Troops of 93 Battalion of the Nigerian Army stationed in Takum, Taraba State, have arrested nine well-armed militia from Benue State, claiming to be members of government sponsored security volunteers.
The armed gang were arrested at Arufu, a boundary town between Taraba and Benue States, a military intelligence source told told PRNigeria on Tuesday.
Five of the suspects were armed with AK-45 rifles fully loaded. On their arrest, a reinforcement of a purported Civilian JTF Group came to prevent the troops from taking them to custody.
The military source further disclosed that when the soldiers stood their ground, the armed militia’s reinforcement later withdrew.
The officer said: “During the preliminary investigation the arrested armed gang claimed that the weapons were issued to them by one Aliyu Tashaku through an agent of government.
“The suspects also confirmed that they were 60 in number in their own camp located at Gbeyi, Benue State. However, further investigation revealed that they were more than 700 and well-armed at the camp where they were trained by selected ex-service men on a monthly allowance of N15,000.00 from their sponsors.”
The suspects are cooperating with their investigators while security operatives are conducting further investigations to unravel the real sponsors of the armed gang and their motives.
Meanwhile, the Presidency says it is determined to find short and long term solutions to frequent conflicts between farmers and herdsmen across the country, a presidential spokesman, Mr Garba Shehu, has said.
Shehu, in a statement issued in Abuja on Tuesday, said President Buhari had been concerned about these conflicts each time he received those very gruesome pictures of mayhem from several parts of the country, especially as it affected Benue and neighbouring states.
He said the president was equally worried about “some public pronouncements and finger-pointing that are, in most cases very unhelpful to peaceful coexistence of our diverse peoples.
“The President is conscious of his duty to Nigerians, not least because he is held accountable for everything that goes wrong.
“He deeply sympathises with the families and all the other direct and indirect victims of this violence. He is determined to bring it to a permanent end’’.
To this end, Shehu disclosed that the presidency is planning a conference of stakeholders on infrastructural and agricultural development to put in place a plan for immediate relief and long term plan for the expansion of agriculture in the country.
According to him, the conference will tap into experiences and best practices to draw up a planned development for 20-30 years ahead based on population and development projections, and will take into consideration environmental impacts.
“While there are many Nigerians who see the conflict between the nomadic herdsmen and peasant farmers as an ethnic problem, others point to religious differences and agenda. The President does not subscribe to such simplistic reductionism.
“President Buhari holds the view, as do many experts, that these conflicts are more often than not, as a result of major demographic changes in Nigeria.
“When Nigeria attained independence, the population of the country was estimated at about 63,000,000. Today the population is estimated at close to 200,000,000; while the land size has not changed and will not change.
“Urban sprawl and development have simply reduced land area both for peasant farming and cattle grazing.’’
Shehu, who is the Senior Special Assistant to the President on Media and Publicity, therefore, described as both unfair and unkind, for anyone to keep insinuating that the president was condoning the spate of killings in Benue and other neighbouring states.
He said the president had publicly condemned the violence at every turn.
“He is prepared to permit every possible step that can lead to the stoppage of the killings. It is on account of this he brushed aside an opinion that the federal government should challenge the constitutionality of the anti-open grazing bill.
“He wanted to give a chance to the state governments to succeed in stopping the senseless killings,’’ Shehu said.
The presidential aide recalled that as he did in dealing with the Boko Haram insurgency in northeast Nigeria, which required sustained action from the government before it was finally curtailed, the president gave the relevant mandates to the country’s security agencies to put a stop to the Benue killings.
“The killings must stop and the security agencies have the President’s support to do this as quickly as possible.
“Whipping up hate may captivate the public and score political points on social media, but it will not bring an end to the crisis.
“Let every stakeholder instead sit down with the government and security forces and carry everyone along in finding an all-embracing solution.
“As a father, a military General and a statesman, President Buhari has maintained lasting relationships with Nigerians, Muslims and Christians among every ethnic group.
“It is also a known fact that the young people who trek the whole distance of thousands of kilometers tending the cattle do not own the cattle. In fact, many of the cattle are not owned by Fulanis or Muslims.
“The point is that it is too simplistic to see the conflict as ethnic or religious,’’ he said.
Shehu called on all citizens particularly the media to cooperate and join hands with the government to find permanent solutions and not to aggravate or escalate tensions in all conflict areas of the country.