The quest to fight insecurity on all fronts in Benue State recently led to the formation of a Community Volunteer Guards saddled with the responsibility of checking criminal invasions at the grassroots. Daily Trust Saturday reports that personnel of the new outfit are expected to rise against any external attacks on their communities across the 23 local government areas of the state.
The recent introduction of a new security outfit by Governor Samuel Ortom has attracted commendation in some quarters and condemnation in others.
For long, Benue has been facing challenges of clashes between farmers and herders, banditry, kidnapping, cultism and communal crisis, among others.
It would be recalled that the devastating effect of these challenges in many areas of the state, especially communities in remote environment, had led to the continuing displacement of villagers from their homes who are now swelling up to nearly two million population at various Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) camps.
Sadly, many people, at least 5,000, according to the state government had been killed since 2011, occasioned by the several attacks on villages.
Consequent upon the development, the federal government had at different times stepped up varied security operations to stem the tide—Operation Ayem Akpetuma (lasted awhile), Operation Whirl Stroke, Operation Zenda – amid the workings of the regular military and other security agencies in the state.
Also, the state government at the wake of signing up the law to prohibit open grazing of animals in 2017, established the Livestock Guards which main duty was to enforce the law.
Howbeit, Governor Samuel Ortom, who severally appreciated the Operation Whirl Stroke (OPWS) and other security agencies for being proactive in stemming the activities of those causing insecurity in the state, noted at different fora that the personnel are overstretched and there was need to complement their efforts with the new formation because some of the attacks were carried out on rural communities simultaneously, making it difficult for them to coordinate due to inadequate manpower.
It was to this end that the governor on Thursday, August 4, during the swearing-in ceremony of the new security outfit, disclosed that his administration would apply to the Federal Government for a license to legally procure AK47, AK49 and other sophisticated weapons for the newly formed Guards.
He said the weapons would enable the Benue State Community Volunteers Guards (BSCVG) tackle murderous terrorists, adding that all the volunteers must have weapons which are licenced by the law to defend their land as they are expected to rise against any external aggression on their communities.
Ortom, who spoke during the passing-out of the first batch of the BSCVG at the IBB square in Makurdi, expressed delight that the dream of a home-grown security outfit in Benue State had become reality.
The governor lamented the worsening insecurity in the country, noting Benue State’s complicated security situation as other forms of criminality have started creeping in allegedly due to the federal government’s refusal to decisively address insecurity.
“It is owing to this failure that the Benue State Government under my watch decided to revisit the Benue State Vigilante Law of 2000, which was enacted to complement the conventional security agencies in the state to address emerging security issues. The law had to be amended by this administration to pave way for the Volunteer Guards to assist the conventional Security Agencies to curb insecurity in the state. By the provisions of the new law, the Benue State Community Volunteer Guards can therefore now carry legally approved weapons which we have duly provided.
“A date for the Batch 2 would also be announced as soon as possible. As we all witness the Passing-out Parade of these able bodied young men, we believe that security will improve in Benue State.
“It is gratifying to note that Benue State Government has procured 30 Operational Vehicles and 200 Communication gadgets to enable the Volunteer Guards function maximally. The successes we achieve today would not have been possible without the co-operation of other conventional Security Agencies in the State,” the governor added.
Ortom had outlined the mode of operation of the new outfit to include gathering valuable intelligence for the use of military and other security agencies operating within the state.
The governor, who had few years earlier launched the Livestock Guards, explained that the role of the volunteer guards in complementing the official security agencies in the state was quite distinct from the former.
He also said that the volunteers would only be assisted with little stipends at the end of every month, an amount which is already being worked out by the office of the secretary to the state government.
He said, “As a State Government, this is one expensive investment that we would have preferred to avoid if it was not forced upon us by the perpetual siege that has been mounted on our land by vicious terrorists.
“Their reign of terror has led to the displacement of over 1.5million persons from their ancestral homes and communities who are now living in Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) Camps.
“The recurrent and wanton attacks by terrorist on unarmed and innocent people of Benue State has claimed over 5,000 lives from 2011 to date.
“We are ready to wage war against this evil with the last pint of our blood; nobody can intimidate us.
“By the provisions of the new law, the Benue State Community Volunteer Guards can therefore carry legally approved weapons which we have duly provided.”
Ortom, however, stressed that the operations of the BSCVG would be strictly guided by the enabling law, warning that any personnel found operating outside the law would be shown the way out.
Earlier, Special Adviser to the Governor on Security, Lt. Col. Paul Hemba (Rtd), had said the first batch of 500 personnel of the security outfit had been trained as riot squad, unarmed combat squad and on intelligence gathering to work with conventional security agencies at the grassroots to curb insecurity, urging the personnel to be professional in the discharge of their duties,
Hemba told our correspondent in a telephone chat that the personnel were trained at the premises of College of Education, Ikpayongo in Gwer East.
“We drew instructors from the Police, Civil Defence and the DSS,” the special adviser disclosed.
Reacting to the formation of the outfit, the Tor Tiv and Chairman, Benue State Council of Chiefs, His Royal Majesty, Professor James Ayatse, commended the State House of Assembly for enacting the enabling law and pledged the full support of the traditional institution to the security outfit.
Similarly, the State Secretary of Myetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association of Nigeria (MACBAN), Ibrahim Galma, in a telephone conversation with our correspondent posited that they were fully in support of the establishment of the BSCVG by the state government to curb insecurity.
“MACBAN is advocating for unity. We are not against the community volunteer guards as long as its duty is to protect residents against the insecurity raging against states across the country. We are strongly for unity and calling all on board whether Fulani, Jukun or any other tribe to unite against the criminality threatening our country.
“It’s not only Fulani that are criminals in the state; there are bandits inside the town and localities. It’s not only the Fulani who are involved across the country, so we are saying that the community volunteer guards should work for the interest of all people and whoever is involved in criminality should be dealt with.
“We are not opposing the security outfit in all ramifications but we are against segregating or stereotypes of the Fulani as it is causing hatred between the tribe and other ethnic groups. We don’t like that. We will continue to support efforts to join hands and fight criminality,” Galma added.
Meanwhile, the APC and PDP had traded words over the new outfit with both political parties accusing each other of mischief.
The APC had through its State Publicity Secretary, Daniel Ihomun, totally condemned the BCVGs commissioned by Governor Ortom, alleging that similar outfits in the state such as the disbanded vigilante group and the Livestock Guards were not successful.
The party also alleged that the birthing of the new outfit in the build up to the 2023 elections and in the twilight of Ortom’s administration would be used to rig the coming polls, even as they questioned the source of funding now and later.
Ihomun stated, “We therefore view with a lot of suspicion, the sudden flaunting of a security outfit by Governor Samuel Ortom at the wee hours of his administration and seek clarifications on the following questions;
“Why is Gov Samuel Ortom who is in the twilight of his administration suddenly insistent on establishing a new security outfit with the kind of logistics that he failed to provide for similar groups he created a few years ago? What is the strategy for sustaining this outfit after the Ortom-led administration?”
In a swift reaction however, the PDP State Publicity Secretary, Bemgba Iortyom, emphasised that, “the PDP as the sponsoring platform of the Governor Ortom administration is satisfied that the recruiting/training, kitting/equipping as well as gazetting/unveiling of the BCVGs as a modification of the Vigilante Group represents the “triumph of hope over despondency, courage over intimidation, and above all, the will of the people over the tyranny of the oppressor.
“The BCVGs as a purely community security focused outfit has neither orientation nor inclination towards political interference of any form whatsoever, moreover, at this time of enhanced electoral reforms and voter awareness, it is myopic, cowardly and prematurely defeatist for the APC to insinuate such an outfit could have a role in the electoral process come 2023.”
It would also be recalled that the governor had in October 2021 accented to the Benue State amended Community Vigilante Law aimed at the establishment of the community volunteer guards.
The amendment law, 20 years after its initial enactment during the reign of former Governor George Akume, had paved way for the recruitment and operations of the community guards in all areas of the state.
State Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice, Barr. Mike Gusa, earlier explained during the signing ceremony that the old law had lapses which necessitated the amendment of the new law passed by the state assembly in 2021.
Our correspondent reports that the outfit personnel were recruited from kindred levels, according to the governor who had in May last year proscribed vigilante groups which he alleged were illegally operating in the state.
It’s, however, expected that the new outfit whose formation was adopted for full enforcement by the state security council and other stakeholders at an expanded meeting last year would complement security forces in the state to ensure orderliness in neighbourhoods.