- Let me once again welcome you to another of our media chat on the activities of Operation WHIRL STROKE (OPWS). Today’s media briefing shall be centred on the successes recorded since the launch of Operation 777 on the 8 October 2018 to re-energize our existing operations all over the country in order to close gaps so that criminal elements will not escape from one theatre of operation to the other. OPWS is conducted by combined forces of the military and other security agencies to checkmate activities of herdsmen, armed robbers, militia and those behind wanton killings, abductions, ethno-religious clashes, arson and cultism in Benue, Nasarawa and Taraba States. It would be recalled that OPWS is a special operation made up of our Special Forces. It is gratifying to note that OPWS within the period under the launch of Op 777 by the Defence Headquarters has achieved significant success.
- I should emphasize that the operational activities conducted by OPWS in its JOA before and during Op 777 are similar. What is however different is the intensity and resilience of troops which marked out Op 777 from previous OPWS. Accordingly, Op 777 is designed to destroy all remnants of armed militia camps in the OPWS JOA, mop up illegal arms and create conducive atmosphere for the remaining IDPs to return to their ancestral homes. To this end, Op 777 is being conducted simultaneously in all the 4 Sectors in Benue, Nasarawa and Taraba States through aggressive fighting patrols, clearance operations, raids, cordon and search as well as confidence building patrols. Troops also engage in non-kinetic activities to address the root causes of some of the conflicts in the 3 states. In the course of Op 777, OPWS troops have conducted a total of 49 offensive operations and 13 non-kinetic activities in the first 6 weeks of the operation. Ten of the offensive operations in Benue were against Gana and militia men aligned to him in parts of Ukum, Katsina Ala and Vandeikya LGAs in October/November 2018. I am to state that Gana’s armed group has been subdued to a large extent though some of his men are currently at large. The result is the remarkable improvements in security along the Sankara axis. The remnants are being tracked and would be apprehended in the course of this operation.
- It is noteworthy to state that the intensity of offensive operations across the JOA has led to significant improvement in security not just in Benue but also Nasarawa and Taraba States. This has made it possible for communities that were deserted at the wake of incessant attacks by armed herdsmen to be reclaimed by the owners. As already mentioned, other militia gangs such as Gana and Ojoundu in Benue have been largely degraded, disorganized and incapable of attacking any location as before. The nature of the current threats in Benue, Nasarawa and Taraba States are mainly violent crimes such as cultism, armed robbery and kidnapping. We intend to tackle these security threats in the course of Op 777.
- In addition to the offensive operations, HQ OPWS has intensified the use of non-kinetic activities as part of its implementation strategy for Op 777. A good example was the peace and security parley which OPWS facilitated through the Benue State Government which was held at Katsina Ala LGA on 27 Oct 18 to address the root causes of the inter–ethnic crisis in Sankara area of Benue State. OPWS monitored the conduct of the parley which was attended by stakeholders from Shitile Clan, a major ethnic group that spreads across Katsina Ala and Logo LGAs in Benue State as well as Takum and Wukari LGAs in Taraba State. The parley was held at Tor Donga in Katsina Ala LGA of Benue State and attended by prominent leaders in the areas amongst which were former Governor of Benue State, Gabriel Suswan and former Senator Prof Iyorwuese Hagher. The stakeholders resolved to put an end to all forms of animosity between the Shitile and Ukum Clans in the Sankara area of Benue and to dissociate themselves from the activities of armed militia gangs in the 2 LGAs. They also resolved to assist security agencies in apprehending the criminal elements in their communities. A similar meeting by the Ukum Clan aimed at warning the youths against gang related activities in the area was held at Zaki Biam on 29 Oct 18. The 2 peace parleys helped to complement the series of military operations conducted by OPWS troops in Sankara area in October and November 2018, thereby adding to the current peace we now have in that general area.
- Another key non-kinetic activity by OPWS in the conduct of Op 777 was the Peace and security meeting which OPWS initiated with the warring groups at Lau LGA of Taraba State. The Comd OPWS initiated the peace and security parley with critical stake holders to promote peace in Lau. The meeting which commenced at about 0900hrs on 20 N0vember 2018 at Misheli in Lau was attended by OPWS Component Commanders, Commanding Officer and officers of 20 Battalion, Chiefs, Ardos, representative of elders and youths from the 5 ethnic groups that constitute Lau LGA. These ethnic groups are Yandang, Fulani, Mumuye, Jenjo and Bakula. Others attendees include the Chairman of Lau LGA, Taraba State House of Assembly member representing Lau, Senior Special Adviser to the Governor on security and representative of adjoining Kuna community in Adamawa State. All the parties expressed their respective group grievances while solutions were proffered for the lingering crisis in Lau. Some of the key decisions reached include the adoption of the outcome of a previous security meeting held earlier in July this year which all parties agreed that it offered the best framework for resolving the crisis in Lau. It was agreed that a 16-man Peace and Conflict Resolution Committee be constituted to address security issues between herdsmen and farmers in the area. It was also resolved that the Taraba State Government should constitute a Resettlement Committee that will be responsible for providing resettlement support to IDPs that might wish to return home. This committee was to also identify and recommend to the state government groups and individuals who genuinely lost cattle, homes and other property during the crisis for possible payment of compensation. Community leaders were equally enjoined to cooperate with security forces for lasting peace and security in the general area.
- In a similar development, troops of sector 1 in Guma LGA of Benue State, initiated another peace and security meeting at about 1130 hrs on 20 November 2018 to consolidate on the peace so far achieved by OPWS troops in the area for the past 6 months. The meeting was attended by district heads, chiefs and representatives of youth group in Guma. It was agreed that the community leaders were to work closely with our troops to rid the area of criminal elements for full return of peace. Troops also used the opportunity to advise district heads to encourage their people still in IDP camps to return home. Troops agreed to provide security cover for the returning IDPs and to dominate the area with patrols to reassure them of their safety. Following the modest successes recorded, the OPWS intends to sustain this strategy so that peace and security will fully return to the JOA. In all, OPWS has recovered 18 assorted weapons since the commencement of Op 777. The breakdown of weapons recovered is as follows: 2 AK 47 Rifles, one locally made AK 47 Rifle, 7 pistols and 7 other locally manufactured weapons. In addition, our troops recovered 5 AK 47 magazines, 84 rounds of ammunition, while 17 armed militia men were neutralized and 11 suspects arrested. A total of 37,000 IDPs were returned back to their ancestral homes. Out of this number, 30,000 are from Benue State while the remaining 7,000 are from Lau in Taraba State. Unfortunately, during this period under review, one of our gallant soldiers is missing in action and one is wounded and is currently receiving treatment in our medical facility.
- When added to previous recoveries in the past 6 months, OPWS has recovered a total of 57 weapons, 27 AK 47 magazines and quantity 1,311 rounds of ammunition. In addition, over 157,000 IDPs have returned to their ancestral homes in the 3 states. During the same period, a total of 83 suspects were arrested some of whom have been jailed while others are still undergoing investigation for prosecution. Gentlemen of the press, OPWS remains totally committed towards restoring lasting peace to Benue, Nasarawa and Taraba States within the shortest possible time.