The whereabouts of about 30 indigenes of Kenvanger in Katsina-Ala Local Government Area of Benue State is now the cause of disagreement between the natives and members of Operation Whirl Stroke (OPWS) operating in the area.
The 30 indigenes were said to have been arrested by troops in November, 2020.
While the locals are of the belief that the troops may have killed the locals, the military spike operation in the state said that the suspects were alive and well.
Some of the locals who spoke with Daily Independent in Katsina-Ala weekend also alleged that following the ban on motorcycles in the area, instead of impounding bikes that flouted the directive of the State Security Council (SSC), the troops have resorted to setting impounded bikes on fire.
The OPWS also debunked the allegation that bikes were being set ablaze, describing the allegation as false.
Even though the chairman of the LGA, Alfred Atera, confirmed the burning of bikes, he said he had received the report that only one bike was set on fire as at Sunday.
On the arrests, the locals alleged that the 30 suspects were picked up by the troops while they were planning for the burial of one Igbalagh Aondoakaa, who died of a bike accident along the Gbise-Atumbe-Kenvanger road on November 21, 2020.
The natives explained that since the suspects were arrested about two months ago, their families were yet to hear from them, just as none of them had been returned by the troops.
The inhabitants of the area further noted that although the OPWS had denied making the arrests, they had severally sighted the vehicles used to convey the suspects at the military base in Gbishe.
However, OPWS has debunked the allegation of mass killing of suspects, adding that the military would never embark on such a venture.
It also stated that the spike operation does not subscribe to setting bikes on fire, adding that rather, the bandits were directly and indirectly fighting the ban on motorcycles in the area.
Efforts by Daily independent to get the Force Commander, OPWS, Major General Adeyemi Yekini, to confirm or deny the findings proved abortive.
General Yekini, who spoke with Daily Independent on phone, declined comments on the issues. He, however, referred us to the Information Unit of Defence Headquarters headed by General Enenche.
But top and competent sources at the military base in Gbishe tacitly confirmed that the suspects were alive and well and that it was not true that they had been killed.
One of the sources hinted that the 30 suspects had been put out of circulation for the time being because their release may further acts of criminality in the area.
According to him, if the troops had arrested the suspects, the likely scenario is that “the arresting authorities” may have kept the suspects out of circulation as measures to reduce the rising state of insecurity in the Sankera axis.
According to him, “The military has a policy of removing bad eggs from the society and releasing them only when it believes that such suspects will cause less damage to the society.
“How do you expect us to believe that the gathering was to prepare for burial; we didn’t bump into them by mistake, we went to the place based on intelligence we received.”
He noted that most of the persons that were being picked would probably have one form of connection or another with bandits and were being detained and interrogated by the arresting authorities.
He further explained that it was also possible that the arresting authorities may be keeping the suspects out of circulation for peace to reign in the area and they would be released when the military were sure that they would be of less harm to the society.
According to him, “The military doesn’t see them (bandits) as our enemies; we see them as misguided youths and are hoping that God will touch them and they will soon return to the normal way of life.”
The source stressed that this was among the measures the military had taken that had brought about relative peace in the area and made it possible for people to pass through the area unscathed.
On the issue of bikes impounded by the troops, the source said: “The truth is that the state government has banned the use of bikes and this ban has seriously reduced the level of crime in the area.
“When you fight bandits, they fight you back and it is likely that it is the bandits and their sponsors that are sending these fake allegations against OPWS.”
Similarly, the Katsina-Ala LGA chairman, Alfred Atera, told Daily Independent that in situations like this, there were bound to be resistance.
He observed: “Personally, I’m not aware that bikes have been set on fire. It was just now that someone informed me that one bike has been set ablaze. I did not authorise anyone to set any bike on fire.
“I spoke to the DPO (District Police Officer), he explained that he was in touch with the CP (Commissioner of Police), who said if the impounded bikes were many on the ground, he would send a vehicle to move them to Makurdi.
“But, you know, in a situation like this, there are some people do these things with impunity, so out of anbound to be resistances; ger someone may do that (set a bike ablaze), but I was informed that only one bike has been set on fire.
“Also, I’ve been in touch with the chairman of the motorcycle association in Katsina-Ala, but he is yet to report anything to me.”
On the recent assassination attempt on his life, Atera said: “Prior to the attack, there were threats on my life.
“The threats were unconfirmed and were coming from different sources; that was when the revenue cashier of my LGA was kidnapped and demands were made for ransom.
“But no one ever confirmed to me that I was a target; I didn’t envisage that anyone was coming to attack me in my house.
“I usually live a normal life and keep the gate to my house open; even on that fateful day, I had about a hundred people in the house.”
In the same vein, some of the natives visited troops in Gbishe to felicitate with them during the Christmas and New Year celebrations.
Efforts by Daily Independent to sight the vehicles that were allegedly used to convey the suspects to Gbishe proved abortive as they were not on ground.