RUGA
File: Herdsmen along with their cows 

…Residents beg Buhari not to pull out ‘Operation Whirl Stroke

By Peter Duru, Makurdi

There has been growing anxiety in Benue after news filtered into the state that the Federal Government had concluded plans to wind-down the activities of the joint military spike operation code named “Operation Whirl Stroke, OPWS, which was established to stem the tide of herdsmen killings in the state.

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The news actually sent shivers down the spines of everyone who lived in the state and witnessed or had first hand information of the 2018 New Year’s Day massacres in Logo and Guma Local Government Areas, LGAs, of the state perpetrated by militant armed herdsmen which claimed the lives of 73 innocent farmers, pregnant women and children.

The horrifying killings and sacking of communities in those LGAs and the subsequent attacks in about 16 other LGAs of the state, in the course of that same year by the brutish invaders claimed close to 1,000 lives and till date the account of that cold blooded murder of the innocent Benue indigenes remains a watershed in the history of a people renowned for the prowess in agricultural production.

Regrettably, that crisis left the economy of the state in ruins and the present administration is still battling to pick the bits and piece of what is left of the economy as over 500,000 rural dwellers who eked out their livelihood from farming lost their homes and farmland to the horrendous crisis.

No fewer than 23,000 households fled their ancestral homes, as the crisis raged, in search of safe haven in about 22 official and unofficial Internally Displaced Persons, IDPs, camps scattered across the state.

Benue bled as its hinterland became theaters of war where armed militant herdsmen bared their fangs on innocent children, women and the elderly who bore the brunt of the vicious invaders.

That mindless butchery continued unabated until much outcry and pressure on the federal government to end the bloodbath and quest by the invaders to menacingly take over Benue land.

The strong expression of anger and resentment from Nigerians and the international media prompted the birth of the OPWS a joint military sting operation to end the crisis mid last year.

Unlike an earlier military sting operation code named Exercise Ayem K’Akpatuma which failed to make any meaningful impact in the quest to end the killings, the OPWS came with well laid out plan to halt the gradual slide to anarchy in the state occasioned by the spiraling attacks.

And in no time the state was ushered into a new dawn with the gradual return of peace in the troubled communities.

That joint military operation succeeded in restoring and building the confidence of the people who have severally poured encomium on the operation for restoring some level of normalcy in the besieged villages though pockets of attacks are still being recorded in some of the communities.

Tragically despite the success recorded by the operation a large majority of the over 480,000 Internally Displaced Persons, IDPs, are still held up in the several IDPs camps and host communities scattered across the state owing to the fact that their ancestral homes which were razed and leveled by the invaders are yet to be rebuilt despite assurances by the federal government to release funds for that purpose.

Besides, an overview of the seasons and timings of armed herdsmen attacks on Benue communities clearly indicated that the periods between November and April, at the peak of the dry season are periods the state records heavy inflow of herds of cattle and armed herders who perpetrate all forms of violent crimes in the hinterland of the state.

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It was therefore no surprise when the people expressed outrage over the supposed intention of federal government to wind down the operations of the OPWS at a time they generally believed the presence of the military personnel ought to be felt the more in the nooks and crannies of the state to deter and checkmate any untoward incursions by the seasonal invaders in any community in the state.

Hence, Governor Samuel Ortom was few days ago compelled to express resentment over the supposed plan especially when the IDPs are still trapped in the camps and pockets of attacks are still being recorded in some communities.

The Governor who spoke at a thanksgiving service in honour of a newly ordained priest, Reverend Father Cornelius Anagbe, younger brother of the Bishop, Catholic Diocese of Makurdi, Most Reverend Wilfred Anagbe, in Aondona, Gwer West local government area said he would meet with President Muhammadu Buhari over the matter.

The Governor noted that “though the Operation has brought relative peace in troubled parts of the state, there are still pockets of security threats that need to be fully addressed with time and I hope that the presidency would see reason and heed to our appeal.

“I must also commend the officers and men of OPWS for their selfless service, commitment and professionalism which have yielded results in the fight against insecurity in state,” he added

The Governor expressed the commitment of his administration to sustain support for security agencies operating in the state to enable them succeed.

He also cautioned those rearing livestock in the state against violating the Open Grazing Prohibition and Ranches Establishment Law of the state adding, “the law must be obeyed by all irrespective of where they are coming from because it is no respecter of persons,” he said.

Aside the Governor, the Benue state council of the Nigeria Union of Journalists, NUJ, also added its voice to the call on the Federal Government to rescind any plans to wind down the operations of the OPWS until all displaced persons currently taking refuge in IDPs camps returned to their ancestral homes.

In communiqué issued at the of its Congress in Makurdi signed by drafting committee chairman, Comrade Gilbert Igbogo and Secretary Sunday Iduh, the NUJ commended personnel of the operation for restoring peace to the state.

“We however urge the federal government to jettison the propose withdrawal of the operation from the state until all the IDPs safely return to their ancestral homes,” part of the communique read.

On his part, the National President of Benue Youths Forum, BYF, Comrade Terrence Kuanum said it would be counterproductive for the federal government to pull out the OPWS out of Benue in a period the state usually records cases of attacks on its rural communities.

“It is obviously counterproductive and out of tune with the wishes of the people of the state for the federal government to contemplate the withdrawal of OPWS from Benue state now.

“The timing is completely wrong in the sense that we are getting into the dry season which is a period when armed herdsmen push into Benue and perpetrate violence especially if you recall the 2018 New Year’s day massacre.

“So we appeal to the federal government to rescind that decision and allow the operation to continue because they are doing a good job and should be allowed to consolidate on that since we still have pockets of attacks and some communities are still being occupied by the invaders coupled with the fact that majority of the IDPs still have no homes to return to,” Kuanum added.

On her part, former federal lawmaker and Convener of the Benue Women Forum, BWF, Mrs. Rebecca Apedzan cautioned that any attempt to pull out the OPWS from the state at this time of the year could send a signal to the armed marauders who had over the years invaded the state at the dawn of dry season.

“We all know that attacks on Benue communities by armed herdsmen usually starts within this period of the year until April because this is when they move from all corners of where you can find them to the Benue valley and anything they see on their way is mauled.

“It is therefore wrong for the federal government to chose this time to pull out the military operation from Benue because our defenseless people will be exposed and you know what that means in the advent of an attack anywhere in the state.

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“We urge the federal government to suspend the idea and rather fulfill its promise of releasing funds for the rebuilding of the destroyed communities and resettlement of the thousands of displaced people in the IDPs camps and also provide enough security in the affected communities after which they can start talking of pulling out the operation,” Mrs. Apedzan added.

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