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Sunday, 15 September 2013

Nasarawa crisis latestSoldiers Can’t Stop Ombatse, Alago militia

by Hir Joseph, Lafia
An overloaded mini bus conveying children from Obi, to Lafia
. 30,000 displaced, death toll mounts as PDP Chairman’s house, towns and villages are razed down
Though no fewer than 14 trucks of armed soldiers from the 177 Brigade of Guards Battalion, otherwise known as Shitu Alao Barracks in Keffi, were deployed to  areas hit in the Ombatse/Alago violence in Nasarawa State yesterday,  eyewitnesses said the security operatives only looked on, as assailants set fire on towns and villages.  
Reports said no fewer than 30 persons were feared dead on the first day of the mayhem, which hit Adabu Alago settlement of Obi Local Government Area, but the unconfirmed death toll was thought to have increased because the crisis spread to Obi town, the headquarters of the local government area, as well as Assakio, an outskirt town in Lafia Local Government Area, by yesterday. In Obi, the residence of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) North Central Zonal Chairman, Yusuf Ayitogo, was razed, just like that of a former Commissioner for Agriculture in the state, Salihu Iyimoga.
The properties were reportedly touched by members of the Ombatse militia group. Two cars belonging to the PDP chieftain were also vandalized.
Obi is located along Lafia-Obi-Awe-Taraba borders Road, while Assakio is located along Lafia-Shendam Road; all in the southern parts of the state.
Authorities, including the state government and security agencies are yet to confirm the death toll, just as they have not confirmed reports that much of the three areas hit by the violence, were burned down between Friday and yesterday. But they did not also deny reports that no fewer than 30 persons were killed on Friday alone in Adabu Alago, the first to be attacked.
Youths suspected to be members of the Eggon group called Ombatse, as well as those of Alago ethnic group, were involved in the crisis, but the spread of the violence and burning, as well as killing, was blamed on Eggon youths.
The Deputy Governor of Nasarawa State, Dameshi Barau Luka, went on a statewide broadcast, fingering the Eggon group of Ombatse in the arson that hit Adabu Alago, Obi town and Assakio.
“This unprovoked attack by some Eggon youths suspected to be members of the outlawed Ombatse cult on the innocent people of Adabu and other parts of Obi and Assakio towns is to say the least, barbaric, condemnable and an affront on the security lives  and properties of innocent citizens”, the live broadcast said in part.
The broadcast was the outcome of the State Security Council (SCC) meeting which started on Friday, and continued yesterday. Those in attendance included the Deputy Governor, traditional rulers, and heads of security agencies in the state, namely the police, Department of State Service (DSS), the 177 Brigade of Guards Battalion, the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corp (NSCDC), the Nigerian Prisons as well as the Nigerian Immigration Service.         
But the leader of Eggon people, Chris Mamman, told Sunday Trust on phone that the violence “is unfortunate”, expressing displeasure with both the cause and the intolerance those involved in it.
“It is quite unfortunate that it happened, especially that we thought it had died down after a visit by the deputy governor, to Adabu. We went with the deputy governor and the commissioner of police, to the troubled area. We are surprised the crisis still spread,” was all he could say before the network connection went bad.
The police did not say anything beyond the Friday confirmation of the burning in Adabu, when the commissioner, Shehu Umar spoke briefly with newsmen, but eyewitnesses and displaced persons who ran ito Lafia, the state capital, alleged that truckloads of armed soldiers only looked on as the youths set the communities on fire.
“We saw soldiers enter Obi town in 14 good trucks. But they did not do anything. They drove to Agwatashi and returned only after Obi was burned down. Then, they stopped for like an hour, and headed off for Assakio”, said an eyewitness, who fled to Lafia, with his family.
Another displaced person added that the soldiers told them they were in Obi to back up the police. “But there were no policemen on ground. No police. So the soldiers said it was not their duty; they only came to back up the police”, the displaced person said.
But the state police commissioner, Umar, denied that the police did not have men on the ground to quell the arson. He said there was a team of 200 armed officers and men on ground in Obi alone, but did not react to allegations that the military only watched on as arson continued.
He said:  “That is their problem with Ombatse. As far as I am concerned I have a DPO (Divisional Police Officer) there. There over 200 men and a DPO there. Policemen are there. Who opened the road yesterday when they blocked it; was it not the police?” he was silent on all other allegations.
Trouble started on the night of Thursday, as a build-up of a long standing animosity between Eggon and Alago people, who have co-existed in much of the southern parts of Nasarawa for decades.
Sources said two Eggon militiamen were arrested after the police intercepted five vehicles travelling to the neighbouring Awe, following a tip off from Alago youths in Adabu Alago. Eggon youths in the five vehicles were said to have escaped into the bush. But the police were resisted with a roadblock after they attempted to convey the two suspects to Lafia, after Eggon youths in Tudun Adabu, a nearby village stormed in on the police along Obi-Lafia Road.
The violent roadblock, reports said, also led to the abduction of two Alago youths by the irate Eggon youths of Tudun Adabu, to trade for the release and return of the two kinsmen and the five vehicles.
Also, an Eggon man was attacked and severely injured by youths of a rival ethnic group in Adabu, by Alago youths, reports said.
The paramount ruler of Obi chiefdom, HRH Dangiwa Ogiri, an Alago, was said to have intervened, and made pledges to repay the burnt vehicles for peace to rein, but his plea fell on deaf ears.
The two incidents were reported to have provoked Eggon youths in Tudun Adabu, to initiate attacks on Adabu Alago on Friday.
Reports gave varying death toll, just as several houses were said to have been burnt within and around the settlement, sending hundreds of persons including women and children into refuge in far off areas.
“We had to run. I had to leave work and rush home to pick my family, after I heard gunshots and saw many families fleeing that yesterday (Friday),” Kugba Lawrence, a school teacher in Ipaa, a Tiv community near Adabu Alago said.
That same Friday, Sunday Trust gathered that no fewer than 65 youth corps members from various areas rushed into Obi town and took refuge at the police station. But their place of refuge turned out to be a veritable danger because Obi town was, by yesterday attacked as the arson spread.
Youth corps members trapped there had to make frantic phone calls as they went on social media to alert authorities about their plight.
“This led to the police moving in quickly to evacuate us to Keana town in the neighbouring Keana Local Government Area because we were not safe in Obi. The police station there was not safe”, said one of them who spoke on phone with us, yesterday.
No arrests, so far, have been made by either the police, or soldiers, Sunday Trust learnt, in what many believed must have emboldened the arsonists.
The attack made it the second since July, 2012, when Assakio was hit by a similar arson, sending many Alago and Eggon people into refuge.
Governor Umaru Tanko Al-Makura was away on a medical trip abroad, but Sunday Trust gathered that he had to cut short his trip, and was on his way back at press time. More than half of the cabinet members travelled to Lagos to watch Amazon Football Club, the state female soccer team at an ongoing tournament.
The state deputy governor who made a statewide broadcast, said: “We want to assure members of the general public that the state government has taken necessary measures to bring the matter under control.”
According to him, security operatives have been deployed to the affected areas to maintain law and order, stressing that “The law enforcement agents will deal decisively with any individual or group caught fermenting trouble or causing mischief.
 “Members of the public are advised to be calm and go about their lawful businesses without fear of molestation. We all must shun rumour mongering and spreading of false information that are capable of exacerbating this condemnable incident.”
 
SundayTrust

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