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How military operation restored normalcy in troubled Benue, Nasarawa, Taraba

Undoubtedly, normalcy now appeared real in troubled communities of Benue, Nasarawa and Taraba states which were hitherto ravaged by herders-farmers crisis as well as other…

Undoubtedly, normalcy now appeared real in troubled communities of Benue, Nasarawa and Taraba states which were hitherto ravaged by herders-farmers crisis as well as other criminal activities before the advent of special military squad codenamed, Operation Whirl Stroke (OPWS).

Some locals who told our correspondent during a recent tour of the affected vicinities with senior security officials that following the military action in their areas, they could now go about their normal businesses without any harassment.

Force Commander of OPWS, Major General Adeyemi Yekini, corroborating the villagers, nodded in affirmation that his troop had done well in all areas of operation within its mandate in the three states.

Yekini particularly thumbs up for the calmness which now pervades Gbishe community, the home of allegedly most wanted criminal kingpin, Terwase Akwaza popularly known as “Gana” in Kastina-Ala Local Government Area of Benue State.

He handed a clean bill of health to Gbishe residents as he beat his chest, stressing, “I’ve done well.”

Similarly, Prince Shiban Tikari and Adi Daniel; both chairmen of Takum and Wukari local government areas of Taraba States respectively admitted, that peace had indeed returned to their areas.

However the both Taraba council chairmen in separate interviews blamed the unrest in their locality on the wanted kingpin, saying that he (Gana) instigated conflict in their domains which borders Benue State.

Our correspondent also observed many locals transacting businesses at their village markets even as they expressed delight over the military operations which restored peace in their surroundings.

It would be recalled that in July 2018, the Defence Headquarters in Abuja, flagged off the OPWS aimed at taming cases of herders’ attacks, armed banditry, kidnappings, cattle rustling and other related crimes in Benue, Nasarawa and Taraba states.

Sequel to the military operation, many villages within the troubled communities were deserted, several people killed, properties destroyed while farms and farm land were either abandoned or set ablaze by invaders and socio-economic activities muzzled.

Thousands of villagers were also displaced such that the Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) camps opened in various locations swelled on daily basis as the atrocities of armed bandits worsened in the three states.

But, the coming of OPWS in the eyes of the afflicted villagers had helped in no small measures to bring back life to their various communities despite the fact many others still remained in the camps because their homes were already ruined and they had nowhere to return to.

Indeed, achieving the feat was by no easy means as the OPWS Force Commander, while conducting the Acting Director Defence Information, Brigadier General Onyeka Nwachukwu, around his Joint Areas of Operation (JAO) explained to newsmen that his troop employed both kinetic and non kinetic strategy to achieve peace.

The Force Commander, Yekini, noted that in addition to series of offensives conducted on hideouts of criminal gangs engaged community leaders on peace talks.

Yekini intimated that Gana’s gang which operated mostly on the borderline local government areas between Benue and Taraba states was further weakened by the offensive from OPWS, with support from 72 Special Forces Battalion in Makurdi and 93 Battalion Takum.

Also, Commander of Sector 2 of OPWS, stationed at Gbishe, Major Muhammed Isa, said that the operations in Gana’s home town had neutralised the kingpin’s “boys” as he added optimistically that, “very soon, Gana will be arrested. We are closing in on him.”

Daily Trust on Sunday reports that Gana had been on the run for allegedly cases of kidnapping, robbery, murder and cattle rustling as well as terrorising residents around his Benue home areas and border towns of Taraba State.

Meanwhile, dozens of Gana’s men have been arrested since the operation commenced in 2018 with some of them neutralised in the course of gun battle with security operatives while large cache of arms and ammunition were recovered in the process.

Interestingly, the hitherto no go area of Gana’s illegal operations axis along the Katsina-Ala-Gbishe-Takum road has now become accessible to commuters.

Before this time, the road was a kidnappers den with criminal elements having field day as they abducted mobbed and robbed their victims.

To this end, Major Isa posited his men have overcome the initial challenge of getting cooperation from the locals who earlier denied them information for fear of being killed by Gana’s ally.

“One of the initial challenges was lack of cooperation from the locals in terms of volunteering information. Now that they have realised that we are here to ensure that they have peace and they are cooperating,” the OPWS Sector 2 Commander added.

At the moment, locals are apprehensive over alleged plan by the military authorities to wind off the operation just as many of them opined the operation in Benue, Nasarawa and Taraba states appeared the most successful military operation in the country.

One of the local chiefs, a Kindred Head of Mbanienge in Mbayongo District in Kastina-Ala, Zaki Stephen Keghter, maintained that the operation has achieved peace in the area.

While at Donga in Taraba State, Manasseh Bemua, who appreciated the Federal Government for deploying troops to the area appealed to the government not to withdraw the security, at least for now.

Other locals who spoke on condition of anonymity also appealed to the federal government not to shut down the operations until stability of the restored peace in the affected areas and return home of those still at the camps.

But an authority from the Defence Headquarters in Abuja has dismissed fears from residents of the troubled areas over the alleged planned to phase out the ongoing OPWS.

The Acting Director of Information at the Defence Headquarters in Abuja, Brigadier General Nwachukwu, said the Defence Headquarters has no plans to “outright shut down” the operation adding, that adequate arrangements were in place to forestall future attacks in Joint Areas of Operation of OPWS.

Nwachukwu, who was also on tour of the JAO – Nasarawa, Benue and Taraba states, said the Defence Headquarters considers access to Sankera axis in Benue  (includes Gana’s community) and the peace in areas of conflict due to the joint agencies’ operation as a huge success.

The senior Army spokesman expressed satisfaction that socio-economic activities have returned to the axis, which formally became a death trap for residents due to herders invasion, communal crisis and other forms of criminality allegedly perpetuated by the Gana gang.

Also, Lieutenant Colonel, Paul Hemba (rtd), Special Adviser to the Governor of Benue state on Security Matters and Lieutenant Colonel Tukura Nuhu (rtd), Special Assistant to the Taraba state Governor on Security Matters, appealed that the operation should be allowed to continue to next year.

On his part, the Force Commander of OPWS, who led the tour, assured that Gbishe and other troubled areas under the captivity of the suspected criminal kingpin as well as armed bandits had been liberated.

The Force Commander who further paid glowing tribute on his troops as well as 72 Special Forces in Makurdi Battalion and 93 Battalion Takum, disclosed that before his troops arrival, the wanted kingpin was running the Sankera axis (comprising of three local governments in Benue) like his own state.

In the meantime, the one worry on the minds of the locals remains the alleged plans to withdraw troops as most of them are anxious that doing so would quickly shatter the peace freshly restored to the areas because the dry season during which influx of herders are usually noticed in the troubled surroundings had set in and would soon reach its peak.


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