The military yesterday stepped up efforts in hunting down gunmen, suspected to be herdsmen, who attacked Benue State Governor, Dr. Samuel Ortom, last Saturday, as troops combed forest and mounted surveillance around areas considered to be security flashpoints in the state.
Commander of Operation Whirl Stroke (OPWS), Maj. Gen. Adeyemi Yekini, told reporters at the scene of the attack near Tyo-mu, along Makurdi-Gboko highway that troops had been deployed in the area and are currently combing the forest, which serves as a hideout for the assailants.
He said their makeshift camps had also been destroyed.
The governor also yesterday dismissed the allegation that the attack, which occurred during a visit to his farm, was stage-managed, warning that 2023 general elections will not hold if insecurity persists.
In addition, the House of Representatives has asked the Nigeria Police Force and the Department of State Services (DSS) to go after a shadowy group, Fulani Nationality Movement (FUNAM), which claimed responsibility for the attack on Ortom.
Yekini said the patrol of the area by the troops would also help check cases of militia herdsmen and other criminals emerging from the forest across River Benue to unleash mayhem on the people.
Yekini, who was at the scene of the attack with the Security Adviser to the Benue State Governor, Col. Paul Hemba (rtd), stated that after the attack, his troops immediately moved in to clear the area, and would remain in the area for the next few days.
He said: “We brought you journalists here so you can see for yourselves the area where the governor was attacked. We were informed on Saturday some hours after the incident took place and I deployed my men who started searching into the Abinsi forest for the gunmen.
“I came on Sunday with more troops to check the situation. We started combing the area and the forest and discovered some camps and destroyed them. We should not be judged by this singular assignment. We have accepted it was a security breach and we will take action.
“We have identified and destroyed some camps in the forest but yet to arrest anyone.”
He said permanent patrol will be set up around the axis to maintain order in the area.
According to him, since coming on board three years ago, the military operation has killed over 100 criminals, with close to 700 weapons recovered in Benue, Taraba and Nasarawa States.
He added that the highest number of arms recovery was made in Benue State.
He said the military had improved security, adding that notorious criminals like Terwase Akwaza, a.k.a Gana, based in Sankera axis had also been killed.
Yekini said some of Gana’s top lieutenants, numbering about 10, were among those killed, adding that the military will get the rest of them now on the run.
“It is because of some local interest that some of these criminals have been shielded and I appeal to residents to volunteer information about bandits’ hideouts for necessary action and their refusal to provide useful information had been our challenge,” he stated.
Hemba told journalists that though troops of Operation Whirl Stroke and other security agents arrived promptly, they could not get the assailants who retreated into the forest.
He said so far, no arrest had been made in connection with the attack.
When asked if some of the people seen by journalists at the river were questioned by the police, he confirmed that they were questioned, but no arrest was made.
I have No Reason to Fake My Attack, Says Benue Gov
Meanwhile, Ortom yesterday faulted the allegation that the attack was stage-managed as there was no reason to do so.
He told journalists after a closed-door meeting with President Muhammadu Buhari at the State House, Abuja that his security aides, including those from other parts of the country witnessed the attack.
He also stressed the need to secure the nation ahead of the 2023 general elections, while vowing not to repeal the state’s anti-grazing law notwithstanding the threat to his life.
The governor also reiterated the call by Buhari that the attempt on his life should not be politicised.
He said: “We should know when to play politics and when to team up together to work as a team to salvage the country. That is what I’m saying. Those who are saying that I stage-managed the attack – what benefit do I stand to gain by coming up to say that I was attacked?”
While lauding the president for his stand on the shoot-on-sight order on carriers of AK-47, Ortom said the presidency needed to be encouraged in securing the nation.
The governor warned that the forthcoming 2023 general poll could only hold if there is a well secured nation between now and then.
He said: “2023, yes, to a politician is not far but is still a long way. If we secure our country, and everything is working fine, then we can talk about 2023. But the way things are going, if we don’t secure the country, there is no way we can be talking about 2023. That is why I’ve always dismissed people who come to me to say that you’ll contest this you’ll contest that. For me, I want us as leaders of this country, we have taken an oath of office, let us abide by those things we have said, and work together as a team, leave politics aside. Leave ethnicity aside, but secure the country, Nigeria.
“We have no other country other than Nigeria. We cannot go to Cameroon or Senegal or any other place and so, my appeal to everyone is to ensure that we work together, security matters are not just for the security agencies alone.”
Ortom vowed that despite the threat to his life, the anti-grazing law which, he said, was working in the state, would not be repealed.
He stated that through the anti-grazing law, normalcy has returned to the state with some arrests made and others prosecuted under the law.
“So far, we have done very well. The law has arrested more than 500 people. More than 200 people were prosecuted and convicted with more than 13,000 herds of cattle arrested and the fines were paid, and they were released. And we have no problem with killing anybody anyhow in Benue State.
“And that is one of the things that I am saying that those people will think that they own this country should be apprehended and prosecuted or otherwise will begin to think that they are sacred cows. Miyetti Allah, FUNAM and all those ones, they are responsible, creating problems all over the place by what they say,” he said.
Also yesterday, the House of Representatives charged the police and the DSS to go after a shadowy group, FUNAM, which has claimed responsibility for the attack on Ortom.
In its resolution at plenary, the House called on the “Department of State Services and Nigeria Police to investigate claims of responsibility on the attack of Governor Samuel Ortom, as well as other threats and statements allegedly attributed to one Umar Amir Shehu and the Fulani National Movement (FUNAM).”
The resolution followed the adoption of a motion moved by Hon. Kpam Sokpo on behalf of other lawmakers from Benue State.
Presenting the motion, the lawmaker expressed concern about the worsening insecurity nationwide.
He stated that since the attack on Ortom, the media has been awash with reports that a group identified as FUNAM has claimed responsibility for the incident.