Over 200 homes destroyed in revenge attacks on Benue community
Dozens of unarmed civilians have been reported dead and over 200 homes destroyed in what appears to be a revenge attack by the Nigerian military on a community in the north-central state of Benue, in an operation reminiscent of the Odi massacre when the military levelled the Odi town, leaving an estimated 2,500 persons dead.
According to VICE World News, the revenge attacks on Benue community follows the death of 11 soldiers in the hands of alleged insurgents on Thursday as “they conducted a routine security patrol of the Konshisha local government area of Benue state”.
“Shortly after the bodies of the officers were discovered, residents of the local Bonta community report that 15 truckloads of Nigerian soldiers descended on the region, while fighter planes belonging to the Nigerian Air Force launched airstrikes on local villages. Seventy civilians are alleged to have been killed and around 200 homes are believed to have been burned down, including the palace of a prominent local leader, Tyoor Unaha Kôkô,” the platform reported.
“I was in my grandmother’s house when I started hearing gunshots,” Vice quoted an unnamed eyewitness.
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“At first I heard a helicopter but I mistook it to be just passing to a different village. My grandmother’s neighbour ran in immediately to inform us about the danger, and we joined the crowd in taking safety. I still have not seen my mother and junior brother since two days now. I hope they are safe,” the eyewitness recounted.
“We have lost over 50 unarmed civilians, more than five of my family members have been killed by the Nigerian Army,” another resident, also speaking on the condition of anonymity, added. “There are no bandits [here], a military general in Makurdi [the capital of Benue state] is using the army to support his tribe in an age-long war over boundary demarcation,” the eyewitness alleged.
Military denies revenge attacks on Benue community
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However, in a statement released on Friday, the Nigerian army while denying any revenge attacks on Benue community, appeared to confirm an ongoing military operation in the region.
The statement read: “The attention of the Defence Headquarters is drawn to numerous publications in the media and other online blogs reporting massive killing and destruction of houses and other property by the military in Konshisha LGA of Benue State. The Defence Headquarters which has oversight responsibility for Operation WHIRL STROKE deployed to maintain peace in Benue, Nasarawa and Taraba States, has deemed it necessary to refute these spurious allegations and put the records straight.
“There have been incessant cases of communal clashes in recent times between the people of Konshisha and Oju over boundary demarcation. As part of efforts to resolve the crisis, the Benue State Government held series of meetings with stakeholders from both local governments with a view to arriving at amicable solution to the problem. Appreciable progress has been made and a final date fixed for all stakeholders to meet in the disputed areas to fully demarcate the boundary so that peace could reign. Trouble however started on the eve of the final meeting during Easter holiday, with reports that fresh fighting has broken out in the area.
“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 4 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.
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“The Defence Headquarters wish to put it on record that apart from this initial 10 bandits, there are no other civilian casualties recorded in any part of Konshisha till date. We, therefore, challenge anybody from Konshisha to present to the public the 200, 70 or 30 dead bodies of innocent persons, male, female or children killed by troops in Konshisha. There was never a massacre as being touted by some mischief-makers.”
The statement added: “While the bodies of the slain troops were evacuated immediately, efforts are ongoing to track down the perpetrators of this heinous crime with a view to bringing them to justice. The COAS [Chief of Army Staff] has therefore directed commanders on the ground to ensure sustained efforts in order to fish out and deal decisively with these bad elements who are threatening the peace in the area.”