One army officer and 10 soldiers were killed Thursday in Benue state in what an army spokesman said was an unprovoked attack. The army said in a statement that it would “fish out and deal decisively with these bad elements.”
Civilians, in fear of soldiers looking to capture the perpetrators, were fleeing the Konshisha local government area where the killings took place. Army spokesman Mohammed Yerima said the troops were initially declared missing while on a routine operational task, but a search-and-rescue team later found the bodies. “Efforts are ongoing to track down the perpetrators of this heinous crime with a view to bringing them to justice,” he said in a statement. It said the army was determined to ensure that the unprovoked attack did not disrupt the general peace being enjoyed by the local inhabitants. “The COAS (Chief of Army Staff) has directed commanders on the ground to ensure sustained efforts in order to fish out and deal decisively with these bad elements who are threatening the peace in the area”, it said.
It was not immediately clear who was behind the attack but Benue is part of Nigeria’s middle belt region, where gangs have taken up arms after years of communal clashes between herders and farmers. Last month, Benue state Governor Samuel Ortom said he had escaped an attack by armed herders while travelling in a convoy
The army has promised to not “disrupt the general peace” in the Konshisha area. However, we all are familiar with what happened in 2001 in Zaki Biam, also in Benue State. The killings of 19 troops by angry youths led to an expeditionary mission by army. It was ordered by President Olusegun Obasanjo. Over 200 residents of the town were killed.
It is regrettable that soldiers had to lose their lives while making sacrifices to defend the country from internal aggressors. The perpetrators of the dastardly act must be brought to justice. But we pray nothing like the Zaki Biam saga reoccurs in Konshisha. We are disturbed by reports indicating that 50 civilians were killed and 200 houses burnt in the days following the killing of the soldiers. Let the army help in the investigation but ensuring justice is done should be left to the police and the courts.