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Benue State - Operation Whirl Stroke

Since 2017, 385 people have been killed in Benue state alone as a result of the herdsmen crisis, according to the Armed Conflict Location and Event Data (ACLED) project. There was a sharp spike in the number of deaths at the beginning of 2018. “Herdsmen” have become the “ambiguous bogeyman”, an umbrella term for explaining the collapse of public order.

Benue state lies in Nigeria’s so-called Middle Belt that separates the predominantly Muslim north from the largely Christian south. The area has long been a hotbed of ethnic, sectarian and religious tensions between indigenous farming communities, who are mainly Christian, and the nomadic cattle herders, who are Muslim.

Located in north-central geopolitical zone of Nigeria, Benue State was created out of the old Benue-Plateau State in 1976 with its headquarter is Makurdi. The state is divided into twenty three local government areas. With a population of 4,780,389 (2006 census), the state is made of several ethnic groups: Tiv, Idoma, Igede, Etulo, Abakpa, Jukun, Hausa, Akweya and Nyifon. The Tiv are the dominant ethnic group, occupying 14 local government areas, while the Idoma and Igede occupy the remaining nine local government areas. Most of the people are farmers while the inhabitants of the riverine areas engage in fishing as their primary occupation. The people of the state are famous for their cheerful and hospitable disposition as well as rich cultural heritage.

Following the continued killings of innocent citizens by armed bandits and herdsmen in Zamfara and Kaduna States, President Muhammadu Buhari ordered the establishment of Operation Whirl Stroke 2 to checkmate the situation. A statement by the Spokesman for the Defence Minister, Colonel Tukur Gusau, said the President’s approval for the establishment of Operation Whirl stroke 2 followed recommendations by the Minister of Defence, Mansur Muhammad Dan Ali.

The Operation is to complement Operation Whirl Stroke I in Benue, Nasarawa and Taraba states commanded by Major General MA Yekini which was also similar to Operation Safe Heaven Commanded by Major General Anthony Atolagbe in Jos Plateau State. The three Operations are joint operations under the control of Defence Headquarters. The Defence Headquarters has also appointed Major General Abubakar Maikobi as the Force Commander Operation Whirl Stroke II with operational headquarters in Gusau, Zamfara State.

In April 2014 the Army took the lead the battle against suspected Fulani herdsmen who had been attacking villages in Benue, Nasarawa and Plateau states, it was learnt yesterday. Many people have been killed in attacks on villages. The Defence Headquarters announced the major military response to the ongoing killings and wanton destruction of property by armed bandits in three Northcentral states.

The operation is largely aimed at capturing the itinerant armed bandits with the view to recovering their illegally acquired firearms and turning them over for investigation and prosecution. “The internal security operation is meant to capture and neutralise all the enclaves of criminal gangs. The Nigerian Air Force, Police and other security agencies are also participating in the operation designed to restore peace in the affected states. Law abiding citizens in the affected states are enjoined to cooperate by providing timely and useful information to facilitate the operation as it affects their localities,” the statement added.

In a strongly worded statement on 26 April 2018, President Muhammadu Buhari urged Nigerians in Benue, who have been bearing the brunt of unparalleled violence in the country since the New Year to look beyond the surface, as agents of disunity may be at work. “Repeated acts of mass killings and destruction in parts of the country and Benue State in particular, point to the evil design of enemies of peace and unity who have desperately been trying to bring the country to this sorry point: a brother killing brother, a neighbour killing a neighbour and a community attacking and killing members of another community”, President Buhari said in the statement by senior media assistant, Garba Shehu.

Troops of Operation Whirl Stroke (OPWS) operating in Benue, Nasarawa, Taraba and Zamfara states conducted a four prong clearance operations during the weekend of May 21, 2018. At Umaisha and Toto Villages troops ambushed the militia following a tip off of a planned attack on the two villages. On the ensuing melee 1 x G3 rifle, 193 x 17.62 mm NATO, 81xG3 rifle ammunition, a locally made pistol and 1 FN magazine filled with round were recovered and 1 militia was killed. In another development, one Abdullahi Adamu, suspected herdsman at Rukubi in Doma LGA of Nasarawa state was arrested in possession of an ID card of the vigilante group of Nigeria, Nasarawa state command and a photograph in which he posed with an AK47 rifle.

Similarly, clearance operation across Gwer West, Logo and Guma LGA’s of Benue State was conducted during the weekend. Troops made contact with heavily armed herdsmen around lower Benue and a militia camp at chetarer village. The troops engaged the militia and followed the pursuit with M135 Helicopter of their air component. This led to a large member of them being neutralized. In all 35 herdsmen were neutralized and a large number of them escap with gun shot injuries. However, one personnel was killed in action (KIA), 2 sustained slight injuries but have been treated and discharged.

Troops of 72 Special Forces Battalion killed scores of bandits 19 June 2018 while some escaped with gunshot wounds during a clearance operation Kwatan Gyemu of Benue state. Four motorcycles were recovered from the bandits, according to army spokesperson, Brig. Gen. Texas Chukwu in a statement. Nigerian Army said 23 NOvember 2018 that troops of the 707 Strike Force Brigade Benue state had neutralised armed bandit terrorising the state as well as arresting several others. The army added that "Operation is still on going in the state and troops are also closing in on another notorious kidnapper in the general area."




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