The umbrella body of Tiv Lawyers worldwide, Ayatutu, Ayatutu lawyers Forum, has urged President Muhammadu Buhari to urgently constitute a Panel of Inquiry to investigate alleged atrocities by the Army in Konshisha and Gwer East Local Government Areas (LGAs) of Benue State.
It threatened legal action against the military if the panel failed to bring to book persons involved in the gross violation of fundamental rights of the civilian population in these areas.
The army has since April 8, 2021 been combing the Tiv communities of Adoka, Agidi, Agune, Awajir, Bonta, Gbinde, Guleya, Gungul and Ullam in both LGAs following the killing of 11 soldiers.
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In a statement, Ayatutu lawyers Forum condemned the unlawful killing of soldiers but lamented the “disproportionate” military deployment and alleged subsequent attacks on, “killings” and displacement of civilians in Adoka, Agidi, Agune, Awajir, Bonta, Gbinde, Guleya, Gungul and Ullam in Konshisha and Gwer East Local Governments.
According to it, the military action has continued with the Army High Command vowing not to relent until the alleged killers of the soldiers are apprehended.
The Army, last week, denied attacking innocent civilians, stating that its operation is to fish out the criminals.
But the Tiv lawyers disagreed, saying the Department of State Security (DSS), Department of Military Intelligence (DMI) State Criminal Investigation Department (SCID) and others who are trained to do discreet investigation should have been allowed to unravel whatever crime was committed.
They said: “It must be noted that the shifting narrative from the Army and other political authorities as to how the soldiers got involved in communal clashes between the Bonta community of Konshisha and Okpute communities of Oju in the first place gives us a source of concern about the undue and unnecessary militarization of the civil space which in itself does not augur well for our democracy.
“While we all agree that it is wrong to attack and kill soldiers who have, as their names suggest, sold their lives to protect ours, in the line of duty, as no God-given life deserves to be snuffed out without due process, the same sanctity must and should always be accorded to civilian lives, for which a lot of taxpayers’ money is spent on the military in training, retraining, salaries and equipment to secure. This is because the primary responsibility of government and governance, for which government institutions, including the military, are established, is the protection of lives and properties.
“It is against this background that we totally condemn the rolling out of disproportionate military arsenal, made up of tanks, mortar, artillery and air fire against, and the subsequent bombardment, levelling, burning, killing and displacement of the helpless and hapless civilian population in Adoka, Agidi, Agune, Awajir, Bonta, Gbinde, Guleya, Gungul and Ullam in Konshisha and Gwer East Local Governments under whatever guise.
“Collective punishment and disproportionate use of force by any standard are crimes anywhere in the world, irrespective of who is involved and who the victim is, when carried out against communities for the offence of their members, collective punishment is a war crime…
“We also call on the Federal and State Governments to make the necessary arrangements to avoid the humanitarian disaster that is looming as a result of the unnecessary displacement of the teeming population.”