From Godwin Tsa, Abuja
The presidential panel of inquiry on alleged human rights violation by the Nigerian Military commenced sitting Monday with gory tales from the Moon Valley Communities in Kwande Local Government Area of Benue State, who narrated how the entire population of about 30,000 people was allegedly sacked by the military.
Represented by their counsel, Mike Utsaha, the community told the panel that while 28 people were killed in the attack, 91 compounds and properties were destroyed.
They said attack was carried out by the 93 Battalion of the Nigerian Army in Takum, Taraba State.
In a 18-page memorandum submitted to the panel, the communities narrated how following intense and sustained attacks beginning from 2013 up to 2015, they have been killed and displaced by the combined team of soldiers of the Nigerian Army from the 93 Battalion, Takum, Taraba State and herdsmen on their lands.
The First Petitioners Witness (PW1), Jacob Kwaghkper, a retired Deputy Director with the National Commission for Colleges of Education said since 2015 up to June 2017, the five communities of the Moon Valley have been subjected to intense, sustained and coordinated attacks by soldiers from the 93 Battalion and herdsmen leading to the death of 28 people.
He told the panel that the herdsmen with the support of the soldiers are in effective occupation of the lands of the five communities.
“The soldiers are even providing security for the herdsmen who occupy our lands. The displaced people of the communities who escaped from the attacks have become refuges in Cameroon and Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) taking shelter in other towns in Kwande, without any assistance,” the witness lamented
Another witness, Agbo Utah, said his compound was burnt down by herdsmen with the support of soldiers. He further narrated how he was beaten, arrested and detained for a week with other elderly men from the communities by soldiers that disrupted the local government election in 1998.
The displaced communities are asking the panel for the immediate restoration of their lands with adequate compensation.
They want all places of worships, schools and markets burnt/destroyed as a result of the brutal attacks by soldiers and Fulani herdsmen rebuilt.
Earlier in his address at the commencement of public sitting, chairman of the panel, Justice Georgewill said the panel was a unique opportunity for all those who have genuine and verifiable cases of alleged human rights abuses by the armed forces in the course of managing and containing local conflicts and insurgencies to submit their memorandum.
He disclosed that his panel will hold public hearings in each of the six geopolitical zones of the country on selected dates and centres.
Other embers of the panel are; Major-General Patrick Akem; Mr. Wale Fapohunda; Mrs. Hauwa Ibrahim; Mr. Jibrin Ibrahim; Mr. Abba Ambudashi Ibrahim; Mrs. Ifeoma Nwakama; and Dr. Fatima Alkali who is counsel to the Panel.