Benue Leaders to FG: Withdrawing troops from Benue, Taraba, Nasarawa invitation to calamity


 

Major stakeholders in Benue state Thursday pleaded with the federal government not to withdraw officers and men of Operation Whirl Stroke (OPWS) from Benue, Nasarawa and Taraba states.

They said doing that would return the states to the past where gunmen, including suspected militia groups and herders visited disaster on the hapless communities.

OPWS was inaugurated May 2018 across the three states at the height of criminal activities by people suspected to be herders and members of various militia groups.

And since taking charge, the OPWS has restored some level of sanity in the affected states, putting the activities of the hoodlums under check.

Prior to the deployment of the military team, about 385 people were killed in Benue state between 2017 and 2018, as documented by the Armed Conflict Location and Event Data (ACLED) project.

And on arrival, the troops carried out a “clearance operation across four fronts of Gwer West, Logo and Guma LGAs of Benue state,” and also in Nasarawa as well as Taraba states.

At different times, the military recovered weapons and ammunitions from the gunmen and also handed some of the suspects to relevant security agencies.

Although, there is yet an official confirmation of the planned withdrawal of the team, some stakeholders, however, called on the federal government never to toy with such a decision to avert calamities.

The fear

But in a statement in Makurdi, Benue state capital, the three main socio-cultural groups in the state namely; Mdzough U Tiv, Ochetoha K’ Idoma and Omi Ny’ Igede, called on the federal government to shelve the decision to withdraw the OPWS team from the state and other neighbouring states.  

The trio also pleaded for the reconstruction and rebuilding of homes destroyed during the past reign of violence. 

Their appeal followed unconfirmed reports that the federal government was withdrawing OPWS from the states where they currently operate.

But the Defence Headquarters has assured that there’s no plan to wind down operations in the concerned states.  

Notwithstanding the assurance, the stakeholders still pleaded with the federal government not to contemplate the idea of withdrawal in whatever form.

In a joint statement by presidents of the socio-cultural groups, Edward Ujege, Amali Adoya Amali and Mr. Ben O Ogbu respectively, they said withdrawing the troops would expose the people to attacks by suspected herders and militia groups. 

The groups said most of the attacks on the farming communities in the state always climaxed between January and May when the search for grazing grass and water become more intense.

While commending the federal government for the deployment of OPWS to the affected states, they praised the gallant officers and men of the operation for living up to expectations. 
The leaders said without the operation, attacks on the states would have been worse.

They said many of the people displaced as a result of the attacks were still wallowing in the IDPs camps across the state.

“We wish to state categorically that absolute peace has not returned to Benue state and we are still very much vulnerable to herdsmen attacks and wanton destruction of lives and property.


“We wish to inform the world that between January and December 2019, there have been over 10 recorded herdsmen attacks.


“Most of these attacks were never reported because it seems the press has gotten tired and unfortunately bored with the continuous aggressions.

“It is however noteworthy to say that even with the presence of Operation Whirl Stroke, pockets of cases of militia herders’ invasion of some parts of the state are still being experienced.


“We further appeal to the federal government to reconstruct and rebuild homes destroyed during herders’ invasion of the state and monitor the return and stay of the displaced persons in their ancestral homes for a considerable period of time before contemplating withdrawal of the military operation provided the hinterlands are certified truly peaceful,” the statement reads in part.

DHQ assures

In an assurance, however,  DHQ acting Director Defence Information, Brigadier-General Onyema Nwachukwu told our correspondent via SMS Thursday  that: “The good people of Benue, Taraba and Nasarawa are urged not to panic as troops are not withdrawing from their deployments.  DHQ is not shutting down Operation Whirl Stroke.”

NAF patrols Abuja, Lagos

Meanwhile, the Nigerian Air Force has conducted aerial patrols of the Abuja-Lokoja Expressway and the Lagos-Sagamu-Ore Expressway to monitor the traffic and security situation during the festive season.

The patrols, which NAF said began Monday, were designed to ensure the “safety and security of commuters along some critical highways in the country.”

NAF Director of Public Relations and Information Air Commodore Ibikunle Daramola said the patrols were being conducted in conjunction with the Federal Road Safety Corps.

 “As part of effort to support other security agencies in ensuring safety and security of commuters during the Yuletide, the NAF has been conducting aerial patrols to monitor traffic and other activities along some critical highways in the country.

 “The patrols, which are being conducted in conjunction with the FRSC, began on December 23, with a NAF EC-135 helicopter conducting surveillance along the Abuja-Lokoja Expressway. On December 24, aerial patrols were also conducted along the Lagos-Sagamu-Ore Expressway alongside personnel of the Lagos State Sector of the FRSC.

“The exercise, which is being conducted in furtherance of the NAF’s constitutional role of providing military aid to civil authority, will also cover other routes to enable Nigerians to embark on their lawful road travels without fear or undue traffic challenges during the Christmas and New Year celebrations,” the statement said.