Rose Ejembi, Makurdi

The Independent Human Rights and Crime Monitoring Group (IHRMG) has alleged that over 90 people have been silently killed by Fulani herdsmen in Benue State since after the January 11 mass burial of 73 people killed by herdsmen, in spite of the military Exercise Ayem Akpatuma in the middle-belt state.

This claims comes admist the military debunking the allegation, touting the success of the armed forces since the commencement of the exercise in the state.

Team leader of the group Solomon Adodo, who made the call while addressing newsmen in Makurdi on Wednesday, stated that after monitoring the Exercise Ayem Akpatuma in Benue, IHRMG’s preliminary report showed that Fulani herdsmen were still engaged in killings, torching houses, looting and ethnic cleansing across the state.

“The team noticed that killings have continued unabated since the mass burial on the 11th of January, 2018,” the group reports. “

From our findings, over 90 people have silently been killed in parts of Benue State since January 11.”

Adodo noted that in spite of the launch of the Military Exercise in the state, attacks on communities by the herdsmen have increased between January and March.

He called on the military to reassess its exercise in the state as well as help enforce its anti open grazing law.

According to the group, Exercise Ayem Akpatuma had enhanced the movement of more Fulani herdsmen with thousands of cows into Benue state, stating that herdsmen who had previously left the state for other parts of the country following the enactment of the Open Grazing Prohibition and Ranches Establishment Law are now motivated to invade the state in droves.

Whilst claiming that the handbill the Military circulated at the launch of Exercise Ayem Akpatuma had encouraged the herdsmen, while simultaneously misinforming the general public, the group urged the military to withdraw the flyers and apologise to the Benue people for trust and confidence to be restored.

Reacting to the allegations, Assistant Director, Army Public Relations, 707 Special Forces Brigade, Major Olabisi Ayeni, expressed surprise that the IHRMG would claim to be monitoring the activities of the military exercise in the state without visiting the Exercise headquarters in Gbajiimba.

“I’m surprised that such an organization would monitor the military without visiting the military headquarters in Gbajimba,” he said.

“The Chief of Army Staff does not joke with the rights of the locals during exercises and operations and that is why we have a human rights desk at the Exercise’s headquarters in Gbajimba meant for anyone whose rights have been violated to come and complain.”

While noting that, since the operation started, the military had arrested over 38 Fulani herdsmen and handed them to the police, Ayeni denied that Fulani herdsmen have been flooding the state with their cattle since the commencement of the military exercise as claimed by monitoring group.

While enjoining the IHRMG to ensure it protects the rights of all Nigerians regardless of tribe, he called on the public to immediately inform the military about any herdsmen invasion in any part of state. He gave the following contact numbers: 07084745444, 08106987980, 08104437548, 08066173017, and the Army headquarters emergency number 193 for a quick response.

“It is very unfortunate that the group would say this despite the fact that we left our families behind to keep peace in the state. I call on the group to rather be sure it is protecting the rights of any group irrespective of tribe. The duty of any human rights group is supposed to be to raise alarm on any complaints rather than take sides,” the military spokesman said.