By Peter Duru, Makurdi
Last Tuesday no doubt was a black day for troops of Operation Whirl Stroke, OPWS, a military spike operation put in place to check the attacks by the resilient herdsmen in Benue state that have claimed close to 700 lives since the beginning of year which started with the New Year’s Day massacre of over 73 women, children and the elderly in Logo and Guma local government areas of the state.
On that fateful day the troops came under the fire of the well oiled firing power of the marauders in an ambush along Bakin-Korta, Mbadwem Council Ward of Guma local government area of Benue State and Keana in Nasarawa state leaving two dead and five others with serious bullet injuries.
That attack also left the Unit Commander of the troops with serious bullet injury requiring surgery to stabilize his condition while their operational truck was riddled with bullets.
The heinous murder of the soldiers came less than 72 hours after the masacre in Plateau state where over 200 persons were killed by herdsmen in Barkin Ladi and property worth millions of naira destroyed.
Saturday Vanguard gathered that the military personnel ran into the ambush after the marauders had infiltrated the Benue community from a camp at Ruga in Nasarawa state to sabotage a newly constructed bridge at Mbadwem by the Governor Samuel Ortom led administration linking Benue and Nasarawa states.
They were said to have dug trenches around the bridge probably preparatory to an onslaught on surrounding Guma communities. It took the eagle eyed military personnel to uncover and truncate the plot which unfortunately did not go without the price of two lives of members of the troops.
Recounting the scenario to Saturday Vanguard, a resident in the area, name withheld, said the marauders numbering over 1,000 stormed the area and after surveying the community attempted to destroy the bridge but when they could not actualize the mission resorted to digging trenches around the platform.
According to the resident, “they came yesterday numbering close to one thousand and started shooting sporadically in the area and chased our people away after which they burnt several houses in our community.
“They attempted to pull down the newly built bridge linking Benue and Nasarawa state but the soldiers attached to the OPWS heard of it moved in this morning but ran into an ambush of the militants where two of the solders were killed while others sustained injuries.”
Confirming the development, the Guma local government council Chairman, Anthony Shawon in his account said the incident occurred at about 5am.
According to Mr. Sharon said, “the herdsmen came yesterday (Monday) and dug trenches around a new bridge which the Governor Samuel Ortom administration in Benue state built at Mbadwem, Bakin-Korta linking Keana in Nasarawa state.
“I gathered that they came in their numbers and dug the trenches on both sides of the bridge so that the army would not have easy access to the area in the event of an attack on Guma.
“When the soldiers got wind of the development, they mobilized the community to fill up the trenches. The people of the community in my local government went and filled up the trenches. At about 5am today( Tuesday) the soldiers also moved to Keana to find out those who carried dug the trenches and why they did so. After passing a Police check point on their way to Ruga, a Fulani camp, somehow the herdsmen probably heard of their coming and laid ambush for the soldiers.
“In the ensuing shootout two of the soldiers were killed on the spot, a Captain who is the Unit Commander was also shot but he and others have been moved to the hospital in Makurdi for treatment and surgery.
“As we speak all the houses in that area have all been burnt down by the armed herdsmen. They have been coming from that area to attack my people. We learnt that they were planing to repeat what they did in Plateau state in Guma but for the quick response of the soldiers.
“I commend the soldiers for taking a proactive measure to stop them but unfortunately they lost their personnel in the effort, it is regrettable,” Shawon added.
On hearing of the development, Governor Samuel Ortom immediately visited the wounded soldiers at the Air Force hospital in Makurdi to sympathize and commiserate with them.
Ortom who spoke shortly after visiting the victims promised to offset the hospital bills of the soldiers and all thepatients at the hospital.
While commending the military personnel for their bravery and dedication to duty which had helped stem the spate of killings in the state, the governor however lamented that the masterminds of the attacks were known but were being treated as secred cows who were untouchable.
He called for the arrest and prosecution of the leadership of Miyetti Allah who on several occasions had claimed responsibility for the massacre in the state.
Ortom said, “I want to reiterate my call for the arrest and prosecution of the leadership of Miyetti Allah who have on several occasions claimed responsibility for these attacks.
“They cannot continue to walk free on the streets while perpetrating the condemnable acts, killing innocent people at will.”
Speaking earlier the governor said, “as a state government, we appreciate the federal government for sending the Operation Whirl Stroke to put an end to the killings in Benue state. We will give the operation all the needed support to ensure it succeeds.
“But we have said that those herdsmen who are law abiding are free to live in Benue state and do their legitimate businesses. They can apply for land and set up their ranches in line with the provisions of the Benue State Open Grazing Prohibition and Ranches Establishments Law.
“Our adoption of ranching is to the extent of what is in our ranching law and I have repeatedly said that we do not have one single 5,000 hectares of land for the establishment of a single massive ranch but we can avail individuals land to set up personal ranches which remains the panacea for the crisis.”
Speaking on the attack on the soldiers, the chairman of the leaders of the ethnic nationalities that make up the state and President General of Mdzough U Tiv, MUT, Chief Edward Ujege warned that the militant herdsmen had crossed the red line and their leadership should be arrested and made to account for their deeds.
Ujege recalled that it was not the first time security personnel posted to the state to end the crisis were coming under the fire of armed herdsmen.
“Not long ago personnel of the Civil Defence Corps, Mobile Police Personnel and even soldiers were killed in Guma and Logo local government areas by these militant herdsmen.
“I recall that when a military personnel who was mistaken for one of the marauders was mistakenly killed in Naka Gwer West, almost half of the town was burnt down as a consequence for the action of people.
“We expect that those who have come out openly to claim responsibility for the heinous murder of our people and the Plateau state massacre should be arrested and made to face the wrath of the law, anything short of that is certainly unacceptable. That has always been our position,” Chief Ujege said.
In the same vein, the National President of the Benue Youths Forum, BYF, Comrade Terrence Kuanum argued that the arrest of those who have claimed responsibility for the recent killings in the Middle Belt and other parts of the country was a responsibility the Federal government owed Nigerians.
“If some persons have come out to claim responsibility for the killings, we expect that they should be arrested and made to face trial.
“Government cannot continue to claim to be searching for the masterminds of the killing who on their own have come out to claim responsibility. It is only when they are arrested and prosecuted that the victims and the ordinary man in the streets would absolve the powers that be of complicity in these killings,” he added.