One straight week after embarking on a vengeful raid of Konshinsha Local Government Area of Benue State, following the killing of 12 soldiers by bandits, Nigerian soldiers are still unleashing mayhem and destruction on defenseless civilians “after killing and displacing hundreds of them”.
Benue State is notorious for its numerous security challenges, such as farmer-herder clashes, activities of armed militia groups, kidnapping, armed banditry, communal clashes and boundary disputes.
After studying a classified military document last week, FIJ had reported how the soldiers were taken out by the bandits in batches of five and seven, with their bodies set ablaze and dumped in a forest near Gbinde Village.
A military source had told our reporter how the late soldiers were deceived by the bandits to trust them and leave their rifles without disarming them. The bandits collected their rifles, killed all the soldiers and burnt their bodies. The officers were subsequently laid to rest at the military cemetery close to Wurukwum roundabout in Makurdi, capital of Benue State.
However, hundreds of children are missing while displaced persons are seeking refuge at nearby villages while some are hiding in bushes. Yet hundreds of soldiers are still laying siege to Konshisha and other neighbouring communities.
The defence headquarters (DHQ) of the Nigerian Army had claimed that its troops had killed only bandits and not residents of Konshisha. But accounts from locals and eyewitnesses revealed how soldiers had murdered “dozens of innocent civilians who knew nothing about the killing of the soldiers”.
It was also gathered that the soldiers had cut off access to the community, making it difficult to retrieve the lifeless bodies of some of the murdered residents.
“They’re standing guards over the community, so it’s difficult for anyone to penetrate at the moment, not even journalists. You’re going to be embarrassed and answer a lot of questions,” a local told FIJ.
“They’re still looking for the bandits. I don’t know how the bandits will stay in one place for the army to come and attack them. They’re just passing anger on the people.”
A community journalist who had tried to document the plight of citizens killed by the soldiers was said to have had the beating of his life in the hands of the soldiers. His phones and gadgets were seized by the army officers, in an attempt to cover up their mess.
“They must not see anybody with an android phone around. You cannot even move closer to the community. They’re still there. A journalist that tried it was harassed and embarrassed,” another source said.
MISSING IN CONFLICT
FIJ has obtained videos and pictures of restless parents shedding tears in search of their missing children. Eyewitnesses told our reporter that hundreds of children are nowhere to be found since the army raided the community.
“I was in the kitchen and saw a helicopter shooting; everybody was running. I ran away, leaving my children behind. Up till now, I cannot see my two of my children,” a woman said in one of the videos, shedding tears.
In another short video, a man had narrated how dozens of children on the playing ground had run in a different direction and how they’ve not set eyes on any of them since then. FIJ also received pictures showing stranded children and women displaced by the soldiers lying on the bare floor in terrible conditions.
While the soldiers were raiding the community, a lady known as Yum Tyokighir of Ggbinde settlement had collapsed and died while running for her dear life. Another woman, Saagbe, of Tse Anyom settlement, was said to have died of sporadic gunshots from the soldiers.
Reacting, a concerned citizen of Konshisha wondered how the army would claim that only bandits were killed.
He said: “When they say they’re going after bandits, what is the method of going after them? If they feel those people are members of the community, our community is well-structured. They should use the structure of the community to fish out the culprit, not killing and destroying peoples’ houses.
“They killed people who are even too old to run and they said they are looking for bandits. That’s against the principles of human rights. When soldiers kill anybody now; they call them bandits. There is no single bandit in that community. There is a communal crisis in the community.”
Another member of the community whose house was burnt said the army had unleashed havoc on more than seven towns.
“The fact is, whether they’re looking for bandits or not, they opened fire on defenseless citizens; people ran away and they’re unaccounted for right now,” he said.
“They burnt my house and my farm and destroyed the market square in the name of looking for bandits. The army should be civil, not to invoke jungle justice on citizens.”
Muhammad Yerima, spokesman of the Nigerian Army, was not immediately reachable when contacted for comments. He did not also respond to a message requesting for his reaction on the matter.
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