In an action which inadvertently confirms allegations made by the human rights group, Amnesty International, soldiers invaded a village in Keana local government area in Nasarawa state last Thursday and killed over 30 Fulani herdsmen in cold blood. Amnesty International had on Monday last week released a damning report which accused the military of widespread extra judicial killings of Boko Haram suspects and other innocent civilians in their fight against insurgents particularly in Borno state.
According to eyewitnesses, soldiers stormed the Fulani settlement, about a kilometre away from Keana town, in a convoy and began shooting every man in sight.“I was on my way to the office when I saw people running and later saw soldiers rushing into the town in a convoy, asking for the Fulanis. I saw over 24 dead bodies of Fulanis being taken to Lafia in a white Hilux van,” one witness, Ibrahim Jalo, said. The Secretary of Miyetti Allah, Mohammed Hussaini, said over 30 of his kinsmen were killed in the attack on Keana.
Major General Chris Olukolade, the Director of Defence Information, however, said the military authorities were not aware of any such operation by troops but promised to launch an investigation into the killings. This is strange, coming not long after the military announced massive troop deployment to Nasarawa, Plateau and Benue states to halt incessant clashes in those states. If the military is not aware of the attack on the Fulani village, the question then is who were those men in military uniforms who drove in a convoy to Keana and carried out such an atrocity unhindered despite the large presence of military personnel in the state?
While we await the outcome of the military’s investigation which will, hopefully, answer this all important question, we urge it also to urgently provide answers to the allegations made by Amnesty International against its men. In the latest report, Amnesty said “More than 1,500 deaths in three months indicate an alarming deterioration in the situation. The international community cannot continue to look the other way in the face of extrajudicial executions, attacks on civilians and other crimes under international law being committed on a mass scale. Civilians are paying a heavy price as the cycle of violations and reprisals gather momentum.”
The human rights body also quoted a witness who described how some suspects were killed:“The former detainees were in a classroom. They started screaming ‘we are not Boko Haram. We are detainees!’ My neighbours and I saw the soldiers take the men to a place called ‘no man’s land,’ behind the University of Maiduguri. We watched as the soldiers opened fire killing all 56. They were killed in front of us. All of them,” an unnamed witness told AI.
Another witness at the Jiddari Polo area of the city told Amnesty International: “I saw the soldiers asking the people to lie on the ground. There was a small argument between the soldiers and the civilian JTF. The soldiers made some calls and few minutes later they started shooting the people on the ground. I counted 198 people killed at that checkpoint”. As expected, Olukolade, dismissed the report as inaccurate while promising an investigation into the allegations.
This is, sadly, not the first time that military operations have been called to question with regard to their high handedness in fighting the insurgency in the North-east and other parts of the country. We are dismayed that despite all the allegations, neither the federal government nor the military authorities have provided convincing answers that exonerate their men or prosecute those they have found guilty of the allegations. While it is important to bring an end to the insurgency and restore lasting peace in all parts of the country, the reckless killings of innocent persons and destruction of properties by the military who are supposed to be on the side of the people must stop. The onus is on the president to do so.