awashuwa, Tse Agboko, Tse Azege, Anyibe and Tswarev/Ukemberagya — all in Tombo Ward.
Inspector-General Ibrahim Idris assured residents that special forces had been deployed and normalcy had returned when he toured some of the affected communities on January 13.

But a PREMIUM TIMES visit this week to the affected communities revealed that most of the villages remain unsafe for civilians.
Of the seven villages, only Tsukwa was accessible as of Sunday because it is less two kilometres from the outpost of a police special forces unit.

The special forces deployed to secure Logo LGA are also operating under intense anxiety and caution of the killer herdsmen.

“We’re not very sure of our own safety in some of the flashpoint villages,” said one member of the special forces team stationed in Anyiim. “The villages between here and Taraba State are not secure and that’s why we can’t guarantee security for the villagers.”

“Whenever we’re patrolling, we avoid most of the villages that were attacked, and there’s no need for you to ask me why,” another officer said.
Several dozens of special forces operatives are stationed in Anyiim. The town also holds some 1,035 displaced victims of the January 1 attacks at a camp run by the state government.

The first armoured personnel carrier arrived here on Sunday from Abuja. Its left window appeared to have been hit by bullets many times, indicating that it had been well-used in the past elsewhere.
PREMIUM TIMES’ attempts to visit the villages between Sunday and Monday were rendered impossible by the police.
Thousands that were displaced since January 1 have not been able to return to their villages.

A police officer in Anyiim Division under whose supervision some of the villages fall, told PREMIUM TIMES he has only three policemen with him.
“We’re only two here and the remaining two are not on duty. We’re four in total,” he said.

Similarly, Suleiman Zubeiru, the Area Commander at Katsina-Ala, and Benue police commissioner, Fatai Owoseni, both declined to guarantee the security of civilians going into the affected villages.
“The thing is that the AC and commissioner know that the places are not secure and they don’t want to be the one to give permission for anyone to go there,” a senior police chief told PREMIUM TIMES, preferring not to be named.

Both Inspector-General Ibrahim Idris and Joshak Habila, the police Deputy Inspector-General in charge of operations, did not respond to PREMIUM TIMES requests seeking their comments about the failure of police to secure the villages three weeks after the attacks.
Mr. Idris was asked to relocate to the North-Central region following attacks in Benue, Nasarawa and Taraba states which had left hundreds killed in recent weeks.
But some Benue activists are scolding the IG for not staying in Benue, which they described as the epicentre of the crisis.
“The president ordered the IG to move here shortly after the attacks, but he only spent two days here and went to Nasarawa to be enjoying himself with his … brothers there,” said David Ogbole, an activist and founder of the Movement against Fulani Occupation.

“If the IG is running and his special forces are also running from the attackers, then what is the hope of ordinary villagers?” Mr. Ogbole queried. “They’re only fooling themselves, not the Benue people.”
Police spokesperson, Jimoh Moshood, did not respond to PREMIUM TIMES enquiries about why Mr. Idris preferred Nasarawa over Benue.

Last week, the police told PREMIUM TIMES they were not yet ready to go after the killer herdsmen whom villagers said were responsible for the attacks.
Tahav Agerzua, a media adviser to Mr. Ortom, told PREMIUM TIMES he was not surprised that the police were not telling the truth about the real situation of the affected areas.

“It seems like the federal government has taken a side on this issue,” Mr. Agerzua said. “The police and soldiers do not have the command to go to the flashpoints.”
“This is going to be a long-drawn battle. The Fulani have said there would be more bloodshed, that is why the governor alerted the presidency and all the security chiefs since June last year, yet nothing was done,” Mr. Agerzua added.

Two of the special forces members told PREMIUM TIMES that Tse Awashuwa was amongst the most dangerous local government areas to access.
“The village has forests around it, so you can describe it as the Sambisa Forest of Benue State,” an officer said.
It was in Tse Awashuwa that three policemen were killed in an ambush on January 8.

Four heavily-built men who tried to access the village on Sunday told PREMIUM TIMES they could only spend a few hours there before returning to the internally-displaced persons camp in Anyiim.
“We were there from 11:00 a.m. until 3:00 p.m.,” they said.

Moses Yamu, the police spokesperson in Benue, told PREMIUM TIMES the areas are secure, but added that the fears the villagers could be understood.
“The areas are secure but I understand their fear.”

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