The presence of stern-looking soldiers has heightened tension in Gboko, the traditional seat of the Tiv nation in Benue State.
It was gathered that the soldiers moved into the ancient town on Thursday with five armoured tanks and drove round major roads in the town.
Speaking with Saturday Tribune, the President General, Mdzough U Tiv (the Tiv major socio-cultural group), Chief Edwarf Ujege, described the deployment of soldiers to Gboko as ‘a clear evidence that the Federal Government is protecting one group against the Tiv nation.”
Ujege condemned the killing of seven travellers on Wednesday in Gboko but expressed concern about the deployment of soldiers because of an incident caused by some irate youths.
He lamented that at the time herdsmen were killing people, the Federal Government did not send troops to the area.
“We are not happy with the manner the government is handling this crisis. It is like the Federal Government tends to protect one group against the other, though we condemn the incident in Gboko which was caused by hoodlums,” he said.
He, however, called on Tiv people to remain calm and not take law into their hands, while also calling on the international community to intervene in the constant attacks on the Tiv nation. He cried that the Tiv nation was on the verge of extinction.
Ujege said Tiv communities across three states had been attacked more than a hundred times from 2011 till date.
While calling on the Tiv in the Diaspora not to keep quiet “at this time of deliberate genocide on Tiv nation,” Ujege said the whole world “is aware of the impunity of these attacks which the herdsmen openly boast about, citing the rustling or killing of their cattle.”
The Tiv leader said thousands of Tiv people had been displaced in Awe, Doma, Keana and Obi local government areas of Nasarawa State, while others had become targets of annihilation by herdsmen “with obvious backing by the Federal Government.”
But the Assistant Director, Information of Nigerian Army 707 Special Forces Brigade covering the 36 states of federation with headquarters in Benue State, Major Olabisi Olalekan Ayeni, said there was no new deployment of troops in Gboko.
He stated that the troops had been there and described their movement along major roads of Gboko as a deliberate move to warn all those with criminal minds to disrupt the peace of the town.
“Our men have been around Gboko maintaining peace and not to kill or burn houses. The patrol along major streets of Gboko is to send signal to those with criminal intention that there is no room for them,” Ayeni said.
Some residents of the town who spoke to Saturday Tribune said the presence of the soldiers had caused fear in the people.
One of the residents, one Mr Adamgbe, said the presence of the soldiers with their armoured vehicles in some places in the town had raised tension.
According to him, “tension is high in Gboko with the presence of the soldiers looking like lion looking for whom to devour.”
Adamgbe said what particularly heightened tension in the town was the 2002 military invasion of Zaki Biam where over 200 people were killed. He said the incident was still fresh in the memory of Tiv people.
“I cannot deceive you, what actually raised the tension is the incident of 2002, the military invasion of Gbeji and Zaki Biam where over 200 persons were killed in a day.
“No Tiv man will forget so easily, that military invasion. So, anytime we see a large number of soldiers, it reminds us of the ugly incident and we always like to apply caution.
“And the way these soldiers are looking is a reminiscence of Zaki Biam invasion but the residents are watching with an eye open,” he said.
Another resident who her name simply as Mrs Abigael said fear of possible attack of innocent people by the soldiers had enveloped Gboko, stressing that socio-economic activities were at the lowest ebb.
“The situation is calm but not without residents living with one eye closed because one does not know what the soldiers are up to. The Zaki Biam military invasion is a lesson.
“Shops, schools and markets are open but everyone is moving with caution,” she added.
Some miscreants had on Wednesday killed seven travellers coming from Adamawa State and wanting to board a vehicle to Okene, Kogi State.
It was gathered that the victims, having concluded on the vehicle they would board, had moved into a cafeteria to eat when the hoodlums attacked and killed them. Their corpses were said to have been set them ablaze.
The incident prompted the state governor, Samuel Ortom, to impose an indefinite curfew commencing from 6.00 p.m. to 6.00.
The state Commissioner for Information, Mr Lawrence Onoja Jnr., after the state security council meeting, on Thursday, said the state government condemned the incident but emphasised that it had no ethnic coloration.