In the past week, the incessant Konshisha-Oju, crisis has snowballed into a major crisis leading to the loss of lives and property estimated at billions of naira. The story line is not very straightforward and depends on whom you are listening to. Some details are however indisputable. The Tiv village of Bonta on the Oju- Tiv border was recently razed down by youths from Opute. This is the first time in a long while something like this would happen. Though no life was lost, Diiv youths from Konshisha also mobilized to retaliate. Before they could retaliate, the Nigerian Army according to military accounts of the crisis, sent a Captain AT Adedayo in company of four soldiers with logistics to military personnel who were already on the ground in Oju. It is alleged that the Captain and ‘his soldiers’ were not in a military vehicle. Bandits ambushed Captain AT Adedayo and ‘his soldiers’ on the Konshisha side. The bandits are alleged to have numbered in excess of 150. They are also alleged to have been heavily armed. The soldiers in Oju, became anxious when Captain Adedayo did not show up at their end on time and decided to scout for the Captain. They were unfortunately caught in the ambush. The military claims that the Konshisha side wasted Captain Adedayo and his four soldiers including the seven who came out from Oju to scout for him on the Konshisha side.
While we condemn the burning of Bonta and banditry leading to the ambush and alleged killing of these soldiers, there is also something fundamentally unsettling about the involvement of the military here. Within a short time of the alleged killing, helicopter gunships were deployed in strafing runs especially against Mbatser-Mbagusa Council ward of Shangev-Tiev. Whole settlements and villages have been burnt and razed to the ground in the ward leading to deaths, destruction and internal displacement of people all of whom are innocent. The deployment of helicopter gunships in strafing runs against innocent civilian targets including homesteads, medical facilities, schools, markets and food stores is institutional banditry at its worst.
The military as an institution exists to defend the citizens against external aggression. As an institution, the military is supposed to be insulated from civil conflicts but when it becomes necessary for them to be involved, they are supposed to observe very strict protocols to guide against impunity, abuse and illegality. In this particular case, we are at a loss as to how the military were caught so cheaply in the crisis and how they chose to respond the way they have responded. Why did they choose to set up base camp on the Oju side and still could not restrain the Opute youths from crossing over to the Konshisha side to burn Bonta? Who in the military hierarchy authorized the use of helicopter gunships on strafing runs against the rural inhabitants in Konshisha when strafing runs are indiscriminate and even discouraged in war times? Is this not the first time soldiers have lost their lives in encounters with bandits in Nigeria? Boko Haram continues to kill soldiers at will and with impunity in the North East yet we do not see this type of response against them and the innocent people of the North East. On January 18th, 2021 about 13 soldiers including a Captain were ambushed and killed in Nasarawa State. No gunships went after the civilian villages where the killings took place. No helicopter gunships were deployed in strafing runs.
In Konshisha, after the strafing runs, the military has forcefully commandeered and continues to desecrate the St. Lucy’s Catholic Church Awajir as a base from where they are going from house to house burning and demolishing homesteads. Several settlements including Tse-Jembi, TseAnyom, Gbinde, Aku, Agidi, Gungul, Adoka, Guleyar and Shiliki have been destroyed. 70 or so people have been reportedly killed by the military here and hundreds have been displaced. Others are missing.
To what extent can a responsible nation or state support a military that is so lawless and bent on impunity involving scorched-earth strategies against innocent citizens it has sworn to defend. If the military had thought of getting community leaders and traditional rulers to help them fish out the criminals responsible for these illegalities, why would they burn down the palace of Chief Unaha Koko of Iwarnyam who is not only the oldest Chief in Tiv land but one whose jurisdiction is outside the crisis area? Does the Nigerian military have no respect for the traditional institution? What is Unaha Koko’s offence and which law gives the military powers to burn down his palace even if he had committed an offence? Should Benue State and the Nigerian nation accept this kind of impunity nay, criminality from the Nigerian military? Have we thought through the very high cost we shall pay if we allow this type of military impunity to continue?
In a statement on 8th April 2021 by Brigadier General Mohammed Yerima who doubles as Director Army Public Relations, the public was enjoined to support efforts at apprehending those responsible for these alleged killings. The military from General Yerima’s statement claims it is committed to peace in Benue state and has been tirelessly working to safeguard law abiding citizens to ensure they go about their legitimate business without the fear of criminal elements. General Yerima’s statement is contradictory when analyzed against what has happened here. How can you be seeing to be safeguarding citizens whose homesteads, schools, clinics, markets and property are targets of helicopter gunship strafing runs? How can you go about burning and destroying homes of law abiding and unarmed civilians and still argue that you are concerned with ensuring that they go about their legitimate businesses? What has become of our country and where exactly are we heading?
What the military has done in Konshisha is illegal and criminal. To have moved to Ullam in Gwer East even when Ullam is not involved in the crisis means they want to intentionally rope even those who are not involved in the crisis to suffer military impunity. Can a professionally run military indulge in this type of impunity in the 21st century?
Why would the military not ask for an investigation before they embark on responding on a matter like this? Are they not sure of the rule of law? If they thought it was necessary to engage bandits directly here, why not search and engage them directly? Why would innocent communities, unarmed and defenseless be made to pay for the criminality of a few?
If by the time the criminals responsible for this condemnable action are apprehended, what becomes of the 70 or so innocent people the soldiers have killed here? What becomes of the destruction of whole settlements that is the result of direct military action? What becomes of the desecration of the St. Lucy’s Catholic Church and the burning of the Palace of Chief Unaha Koko?
We are aware of other issues raised on the matter on the illegality of military action here undermining international law and conventions. We remember that the military is just showing its true colors when they are dealing with the Tiv people and other less favoured nationalities in the country. We remember Udi in Bayelsa and Zaki Biam, Gbeji and Vaase where the Nigerian military cowardly executed hundreds of unarmed civilians as a retaliatory action when they allegedly lost their men in action.
This impunity cannot continue. The military must be investigated on this matter, to know who sent them, their instructions and why they were in ordinary Hilux vehicles that were not properly marked. Incessant flash points of crisis across the country involving the military must have taught us lessons. No one knows the protocols of engagement. Half of the time, there are disputes as to whether those involved are real military personnel or mercenaries who are disguised as military personnel.
The way to go is to get at the root of the matter through proper investigation and lay the issues to rest as quickly and transparently as possible. The end of this crisis should interest all of us and the way the military is going, they may be merely interested in finding excuses to deal with the Tiv.