As Kpaidna and the other four villages in Bosso Local Government Area of Niger State reel from the recent bloody invasion by the Nigerian Army, major characters in the incident have refused to accept responsibility for their actions. Laleye Dipo, in Minna, writes
Claims, counterclaims, and denials have dominated discussions in the aftermath of the recent military invasion of Kpaidna and four other villages in Bosso Local Government Area of Niger State. This is as both the Nigerian Army and the villagers have been counting their losses after the early morning attack on the villages and villagers.
The Nigerian Army claimed that the assault on the villages was legitimate because the villagers had turned their communities to a sort of armoury where sophisticated arms and ammunitions were hidden. But the villagers denied the charge. The army hinged its allegation and subsequent attack on the villagers on intelligence it, allegedly, got regarding the presence of arms in the communities.
The villagers, on their part, said the army was being used by some influential people to carryout genocide in order to appease some tribal jingoists.
According to the spokesmen for the villagers, Alhaji Abubakar M Bosso and Honorable Shehu Barwa Beji, “The police and vigilantes arrested one wounded soldier along the way who confessed that it was a Fulani man who gave them information about Legbe, that the Gbagys were having dangerous weapons in their custody, it was this same Fulani man that led them( soldiers) to Legbe village.”
The senator representing Niger East senatorial district, Senator David Umaru, corroborating the assertion of the spokesmen for the villagers, said the soldiers acted without verifying the claims by the Fulani herdsman. Umaru said, “There was a deliberate attempt at ethnic cleansing in the affected villages and the soldiers allowed themselves to be used to achieve tribal interests for reasons best known to them.”
Side-lining the Police
Many have wondered why the Nigerian Army and the Nigeria Air Force did not involve the police and the chief security officers of the state and the local government area concerned in the invasion. The army claimed it did, but the state government, the Bosso local government area chairman and the state police command have denied being involved in the planning and execution of the operation.
“It was purely a military operation the police was not involved from the beginning,” the Commissioner of Police, Mr. Zubairu Muazu, said through the commands spokesman, DSP Bala Elikana. “We only got involved later when we received distress calls from the villagers that some people dressed in army uniform were attacking them. It was then that we moved in and the people were happy when they saw policemen.”
String of Attacks
The incident at Kpaidna village, which later spread to four other villages, Kopa, Bambe, Lunku and Legbe, was the second attack the people would suffer in a space of one month. Just a month ago, suspected Fulani herdsmen dressed in military and wielding AK47 rifles and other dangerous weapons had invaded the villages in reprisal for an alleged attack on their fellow Fulani men in a community in Paikoro Local Government Area of the state. During the attack, the villagers lost four men, while many houses and vehicles were burnt in addition to the destruction of several hectares of farmlands and some harvested food crops. Not less than 450 Gbagys, mostly women and children, became internally displaced after the attack. They were camped at a primary school far from their homes.
The villagers had vowed never to be so caught napping by Fulani herdsmen in the future. So the arrival of soldiers in the middle of the night was said to have been treated as a revisit of the herdsmen attack. Both the young and the old mobilised to ensure they protected themselves and their communities.
It can still not be fathomed why the casualty figure on both sides was so high. The army confirmed that 11 of their men, one of them a Second Lieutenant who was believed to be the commander of the operation, were killed while two others were declared missing.
The villagers on their part said they lost 14 people to the fracas, “with several others still missing.”
Muazu said at a press conference that seven rifles belonging to some soldiers that took part in the operation were recovered in several locations in the villages.
It was a gory sight, when the army displayed the pictures of the dead soldiers, most of whom had their heads sliced, apparently, with sharp objects like swords and machetes. The army also put on display weapons, allegedly, recovered from the villages. They were mostly locally made guns, bows and arrows, cutlasses and knives, as well as charms.
Reactions to the invasion of these villages and the killings that followed have been divergent. The senator representing the area, Umaru, while condemning the attack, described it as “a senseless and illegal invasion of a peaceful community.”
Umaru said, “The military has not given any reason for this crude invasion and brutality of my people. However, I am of the belief that the claim that the villagers had piled up arms in their homes upon which the armed soldiers hinged a seal off and search operation in the village is not tenable and totally unacceptable.
“For the avoidance of doubt, I would like to inform the public that this community was only about a month ago attacked by alleged Fulani herders during which many innocent people were killed and over 500 others displaced. Many of the victims of the heinous attack are still living in refugee camps in Minna and the military authorities in Niger State, I believe, are aware of this. The trauma and the palpable fears that the said attack had instilled and inflicted in the community is still fresh in their minds.”
According to the senator, instead of the military to provide adequate protection to the helpless villagers, it has taken upon itself the onus of inflicting more pains on them in an unnecessary operation.
But the General Officer commanding 1 Division of the Nigerian Army, Major General Adeniyi Oyebade, reacting to the incident, said the army would continue to carry out its duty of protecting the territorial integrity of the country. He said the public should disregard the claims in some quarters that those arrested “are not bandits who hid arms and dangerous weapons in their villages.”
Oyebade disclosed that 50 suspects were arrested in connection with the incident while dangerous weapons were also recovered from the villages.
However, the elders of the communities said the sophisticated weapons recovered were not from the villages invaded. They said, “As for the recovered items, especially the sophisticated rifles, we want to state categorically that the Gbagyi peasants for centuries have stuck to their age old agricultural practices. They know next to nothing about the acquisition of sophisticated weapons. It has never been in their character.”
The Peoples Democratic Party has condemned the invasion of Kpaidna and the other villages. PDP described the action of the soldiers, who carried out the assault, as not only barbaric but a violation of the fundamental human rights of the villagers. In a statement by its Niger State chairman, Mr. Tanko Beji, the party said the claim by the soldiers that they were searching for arms allegedly kept by the villagers was totally untenable.
“In this era where scientific ways of investigating matters is the order of the day, men of the Nigerian Army should have found more civilised ways of carrying out its action, instead of embarking on genocide in the village,” Beji stated. The state government has also condemned the invasion. The Commissioner for Information, Mr. Jonathan Tsado Vatsa, said the administration of Governor Abubakar Sani Bello will leave no stone unturned to ensure that those involved were brought to book. While asking the people to continue to keep the peace, the government directed all those that deserted the villages to return because government had put the necessary machinery in motion for their safety.
The National Human Rights Commission has waded in to investigate the invasion of the villages and the killings that followed. Executive Secretary of NHRC, Professor Bem Angwe, has led a four-man fact-finding team to the state during which he met with officials of the Nigerian Army and the senator representing Niger East senatorial district, and also visited the troubled villages.
The commission has promised to present a report to Nigerians soon on the matter.
To get to the root of the matter, the state government has also set up a judicial commission of inquiry to look into the immediate and remote causes of the invasion of the villages. The Commissioner for Justice said government would give the commission the instrument needed to perform its assignment and also assured that the recommendations of the commission would be implemented.
Tears flowed freely when the decomposing bodies of some of the villagers were removed from the mortuary of the Minna General hospital for burial last Friday. The deceased Muslims were handed over to Muslim clerics and they were said to have been given mass burial, while those who were Christians were taken away by the local chapter of the Christian Association of Nigeria.
The fate of over 57 people arrested by the military has yet to be determined. The police said they were handicapped on how to handle such a large number of suspects at the same time. The fear of the police stemmed from the large number of people who had thronged the premises of the Niger State high court in the hope that the suspects would be brought to court for trial. Taking them to court could further compound the security situation in the state, a senior police officer said. The suspects were still kept with the army pending when a decision would be taken.
In the meantime, only a few youths and some elderly people have returned to the villages as directed by the state government, an indication that many are still afraid to come back to their communities.