Describing it as the most despicable crime against humanity, a leading civil rights body – HUMAN RIGHTS WRITERS ASSOCIATION OF NIGERIA (HURIWA) has condemned the reported burning by soldiers of 300 houses in Naka, in Gwer West Local Government Area of Benue state.
HURIWA has also condemned the reported harassment of civilians by soldiers of civilians in Taraba State and charged them to go after armed Fulani herdsmen launching incessant attacks on farming communities.
The group has therefore tasked the chief of Army staff Lieutenant General Tukur Yusuf Buratai to fish out the soldiers responsible for this dastardly crime against humanity and civility so they are prosecuted and punished by the competent court of law.
Besides, HURIWA has asked the military high command to immediately carry out comprehensive assessment of The area whereby it’s men carried put coordinated and willful arson with the hope of rebuilding the burnt houses and ensure payment of compensations to the civilians rendered homeless and injured by the heartless and horrendous pre-meditated attacks reportedly launched by irate soldiers. HURIWA also condemned the burning to death of a sick old man by the rampaging soldiers.
In a media statement endorsed jointly by the National Coordinator Comrade Emmanuel Onwubiko and the National Media Affairs Director Miss Zainab Yusuf, HURIWA which also condemned the reported killing of a soldier which led to the burning of 300 houses in the Benue Community, however stated that the military as an institution created by the constitution cannot resort to self-help measures. HURIWA has therefore asked law enforcement agents to use lawful means to fish out the killers of the soldier so they are made to face the full weight of the law.
The Rights group regretted that whilst on one hand the hierarchy of the Army seems to be telling the public that it has set up departments for promotion of civil/military relations and human rights, some unruly soldiers lacking professionalism and discipline are involved in the pre-meditated violent attack of a whole community in retaliation for the killing of a soldier.
Wondering why the soldiers did not allow the due process of the law to take place so the properly constituted law enforcement mechanisms are activated to provide redress and justice for the unwarranted murder of the soldier, HURIWA challenged the federal government to ensure that this gross abuse of the human rights of Naka community is rapidly redressed and the soldiers responsible arrested, prosecuted and punished.
“The adoption of self-help measures and the violent setting ablaze of civilian places of habitation because of the dastardly crime of the murder in cold blood of a soldier is in direct confrontation to the rule of engagement and the provisions of the constitution which in section 6 provides that only the courts of competent jurisdiction can bring about civilized sanctions on convicted offenders.”
The Rights group lamented that soldiers have continued to attack communities after every provocation by the civil populace right from the erstwhile president Olusegun Obasanjo’s administration till date just as it stated that soldiers must be made subservient to the constitution and the laws of the nation state since no institution is bigger than the law.
“We absolutely condemn this reckless conduct of these soldiers who proceeded to set ablaze a community only because one of the soldiers was killed. What has become the place of law and order? How can a constitutional democracy be sustained as a practice in Nigeria if armed security forces decide to inflict collective punishment on an entire community for perceived offence of some unknown hoodlums who may not even be the residents of the said community?”
HURIWA recalled that Some gunmen in Nigerian Army uniform invaded Naka, the headquarters of Gwer West Local Government Area of Benue State, and set over 300 houses ablaze. Also in the early hours of of same day, armed Fulani herdsmen launched an attack on Agasha, a community near Governor Samuel Ortom’s district and killed six people.
HURIWA recalled that these developments in Benue came even as Governor Dairus Ishaku of Taraba state raised the alarm over the increased harassment of people of Taraba State by military personnel sent to fight killer herdsmen operating in the area.
HURIWA recalled that the Gwer West Local Government Chairman, Mr. Francis Ayagah, told journalists that the said soldiers stormed the area about 11am and began burning houses. Ayagah could not immediately confirm casualty figures, but said the ‘soldiers’ were on a reprisal over the killing of one of their colleagues near the community on Wednesday. He said: “A soldier was allegedly killed by hoodlums on Wednesday, but I met with the Brigade Commander about 4:30amtoday (yesterday).” Ayagah added that over 300 houses were burnt.
HURIWA quoted the local council boss as admitting that the Brigade commander gave him a list of suspects and that his officials from his local council of Gwer west arrested five of them overnight just as he stated that it was while they were trying to take them to the brigade commander that soldiers stormed the town and started burning houses.
HURIWA recalled that the local council boss stated thus: “A whole part of the town has been completely burnt down and we are appealing for help and understanding from the soldiers,” the chairman said. He added that homes of citizens were mostly affected rather than those of the suspected killers of the soldier.”
HURIWA recalled that the local government Information Officer, Mr. Francis Ugbede, said a 65-year-old man, who was sick and could not be carried when the soldiers invaded the community, was burnt inside one of the buildings. The operation lasted over two hours within which more than 300 houses and property worth billions of naira were destroyed. Naka is about 45 kilometres from Makurdi, the state capital.
HURIWA has therefore tasked the Army’s high command which recently launched military rules of engagement that obliges armed soldiers to abide by due process of the law, to set up internal probe panel to determine the identities of the soldiers that undertook the burning of Naka community with a view to bringing justice to them for carrying out this dastardly crime against humanity. “A situation whereby soldiers or police takes the law into their hands and go after perceived killers of their operative and in the process expose an entire community to violence of unmitigated proportions must not be normalised in Nigeria of this 21st century”.