Dozens of unarmed civilians in northern Nigeria have been killed in alleged revenge attacks launched by the Nigerian military, eyewitnesses tell VICE World News.
The reprisal came after 11 soldiers were killed by insurgents yesterday as they conducted a routine security patrol of the Konshisha local government area of Benue state.
Shortly after the bodies of the officers were discovered, residents of the local Bonta community report that 15 truckloads of Nigerian soldiers descended on the region, while fighter planes belonging to the Nigerian Air Force launched airstrikes on local villages. Seventy civilians are alleged to have been killed and around 200 homes are believed to have been burned down, including the palace of a prominent local leader, Tyoor Unaha Kôkô.
"I was in my grandmother's house when I started hearing gunshots,” Obute, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, told VICE World News. “At first I heard a helicopter but I mistook it to be just passing to a different village. My grandmother's neighbour ran in immediately to inform us about the danger, and we joined the crowd in taking safety. I still haven't seen my mother and junior brother since two days now. I hope they are safe."
"We have lost over 50 unarmed civilians, more than five of my family members have been killed by the Nigerian Army,” another resident, also speaking on the condition of anonymity, added. “There are no bandits [here], a military general in Makurdi [the capital of Benue state] is using the army to support his tribe in an age-long war over boundary demarcation."
Northern Nigeria is currently suffering from a considerable rise in violence. Hundreds of children have been abducted in a spate of school kidnappings, while ongoing territorial conflicts between local farmers and cattle herdsmen have led to the displacement of hundreds of thousands of people. Benue is currently home to the second-highest number of internally displaced people in Nigeria.
Residents have taken to social media to share images of the aftermath of the attacks.
In a statement released on Friday, the Nigerian army appeared to confirm an ongoing military operation in the region.
The statement said: “While the bodies of the slain troops were evacuated immediately, efforts are ongoing to track down the perpetrators of this heinous crime with a view to bringing them to justice. The COAS [Chief of Army Staff] has therefore directed commanders on the ground to ensure sustained efforts in order to fish out and deal decisively with these bad elements who are threatening the peace in the area.”
In recent months, the Nigerian military has faced a number of accusations of indiscriminately targeting unarmed civilians. Back in October 2020, soldiers fired on peaceful protesters who had gathered as part of the nationwide #EndSARS movement against police brutality. In February, residents of the south eastern state of Abia were caught in a battle between insurgents and the armed officers. And last week, the Nigerian air force conducted an aerial bombardment of Abia in an attempt to “flush out” insurgents, reportedly killing several civilians.