The deteriorating insecurity across the country has forced Governments and citizens to constitute alternative groups in order to secure their spaces. In Benue, ‘ethnic armies’ are emerging.
The inadequate manpower facing the established security operatives – military, police, civil defence among others – coupled with the overwhelming insecurity appeared in recent times to be further creating a gap which local militias are now harnessing in the name of defending their own territories.
In Benue State, the many faces of insecurity occasioned by herders-farmers conflicts, communal crisis and other criminal activities have heightened the quest for organised youth groupings – local armies – to wade off attacks from perceived enemies.
Sadly, some of these youth groups which often began with genuine intentions are compromised. These groups are gradually emerging as ragtag armies and pose fresh challenges everywhere they are found in operations. To worsen matters, they are hired during communal clash to fight on the side of their benefactors.
Some of these youth groups which often began with genuine intentions are compromised
For instance, there are loyalists of the late Benue criminal kingpin, “Gana Boys” who have remained a threat to Sankera -three local government areas of Ukum, Kastina-Ala and Logo. They have been fingered in multiple criminal cases. Also, there are local militias in nearly all the axis of the state with some of them nicknamed, the ‘Agatu Boys,’ ‘Kwande Boys’, ‘Naka Boys’ and ‘Bonta Boys’ who mainly existed to fight intruders of their communities.
Precisely, a week ago, the ‘Bonta Boys’ of Konshisha local government area of the state allegedly killed 11 soldiers on peacekeeping mission to their vicinity, a development which led to the military bombardment of the rural surrounding.
Irked by the brutal killings of their colleagues, the troops of Operation Whirl Stroke (OPWS) and other Army detachment invaded the Tiv speaking Bonta community and its environs on revenge mission.
The slain soldiers were said to be on a routine patrol in parts of Konshisha and Oju local government areas when they came under severe armed bandits attack at about 5pm on Monday, April 5, 2021.
The armed bandits, with a gang name ‘Bonta Boys’ were said to have attacked the soldiers for coming to destroy the illegal road blocks they had mounted.
Bonta and Ukpute-Ainu, an Igede village in Oju LGA, had endured an agelong land dispute which had claimed many lives and destruction of property.
The soldiers met their deaths in the hands of the Bonta boys after they were deployed to quell the fresh bitter rivalry between both communities which broke at the Easter weekend.
The Acting Director Defence Information, Brigadier General, Onyema Nwachukwu, had in a press release explained that trouble started on the eve of the Easter holiday, with reports that fresh fighting had broken out in the conflict area.
Nwachukwu said that, “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 eleven 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 suggests 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. Ten 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.”
A similar incident happened in 2018 when soldiers allegedly razed down a sizeable portion of Naka town in Gwer West LGA of Benue State
It would be recalled that a similar incident, happened in 2018 when soldiers allegedly razed down a sizeable portion of Naka town in Gwer West LGA of Benue State over the killing of their colleague by suspected youths in the area.
The soldiers invaded the Phase 11 area of the town in six Hilux vans and set houses ablaze as residents scampered in different direction.
It was learnt that the youths in the area who recently formed themselves into a neighbourhood watch to defend their vicinity from further suspected herders attack had allegedly mistakenly killed a soldier.
The traditional head of Gwer West, Chief Daniel Abomtse, had told journalists in Makurdi that the incident was highly regretted and that the community leaders had continued to plead with the Army since it occurred.
Abomtse explained that a farmer had gone to the bush within Naka town and saw one army personnel in shorts, adding that the army personnel reportedly pursued the villager while he ran and fell and they had a fisticuff.
“But he eventually escaped from the mistaken army personnel. He ran to the town to raise alarm that a militia of herdsmen had attacked him. A mob just went and killed the mistaken soldier. We later discovered that the deceased was an army personnel attached to the platoon that was stationed here at Naka road.
“Since his killing, we have been pleading with them (soldiers) to have mercy that it was a case of mistaken identity. But they did not listen. I was at the 72 Battalion in Makurdi up till 2am to plead with them and also broker peace,” he said.
We have been pleading with them (soldiers) to have mercy that it was a case of mistaken identity
The monarch also said that the Army insisted that certain names that they mentioned should be brought to their office and that he complied but that they however went ahead to level part of Naka town extending towards Makurdi.
He added, “They also took about two people away alive. So on the whole they are holding the five people they earlier mentioned and the other two. I am also worried because the boy who helped us to bring out the man that fought the mistaken army personnel in the bush was taken by the military but I am begging that they should leave him out because he is of great help to me and the community.”
Abomtse who emphasised that the case was purely of a mistaken identity, disclosed further that his youths some few days back arrested a supposed soldier who was misbehaving in the town and that when they took him to the Army Platoon in Naka and the army here said he was not part of them, they arrested the imposter and took him to Makurdi.
My people do not mean any harm nor would we deliberately kill the people who are helping us maintain law and order
The royal father recalled that during the last attack on Gwer West communities which claimed 24 lives, some of the militant herdsmen who attacked their villages were dressed as if they were army and that was why the people mistook that particular personnel for a militant herdsman.
“So my people do not mean any harm nor would we deliberately kill the people who are helping us maintain law and order. Some of the colleagues of the mistaken soldier were posted to the Platoon four days ago. Maybe he lost his way, nobody knows. It was a clear case of mistaken identity,” Abomtse maintained.
The then State Police Commissioner, Fatai Owoseni, urged the state government to prevail on traditional institutions and people of the state not to resort to self help even in the face of provocation as security agencies were already doing their best to protect the citizenry.
Owoseni blamed the killing of the soldier in Naka on the attempt by the youths in the area to resort to self help while he confirmed the killing of three villagers by insurgents in a separate incident at Agasha village in Guma LGA.
Our correspondent reports that at least four communities of Mbapupuu, Mbapa, Mbachhphon and Enger all in Agagbe district of Gwer West LGA had come under attack of the gunmen early hours of April 4 and 5, 2018 during which 24 people were said to have lost their lives.
The major road linking Makurdi to Naka during the attacks became impassable for both motorists and commuters as some strange fellows with multiple cattle had took over the route, a development which prompted, Governor Samuel Ortom, during the visit to the area to call on the people to defend their land with stones.
The Army in its response by Assistant Director, Army Public Relations of the 707 Special Forces Brigade headquarters in Makurdi, Major Olabisi Ayeni, then stated that they discovered the deceased was missing at about 6:15pm on Wednesday.
Investigations are ongoing to unravel the circumstances that led to the death of the soldier and to also arrest all the culprits involved
“At about 18:15 on 30 April 18, troops of 707 SF Brigade deployed at Naka in Gwer West LGA of Benue State observed the absence of Pte Danlami Gambo from his duty post. The soldier’s rifle was however found at the location. It was gathered that the soldier was last seen receiving a phone call but left in search of network and did not return.
“Troops immediately conducted patrols to search for the missing soldier, during the search at about 1810hrs, troops observed blood stains along a footpath leading to a newly dug grave. Troops immediately dug out the grave and the dead body of the missing soldier was found butchered. The corpse was later exhumed and deposited at the Nigerian Air Force mortuary, Makurdi.
“Preliminary investigation reveals that some locals were involved in the killing of the soldier which has led to the arrest of some suspects by a team dispatched from the unit to the scene of the incident. Investigations are ongoing to unravel the circumstances that led to the death of the soldier and to also arrest all the culprits involved,” Ayeni stated.