A national human rights Non-Governmental Organisation (NGO), Lawyers Alert, has threatened to drag the federal government and security agencies particularly the Nigerian army and the Nigerian prison service to court if it fails to immediately resettle, rehabilitate and compensate Benue communities that have been hit by waves of killings orchestrated by suspected Fulani herdsmen.
This hint was dropped in Abuja by the national president of the organisation, Barr. Rommy Mom during a press conference which featured direct victims of the attacks in Turan district of Kwande local government area of Benue state who approached the NGO for help.
Mom emphasised that in March 2017, the local government areas of Buruku and Ukum in Benue state were attacked by hundreds of well-armed and well-coordinated gunmen arriving in vehicles and motor cycles with each attack taking the people of the area and security agents totally unawares and scores of lives, mostly those of women and children were needlessly lost.
He recommended the immediate constitution of a commission of inquiry to investigate the immediate and remote causes of the killings all over Benue state “with a view to identifying the masterminds, bringing the culprits to book, and compensating the victims”.
According to him: “the situation gives Lawyers Alert cause for extreme apprehension as we see parallels with the Borno situation from these spates of attacks on states in Nigeria’s North Central including Nasarawa, Plateau and Benue State. Lawyers Alert makes bold to sound a note of alarm to the federal government that this is a situation that must he tackled with urgency to avoid the escalation that brought about the mayhem that has bedeviled the North East”.
He stressed that the manner and style of shooting at defenseless people in markets, is a Boko Haram modus and certainly killingsNigeria cannot handle a second version of this horror or nightmare in the country, just as he call on the Muhammadu Buhari administration to act fast to stem the situation in its infancy.
“Lawyers Alert, notes particularly the deaths of 2 individuals, also in the month of March, whose relations are here with us. In one instance, a student Master Paul Ayem Ipaven, a JSS 3 Student of Holy Family Catholic Secondary School Jato Aka, Turan, Kwande local government area, aged 17 lost his life from a stray bullet, said to have been fired by the Nigerian Army to disperse community members who had detained a vehicle they believed to be carrying arms.
“This happened in the presence of the Council Sole Administrator, and the DPO of Kwande Division, who both moved the corpse to the NKST Hospital mortuary Jato Aka. The Nigerian Army states the shots were the result of a shootout between them and local vigilantes and the death was likely caused by a bullet fired by the vigilantes. The question begging answers though, is, why was it the Nigerian Army, and not the Police, that was called in to rescue a detained vehicle.
“In the second instance, a young prisoner at the Jato-Aka prison farm, Mr. Agidi Tersoo Tor, aged about 25 years old, with just a few months left on his sentence, had gone to the stream to fetch water, escorted by prison wardens when he was also felled by a bullet. The Nigerian Prisons/federal government reacted by moving all prisoners out of Jato-Aka Prison Farm to Gboko prisons. This action could be interpreted as governments inability to protect prisoners or the lack of a political will to so do. As we speak, the family of the deceased inmate are yet to be formally notified of his demise”, he informed.
While wondering why the security agencies, which ought to have put pre-emptive strategies in place were caught napping as the marauders carry out these acts without challenge pointing out that the chief role of government at all levels is the protection of lives and property of citizens as specified in the 1999 Constitution, chapter 2 section 2b.
According to him, intelligence gathering is a necessity and can easily be achieved with the current advancements in technology hence such matters have evolved from a place of reactive to pro proactive touch insisting that the onus lies on the federal government to urgently upgrade the Nigerian Police to be able to cope with the current challenges of civil unrest.
He commended Governor Samuel Ortom of Benue state for his untiring efforts to return peace to the state. Shortly after assuming office, the arms buy back project reduced the quantity of small arms scattered across the state as many were turned in even as he said much still remains to be done by the governor.
He also called on the federal government to improve intelligence gathering ability as well as synergise the agencies for optimal performance just as he made a strong case for the Benue government to intensify and strengthen peace building committees across troubled spots to include herdsmen, farmers and other critical stakeholders.
On the part of the state house of assembly, he enjoined the members to carefully go through the grazing bill before them and eliminate the contentious areas with a view to enacting a law that would stand the taste of time and serve the interests of the people.
Speaking particularly on the deaths of Master Ipaven Paul Ayem who was allegedly killed by military bullet and Mr. Agidi Tersoo Tor who was brutally murdered by Fulani herdsmen in a Nigeria Prison detention facility, he said all the army and prison authority must be held responsible for the two deaths and actually made to account for them.
Another dimension was introduced into the discussion when the Secretary General of a pan-Tiv group known as Vanguard Against Tiv Massacre (VATIM) Arch. Aondover Lawrence Utsaha stated that the security agencies architecture in the country which according to his explanation have been made to tilt towards the Hausa/Fulani affiliation have compounded the problem Benue state is facing.
Utsaha who commended the effort by the lawyers to bring the issue to front-burner and source for succour for the victims and affected communities further regretted the mindless massacre and devastation of communities by the Fulani herdsmen maintaining that, justice must be done to all those who are affected in the crisis.
Also speaking, the leader of the delegation, Mr. Apiah Ephraim Ahangba noted with bitterness how the security agencies posted to the area have neglected their first line duty and stepped into aiding and abetting the killings of the local people.
Rolling out specific data of the level of damage across the five council wards in Turan district, Apiah said, only one is not directly affected by the Fulani herdsmen invasion.
In his contribution, Godwin Gbaior Tule, another member of the delegation who lost a brother in the carnage called for the federal government to compensate the affected communities as well as make provision for resettlement of the displaced persons in addition to bringing livelihood projects to the area.
Meanwhile, the father of late Ipaven, Elder Daniel Akuanyi, called on the government to fish out the perpetrators of the dastardly act and bring them to justice.
He expressed shock that in spite of the damages the area has suffered in terms of human and material, none of the invaders have been arrested, prosecuted and brought to justice as expected.
Lawyers Alert says, it is a national human rights NGO which caters for the vulnerable and seeks a democratic Nigeria where the weakest are treated with respect and dignity of the human person. Lawyers Alert is headquartered in Makurdi Benue state, with a field office in Abuja, and members across the country.