By ABEL DANIEL
Questions are trailing the killing of about 60 policemen in Nasarawa State, last week. What led to the deployment of over a hundred mobile policemen in the operation? Was there any fighting going on there? Was that the last option left to arrest anybody or group suspected to be carrying any act of criminality by the police? Where was the intelligence aspect of the police? How many people were they going to arrest before deploying such a large number of armed mobile police with eleven operational vehicles? What is Ombatse group all about? Is it a cult group? Was that the first attempt to arrest such group in Nasarawa?
According to the Nasarawa State Commissioner of Police, Mr. Abayomi Akeremale, who spoke to newsmen on the policemen’s killing, “the large contingent was on a mission to raid a shrine as decided during a state security council meeting because of the frequent attack on churches and mosques by this particular group, who go about forcing people to swear to an oath in the shrine. We went to carry out the operation and to arrest the perpetrators”. He continued: “The police were on operation to raid the shrine and make arrest, particularly the chief priest and other leaders of the group called Ombatse who have been torturing people in churches and mosques, compelling them to take oath of allegiance”.
Sources told Sunday Vanguard that a pastor and some members of one church in Lafia were compelled to take the oath by the cult believed to be behind the killing of the policemen, during a Sunday service recently. A similar thing allegedly happened at a mosque in some parts of Lafia south.
It was learnt that in a village, Arikpa, a bus was used by the cult to transport Eggon people forcefully to Alakyo to take the oath on daily basis. The perpetrators allegedly claimed they were sent by the shrine priest, aka Bablakyo. One of the elders of Eggon said the group threatened to burn their houses if they didn’t cooperate with them, “We are not safe because they have threatened to deal with us. Our houses have been marked to be set ablaze since we are against them”, he lamented. According to him, the cult operates outside Ombatse, because, according to him, “Ombatse does not encourage criminality or killing. This cult of young people is not Ombatse, but the public classifies all as Ombatse”.
The leaders of the Eggon Cultural Development Association (ECDA), Mr. Chris Mamman, said last week: “”The leadership of the association listed some criminals and reported them to the police. “These criminals are going about claiming they are Ombatse but are not because Ombatse does not encourage criminality, neither do they force people to take oath of allegiance”, said the ECDA chairman.
Mamman said a meeting of the sons and daughters of Eggon was scheduled to hold on Thursday, and the agenda was the activities of those going about harassing Eggon people forcing them to swear to oath in religious houses. “The special adviser to the governor on security matters, who is an Eggon man, wrote to the security agents in the state on their agenda to hold a meeting on how to address the criminal acts being carried out by the so-called Ombatse. But then we were shocked to hear that over a hundred mobile armed men were ordered to invade Alakyo village to arrest just one person at about 6pm on Tuesday”.
Ombatse, according to Barrister Alumaga, secretary of the group, is a traditional prayer group for Eggon male sons. Alumaga said it was the tradition even before the arrival of the Europeans who introduced Christianity and Islam. He revealed that the name of their god is Aghili, whom they pray to for healing whenever there is illness, justice whenever there is wickedness or some form of criminality in the land. “We felt it was time to resume our prayers to Aghili because the Eggon nation has been marginalized over a long period of time and criminality has covered the land, and we want justice and fairness. That was how we came about Ombatse; ‘meaning it is time’”.
But Ombatse is banned, according to Governor Tanko Al-makura while briefing the vice-president, Alh, Namadi Sambo, at the Aso Rock Villa on Wednesday, accusing the group of causing most of the crises in Nasarawa in the past one year. He said, “This group has been banned and its members are those causing problems in the state”.
Meanwhile, Al-makura was accused by some ethnic groups in the state of fraternizing with the group in the past. The accusers alleged that the governor identified with Ombatse when he went to Nasarawa Eggon in search of peace to address members of the group after a protest. Reacting to the allegation, a press conference was held by the group, which disclosed it was not a cult or faceless as many have alleged.
The protest that led to the blocking of the highway at Nasarawa Eggon happened when, according to the group’s spokesman, Alumaga, the combined military operation, comprising of soldiers, police and the state security service, invaded a shrine following intelligence that the group had arms stocked there. “That operation lasted over two hours of sporadic shootings, but thank God they found nothing like weapons and nobody was injured until they took to their heels leaving their operational vehicle near the shrine”.
There are several instances when Ombatse had been accused and branded as a criminal group which perpetrated all forms of crimes. However, it was not the first time security officials deployed to maintain peace and security were killed in Nasarawa State. Early this year, four military officers were allegedly murdered by Fulani herdsmen. Sources said the soldiers, deployed to stop the breakdown of law and order in the state were disarmed through the use of charms before they were killed.
The police later recovered the guns of the soldiers allegedly from some Fulani herdsmen in an operation in one of the villages.
The village where about 60 police and SSS officers were murdered, last week, is about 10km from Lafia, the state capital. An eye witness said about 11 operational vehicles of the police were seen fully loaded with mobile police officers heading towards the village called Alakyo at about 6;30 pm on Tuesday. Investigation revealed that when the convoy was noticed, movement from in and out of the village stopped. Nobody went in or came out until Wednesday morning, when news of the murder of the policemen started spreading. The situation was that bad because there is no police network in the place; as soon as you enter the village, you are cut off from the rest of the world.
Many more of the victims were yet to be recovered as police rescue team was still searching for missing persons according to the Nasarawa State police PRO, Michael Ada, who spoke to Sunday Vanguard on phone. No arrests have been made at press time. The CP assured that the perpetrators would be fished out and made to face the full wrath of the law.