65 bodies recovered so far. Ombatse “most likely” had prior knowledge of an impending raid.
Security leaders in Abuja were late Thursday scratching their heads, trying to make sense of how a militia group in Nasarawa State, the Ombatse, that built a fierce loyalty through blood oaths, killed over 55 police officers and 10 operatives of the Directorate of State Security.
Part of the puzzle, knowledgeable sources told PREMIUM TIMES, was how the security officers were lured into a cruel ambush, dispossessed of their weapons, brutally murdered, and then burnt into cold ash.
“It is the most cold blooded act I have witnessed against the law enforcement community in my three decades in the force” a senior police officer in Lafia, capital of Nasarawa State, told PREMIUM TIMES struggling to conceal bitter groans.
Other puzzles include who authorized the ill-fated operation in the first place, both at the police end, and at the Directorate of State Security end, which cost both institutions of the team leaders of the operation.
Deputy Force Public Relations Officer, Frank Mbah, describing the event as an act of impunity in Abuja on Thursday, adds that “enough is enough,’’ promising also that the police will track down the killers, which robbed the institution of its operational chief in the state, Mohammed Momoh, an Assistant Commissioner of police who hails from Kogi State.
Force headquarters also repudiated earlier claims Thursday that the Nasarawa State Police Commissioner, Abayomi Akeremale, due for retirement at the end of the month, had been placed on suspension, and that the operational coordination of the crisis had been handed over to a deputy Inspector General of police from Abuja.
The DSS, on its part, would not confirm its casualty to PREMIUM TIMES; merely saying it had deployed a search and rescue team to determine fatalities of its operatives on the assignment.
However, sources in Lafia disclosed that the Nasarawa state director of the Service has been recalled to Abuja and placed under “some preliminary punitive sanction while full investigations is apace,” evidence, according to the sources, that he might have over-reached his powers in ordering such a high level operation without the mandatory clearance and approval from Abuja.
Eight operatives and two drivers of the agency were reportedly killed in the operation, including the team leader, a mid career officer, thought to have been “obviously saddled with an assignment beyond his pay grade.”
PREMIUM TIMES also gathered that the local army unit declined to join on the Tuesday mission citing the need for higher authorization. Police and security sources in Lafia have so far been mute on civilian casualties, but the broader narrative of the Nasarawa tragedy, late Tuesday, pointed more on the role of the Nasarawa state administration, its desire to calm rising political temperature in the state, the fear that the Eggon militias bore the marks of a nascent terror movement, and the pressure it put on the security forces to initiate the Tuesday raid.
Security sources said the state administration triggered the initial petition to the DSS and the police on the presumed nefarious role of the militia.
Based on the security report from the DSS, PREMIUM TIMES gathered that the police proceeded to build an armada of 13-truck load of men late Tuesday on a mission to Asakio village to disrupt a planned oath ceremony of the group, destroy the shrine, which houses the shrine of Ombatse cult, a deity of the Eggon people, and to arrest its spiritual leader.
Police sources and officials in the state administration, in Lafia, who sought anonymity told PREMIUM TIMES that just ten kilometers out of Lafia, what set out as a clandestine operation came upon an ambush, well laid out by the Eggon attackers, who took on the security convoy ultimately turning their mission into a monstrous killing field.
“This was planned as a clandestine operation for which resources in men and materials were mobilized from different units of the Lafia command, and for which almost none of the men in the convoy knew their destination. Now how it all ended so terribly, that the cultists would anticipate and wreck this kind of attack on security people speak volumes of either infiltration or mission betrayal” a distraught police officer told PREMIUM TIMES in Lafia.
Mission of the police
Yet the Eggon crisis that led to this tragedy was not a new phenomenon. The militia forces attacked Agyaragu community in December last year, which led to the death of ten persons of Koro extraction including a traditional ruler.
That attack led to the banning of the group by the government of Nassarawa State in an official gazette. Also last year, soldiers reportedly stormed the shrine in the group’s ancestral home in Nassarawa-Eggon local government and dispersed them, forcing the cult’s leader and some of his members to migrate to Asakio.
But while at Asakio, the group soon began having difficult relationship with the dominant Arago tribe leading to skirmishes and perennial loss of lives.
Some residents of Lafia who spoke to PREMIUM TIMES painted the picture of a powerful group that has members in many establishments in the state, and which built a tight loyal core through an oath administered on members at the Ombatse shrine, called “the Mbase.” The oath, observers of the group claimed, was always the prism through which members sought to read presumed injustice in political power, and sought to restructure the political and power landscape in Nasarawa State.
Persons who took the Ombatse oath, and swore to its loyalty pledge, were therefore assured of presumed “invisibility to bullets,” PREMIUM TIMES learnt. Tuesday’s raid was an attempt by the state government, using the security agencies to break the nerve of the group.
According to Eggon News, a local newspaper, the Ombatse, which means ‘time has come,’ was founded by six people. They include Alaku Ehe, Zabura Musa Akwanshiki, Shuaibu Alkali, Hassan Musa Zico Kigbu, Iliyasu Hassan Gyabo and Abdullahi Usman.
Mr. Zico was quoted in a chat with Eggon News as saying the group was born from a revelation through a dream where their ancestors directed them to “rise up and cleanse the land of societal ills such as adultery, fornication, drunkenness, theft, and killings.”
Sources in Lafia informed PREMIUM TIMES that politics may be behind the oath of secrecy, initiation and violence by the group. They said the Eggon people are primarily based in Nassarawa-Eggon and Akwanga Local Governments, but added that “they are spread in almost all parts of the state”.
They also said despite their numbers and perceived influence, the Eggon have not been able to produce the governor.
“The Ombatse therefore, pledged that come 2015 they will not be kingmakers, but must produce the king themselves.” said Salisu, a resident of Lafia.
Throwing more light, Mr. Salisu said the group felt that they were unable to produce the governor because they are not united and are always fighting each other, hence, he said, “I am not surprised they are taking an oath this time around.”
To buttress his point Mr. Salisu said “Look at Labaran Maku (Information Minister) and (Solomon) Ewuga (a senator), they are both Eggons, very influential, but hardly see eye to eye politically.”