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Benue communal crisis: Uproar as troops commandeer church as operation base

Benue communal crisis: Uproar as troops commandeer church as operation base

By Uja Emmanuel, Makurdi

The Tiv Professionals Group (TPG) on Saturday accused soldiers attached to Operation Whirl Stroke of commandeering the St. Lucy Catholic Church, Awajir, in Benue State for use as an operational base.

The troops are currently deployed in the area following the recent killing of 11 soldiers, including an Army Captain by youths, and to quell the communal crisis between the Tiv  of Konshisha Local Government Area and their Igede neighbours in Oju Local Government Area.

Leader of the TPG, Professor Zacharys Gundu, told reporters in Makurdi that there was no basis for the soldiers to ‘desecrate’ the church.

Gundu also asked the federal government to immediately constitute a judicial commission of inquiry into the communal crisis.

The group condemned what it called the invasion of Shangev Tiev communities by heavily armed soldiers and the use of military gunship in strafing and killings of Tiv people in Shangev Tiev.

It demanded compensation for loss of lives and property in the crisis and told the military authorities to immediately cease hostilities on the unarmed communities of Konshisha and Gwer East Local Government Areas.

“Why take over a Catholic church and conduct Islamic prayers therein while denying members of the congregation from worshipping in their local church,” Gundu asked.

He added: “For the military to go as far as destroying houses in Gwer East Local Government Area, which has nothing to do with the crisis and its about 100 Km from the crisis zone, means there is a deliberate agenda to destroy Tiv settlements.”

He said the Commander of Operation Whirl Stroke, Major – General Adeyemi Yekini should be removed.

Contacted for his reaction, General Adeyemi Yekini said he was “not bothered by the group’s call for my removal.”

“Maybe they are the sponsors of the hoodlums who killed our 12 soldiers,” he said.

The Nation, on a visit to Awajir on Saturday, saw 10 Hilux vehicles belonging to the army, but the soldiers molested no one.

Awajir – hometown of the second civilian governor of Benue State, late Reverend Father Moses Adasu, looked deserted.

Many locales, who lost their houses to the destruction, were seen walking long distances to look for shelter.

Among them were women carrying babies.

Some of them said their houses were burnt after a military gunship flew over, raining bullets on the villages.

Fifty-three year Uganda Ugo said he walked three miles away from Agidi after it was razed. With him were his wife and two children.

“I don’t know where I am running to but just for my safety and that of my family,” he said.

No fewer than 10 settlements in Shangevtiev have been reduced to rumbles.

They include Bonta Tse Jembe ,Tse Anyom ,Gbinde ,Aku, Gungul, Asoka, Guleya, and Shiliki.

One of the burnt houses is the palace of the traditional ruler of Shangevtiev.

Four houses in Ulam village in Gwer East Local Government which has nothing to do with the crisis were burnt  while 11 youths from the village were allegedly arrested .

The Defence Headquarters denied on Friday that soldiers were harassing innocent people.

It said its men only killed 10 bandits  who engaged them in a fight while the soldiers were searching for the corpses of their fallen colleagues and their stolen arms.

“There was never a massacre as being touted by some mischief makers,” the DHQ said.

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.

How 11 soldiers were killed

The Nation gathered that the 11 soldiers who were first sent to quell the communal crisis had run into a road block mounted by Bonta youths in Shangev Tiev land.

The soldiers were in an unmarked vehicle.

The youths reportedly asked the soldiers to disembark.

The Captain who led the soldiers got down and the Bonta youths asked him and the soldiers to follow them to see their (youths) leader.

Sources said that on the way the soldiers were unexpectedly  surrounded by more youths who overpowered  the soldiers and killed 11 of them  and took their arms.

One soldier however escaped and went to report the incident to the higher authorities.

The military high command was said to be furious after hearing the story that “armed and well trained soldiers followed hoodlums who mounted road blocks.”


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