Rose Ejembi, Makurdi
The Force Commander of the military spike operation codenamed Operation Whirl Stroke (OPWS), Maj-Gen Adeyemi Yekini, has said that his troops are neither overwhelmed nor overstretched by the security challenges in the three states of their operation.
The OPWS started operation in Benue, Taraba and Nasarawa states in July 2018 following daunting security challenges occasioned by the activities of armed herdsmen and armed militias in these states, and had been working round the clock to keep all armed elements away from the three states.
Benue State Governor Samuel Ortom had on Monday, shortly after playing host to leaders of Civil Society Organizations (CSOs), at the Government House in Makurdi, told reporters that troops and security personnel deployed to the state were doing their best but that they were overstretched and needed to be fortified in the face of the new challenge posed by the herdsmen invasion of parts of the state.
The Governor, who raised alarm over what he described as a mass influx of armed herdsmen into the state, had during the chat with reporters, lamented that Benue was under the siege of armed herdsmen and that the people were helpless.
“Up till today, there are attacks going on in various communities that were invaded by these herdsmen. Every day there is an influx of herdsmen into the state and every day we are contending with them. We are working very hard with security agencies but these people are armed to the teeth. And in some cases, the security men had to withdraw because of their superior firepower,” the Governor had said.
However, Yekini, reacting to Governor Ortom’s statement said: “We are not overstretched or overwhelmed. No, we are not. Every military operation has a mandate and we believe we have substantially fulfilled our mandate not just in Benue but also in Nasarawa and Taraba states.
“We know how we met Benue State in particular when we got here. The security situation then was characterised by mass killings by armed herdsmen and other acts of brigandage by warlords such as Gana and Ojoundu, who carved out parts of the state for themselves.”
He said that within a short period of operation, the OPWS succeeded in flushing out all these criminals and also curtailed the activities of armed herdsmen which have now been reduced to the occasional skirmishes with troops.
The Force Commander said his troops have so far recovered close to 300 assorted weapons and thousands of rounds of ammunition in the three states as well as destroyed all identified militia camps, especially in Benue.
“We made it possible for the Benue State Government to reassert political authority over places like Katsina-Ala, Gbise, Gawa and so many other rural communities in Logo, Ukum and Kwande Local Governments which were hitherto being controlled by some of these warlords,” he said.
“We assisted greatly in preserving Benue as the food basket of the nation in spite of all odds. Thanks to OPWS, Benue today is exporting trailer loads of foodstuff to other parts of the country almost on daily basis thereby boosting the state’s IGR.
Further reeling out more achievements of the OPWS, Yekini said his troops eliminated hundreds of armed militiamen and apprehended hundreds of others as well as facilitated the voluntary return of close to 300,000 Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs), mostly in Benue.
“We acknowledge that some are still in camps and we will continue to work hard to get them back home. We brought back social life to Makurdi and other key towns in Benue State which were badly affected by the crisis at the time.
“We kept the Makurdi-Lafia-Abuja Highway open on a 24 hrs basis for use by commuters including high government officials in Benue State who ply the road to Abuja. We kept open other key highways, including the reopening of the Takum-Katsina-Ala road linking Taraba with Benue, which Gana closed for several years unchallenged. We also ensured the reopening of the Makurdi-Naka-Ankpa road which was deserted by motorists for months and taken over by armed herdsmen.
“We substantially brought the lingering Tiv/Jukun crisis under control. We can go on and on if need be. We are professional soldiers. We are not saying that there are no lingering security challenges on the ground. No, but we will continue to tackle them headlong in conjunction with other security agencies in the state.
“What I said above does not portray us as overstretched and overwhelmed. No. We remain resolute in pursuing our mandate to its logical conclusion. OPWS’ mandate does not include catching cattle on the streets,” Yekini concluded.