Nasarawa State Governor Tanko Al-Makura
•Says moles caused failed operation that claimed 56 security operatives
By Tokunbo Adedoja
Nasarawa State Governor Tanko Al-Makura has given insights into the relatively known cult, Ombatse, which recently killed several security operatives deployed in Alakkio community, saying the activities of the group became known to his government only six months ago.
The cult had on May 7 killed 56 security operatives – 46 policemen and 10 personnel of the State Security Service – who were part of a team sent to arrest the leader of the group.
Speaking in an interview with THISDAY, Al-Makura said the security operation was compromised by moles who divulged information about the operational strategy of the team to the Ombatse cult.
“I don’t want to go too much into that. In fact, one of the reasons that actually brought about the lack of success of the operation was the issue of betrayal and sabotage, because some of the police that went with these people came from the same ethnic group with the people that were supposed to be arrested, and some of the information, tactics and plans were divulged hours before the exercise commenced,” Al-Makura said.
There had also been insinuations that the group, like several armed groups in other parts of the country, may have been tools in the hands of politicians who used them for election purposes and later dumped them, or kept them for future use.
But the governor said the existence of the group came to his knowledge about six months ago, adding that neither him nor his government knew anything about the group until its battle with security operatives late last year.
He said the incident that brought the existence of the group to the knowledge of the state government was the attack on security operatives, who were carrying out their routine duties sometime in November last year, by members of the cult who had converged on a village to perform certain rites.
The governor said: “One day, towards the end of November, they were congregating in alarming numbers at the vicinity of Nassarawa-Eggon Local Government Area, in a village called Allogana. The congregation was so large that it attracted security attention.
“The SSS, with the support of the Army, went there because there had been these skirmishes between the Fulani and farmers in the area. So, any congregation was so sensitive to the security (agencies). They went to find out what was happening, and they discovered more than 2,000 people participating in certain rites. So, the SSS and the Army went to find out who was their public relations officer or the chairman.”
Al-Makura said when the security operatives demanded to see the group’s leaders, the members pounced on them, and “it took the expertise and professional instinct of those security people to quietly and tactfully withdraw, but that was not without missing two of their vehicles that were vandalised and destroyed.”
The governor said members of the group also blocked the highway the following day to protest their altercation with security operatives the previous day.
“So, that was the day I asked them, ‘what is the name of this your organisation that you are complaining?’ They said their thing was Ombatse. I don’t know what Ombatse is, I am not from that tribe. They said that was their grandfathers’ thing,” Al-Makura added.
Explaining further, the governor said: “It was just as if it was an ordinary thing until a week after and when there was a disagreement between three armed robbers, one of whom came from that ethnic group, with two from other ethnic groups. They had an altercation in the distribution of the booty, and in the process, the two injured one of them and the chap had the guts to go and tell his people.
“He was a member of that cult, so when he told them, the same day, they went and descended on the village and killed more than 25 people, destroyed the chief's palace and burnt so many houses.
"The following day, we discovered that it was the Ombatse group, and instantly, my administration, in that same November, proscribed the group and made it an outlaw.”
Al-Makura said investigations later revealed that the name Ombatse meant “our time has come” or “this is our time”, adding, “I do not understand what they mean by this is our time. Our time to do what?”
Describing Ombatse as a cult that had been perpetrating deadly acts of violence against residents of the state, the governor said before the latest killings that brought the group to national consciousness.
“They have attacked seven towns and in five out of those seven towns, they killed, maimed, and destroyed houses, particularly palaces in five of these places.”
The governor noted that the group whose membership, he said, was exclusive to people that were Eggon by blood, had been coercing other Eggon people, who did not subscribe to its beliefs and practices, into participating in its rites.
He even recalled petitions received from the Christian Association of Nigeria and the Jamatu Nasril Islam over the coercion of their members who are Eggon to participate in certain rites by the group.
He said the leader of the group rebuffed all attempts by security agencies to invite him to their offices and the intervention of the Emir of Lafia and the paramount ruler of the Eggon.