By Odimmegwa Johnpeter, Abuja
The Defence Headquarters (DHQ), has blamed the armed bandits for the alleged Benue massacre and destruction, arguing that they used local settlements as a hideout to attacks the military.
The Armed Force of Nigeria further argued that it will be wrong to blame soldiers who are in Konshisha on legitimate duties when some of them were murdered in cold blood.
Acting Director Defence Information, Brigadier General Onyeama Nwachukwu said this in a statement in Abuja. He said that some of the buildings being paraded today were actually burnt during earlier communal clashes between Konshisha and Oju, all of which the sponsors of the mayhem are now blaming on the military.
“The Defence Headquarters wishes to state that soldiers deployed to Konshisha displayed commendable restraints by adhering to the rules of engagement in the face of unprovoked attacks and therefore deserve accolades.
“In addition to the return of all carted away weapons, the local leaders of Konshisha must bring the main actors responsible for the mayhem to security forces to face justice.
“They must also surrender all other weapons in their possession. The military will not tolerate the jungle justice attitude and dastardly acts leading to the gruesome murder of patriotic soldiers on legitimate duty to keep the peace.
“We look forward to working with the Benue State Government in its promise to support security forces in fishing out those fomenting trouble in Konshisha.
“Once again, there is no massacre in Konshisha and the stories making the rounds are fabricated by bandits and their sponsors to smear the military after murdering troops in cold blood,” General Nwachukwu said.
The statement reads in part, “The attention of the Defence Headquarters is drawn to numerous publications in the media and other online blogs reporting massive killing and destruction of houses and other property by the military in Konshisha LGA of Benue State. The Defence Headquarters which has oversight responsibility for Operation WHIRL STROKE deployed to maintain peace in Benue, Nasarawa and Taraba States, has deemed it necessary to refute these spurious allegations and put the records straight.
“There have been incessant cases of communal clashes in recent times between the people of Konshisha and Oju over boundary demarcation. As part of efforts to resolve the crisis, the Benue State Government held series of meetings with stakeholders from both local governments with a view to arriving at an amicable solution to the problem. Appreciable progress has been made and a final date fixed for all stakeholders to meet in the disputed areas to fully demarcate the boundary so that peace could reign. Trouble however started on the eve of the final meeting during the Easter holiday, with reports that fresh fighting has broken out in the area.
“All along, 72 Special Forces Battalion has troops deployed on the Oju side of the boundary and troops of the Battalion were on their way to replenish their colleagues on 5 April 2021, when they were attacked by armed bandits at Bonta in Konshisha. The troops who were under command of a Captain were seized at a checkpoint mounted by the so-called “Bonta Boys” and taken into Konshisha forest where they were all brutally murdered. Not satisfied with killing the soldiers, the bandits proceeded to burn all the eleven soldiers and their officer beyond recognition while their weapons and ammunition were carted away. Military reinforcements were dispatched to Bonta the following morning. Unfortunately, the reinforcement also came under attack from close to 500 armed youths who by this time had fully occupied Bonta. The sheer number of youths involved in the attacks suggest that the armed bandits cannot be from Bonta alone, but were joined by bandits from other parts of Konshisha LGA. The military repelled the attack after more than 4 hours of intense fighting during which military helicopter provided close air support to ground troops. Ten armed bandits were killed during the fight with the rifle of one of the Killed in action soldiers recovered from the bandits who fell casualty during the exchange of fire”.
The statement added that, “The Defence Headquarters wish to put it on record that apart from this initial 10 bandits, there are no other civilian casualties recorded in any part of Konshisha till date. We, therefore, challenge anybody from Konshisha to present to the public the 200, 70 or 30 dead bodies of innocent persons, male, female or children killed by troops in Konshisha. There was never a massacre as being touted by some mischief makers”.
Defence Spokesperson said that the remnants of the armed bandits that escaped from Bonta withdrew into neighbouring villages where they kept on attacking troops as they continued with the search operation through Bonta into other parts of Konshisha.
“Knowing the implications of killing troops in cold blood, most of the villagers fled their homes which were then occupied by armed bandits who kept firing at troops from the settlements as they advanced into Konshisha.
“Troops repelled the attacks and destroyed the houses and other buildings which the criminals used as a hideout for the attacks.
“The use of abandoned settlements by armed bandits to attack troops is popular with insurgents.
“The aim is to draw military fire into the dwellings and then turn round to blame soldiers for the destruction.
“This is common guerilla tactics armed bandit designed to whip up public sentiment against security forces and this is what played out in Konshisha.
“This accounts for some of the burnt houses being reported in the press. Some of the phones of the dead soldiers were also tracked to some of the settlements,” the statement concluded.