By Chimezie Godfrey
Vanguard Against Tiv Massacre (VATIM) has condemned the military invasion of communities in Benue state.
This was disclosed in a statement signed by the Chairman, VATIM, Stephen Agusah and the Convener, Irene Awunah and made available to newsmen on Tuesday.
The organization says it condemns the ongoing military onslaught against civilians in several communities in Gwer East Local government Area of Benue state.
They said,”Vanguard Against Tiv Massacre (VATIM) observes and condemns in no uncertain terms the military onslaught against hapless civilians in Bonta, Tse Anyom, Agidi, Adoka, Agune, Awajir, Gbinde, Guleya, Gungul, Aku and Amande in Konshisha and Ullam and Tse Igbom in Gwer East local government areas of Benue State since April 8, 2020.
“We condemn the unjustifiable attack on and killing of soldiers deployed to quell what started as inter-communal clash between Bonta community of Konshisha and Okpute community of Oju by some criminal elements.
“We commiserate with the families of the slain soldiers and the victims of the military action in the affected communities.”
The group noted that the alleged action by the youth is reprehensible but not enough justification for the military bombardment of so many villages stretching several kilometers from the alleged crime scene, destroying homes and livelihoods and leaving many civilian residents homeless, without food and clothing.
They also condemned the alleged involvement of soldiers in an inter-communal clash that could have been handled by the police.
“We are, however, concerned about the involvement of soldiers and the militarisation of civil issues, considering that this was a case of inter-communal clash that could have been handled by relevant police departments, such as the mobile police unit.
“We note that under the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended), all citizens have a right to life, fair hearing, ownership of property and dignity of the human person, all of which have been violated through the sustained military action.
“All over the world, collective punishment which targets family, friends and communities of suspected criminal elements is a violation of the laws relating to war and is against the spirit and letters of the Third and Fourth Geneva Convention, Hague Regulations and several other military manuals worldwide, including Nigeria.
“We note that it is failure of intelligence on the part of the military to carry out bombardment of communities in the hope of smoking out criminals who may have fled the crime scene, as is typical of criminals.
“The action, in our view, is in furtherance of the wrongly established military tradition of leveling down communities in revenge for infractions against their officers and men, as was the case in Zaki Biam in Benue State and Odi in Bayelsa State, many years back,” they stressed.
The group pointed out that the military has all the intelligence apparatus they could have deployed in fishing out the criminal elements in collaboration with the DSS, CID and the locals, particularly the traditional institutions.
According to them, this resort to self-help and jungle justice without regard for the rights of the people and the impact of the actions on their lives and livelihoods is barbaric and should not be condoned.
They therefore urged the military to cease the bombardment of the communities.
“We urge the military to immediately cease the bombardment even as we call on the federal government to cause an investigation into the immediate and remote reasons for the deployment of military troops for internal security duties, how they were overpowered and killed by civilians and the resort to bombardment of communities, leading to violation of the fundamental human rights of the members of those communities.
“Membership of such an investigation panel should be comprised of traditional rulers and youth groups from both Okpute and Bonta communities and civil society organisations (CSOs).
“We call on the traditional rulers in affected communities to cooperate with security agencies in fishing out the killers of the military personnel.
“While we continue to pursue justice for the victims of the military onslaught, we call the attention of the federal and state governments to the humanitarian crisis in the area as a result of the sudden displacement of thousands of people and destruction of their sources of livelihood.
“And we demand that relevant government agencies, including the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) be directed to provide relief to those affected,” they demanded.