Some civil society organisations in Benue State, have faulted the claim that over 70 persons were killed in Konshisha Local Government Area of the state by men of the Nigerian Army who are currently in operation in the area to recover arms carted away by some criminal elements who killed 11 of its personnel on lawful duty, last week.
The coalition of CSOs, operating under the aegis of Coalition Of Benue State Civil Society for Peace and Good Governance, while exonerating the Nigerian Army of any wrongdoings in the area, insisted that contrary to claims by a faceless group, the Army had carried out its operation in line with its rules of engagement.
While commending the Army for what it described as its “professional conduct, despite the high level of provocation”, the coalition of civil society groups tasked the Nigerian Army to sustain the ongoing onslaught against the adversaries until total peace and sanity is restored in the troubled area and the missing arms recovered.
The group in a statement on Sunday by its National Chairman, Dr. Elijah Shima, and National Secretary, Rev Tergnu Nyamvia, said its position came after it carried out independent on-the-spot and fact-finding assessment of the troubled area.
The coalition described the group, Shangev-Tiv Assembly Club House,Gungul, which it noted, had raised an alarm of killings of 70 locals by men of the Nigerian Army in Konshisha, as not only faceless but also a mouthpiece of the late militia leader, Gana’s group.
“As civil society organizations working for peace in Benue State and other parts of the North Central states, we are worried about the reports circulating on social media and other media platforms by one group under the name-Shangev-Tiv Assembly (STA) Club House, Gungula group which claimed to be in Konshisha Local Government Area of the state,” it said.
According to it, “This faceless and unpatriotic group made several spurious and wide allegations of human rights violations against the Nigerian Army. They went further to claim that 70 people were killed by the Nigerian Military in the local government.”
“While we must state clearly that we are not the mouthpiece of the Nigerian Military or its spokespersons but civil society organizations working for the common good of the society, we owe the public the duty to always speak the truth, “it said.
The coalition, in the statement, said: “In line with our mandate, we proceeded to the local government area and visited most of the affected villages to ascertain the veracity of this information before making our findings to the general public. ”
“Surprisingly, after several inquiries from locals and elites in the affected local government, we discovered that there is no group with such a name not only in the local government but also the entire Benue State, “it said.
It added: “We strongly suspect that the so-called Shangev-Tiv Assembly (STA) Club House, Gungul, is the media department of the late Gana-led militia group, whose foot soldiers killed 11 of our gallant troops in cold blood.
“We subject them to the strictest prove of their allegations with pictures, names, sex, village, and age of the 70 people they claimed were killed by the troops.
“We are in a sovereign nation and the Nigerian Army is our first line of defence and no group of people should kill 11 of our soldiers in such a barbaric manner and get away with it, it’s unacceptable, and we completely support the ongoing military Operation aimed at defeating the bandits and their sponsors in Benue State.”
It said, “We can also confirm that the few militiamen who engaged the soldiers in a shootout during the military operation were neutralized accordingly.”
“Having gone round the troubled area to ascertain things for ourselves, we, an independent, non-profit making organisation can authoritatively state that apart from bad elements who were killed during engagement with the troops, no innocent person was killed.
“We observed that the operation was only targeted at the criminal elements causing pains to the people of the area in particular and the entire Tiv nation in general.
“During our assessment, we observed an active collaboration of some elites who funded and supported these criminals elements to perpetuate their criminal acts to the detriment of the good people of Benue. This must be stopped forthwith.
“We appeal to the Nigerian Army to ruthlessly sustain the onslaught against these criminal elements and their sponsors until the coast for peace is clear. No stone should be left unturned until everyone involved in the killings of our soldiers are brought to their knees,” it tasked the Nigerian Army authorities.
The coalition claimed that “We also observed that most of the houses burnt were set ablaze by the militias themselves or those who harbored some fleeing militias.”
“There is nothing unprofessional about the conduct of the military in Konshisha Local Government. They acted in line with the rules of engagement and should rather be commended, “it insisted, adding:” We cannot continue to pamper criminals because they are our relatives. We must expose all the criminals causing us pains.”
“We wish to commend the patriotic stand of the Executive Governor of Benue State, who has always stood with his people at all times, for coming out openly in defence of the truth, that no 70 people were killed anywhere in the state by the military.
“The governor was bold enough to also described the said group as faceless which is what they truly are.
“As the chief security officer of the state, he gets firsthand information on every situation in his state and we completely stand with him for speaking the truth in defence of peace and security instead of toeing the line of sentiments as being displayed by some selfish individuals,” it said.
According to the group, “The soldiers who were killed also have families like any of us and deserve to live life too.”
“It is, therefore, wrong for some criminals to take their lives for no cause while defending their fatherland,” it noted.
“It is surprising that some faceless groups will rise up to defend the criminal group and its notorious activities.
“We are calling on the entire Konshisha elites to as a matter of urgency, do everything possible to return the missing rifles of the soldiers to the military authority.
“On the other hand, we enjoin the Nigerian Military to sustain the ongoing onslaught against the criminal elements not only in Konshisha area but also in Tiv land in general until the criminals are defeated,” the coalition said.