Ayatutu Lawyers Forum, a group of indigenous legal practitionals in Benue, has condemned repeated vengeful raids by Nigerian soldiers on Konshisha and other communities in Benue State.
FIJ had reported how about 15 truckloads of Nigerian soldiers laid siege to Konshisha Local Government Area of Benue, following the killing of two soldiers by bandits.
The soldiers had killed scores of defenceless civilians and displaced hundreds of women and children, in the name of fishing out the killers of their colleagues.
After over one week of continuous attacks on the communities, the indigenous lawyers of the state have, in a statement, urged the federal and state authorities to caution the soldiers and stop them from invoking more mayhem.
The group also raised concerns that the soldiers are building up again to launch fresh attacks on Sunday, a claim corroborated by Koshinsha indigenes who spoke to FIJ.
“It’s true. We hear there is a build up of troops for another attack on Sunday,” one of them said.
“They’re really reinforcing as if we’re in a war with them,” another added.
READ THE FULL STATEMENT HERE:
BENUE STATE SECURITY COUNCIL’S RESOLUTIONS ON THE KILLINGS AND THE NEED FOR THE ARMY TO EXERCISE RESTRAINT
TEXT OF A PRESS STATEMENT BY AYATUTU LAWYERS’ FORUM
1. We first of all, again condemn in strong terms the attack and killing of soldiers who have, as their names suggest, sold- their lives to protect ours. It is a heinous crime that must not be tolerated in any civilized society. We also sympathise with the Army and the families of the slain officer and soldiers.
2. We want to enter a caveat from the onset that this is not an inflammatory statement but borne out of our constitutional duty as ministers in the temple of justice to ensure that the sacred provisions of the Constitution as regards the sanctity of life, the protection of same and corresponding first duty of government to ensure that lives and property are protected are not sacrificed on the altar of political expediency.
3. We must also reiterate that the regime of human rights stands tall and is above any National and State legislation, and must be obeyed by all state and non-state actors at all times as enshrined in International Human Rights Instruments signed and ratified by Nigeria. These include:
(a) The Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (commonly known as the United Nations Convention against Torture (UNCAT), an international human rights treaty ratified by Nigeria on 28/6/2001.
(b) The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) Ratified by Nigeria on 29/7/1993; The ICCPR is part of the International Bill of Human Rights, along with
(c) The International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) ratified by Nigeria on 29/7/1993 and
(d) The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR)
4. Sequel to the killing of soldiers by alleged Militia in Konshisha and the subsequent invasion, occupation and destruction of lives and property, including valuable foodstuff valued at Hundreds of Millions of Naira, The Tiv Professionals Group (TPG) led by Prof. Zacharys Anger Gundu issued a Press Statement in which they called on the soldiers to halt further attacks on the communities and on the Federal Government to constitute a Judicial Commission of Inquiry to investigate the atrocities committed by the military against the innocent civilians affected by the military attack with a view to compensating them.
5. On our part, we similarly issued a widely circulated Press Release condemning the gross human rights violation carried out by the military in the course of revenging the killings of their officer and soldiers that amounted to collective punishment and disproportionate use of force.
6. It has come to our attention that the Benue State Security Council met with the Minister of Defence and the Military High Command over the issue and issued a 10 point Resolution, which to our utter disappointment the issues raised by the Tiv Professionals Group and Ayatutu Lawyers’ Forum were completely ignored by the meeting, thereby tacitly endorsing the action of the military. This is in spite of the fact that Resolutions 3 and 9 recognized the fact that civilian lives were lost and properties of innocent civilians were destroyed by the military.
7. There is a need to ask pointed, poignant and probing questions about this whole operation and whether we are answered or not, the general public must be made to know the situation that our people are in and that they are singled out for selective punishment when it comes to the issue of insecurity.
8. Why is it that when it comes to banditry, the response of the Federal Government and the Military depends on the region of the Country? It is common knowledge that there is banditry in almost every part of the Country and the established pattern of response is as follows:
(a) In the Kaduna-Zamfara-Kano axis where the Fulani bandits hold sway ransacking and burning whole villages, the Army publicly negotiates with the bandits and even pays them not to attack. Known figures like Sheik Gumi act as middlemen and liaison between the military and the bandits for the payment of ransom.
(b) In Borno –Yobe axis, where sufficient funds have been pumped into the military, and in spite of the challenges in the way of acquiring weapons from Developed countries as a result of endemic human rights abuse by the military, some military helicopters, including 4 August AW109 helicopters were acquired between 2019 and 2020 to be used in combating Boko Haram, the Military has largely failed to defeat Boko Haram, and some arrested were later released and integrated back into the society.
(c) In the Ogun-Oyo-Ondo-Osun axis, the military and the Federal Government are treating the Fulani bandits with kid gloves and rather threatening to arrest the locals who are bent on defending the lives of their children, women and the aged, from the bandits who have illegally occupied the forests from where they come out to kidnap, rape, and murder the people and still collect ransom.
(d) When it comes to the Benue – Akwa Ibom –Imo axis, the same military unleashes mayhem on the so called bandits, using the military apparatus specifically acquired to fight Boko Haram and the surrounding communities.
9. The selective treatment of communities where there are bandits does not stop at the above. It extends to attack on the military where there are known casualties on the military side.
(a) In February, 2021 153 Task Force Battalion in Marte Borno State was attacked and dislodged. 7 Soldiers were killed. The Army did not carry any revenge on the civilian population.
(b) Earlier in January, 2021 nine soldiers, including an officer (Captain) of Tiv Origin, Felix Kura, from 177 Guards Battalion, Shittu Alao Barracks Keffi, Nasarawa State were killed by bandits. No reprisal attack was carried out on the civilian communities.
10. This disparity in the treatment of communities where bandits operate must stop henceforth. The Military must not be encouraged to ransack and burn down communities in Tivland with the aim of arresting bandits and recovering arms.
TROOPS BUILD-UP AND IMPENDING FURTHER ATTACKS ON KONSHISHA
11. Whereas the State Security Council asked stakeholders to refrain from making inflammatory statement until the State Government and the Military resolve the issue, we are concerned that the military is continuing to build up troops in the area preparatory to further attack. This must not be allowed to happen.
DESECRATION OF ST. LUCY’S PARISH AWAJIR
12. It is not in doubt that the Military have forcefully taken over and occupied the premises of St. Lucy’s Parish Awajir, which they have converted to an operational base and where Muslim Soldiers offer Muslim prayers 5 times a day. This will never happen in the North without the eruption of a severe religious crises. The Military must be asked to vacate the Church premises and allow the Catholic faithful to worship in freedom without fear.
THE NUMBER OF CASUALTIES
13. We are concerned that earlier in the course of the onslaught against the communities in Konshisha and Gwer East, the Army announced that they killed 10 bandits. During the Security Council Meeting however, the State Government said that 2 bandits and 4 civilians were killed. Even if the 2 bandits admitted by the Government were part of the 10 killed by the Army, it takes the official death toll to 14. The Army and the State must allow independent caregivers like Red Cross International and Doctors Without Borders and other NGO humanitarian Organisations access into the Area to verify the death toll and treat the wounded.
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