Rose Ejembi, Makurdi
Relative peace has been restored in several troubled communities of Benue, Nasarawa and Taraba States following the intervention of the Defence Headquarters through the Military spike operation codenamed Operation Whirl Stroke (OPWS).
Daily Sun confirmed from locals from the various communities during a tour of some of the affected areas in Benue and Taraba States at the weekend that activities of armed criminals such as armed banditry, kidnapping activities and Tiv/Jukun crisis which have hitherto left many of them scampering to other areas for safety had reduced to the barest minimum since the coming of OPWS.
The tour was organized by the Defence Headquarters in collaboration with the 72 Battalion, Makurdi Benue State and 93 Battalion, Takum, Taraba State to troubled areas of the two States.
Caretaker Chairperson for Katsina-Ala local government area of Benue State Mrs. Virginia Kpindi, commended the Federal Government for deploying OPWS to the area especially in Gbise, which was the stronghold of the dreaded militia leader, Terwase Akwaza alias ‘Gana’ who was declared wanted by the Police since 2017.
“I want to thank the commander of Operation whirl Stroke Maj. Gen Adeyemi Yekini who has led his troops to this area to ensure that peace and tranquility returned to Gbise.
Corroborating the report of his Katsina-Ala counterpart, chairman Takum local government area, Prince Shiban Shikari noted that OPWS has done a lot for the people, saying that apart from their presence in Takum local government for the purpose of the Tiv/Jukun crisis, the troops have been able to open the roads in Kashimbilla that were barricaded by armed robbers and kidnappers.
Prince Shikari also, disclosed that before the crisis which started in Kente and spread to Takum, a Tiv man had no problem with a Jukun man as they lived peacefully and cohabit permanently.
He explained that the people had problem with armed robbers and the kidnappers led by Gana who had been terrorising the area because he had recruited more than 500 youths from both Taraba and Benue States that are under him carrying out nefarious activities.
The Council chairman further said that as a result of the presence of OPWS, everywhere is now calm and many of those youths have come to repent through their religious priests even as he commended Maj. Gen Yekini and his troops for ensuring that peace and tranquility returned to every part of the state.
On his part, District Head of Mbayongo in Gbise, Tyoor Zaki John Kuji thanked the Federal Government, the OPWS and the Benue State government for all the efforts in ensuring that peace is permanently restored in the area.
He however outrightly denied claims that traditional chiefs in his domain were shielding criminals, insisting that they have always spoken out against criminal activities at several meetings, church services and burials.
“We have received so much military cooperation from the troops in Gbise. As people would say, we never shielded these criminals. These people are living as people of underworld and it is very difficult to identify them. But, at our meetings, church services and burials, we talked, rebuked and preached to them to avoid criminal activity.
The Gbise monarch attested to the fact that normalcy has been restored in his domain as people are now going about their normal and lawful businesses,
“Farmers are engaging in their farming activities and our markets are now highly populated,” Zaki Kuji stated.
While addressing newsmen at Gbise, Acting Director, Defence Information Brigadier General Onyeama Nwachukwu disclosed that Gbise which was before now, a stronghold of Gana has been liberated.
“They have been neutralized and that is why we are here to show to you that peace and tranquility has been restored to this community, and economic and social lives have been restored to the community.
“Before now, no security agent could venture into this community in the state but as it stands today, you can see that our troops are fully established here and dominating the entire environment. The locals have been liberated from the grip of that notorious criminal known as Gana. Those days they were paying royalties to him and they were being intimidated and harassed by this criminal but as it stands today, the community has been liberated that is why we are here to showcase the successes that we have recorded.
“I traveled all the way from Abuja to Gbise and what I saw on the way was peace and tranquility, economic and social activities restored, people are going about their businesses. I have not seen anybody firing or shooting anywhere and with the conversations we have had with people within these couple of days we have been here, I think we have achieved a lot.
In a remark, Force Commander of OPWS, Maj. General Adeyemi Yekini said the deployment of troops in Gbise formed part of a two prone attack strategies that they used to restore peace and tranquility not only in this community but also along the border between Benue and Taraba States.
“Just about a kilometer ahead from Gbise is Gawa and Dogo Gawa. Gawa in Benue State and Dogo Gawa in Taraba State which is the boundary between Benue and Taraba States. Our troops had been sent here to liberate Gbise and the entire Katsina-Ala local government area of Benue state from the grip of Gana and his men.
“Gbise had suffered in the hands of criminals led by Gana and it was almost a state within a state and we felt that this is unacceptable. We only have one indivisible country and we will not allow any criminal element, hoodlums or so called warlord to terrorize Nigeria.
“So, on October 1st 2019, we sent a strong force to Gbise to flush out these criminal elements and establish a point which is like a super camp. Thank God we are able to achieve the mission and the area is generally peaceful and calm. In fact, you can see that normalcy has returned and people are freely going about their economic activities.
“The second strategy we used to end the crisis between Tiv and Jukun around these areas. Our intelligence suggest that this crisis was being fueled by Gana and his gang. Gana has a troop that he sent to attack the people around the border areas. We came here, neutralized those of them that refused to run and captured those we could capture, and now, we are able to bring peace and tranquility to this area. So, in a way, since we did this deployment, we could see that the Tiv/Jukun crisis had gradually reduced to almost zero.
“Even before we launched this base here, we did several operations at Gbise area where we neutralized so many of the criminals, made several arrests and recovered so many weapons starting from July. We did series of operations and we were able to weaken the enemies before we even moved our force to occupy the area.
“Before and after the deployment of our force in Gbise, through our series of commando operations, so many Gana gang members were killed during shoot-outs with our troops and about 22 weapons were recovered and 55 Gana’s gang members were arrested by our troops between July till date. These people were either gang members or informants and collaborators who collect money at checkpoints or markets, from commuters, share amongst themselves and use it to fuel Gana’s weapons.
“These have been handed over to the police with their particulars and dates of their arrest. I also hope that the police would do diligent prosecution so that these people face justice”, he said.
General Yekini said most of the people whi fled their homes during the crisis have started returning to the communities that were deserted after the OPWS troops restored confidence in them through their presence.
Also speaking, Special Adviser to Benue State Governor on Security, Lt. Col Paul Hemba (rtd.) applauded OPWS for intervening fighting assiduously to curb the incessant attacks of herdsmen on farmers.