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CSO blasts FG over ‘abominable, unacceptable silence’ on 70 bodies in Abia forest

Says failure to arrest killers of over 30 soldiers in Niger state since August, is a monumental shame

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Nigeria’s foremost civil rights advocacy group, Human Rights Writers Association of Nigeria (HURIWA), has described as abominable and absolutely incongruous with sound reasoning that the central government has maintained a conspiratorial silence over the shocking discovery, by the Abia state government, of over 50 decomposing bodies in a forest next to the Lokpanta cattle market in Abia State.

HURIWA, which argued that the unspeakable and regrettable silence and the failure of the Federal government to take steps to initiate forensic investigations of this despicable crimes of mass killings of citizens of Nigeria, stated that it is a spectacular failure of the President’s moral duty of care and the legal obligations imposed on the government whose primary duty is to maintain law and order and to safeguard the well-being and security of lives and property of the citizens of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.

The CSO said it believes that aside the moral and legal obligations on the president to ensure the safety of citizens of the Country in all parts of the Federation, the Rights group averred that as the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, such an abominable discovery of mass deposits of scores of citizens executed by outlaws, demonstrates a failure of intelligence and abysmal failure on the part of the security forces under the direct command and control of the President to secure lives and property of Nigerians and everyone living in the Federal Republic of Nigeria.

On 30th October 2023, it was reported that the Abia State Governor, Alex Otti, had disclosed that 20 decomposing bodies and skeletons were discovered by security operatives during a raid of forests around the Lokpanta Cattle Market in the Umunneochi axis of the Enugu-Port Harcourt Expressway, even as he said another 50 bodies were also found around the market, while the payment of ransom to suspected kidnappers was equally traced to the market.

The Rights group recalled that Governor Otti disclosed this totally abhorrent information during the second edition of his monthly media chat in Umuahia the state capital just as he rightly vowed that no inch of the state land mass would be left for criminals in line with his administration’s commitment to protect the lives of every citizen and visitor to the state.

It also recalled that the governor insisted that the resolve of the state to make the cattle market a daily market was not targeted at any particular tribe in the country, but rather it was aimed at revamping the security architecture of the market and its host community.

The Abia State governor had stated as follows: “We have taken a stand to provide adequate security to Abia citizens and visitors because no government can succeed in the face of insecurity. This government will not get involved in supporting criminals or allow them to occupy any part of the state.

“When we decided to occupy the Lokpanta cattle market in Umunneochi Local Government Area of the state, we discovered 50 dead bodies, 20 headless dead bodies, men, women and children and uncountable skeletons. We also discovered that ransoms paid to kidnappers were usually dropped close to the market.

“But it was unfortunate that some people misinterpreted our action to mean that we asked the Northerners trading in the market to leave the state, but after our interactions with leaders of the Northern community, we told them that anyone who is not in support of the moves we are making to secure the state must be a criminal, they saw reasons with us and quickly reversed the quit notice they issued to Igbos in the North.

“That’s why we have decided to make the market a daily market, people can go to the market and do their business and go home at the end of the day. The market will not be only a cattle market again, but it will have other sections for other goods like every other market.

“Those who live inside the market will now live among other people in the state outside the market.”

HURIWA which applauded the Abia state administration for adopting a holistic measure to stamp out coordinated criminality and terrorism of kidnappers and killings orchestrated by alleged armed herders, has also asked President Bola Ahmed Tinubu to direct the heads of the security agencies and top forensic investigators in joint partnership with the justice ministry of Abia state, to comb round the killing fields identified by the Abia state government and carry out science-led probe to determine the remote and immediate causes of these mass killings, seek for broader information on the identities of the casualties and if practicable trace any evidence that can link the investigative team to the killers.

The Rights group said that the clearest evidence of a failed nation state is when the central government becomes very comfortable with criminality of immense proportions and tolerates criminals by not willing to take steps to bring killers to justice which breeds impunity and lawlessness.

It called for investigation of the activities of the cattle traders whose shops are now known to be avenues for negotiation and collection of ransom from relations of kidnapped victims in Lokpanta which is a major highway linking Enugu, Abia and Imo states.

HURIWA stated that the Nigerian President as a cosmopolitan person by nature, and travels often to the Western societies, we expect that he is aware of how for instance the Metropolitan police in London diligently handles investigations involving loss of lives just as the Rights group stated that in compliance with global best practices, the central government should have by now adopted transparent, open, and public investigative procedures since over two weeks that the information was conveyed to Nigerians by the Abia state government regarding these discoveries of over 70 decomposing bodies of citizens killed by terrorists and kidnappers just behind the cattle market in Umunneochi Local Government Area of Abia state.

The group further wondered why the Federal government is yet to brief Nigerians about what steps have been adopted to bring to justice, the terrorists who on August 17th reportedly killed scores of soldiers in Niger state.

HURIWA recalled that the military high command revealed on in August 2023 that no fewer than three officers and 22 soldiers were killed during the Sunday bandits’ ambush on troops in Niger State.

Addressing journalists in Abuja, the Director, Defence Media Operations, Maj. Gen. Edward Buba, added that seven soldiers were wounded during the attack.

He explained that it was following the Sunday attack that the Nigerian Air Force deployed a helicopter to Niger State for the evacuation of the casualties.

The helicopter, however, crashed on Monday, with bandits taking responsibility for its downing.

The army spokesperson explained that the crashed aircraft had on board 14 previously killed soldiers, seven wounded soldiers, two pilots, and two crew members.

Buba said, “Our troops entered into an ambush in the general area of Shiroro Local Government Area of Niger State. The ambush led to a firefight, which resulted in the deaths of three officers and 22 soldiers, while seven were wounded in action.

“As a result of this, there was a need for us to embark on a casualty operation, whereby the Air Force helicopter was dispatched.

“While that process was on and inbound to Kaduna, the helicopter crashed. In the crash were 14 of the previously killed in action personnel in that ambush, seven of the previously wounded in action personnel, two pilots of the helicopter and two crew members. “

The military, however, vowed “injurious consequences” for the bandits for attacking troops. “One thing is for sure. No one or group would strike at troops without injurious consequences,” Buba said.

HURIWA urged Tinubu to inform Nigerians about the steps adopted to bring the killers of these soldiers to justic,e just as the Rights group described as shameful the fact that both soldiers and civilians in their hundreds have been killed since the current administration came on board, but the law enforcement agencies have failed woefully to bring perpetrators of these dastardly crimes of terrorism to justice or take decisive justice to the killers.

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