The Presidential Panel of Inquiry on alleged human rights violation by the Nigerian Military, which began sitting, yesterday, heard gory tales from the Moon Valley communities in Kwande Local Government Area of Benue State, who narrated how the entire population of about 30,000 was allegedly sacked by the military.
Represented by their counsel, Mike Utsaha, the community told the panel that while 28 people were killed in the attack, 91 compound and properties were destroyed.
The community submitted that the attack was carried out by the 93 Battalion of the Nigerian Army in Takum, Taraba State.
In an 18-page memorandum, the communities narrated how following intense and sustained attacks between 2013 and 2015, they were killed and displaced by the combined team of soldiers and herdsmen on their ancestral lands.
Testifying before the panel, the first petitioners witness (PW1), Jacob Kwaghkper, a retired Deputy Director with the National Commission for Colleges of Education stated that since 2015 to June 2017, the five communities that constitute the Moon Valley have been subjected to intense, sustained and coordinated attacks by soldiers of the 93 Battalion and herdsmen leading to the death of 28 people.
He told the panel that the herdsmen with the active support of the soldiers were in effective occupation of the ancestral lands of the five communities.
“The soldiers are even providing security for the herdsmen who are occupying the ancestral lands of the communities. The displaced people who escaped from the series of sustained attacks have become refuges in Cameroon and Internally Displaced Persons camps taking shelter in various places in Kwande Local Government Area of Benue State, under the watchful eyes of both the federal and state governments without any form of assistance,” the witness lamented.
Another witness, Agbo Utah, narrated how his compound was torched by herdsmen with the support of soldiers.
He also narrated how he was beaten, arrested and detained for a week with other elderly men from the communities by soldiers who disrupted the council election in 1998.
The displaced communities are asking the panel for the immediate restoration of their ancestral lands with adequate compensation.
They want all places of worships, schools and markets burnt/destroyed as a result of the brutal attacks by soldiers and Fulani herdsmen rebuilt in their original sites.
In his address at the commencement of public sitting, Chairman of the panel, Justice Georgewill said the panel was a unique opportunity for all those who have genuine and verifiable cases of alleged human rights abuses by the Armed Forces in the course of managing and containing local conflicts and insurgencies to submit their memorandum.
He disclosed that his panel would hold public hearings in each of the six geopolitical zones of the country on selected dates and centres.
Other members of the panel are Major-General Patrick Akem, Mr. Wale Fapohunda, Mrs. Hauwa Ibrahim, Mr. Jibrin Ibrahim, Mr. Abba Ambudashi Ibrahim, Mrs. Ifeoma Nwakama and Dr. Fatima Alkali who is counsel to the panel.
The panel was inaugurated by Vice President Yemi Osinbajo to review extant rules of engagement applicable to the Armed Forces and the extent of compliance.
It is also to investigate alleged acts of violation of international humanitarian and human rights law under the 1999 Constitution (as amended), the Geneva Conventions Act, the African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights, Ratification and Enforcement Act and other relevant laws by the Armed Forces in local conflicts and insurgencies.
The VP, in his inaugural speech, had assured the Armed Forces and all of our uniformed forces, that such exercises “should be regular and would be regular, and must not be seen as a witch-hunt and in any way to denigrate the very great work that the Armed Forces and uniformed forces are doing all over the country.
“It is the responsibility of the Armed Forces and the responsibility of all of us who are in government to ensure that we interrogate our own activities and ensure that those activities meet up with human rights norms and basic rules of decency observed across the world.”
Meanwhile, the Amnesty International has charged the Federal Government to ensure the panel is independent, impartial and effective.
“The establishment of this investigative panel is an opportunity for Nigeria to ensure justice for victims of the countless allegations of war crimes by the military in the country – and it must not be wasted,” said Osai Ojigho, Director, Amnesty International Nigeria.
He said the panel would only be able to achieve these goals if international standards and best practices on thorough, effective, independent and impartial investigations were guaranteed and implemented.
According to Amnesty, “ºthe panel has published its Terms of Reference (ToR), which is a first step towards ensuring transparency. However, there is lack clarity as to the panel’s mandate, working methods and the scope of the investigations.