The Liberian civil war of 1990 to 1996 began like a child’s play. The government undermined the power of its youth. It regretted this underestimation there after as millions of its citizens lost their lives and properties were destroyed.
Prior to the war, the youth were subjected to hunger, unemployment and injustice. The government did nothing tangible to change the situation. Then factions began to emerge. As a result, many young people, including children, took arms to kill one another. According to the mothers of child soldiers, some children joined the war because they had no food to eat outside the “bush”. … Many children also took up arms as a form of security, a kind of safety net, while others did so as a result of adult control and/or intimidation, a research shows.
|When fellow youths are murdered, other youths naturally seek revenge.|
|A child soldier on the street of Monrovia|
|A teenage girl soldier in Liberia during the civil war.|
|Dead bodies litred the streets of Liberia|
GOV. ORTOM @60: The Journey of Grace
Governor Samuel Ioraer Ortom of Benue State clocks 60 years of age today. As the philantropist but often-embattled leader of the people of Benue basin marks this day, Inside Beneu takes a look at his biography of God’s grace.
Ortom was born on the 23rd of April, 1961 in Guma Local Government Area of Benue State, Nigeria. At the age of nine, he started his primary education at St. John’s Primary School, Gboko in 1970. He later switched to St. Catherine Primary School Makurdi in 1974. It was here he completed his primary education in 1976.
Upon completion of his primary education, the young Samuel was enrolled at the Idah Secondary Commercial College, Idah, Kogi State for his secondary education. But the journey was short lived as he was forced to drop out of school due to financial condition after his father retired from job.
Back home at Gboko, he engaged himself at the motor park as a tout until found him and recommended him to drive a prominent Gbokk-based Christian leader and politician, Late Pa Samu Ihugh.
Not giving up his dream to be educated, Samuel Ortom later enrolled in the National School of Salesmanship through an advert he saw on a newspaper he found while on duty at Pa Ihugh’s residence. Thus, he began his journey of acquiring education and certificate via correspondence.
He later in this manner, obtained the General Certificate of Education as well as the Diploma in Salesmanship. He further enrolled at the Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, obtaining both the Interim Joint Matriculation Board Certificate, in 1995 and Diploma in Journalism in 1998. He proceeded to the Benue State University for an Advanced Diploma in Personnel Management in 2001 as well as Master of Public Administration in 2004.
Samuel Ortom also obtained a Doctor of Philosophy, Ph.D, from the Commonwealth University, Belize, through distant learning.
Career and Politics
Samuel Ortom’s working experience spans private, public as well as political spheres. He worked with the Gyado Foods Co. Limited, where he rose from the position of Salesman to Sales Manager.
He was proprietor and chairman, Oracle Business Limited the firm that owns Goshen Water which produces bottled and sachet water; Oracle Printing Press, Oracle Oil Mills as well as Oracle Farms Limited. He was also the chairman of Capital Prints Limited and Achive Engineering Limited.
Chief Dr. Ortom has served as the National President of the Independent Print-Media Publishers Association of Nigeria, IPPAN, and at the moment is the patron of the association.
He was appointed chairman of the governing council of the Standards Organization of Nigeria, SON, where he served with commitment and dedication.
Chief Dr. Samuel Ortom served as the Executive Chairman of Guma Local Government Area from 1991 to 1993 on the platform of the Social Democratic Party, SDP.
He has also handled several top political positions, both in Benue State and beyond. Some of them include; State Publicity Secretary of the National Centre Party of Nigeria(NCPN); State Treasurer of the All Peoples Party (APP); State Secretary of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Deputy Chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) as well as PDP National Auditor.
He also served as the Director of Operations of the PDP gubernatorial campaign in Benue State in 2007 and Director of Administration and Logistics of the Goodluck/Sambo Presidential Campaign Organization in 2011.
He got appointed as Minister of State Trade and Investments in July 2011, during Goodluck Jonathan tenure as president.
He contested and won the seat the Governor of Benue State in April 2015 under the platform of the All Progressives Congress (APC).
In July 2018, Ortom announced his departure from All Progressives Congress as a result of an internal party crisis.
He was reelected as governor in the 2019 elections, having polled 434,473 votes while the runner up Emmanuel Jime of the All Progressive Congress polled 345,155 votes. Jime legally challenged Ortom’s victory and filed a petition on the grounds of substantial noncompliance with the provisions of the Electoral Act, 2010 as amended. The Supreme Court of 21st January 2020, affirmed Samuel Ortom’s election as the governor of Benue State.
Dr. Samuel Ortom is a philanthropist who believes in giving back to the society. He, through the establishment of Oracle Business Limited Foundation, set aside funds in St. Theresa’s Hospital, Makurdi and Rahama Hospital, Gboko Road, Makurdi, for treatment of hernia and snakebites free of charge to the patients.
Oracle Business Limited Foundation also focuses on alleviating hardship for prison inmates, while also offering them various forms of skills acquisition for better reintegration into the society.
Awards and Recognition
Samuel Ortom’s good governance and philantropic activities have earned him numerous awards recognitions, including:
• Selfless Service Award from the National Union of Benue State Students (UniCal Chapter) (2014)
• Best Performing Local Government Chairman (1992)
• Merit Award by Tiv Youths Organization
• Merit Award by Boy Scouts of Nigeria, Benue State Chapter
• Merit Award by International Affairs Leadership Parliament of Five American Christian Universities in the United States of America and Trinity College of Ministerial Arts, Aba
• Merit award by St. Theresa’s Catholic Church, High Level, Makurdi
• He has also received a special recognition from the Nigeria Union of Road Transport Workers at the national level.
• Merit Award by Nigeria Union of Teachers, Benue State Wing
• Merit Award by Genesis Youth Club, Makurdi.
• Merit Award by Leo Club of Makurdi (2002)
• Merit Award by Rotaract Club of Nigeria University of Agriculture, Makurdi
• Promoter of Nigeria’s Nascent Democracy, by Benue State Government (2006)
• Merit Award by School of Remedial Students Union, Makurdi (1996)
• Best Sales Manager Award by Pepsi-Cola International, African Region (1987)
• Merit Award by Benue State Joint Public Service Negotiating Council, 1, 11 and 111
• Patron Merit Award by Association of Journalism Students, Ahmadu Bello University (1997)
• National Fellowship/Merit Award by National Union of Road Transport Workers’ Union of Nigeria Nyamikyume in Nzorov
• Traditional Honorific Chieftaincy Title conferred by both the Nzorov District and Guma Local Government Area Traditional Councils Vande u Nongov
Oche Onu writes
ZAKI BIAM: The Untold Story of Military Killings in Benue
|III. EXTRAJUDICIAL EXECUTIONS AND DESTRUCTION BY THE MILITARYThe military operation in which more than two hundred people were killed in various locations in Benue State in October 2001 took place within the context of the broader, longstanding intercommunal conflict in the area. In a sense, it can be seen as the culmination of a series of attacks and counter-attacks by Tiv and Jukun armed groups, primarily in Taraba State and the areas around the Taraba-Benue border (see Section V below).Against the backdrop of this conflict, the specific incident which provoked the violent response of the military in October was the abduction and killing of nineteen soldiers two weeks earlier. The soldiers, according to government authorities, were on a mission to restore peace in the area affected by the conflict between Tivs and Jukuns, when they were abducted by a Tiv armed group in Vaase, in Benue State, on October 10. Their mutilated bodies were found two days later, on October 12, in the grounds of a primary school in the town of Zaki-Biam, also in Benue.The exact circumstances of the attack on the soldiers and the motivation behind it remain unclear. The Nigerian government announced the names and ranks of the dead soldiers, which were published in the media.3 However, many Tiv sources cast doubt on the identity of the victims and questioned whether all nineteen were really soldiers. They believe that at least some of them were probably armed Jukuns, operating alongside Nigerian army soldiers. As evidence, they pointed to the fact that, while dressed in military uniforms, the victims had been travelling in private pick-up trucks, not military vehicles, and that some of their weapons did not bear official Nigerian army registration numbers.4 Some sources also allege that the real number of those abducted and killed was higher than nineteen, and may have been closer to thirty. Even initial statements issued by government authorities immediately after the incident were contradictory as to the number of soldiers killed; for example, the number initially cited in many media reports was sixteen. Human Rights Watch was not able to confirm independently the identity or number of the soldiers who died. There is also some confusion as to the purpose of these soldiers’ deployment in the area. Federal government and military authorities have asserted that they were on a peacekeeping mission.Less than two weeks after the discovery of the bodies of the nineteen soldiers, a large number of soldiers arrived in several towns and villages in Benue, between October 19 and 24, in a carefully coordinated operation designed to take local residents by surprise. Several survivors and witnesses told Human Rights Watch that they felt tricked and deceived: they initially believed the soldiers were coming to protect them, especially as they pretended that they had come to discuss peace. Instead, the soldiers turned against them.The soldiers, who were from the 23rd armored brigade of the 3rd armored division of the Nigerian army, normally based in Yola, the capital of Adamawa state,5 targeted more than seven towns and villages in Benue, including Gbeji (and surrounding villages), Zaki-Biam, Tse-Adoor, Vaase, Sankera, Anyiin, and Kyado. Between October 22 and 24, they proceeded systematically from one to the other, killing, destroying, and pillaging as they went. On October 22, the soldiers attacked Gbeji, Vaase, and Anyiin; on October 23, they moved into Zaki-Biam, Tse-Adoor, Sankera, and Kyado, returning to Zaki-Biam, Tse-Adoor, and Kyado on October 24. Witnesses estimated that there were between two and three hundred soldiers, with several armored tanks and other military vehicles. As word of their advance spread, residents of some locations were able to flee before the soldiers arrived. In this way, some escaped death or injury, but the soldiers who arrived to find these sites deserted were able to destroy and loot freely, without any hindrance. This was the case in Anyiin, for example, where there was widespread destruction of homes and buildings, but no one was killed. Most of the victims in the other locations were killed on October 22 and 23.There is little doubt that this operation was organised as a retaliation and a form of collective punishment for the murder of the nineteen soldiers, as illustrated by comments made by some of the soldiers to local residents in the towns and villages they targeted: several witnesses interviewed by Human Rights Watch stated that the soldiers had accused them collectively of having killed their colleagues and made other comments implying that the Tiv, as a people, had brought the trouble on themselves.The Massacre of Gbeji and Surrounding Villages|
Among the various towns and villages targeted in the military operation in Benue, the largest number of people were killed in the village of Gbeji. This was one of the first places targeted by the army and the population was taken completely off guard. Between 150 and 160 people were killed there, including at least four women and eighteen children, some as young as twelve years old; among those missing were children as young as five and seven. Some of the victims’ bodies were reportedly so badly burnt that they could not be identified.6Human Rights Watch visited Gbeji in December 2001 and spoke to survivors and witnesses there; we also visited the sites of several mass graves where residents of Gbeji had buried their dead. In Makurdi, the capital of Benue State, Human Rights Watch also interviewed some of the victims from Gbeji who had been severely injured and were still being treated in the Federal Medical Centre.The soldiers first arrived in Gbeji on October 19. They asked residents on which day the market was usually held, then went away. They returned on October 22. They gathered the residents of the town, asking as many people as possible to assemble for a meeting. They told them they had come on a peace mission and wanted to discuss ways of restoring peace in the area. The residents gathered, believing it was a genuine initiative. Once a sufficient number of people had come together, the soldiers separated the men from the women and children. They then opened fire on the unarmed men, shooting indiscriminately. After shooting them, they poured petrol over them and set them alight. Some of the victims died from the shooting, others from being burnt alive. The soldiers then went on a rampage, destroying houses and other buildings.A twenty-eight-year-old man who was hospitalised with serious injuries described the sequence of events:7On Saturday, at about 2 p.m., soldiers came and gathered us together. They asked us to dismantle the roadblocks8 and said we should make peace and settle. We agreed to make peace. They asked us when is market day. We said Thursday. But they came back on Monday instead. On Monday, they gathered people in the market. They said they didn’t want to see women or children. The women and children went away. About thirty minutes later, they started killing people. There were more than three hundred people gathered. They were all men, apart from two women […] The soldiers said we had killed soldiers, that was why they were killing us. They started shooting from the main road. At first they were shooting and moving around, from 1p.m. to 4 p.m. About three vehicles went to another village. They said no one should move. We lay down. They came and checked to see if people were still alive. If you started shaking, they would shoot you. They put fuel over us […] I have burns on my knees. I was the last person to be shot. They burned me before shooting me, but most others were shot before they were burnt. As we were trying to escape, vehicles came after us. I was taken into the bush, then I was in the clinic for three days, then I came here to the hospital.A woman with a seven-month-old child was shot in Gbeji. They removed the child before killing her. They also killed my brother; he was twenty-five. He was burnt in front of me, I saw it. The same day, my uncle, who is about ninety years old, was shot dead in his house in the village of Tse Sanmo, near Gbeji; they also burned his house. In another house across the road, they killed about eleven adult men. This happened around the same time as they gathered us in the market. My own house was among those burnt.Among the patients in hospital in Makurdi was a man in his thirties who sustained what must have been some of the worst injuries among the survivors: his entire body had been burnt, including his face. In view of the gravity of his condition, Human Rights Watch researchers did not feel it was appropriate to interview him when they visited the hospital. However, he had previously provided his testimony to others:I was not shot, but fell on the ground and those who were shot fell on me and there was blood all over me but I was conscious and was watching all that was going on. The commander then ordered for the sprayer which was used to spray petrol over the heap of the shot people and then set ablaze. There was fire all over me, but I was not hit by a bullet. I could not move. I had to choose between the fire and gun shots […]9Others also escaped narrowly. A fifteen-year-old boy watched as his father was shot. He was also injured, but survived: “When they opened fire, I saw my father hit at the forehead, then a bullet hit me. I thought I was dead, then I saw them pour petrol on the people. The petrol finished near me and they went to refill. It was when they went for refilling of the petrol that I ran away. I lost my father, uncle, and four cousins.”10A boy aged about nine was also among those injured in Gbeji. His arm had been blown off and he was also injured on his leg and side. He told Human Rights Watch:11The soldiers came on Monday. They gathered people and sent the women and children away. One soldier called me and caught me. They made me join the men. I was shot here [pointing to his amputated arm, his leg and side]. I was going with the women but the soldier said I should come with the men. About four children were injured and brought to the hospital. Others died during the incident.I was shot in the marketplace. Someone fell on top of me. The soldiers checked to see if I was dead, then shot me three times. Then they were burning people. I got up and ran into the bush. A soldier saw me and shot at me. I stayed in the bush as if I was dead. The soldiers came and saw me. They kicked me three times on the leg and foot to check if I was still alive. I pretended I was dead.My oldest brother died. He is about forty years old. He was shot in the chest and in the head, together with others in the meeting.Other survivors confirmed that the soldiers, not satisfied with shooting into the crowd and setting people on fire, then checked whether those lying among the corpses were really dead. An eighteen-year-old boy pretended he had been hit when the soldiers opened fire. He managed to roll away on the ground when the soldiers set fire to the people. “Then one of the soldiers pointed at me and said: `This one is not dead, let me not waste my bullet, but slaughter him with a knife.’ He then pulled his knife and started cutting my neck. I was still and he thought I was dead, and left me when the whistle blew.”12A forty-year-old farmer in Gbeji gave his own account of what happened from the time of the soldiers’ first arrival:13On 19 October, the army arrived here. They called on us to assemble. They said they were on a peacekeeping mission. They told us to invite all members of the town to be present on market day, which is Thursday. They didn’t come on Thursday but they came on Monday 22 October, at about 2 p.m. They said again that they had come for peacekeeping. They advised us to invite everyone for a meeting. They had four armored cars and nine trucks. There were more than three hundred soldiers […] The soldiers had armored tanks stationed in three places blocking the area to prevent escape.We assembled at the motor-park at about 3 p.m. Most of the community were there.
Then the commander just said: “Fire!” and the soldiers opened fire. They had separated the women and the children but some women were killed. They were targeting everyone. After shooting, they poured fuel and set fire. Some people were set on fire alive before they were shot. Some were cut on their necks with knives […] The shooting lasted from 3 p.m. to 6.45 p.m. At about 7 p.m. some people came out from the bush to see the damage. The next day we took the bodies away for burial and made mass graves.A twenty-six-year-old man who was injured told a similar story:14First they came and asked us when is market day. Then they came back on Monday. They came in eight vehicles. There was one armored car and another in the market. There were more than two hundred soldiers. They called people together. They gathered us in the motor-park and said they wanted a meeting. They sat people down. They made the women go to one side. They said: `Sit down, we’ll call our commander.’ Instead, they went to fetch more soldiers. Then they came back with the other soldiers. One of them gave a signal, he raised his hand, then they started shooting at us indiscriminately. After shooting, they started burning people.I was lying on the ground. I was injured on my legs, my side, my arms, and my back. I was caught in the shooting. Some people fell down. I lay among the bodies; some were dead, others were still alive. Then the soldiers poured kerosene over us to burn us. That’s when I sustained my injuries: some are burns, others are from the shooting. A soldier dropped a spent cartridge on me. I stayed still to deceive them, pretending I was dead. Then I escaped.I got caught up in this just by chance. I was on my way to Gbeji. I am from the village of Mgbakpa Yamsa, about ten kilometers from Gbeji.His own village of Mgbakpa Yamsa was itself attacked immediately afterwards. As soon as they were alerted to what had happened in Gbeji, the inhabitants of the village started running away. However, one man, Anjo Yamsa, in his late thirties, was not able to escape. The soldiers caught him while he was trying to run away and shot him. He called for help but no one dared to come out to try to save him. He was shot in the stomach, in the chest and in the legs, and slashed with a cutlass on his head and fingers. He was the only resident of the village to die, but at least one other, Tor Yamsa, a student in his twenties, was injured. The soldiers also burned many houses and property, including sixteen houses of members of just one family, related to Anjo Yamsa. A resident also described how the soldiers made a pile of clothes and mattresses, poured kerosene over it and left it to burn.15Soldiers also attacked the village of Tse-Gube, very close to Gbeji, at around the same time. Local residents described how the soldiers were deployed all along the road and said the commander was communicating with his soldiers by radio. As in Gbeji, the residents of Tse-Gube were made to gather for a meeting; then the soldiers shot at them. Six men were killed. Two months later, two thirds of the population of Tse-Gube were reported to be still living in the bush, out of fear of returning to their village.16Vaase
The military also exacted a brutal revenge on the village of Vaase, where the nineteen soldiers had been abducted. When representatives of several Nigerian human rights organizations, under the umbrella of the Transition Monitoring Group (TMG), visited Vaase on October 31, they described it as a ghost town: it was completely deserted, and its entire population had fled into the bush. When Human Rights Watch visited in mid-December, there were still very few people there. Most of the town lay empty; many buildings had been destroyed. Soldiers were still posted nearby, keeping watch.Several young men who had been present when the soldiers came to Vaase told Human Rights Watch:17On Monday 22 October the soldiers killed seventeen people here: fifteen men and two women. They sent some boys to fetch us to hear what they had to say. The soldiers asked us: “Who killed the soldiers?” We said we didn’t know. They told us to make a line. People lined up. They made us take our shirts off and tied them over our eyes. Then the commander blew a whistle and the soldiers starting shooting. They left some of the bodies on the road. Some people were carried away alive by the soldiers as they left. They also burned houses. A woman in her twenties was burnt inside her house. Another woman in her thirties, a mother of two, was carried away alive. We don’t know what happened to her.Kyado
The sequence of events in Kyado was different from other towns and villages. It was perhaps the most revealing in terms of the organization of the military operation, and contrasts between the behavior of military units from Benue and those brought in from neighboring states.18 According to residents of Kyado, it was thanks to the intervention of soldiers from Benue that no one was killed in Kyado, although several people were injured, and soldiers destroyed many houses, shops, and other buildings. Residents of Kyado told Human Rights Watch how soldiers from Yola first arrived on October 19, rounded up the men, threatened them and beat some of them, and burned a number of houses. On October 23 and 24, they returned, and destroyed and burned an even greater number of houses and buildings. However, in the meantime, soldiers from Benue had intervened and managed to prevent the soldiers from Yola from killing residents of Kyado, in part by negotiation, and in part by warning the population of Kyado of a likely onslaught by the soldiers from Yola, with the result that many residents were able to leave the town in time.A man whose house in Kyado was destroyed by the soldiers explained to Human Rights Watch:19On Friday […] the troops from Yola came. They stopped in my store […] They asked me: “How many kilometers to Zaki-Biam?” I said: “13 kilometers.” They asked me who was the elder of the town so that they could talk to the people. They asked me to take them to his house. On the way, they asked me: “On which day did they dismount the roadblock here?” I said I didn’t know. They asked for the weapons seized from the soldiers earlier. I said I didn’t know where they were. The elder was not in; only his brother was there and he said he didn’t know anything. The soldiers said: “In the next thirty minutes, you must produce the youth leader and the weapons seized, otherwise we will do what we want with you.”They gathered about a hundred men and lined us up in the main road. They made us lie down facing the sun. They beat us and kicked us. My brother was injured. They stood on my stomach and one soldier put a gun on my chest and told me to say my last prayers […]About ten minutes later, soldiers came from Zaki-Biam. The military leaders had a brief meeting. The commander from Yola ordered his men to reverse. The commander from Makurdi gathered us and said: “We don’t have much to say. Thank your God I was here at this time.” He told us to forgive the soldiers and eat plenty. The soldiers [from Yola] burned twenty-four huts then left.On Tuesday 23, on their way back through Zaki-Biam, they burned about thirty-five more houses in Kyado.On Wednesday 24 the soldiers from Makurdi came again and told us that no one should stay, that we should leave town and take our property as they would do the worst damage. On the way back from Zaki-Biam, the soldiers [from Yola] again destroyed and burned most of the houses. They stayed several hours.Another man, whose house was destroyed in Kyado and whose brother was among those beaten on October 19, reported that when the soldiers from Yola arrived, they asked how far it was to Zaki-Biam, and how far to Victor Malu’s house, and warned the population “that it would be like Odi.”20Anyiin
The town of Anyiin was among those where soldiers destroyed many buildings but did not kill anybody, as most people had already fled by the time the soldiers arrived. Residents of Anyiin told Human Rights Watch that the soldiers arrived on October 22, in the afternoon, and stayed until about 8 p.m; the operation lasted more than three hours. One man counted three armored vehicles and eleven other military vehicles. A local police official said he was made to watch while soldiers burnt a vehicle; they reportedly told him that if he tried to stop them, they would shoot him. Another man watched as one of the soldiers stopped in front of a car and shot at it until it had burnt. Yet another described how some soldiers burned and shot at houses while others broke down doors with axes. They made piles of belongings which they found in the houses and set them on fire. They also looted and shot into the air to prevent anyone from approaching. A resident of Anyiin told Human Rights Watch: “We never expected anything like this to happen. We had no problems with anyone.”21The Attack on Zaki-Biam
The town of Zaki-Biam, situated about forty-five kilometers from the Taraba border, was the worst hit location after Gbeji in terms of civilian casualties of the military operation; this was where the bodies of the nineteen soldiers had been found. Between twenty and thirty people, and possibly more, were killed in Zaki-Biam. The operation began on October 23 and continued on October 24. On the morning of October 23, soldiers surrounded the yam market, which is one of Nigeria’s largest. When people began to panic, the soldiers started shooting. Most of the victims were shot dead in and around the yam market. Those killed included several market traders, including victims named to Human Rights Watch as Awua Gesa and Peter Swande, and farmers, including Aondohemba Amoh and Abaver Kumaga. The soldiers also engaged in widespread destruction of homes, shops, and other buildings, including parts of the market and even the police station. Shops belonging to Igbo traders-who have played no part at all in the conflict in the area-were also burnt and looted indiscriminately. At least two Igbo traders, including Joseph Uche, were among those killed.An eye-witness described what he heard and saw at the yam market in Zaki-Biam:22The soldiers came at about 9 a.m. I was at the farm. I heard people shouting: “They’ve come!” I saw soldiers all around the market. We stood on the hill watching. The commander was calling people to come for peacekeeping. But people had heard what the army had done in Gbeji so they started running away. The soldiers started shooting. They killed about nineteen people, inside the market and on the road outside. Others were shot while they were running. I saw two vehicles, 4×4 Taraba State vehicles. There were so many soldiers. Some were patroling. At least one hundred went into the market while others stayed on the road. The soldiers were singing, shouting, jubilating. After the shooting, they looted yams and motorcycles and burned sheds.The soldiers slept here that night. We heard shooting in the night until about 4.30 a.m. The next day, we were still around. At 9.15 a.m. they started burning houses and buildings, until about 3 p.m.Among those who died, some were killed by flying bullets, others may have died in the bush. There are also about twenty people still missing […] By the time relatives came to pick up the bodies later, some were rotting and were being eaten by vultures.Another man in the yam market gave this account:23There were thirty-four vehicles in total, including about eight armored tanks. They [the soldiers] parked the first vehicle at the entrance to the market, the other at the extreme end. Then they jumped down and surrounded us […] We have never witnessed this before. They killed about eighteen people inside the market and about six outside. After a week, we discovered about three bodies in the bush. Those who were killed included several market traders, farmers, a former councilor, and a pastor. […]Every vehicle was full of soldiers, maybe up to two hundred altogether. The cars had the lights full on. The soldiers didn’t say anything. They just shot. They were arresting groups of people and killing them. They started at 9 a.m. and didn’t stop until about 4 p.m. At 6 p.m. they came back again. They were destroying and shooting all night, I don’t know until what time.The next day they came to the main market. They destroyed many houses there. The majority belong to Igbos, not indigenes. One Igbo man refused to leave his house in town so they killed him. They were burning property and spraying houses. They even burned the police station.Later we discovered body parts which had been burnt. They were not identifiable.Among the victims in Zaki-Biam were about ten people who were travelling in a bus near the yam market. The soldiers ordered the vehicle to stop and told the passengers to get out. Witnesses reported that the soldiers initially said they were stopping the vehicle for a routine check. Then they asked whether there were any non-Tivs among the passengers. The passengers said no. The soldiers separated the female passengers from the men, ordered the men to lie down, then started shooting at them. Among the victims was Ityokar Anbu Wende, a forty-year-old father of eight and a former councilor, who was accompanying his thirteen-year-old daughter back from school. The soldiers spared the daughter, but killed her father in front of her. He was the first passenger they shot because he was questioning their actions and asked why they were being asked to lie down. He was killed with at least ten bullets in the head and shoulder. The victims also included a Protestant pastor, Reverend Andrew Alu, who pleaded with the soldiers to let him pray. The soldiers said they would spare him because he was a priest, but shot him dead anyway. The driver of the vehicle, Moove Ityom, was also killed.24The soldiers resumed their destruction in Zaki-Biam on October 24. One of the first houses they targeted on that day was that of Benjamin Chaha, a former speaker of the House of Representatives in the National Assembly in the Second Republic. The destruction in his compound was extensive. It seems likely that his house was specifically targeted because he is a prominent local person. However, in other parts of the town, houses and other buildings were destroyed indiscriminately.Tse-Adoor
The military clearly targeted the village of Tse-Adoor, on the outskirts of Zaki-Biam, home of Victor Malu, the former chief of staff of the Nigerian army. In the compound belonging to Victor Malu’s family, and the neighboring compound, they killed five people and destroyed many buildings, including Victor Malu’s own house and that of his father, as well as several thatched huts, guesthouses, and a barn for storing crops. The military operation in Tse-Adoor took place over two days, on October 23 and 24. The soldiers destroyed and looted extensively on both days, but the five people confirmed dead were killed on the first day, on October 23. In the main compound, the soldiers killed Pev Adoor (Victor Malu’s uncle in his eighties, who was blind) and his two wives, Kutser Pev, in her fifties, and Rebecca Doom Pev, in her sixties, who tried to hide in a thatched hut: she closed the door behind her but the soldiers fired through the door and shot her. In the neighboring compound, they shot at a group of people who had gathered for a burial. Mmeran Tyobo, an elderly man aged about ninety, died on the spot; Mathias Butu, in his twenties, was shot in the leg and died a few days days later. On October 24, the soldiers returned to continue destroying and looting, after all the residents had fled.25A relative of Victor Malu, who lives on the compound but was outside when the military headed towards it, described what he saw:26On 23 October, the military arrived at 12.10. I was in Zaki-Biam. There I saw two armored tanks with their headlights on, followed by two trucks and about forty soldiers, followed by another armored tank. I decided to come back home. […] At the primary school near Tse-Adoor I saw three armored vehicles enter our compound. The soldiers were shooting at random. I drove onto the bush road and stayed in the bush watching. They were shooting and burning houses. They used armored tanks to level the place. They were using three armored tanks simultaneously, for about one hour. They gathered women and children and beat them. They made them lie on the ground outside, including our one hundred-year-old mother. They particularly beat those women and children who were hesitating. They kicked them and hit them with guns [….] No one knew why they were there. They beat my younger brother and asked him who was here [….] Then they left for Zaki-Biam.The first attack took us completely unaware. Most of the men were out farming, so it was mainly women who were in the compound. They were cooking, wearing just wrappers. The soldiers didn’t allow them to take anything out of the houses. They entered every room and checked. They took all their belongings out and burned them. They took any money they could find […]The next day, they came back at about 8.30 a.m. They stayed for about three hours. They came to loot and were shooting at all the houses.Sankera
In Sankera, on October 23, two young men were killed on the main road: Merve Beramo, aged twenty, who was returning from the farm and was shot at the primary school, and Luther Jima, aged twenty-three. A four-year-old boy, Tersen Tordue, who had been traveling with Luther Jima on a motorcycle, was injured. Soldiers also engaged in extensive destruction, including in the parish compound, where they spent about half an hour. From there, they moved to the newly-constructed local government building, where they burned the whole of the inside of the building and looted office equipment and vehicles, as well as a large sum of money belonging to the local government; they also burned the house of the local government chairman, the local government guesthouse, and more than fifty other houses. In addition, they burned a large stockpile of food in a warehouse, which had been intended to assist the large population of internally displaced people fleeing conflict in Taraba State.3 See, for example, “As army buries 19 slain soldiers…” in the Lagos-based This Day, October 23, 2001.4 Human Rights Watch interviews in Benue, December 2001. Local sources stated that it is sometimes difficult to distinguish real soldiers from Jukun fighters, as the latter often wear military uniforms and use similar weapons. There have also been reports of soldiers fighting alongside Jukuns during some attacks, particularly in Taraba State – see Section V below.5 Adamawa State borders Taraba State to the east.6 Information collected from local sources in Gbeji, including a list of 150 killed and fifteen missing compiled by Shima Ayati, Special Assistant to the Governor of Benue State and Chairman of the Tiv Taraba Crisis Relief Management and Rehabilitation Committee.7 Human Rights Watch interview, Federal Medical Centre, Makurdi, December 14, 2001.
The testimonies quoted in this report are from personal interviews carried out by Human Rights Watch and/or Human Rights Monitor, unless otherwise indicated. Some were conducted in English, while others were translated from Tiv. The identity of those who testified is withheld for their own protection.8 The tension in the area and the frequency of attacks by armed groups had led residents of some areas to set up roadblocks.9 See “The Story of Gbeji massacre, 22nd October, 2001,” compiled by Shima Ayati, Chairman of the Tiv Taraba Crisis Relief Management and Rehabilitation Committee.10 Ibid.11 Human Rights Watch interview, Federal Medical Centre, Makurdi, December 14, 2001.12 See “The Story of Gbeji massacre, 22nd October, 2001″, compiled by Shima Ayati, Chairman of the Tiv Taraba Crisis Relief Management and Rehabilitation Committee.13 Human Rights Watch interview, Gbeji, December 14, 2001.14 Human Rights Watch interview, Federal Medical Centre, Makurdi, December 13, 2001.15 Human Rights Watch interview, Makurdi, December 13, 2001.16 Human Rights Watch interviews in Gbeji and Tse-Gube, December 14, 2001.17 Human Rights Watch interviews in Vaase, December 14, 2001.18 As mentioned above, the soldiers who carried out the killings and destruction in Benue were from Yola, in Adamawa State. However, they were often referred to as being from Taraba, because they entered Benue through Taraba, and there were rumors that they had been deployed with the approval or at least the knowledge of state authorities in Taraba.19 Human Rights Watch interview in Kyado, December 16, 2001.20 Human Rights Watch interview in Abuja, December 20, 2001.
Victor Malu is the former chief of staff of the Nigerian army. His home in the village of Tse-Adoor, near Zaki-Biam, was targeted and destroyed by soldiers on October 23 and 24 (see section on Tse-Adoor, below).21 Human Rights Watch interviews in Anyiin and Makurdi, December, 2001.22 Human Rights Watch interview in Zaki-Biam, December 16, 2001.23 Human Rights Watch interview in Zaki-Biam, December 19, 2001.24 Human Rights Watch interviews in Zaki-Biam, Makurdi and Abuja, December 2001, and amateur video filmed in the immediate aftermath of the killings in Zaki-Biam by a researcher of Mzough U Tiv (United Tiv organization).25 Human Rights Watch interviews in Tse-Adoor, December 16, 2001.26 Human Rights Watch interview in Tse-Adoor, December 16, 2001.
Terwase Akwaza’s Ghost
I wept in a dream when I went to bed yesterday, after the sad news of the murder of Terkula Suswam reached me. I found myself telling some associates I was weeping for Sankera. We have recorded many deaths and Terkula’s, a condemnable homicide, is another sacrifice -a metaphor of the debilitating security in Sankera area of Benue State. Truth is, our boys and political leaders have failed us. I was home during the weekend. First, the federal government has neglected the road for years to tear into potholes that make cars tumble. From Takum to Gbise -just a few kilometres, I counted no fewer than 18 military checkpoints. No vrooming of a vehicle. Some dwelling places deserted. This essayist hails from Gbise, where many homes have been reduced to ashes by both militia gangs and the armed forces. The atmosphere there is that of trepidation. It was in Tor Donga, Harga and Abaji settlements that I saw a few cars passing, each overloaded with passengers.Of recent, the Shitile people buried one of their community elders, Francis Zaaya, in his Yooyo ancestral home. Some illustrious sons were present to pay their last respect. As mourners dispersed, militia men wielding guns were spotted nearby. Their mission was not known. Soldiers boomed the air with unbroken gunshots that sounded for several minutes, to stop them from marauding. The mourners trembled, hurtling helter-skelter. The gunmen, without returning fire, retreated to their base. No death was recorded, but a woman got injured by a stray bullet from the troops.Before Zaaya’s burial, Benue state government had imposed a dusk-to-dawn curfew in Katsina Ala and Ukum councils of Sankera. The use of motorcycles has also been banned. Authorities said the measures would help decimate criminals. But the episode at Zaaya’s burial signaled that the presence of military troops, the curfew imposed and okada ban would not address the insecurity in Sankera.Motorbikes are the major means of transportation in this country. In Sankera, farm produce are conveyed mostly on motorcycles to the markets. If you want to worship in the village, attend a marriage ceremony or burial, bikes are the easiest means. In the remotest areas, even the dead and coffins are carried on bikes. There are no access roads and only a few residents can afford a motor vehicle. Camels and donkeys are not used. In the early 1970s, my father rode a power bike 175, which he borrowed from his boss in office, from Katsina Ala to Yooyo to seek the hand of a Princess in marriage. The conjugation between the two gave birth to me.
That fruitful trip will not be possible this time. 90 percent of the residents are back to the ancient time of trekking. And they must shelter-in-place at 8.pm until dawn. A story was told of a man who, unaware of the okada restriction, rode a motorbike to a market to get a piece of pork meat for evening meal. He was stopped by soldiers who seized and burnt his motorcycle. There are allegations that some of the soldiers have turned to hulks of bully to innocent persons. They don’t want to see young men with tattoos like Ibrahimovic, wear rough jeans like Lady Gaga, carry dreadlocks like BBN winner, Laycon. There are allegations that the soldiers extort commercial drivers and sometimes arrest innocent persons. The ban on okada came after the chairman of Katsina Ala council, Atera Alfred, was attacked by gunmen on Christmas eve. He was lucky but six persons were feared killed. Few days later, three relatives of ex-Assembly member, Iaana Jato, were killed and his home in the village set ablaze. Earlier, many others, including my village head Zaki Ambe were killed by militia men. This writer had condemned all the attacks and killings.Worried by the killings, some clerics and traditional rulers organised a prayer-meeting at Tor Donga to tackle the problem spiritually. Sen. Gabriel Suswam and other political elites attended. It was reported that Suswam was tough in his speech, his words spraying vitriol. His face flushing with anger, he couldn’t capture the hearts of the bandits. Instead, he warned he would deploy more troops to neutralise them. 24 hours after Suswam left, the militia killed a policeman at a checkpoint and carted away his riffle. It means the prayers did not work. The police, instead of going after the culprits, torched houses, including food stuff, in Ucha and Kumpa villages, how not to protect lives and property.Terwase Akwaza’s murder comes to mind. Terwase, a.k.a Ghana, both in life and death, figures prominently in the security challenge confronting Sankera. However, our clerics and monarchs were able to overwhelm Terwase with love and sermons. He repented and led other 172 goons to lay down arms. Sankera was on the road to peace.
Unfortunately, the peace process was truncated when the military ‘seized’ Terwase and some of the other repentant criminal commanders and summarily executed them. The military showed us a gory picture of the late militia leader, bullets pockmarked his chest, his right hand mutilated. Many condemned his execution. A source shared with me a message which Terwase sent through a stakeholder to Governor Ortom when he repented. He asked Ortom to forgive him; should not give him appointment like in the first amnesty, and should fly him abroad and enroll him for studies, “even if it’s an adult school.” When Ghana was killed, I perused through the book of time and wrote that the remaining repentant criminals will crawl back to their terrorists enclaves for more barbaric missions. What happened? They are the ones who have regrouped and returned to their old ways.In all of this, innocent people are the ones bearing the brunt. When others were afraid, Terkula, a humorous good jolly fellow, went home because he had done no one any wrong. Like many of those killed, he is a victim of transfer of aggression. Where were the soldiers when the gunmen, cruising a small car, gunned him and one of his aides down just opposite the gate of his home in Anyiin, in spite of a military base nearby? Where were the soldiers when the gunmen, decked in military camouflage, invaded the Katsina Ala chairman’s residence in day time, unleashed terror and left freely? Our boys have become like cyborg assassins in Schwarzenegger’s The Terminator. We cannot continue like this. The killings, kidnappings, armed robbery and other criminal activities must stop. As if poet Amanda was referring to Sankera during Joe Biden’s inauguration as US 46th president, when she crooned: “let us lay down our arms so we can reach out our arms to one another. Let us seek harm to none and harmony for all.”Is it not a big shame that our traditional rulers have fled their homes? Our land has been polluted by blood from primitive slaughter. The Scripture says God abhors human sacrifice. At the psychological moment, a ram appeared. And God told Abraham to free Isaac unhurt and sacrifice the animal. Before then, the boy (Isaac) asked his dad where the lamb was for the sacrifice. So, why are our boys killing people? Revolution? No. Vengeance? Terwase Akwaza did not ask anyone to take revenge on his behalf. His ghost will not come to torment. His parting oration was to “die with Jesus,” for peace to return in Sankera. And I expect him with Christ in Paradise like the penitent thief on the cross.We need truce to heal the wounds, purify the land with peace and return to those years of production and bountiful harvest; markets for all. Military troops are eliminating some of these criminal elements, but they cannot kill all of them no matter how gallant they may claim to be. Also note that continuous killing of young men in a community is counterproductive. I am told there is a frosty relationship among the goons over who now becomes commander-in-chief.
So, while they are killing one another, soldiers are decimating them. If they say they are angry with the leaders who used and abandoned them, how can they oppose them through the ballots when they are been killed, when they continue to run in the bush like outcasts? My message is: live and let’s live peacefully. How can you elect good leaders who will protect your interest, bring development and generally govern well if you are not reintegrated in the society as law abiding citizens? Without a strong and formidable lawful youths, the same people you are rejecting will bounce back on the plebis scitum on military power during election. Truth is, these boys have disgraced us with their bad ways. The politicians who patronised them are also guilty of the crimes they are committing, the tears and destructions caused.It is high time we threw the unhappy past behind us and move forward peacefully. Some of the leaders have been pulling us back because of their squabbles with Jonathan Agbidyeh who represents Katsina Ala east in the State Assembly. That must stop. We must forgive one another and mend fences before God will grant our quest for peace. Those saying the criminals are Agbidyeh’s boys because they supported the APC that gave the lawmaker victory at the 2019 poll are wrong. The same boys toted riffles to give Buhari victory in the area. Are they Buhari boys too? Some of those complaining had also used these boys in past polls to win political offices. Agbidyeh has to be supported by blameless people in canvassing for peace. It is not about who gets the glory. It’s not about APC, neither PDP. Good news is that Governor Ortom has now been detailed the truth about what is happening in Sankera. A few honest persons spoke and the true gist got to his listening ears. With the governor’s permission, Agbidyeh yesterday met with traditional rulers, as he planned to meet with teachers and other stakeholders today. The meetings were planned to clear the weeds of hostilities for peace to be cultivated. Sadly, as the meeting was ending, news of Terkula’s murder filtered the air.But that should not deter us in our peace efforts. Security is the responsibility of every concerned person. If we don’t tackle the problem by ourselves today, even military troops will not fix it for us and the fire of violence will consume everyone directly or indirectly. So, what we need is reconciliation, (not negotiation) to be followed by rehabilitation and reconstruction (RRR). To alleviate the suffering of innocent people, Ortom should lift the ban on motorcycles and monitor the response. If Ortom cannot lift the ban, he should supply tricycles. In 2012, when a suicide bomber on a motorcycle hit a police convoy in Jalingo, killing 11 persons in explosion, the late Governor Danbaba Suntai stopped the use of motorbikes in the state capital. But his tricycles arrived before the ban. It was the same approach in Kano city when attacks on government institutions, churches and mosques by Boko Haram terrorists inspired the banning of motorcycles. With commercial motorcycles, a youth could put food on the table, cater for his wife and kids or pay his school fees. That source of livelihood has been terminated. Poverty can inspire an idle youth to join a criminal gang. The killers of the former governor’s elder brother did not use a motorbike to strike in Logo. In Katsina-Ala and Ukum where people are trekking, the militants are still riding bikes, it was learnt.Senkera has been socioeconomically held in the jugular for long a time. It has been in comatose without our leaders showing concern. I know only a few who are bothered, but they are incapable to solve the hydra-headed problem. Security is not all about bullets, bombs and rockets or other military hardwares. It requires more of intelligence sharing and synergy with the community involved. We need a new approach to tackle the security challenge in Sankera. Like Bruce Schneier says, if you think you can fix security problems with weapons, then you don’t understand the problems, neither you understand the weapons, because criminals use the same weapons. Security is for the people, not people for security.
Fanen Ihyongo is Editor of The Nation, Kano/Northwest Operation.