A group, the Benue Youth Forum, BYF, has welcomed the commencement of the Exercise Ayem a Kpatuma, otherwise called Cat Race by the Nigerian military in Benue and other Middlebelt states, but expressed doubts over the federal government’s sincerity to the core issues affecting peace and the security of lives and property in the state.
The group acknowledged that the decision of the Federal Government to address the security situation in Benue state came after repeated appeals and calls by the government and people of state to do so.
The Nigerian Army had announced plans to conduct the exercise in Benue, Taraba, Kogi, Nasarawa, Kaduna and Niger states from Thursday 15 February to Saturday 31 March 2018 to tackle cases of armed banditry, kidnapping, cattle rustling, sundry crimes, herdsmen/farmers clashes and attacks on communities
Reacting to the exercise yesterday, BYF, in a statement by its president, Terrence Kuanum, disclosed that the decision by the military to announce and publicize the dates within which the exercise would last was the first move that raised suspicion bordering on the sincerity of the federal government to end killings in the state.
The statement reads in part, “When the military initially announced the deployment of troops to Benue and other states in the Middle Belt, it called it an operation. But we were shocked to hear the Chief of Army Staff, Lieutenant General Tukur Buratai say during the launch yesterday in Guma that “it is an exercise not an operation”. We are curious to know what the military means by the term ‘exercise’ instead of operation. Why an exercise and not an operation as it was done in other troubled parts of the country? We hope the military will provide an answer to this question as soon as possible.
“All military operations or exercises have rules of engagement. We therefore wonder if the current exercise in Benue State has rules of engagement or not. The Nigerian military has failed to tell us if their advertised stay in Benue has rules by which they are to engage with their host communities.
“We fear that the said rules of engagement might have been made known to killers of innocent Benue people, the armed herdsmen who will now suspend attacks on our people till the soldiers round off their ‘exercise’ and withdraw. We wonder why the military high command had to publicize the dates for the exercise Ayem a Kpatuma if the intention was not to alert the killer herdsmen to put their evil action on hold till the end of the exercise.
“The first few days of the militarty stay in Benue have encouraged Fulani herdsmen who now encroach on farmlands without any arrest made. Herdsmen are moving into the state in droves at the launch of the exercise claiming that they are allowed to openly graze as long as they do not carry weapons. This further fuels our suspicion that herdsmen have information at their disposal which our people do not yet have.
“The military said in the build up to the launch of exercise Ayem a Kpatuma that they had repelled seven attacks carried out by herdsmen, yet they have refused to declare the armed herdsmen as terrorists. This is even as armed Fulani herdsmen are rated the 4th most deadly organisation on the Global Terrorism Index.
“We are also concerned about the human rights abuses already being established as some Benue youths are being harrased and intimidated by military personnel deployed to the state for the exercise.
“One of our deepest concerns is the fact that despite repeated demands/appeals from us and other Nigerians, leaders of Miyetti Allah Kautal Hore, a Fulani socio-cultural organisation who threatened Benue people have not been arrested. It is on record that the group threatened Benue and went ahead to actualize their threats by attacking the people in resistance to the Open Grazing Prohibition and Ranches Establishment Law enacted by the state. This is a clear indication that some persons are indeed above the laws of this country.”
The forum, however, expressed hopes that the military would, in the course of the exercise, uphold its integrity and carry out the Ayem a Kpatuma exercise in a professional manner to prove the wrong the suspicions of the Benue people.
They said, “We also hope that the exercise won’t be an avenue to provoke our people in order to arrest them unjustifiably.
“The arrest of Fulani militia responsible for the new year attacks and killing of 73 Benue people in Nasarawa State by the Police has vindicated Governor Samuel Ortom who raised alarm that the killers came from Nasarawa State. It is therefore our hope that the many more of the killers camped in Tunga, Awe Local Government Area of Nasarawa State will be arrested, disarmed and prosecuted.
“We expect the military to justify the confidence Nigerians have in them and demonstrate the same commitment during exercise Ayem a Kpatuma as they did in Operation Lafiya Dole, Operation Python Dance, Operation Crocodile Smile and similar operations they previously carried out in other parts of the country. Such commitment can only be seen to be at work when killers of Benue people are given the same dose of their own medicine.
“We hope that the coming of the military to Benue State will increase compliance with the Open Grazing Prohibition and Ranches Establishment Law of the state.
“We hope for justice,” the statement read.