The Benue State Government has denied arming militia groups to defend the people against marauding herdsmen in the state.
The Nigerian Army on Tuesday said it arrested nine well-armed militia from Benue, alleged to be members of the state government sponsored security volunteers.
The suspects were arrested at Arufu, a boundary town between Taraba and Benue States by troops of 93 Battalion of the Nigerian Army stationed in Takum, Taraba State, a military intelligence source told PRNigeria.
The army official said further investigation revealed that more than 700 armed militia are being trained in a camp in Benue State.
“Five of the suspects were armed with AK-45 rifles fully loaded. During preliminary investigation the arrested armed gang claimed that the weapons were issued to them by one Aliyu Tashaku through an agent of government.
“The suspects also confirmed that they were 60 in number in their own camp located at Gbeyi, Benue State. However, further investigation revealed that they were more than 700 and well-armed at the camp where they were trained by selected ex-service men on a monthly allowance of N15,000.00 from their sponsors,” the source said.
The Commanding Officer of the 93 Battalion, Ibrahim Gambari, a lieutenant colonel in a telephone interview on Tuesday, confirmed the incident. He, however, refused to give further details.
Reacting to the report, Terver Akase, media aide to the state governor, Samuel Ortom, said the government has never recruited armed militias since inception.
“We read a news report insinuating that some youth arrested by the military at Arufu, a town between Benue and Taraba States are armed militia sponsored by the Benue State Government to defend the territory of the State against invaders.
“We wish to state categorically that the Benue State Government under Governor Samuel Ortom has not recruited any militia group and armed them since the Governor assumed office.
“Governor Ortom is widely recognised for his disarmament policy which brought the amnesty programme leading to the recovery of about 700 arms and ammunition with over 800 youth laying down their weapons to embrace the programme across the State.
“It is also on record that the present administration inherited the State Civilian Joint Task Force from the previous government but later proscribed it.
“Following the enactment of the Open Grazing Prohibition and Ranches Establishment Law in Benue State last year, the Government set up Livestock Guards to help in implementation of the law. The Livestock Guards are not armed personnel. Their job is to ensure compliance with the regulation of ranches establishment and prohibition of open grazing of animals in the State.
“The Benue State Government believes in the use of conventional security agencies to protect the people. Even in the face of renewed killing of innocent people by herdsmen in Logo and Guma Local Government Areas, Governor Ortom did not let the people resort to self help. The Governor acted swiftly to get the approval of President Muhammadu Buhari for the deployment of more troops to troubled parts of the State.
“We reassure the people of Benue State and other Nigerians that the Government is committed to bringing the killings in the State to an end andrestoring peace to the affected areas.”
Dozens have been killed in the past one week in Benue State by suspected Fulani herdsmen.
The Governor of the State, Mr. Ortom, had accused the leadership of Miyetti Allah Kautal Hore, a group of Fulani cattle breeders in the country, for the string of killings.
His comments come amidst reports of continuing unreported attacks in the state.
On Monday, two policemen were killed by herdsmen who had earlier exchanged gunfire with the police, Mr. Ortom said.
President Buhari, also a Fulani, who has faced criticisms for his handling of previous attacks, has appeared more forceful in the past week, mandating heads of security agencies to curtail the violence and directing the police Inspector General, Ibrahim Idris, to relocate to Benue.