By Peter Duru, Makurdi
Governor Samuel Ortom of Benue state has confirmed that eight persons have been killed and several houses raised in an ongoing operation by the military to recover its stolen weapons and missing personnel in Shangev-Tiev community, Konshisha Local Government Area, LGA, of the state.
Youths of the community had on Monday ambushed and killed an Army Captain and 10 soldiers who were on routine patrol of Bonta and Ukpute-Ainu communities in Konshisha and Oju LGAs respectively who had been enmeshed in a protracted dispute over the ownership of farmland.
The youths after killing the said military personnel also confiscated their weapons, compelling the military to embark on a search for its missing personnel and weapons in the community.
Reacting to the development, Governor Samuel Ortom who dispelled the rumour that closed to 70 persons had been killed in the community by the military in a reprisal attack regretted the loss of innocent lives in the crisis.
He explained that “the week before Easter the government had agreed that today Friday the boundary committee will move to the area but unfortunately two days after crisis erupted in the area.
“And in the cause of trying to solve the problem, security personnel were sent and unfortunately they were ambushed. I have appealed to the soldiers to exercise some restraint because I immediately invited the Council Chairman, traditional rulers, the stakeholders and gave them marching orders when it was reported to me that some soldiers were missing and their arms were seized from them.
“I ordered that they went back to their communities and ensure that the arms were immediately retrieved. That process was on when this morning the Chairman briefed me that the stakeholders and traditional rulers were working very hard to ensure that by the end of today the arms were recovered.
“As at this afternoon, three of the rifles have been recovered. Which is progress. I have also spoken to the soldiers who gave me assurances that no more destruction will go on in the community.
“They explained that what happened yesterday was as a result of the operation to apprehend some of the bandits and in the process, they were also attacked and they had to defend themselves. I appealed to them to know that innocent people reside in the communities and they should be protected. And they agreed with me. So far I have not heard anything contrary to that.
“But I must let you know of the disturbing and false report I saw that 70 persons were killed and a number of houses destroyed. Yes, I am aware that houses were destroyed and I got that report from the Chairman.
“I have not been there but I intend to go there soon. The Chairman also told me that eight persons died. Two of them were the bandits who exchanged fire with the soldiers.
“So I am taken aback to hear that an unknown group in a press conference claimed that 70 persons were killed that is not to my knowledge and it is not true because I am in touch with the stakeholders and traditional rulers from there and the Chairman who brief me regularly on the development on the ground. We have given them marching orders that the youths have murdered sleep by their action and they must be able to recover all the weapons that were missing.
I want to appeal to our people to reframe from making unguarded statements that are not verifiable. It will not help matters but aggravate the existing problem.
I also want to challenge anyone claiming that over 70 persons were killed to provide the evidence or stop making inflammatory statements that would further aggravate the situation,” the Governor said
Also, the President General of Mzough U Tiv, MUT, worldwide, Chief Iorbee Ihagh who in a statement regretted the murder of the military personnel appealed to the military to reframe any act that would inflict hardship or injury on the innocent members of the community.
“We know that the military has suffered losses and are now in an operation to recover their missing weapons and in the cause of doing that have cursed collateral damage in the community, we still urge them to realize that two wrongs cannot make a right.
“Those behind the heinous murder of the soldiers were criminal elements and our common enemies who did not enjoy the backing of the chiefs and stakeholders. That is why we are appealing for calm and restrain to allow the people to help them fish out these criminals,” he said.