Nigerian Army, Police in plot to cover up Gboko killings; killer soldiers walk free 6 months after

Bodies of victims of the shooting in a hospital in Markurdi shortly before burial.

A grand conspiracy to cover up the March 18 killing of seven youth by soldiers guarding Dangote Cement factory in Gboko, Nigeria’s North-Central state of Benue, has been uncovered.

PREMIUM TIMES can authoritatively report that six months after troops opened fire on unarmed protesters in the major Benue town, neither the Army nor the Police has arrested or questioned anybody in connection with the crime.

Even the National Human Rights Commission, NHRC, a body established by law for the promotion, protection and enforcement of human rights in Nigeria is yet to carry out any meaningful action on the killings months after it received petitions from the affected community.

PREMIUM TIMES had on June 30, exposed the massacre of seven youth at Mr. Dangote’s multi-billion naira cement factory after demonstrators gathered to protest the shooting, by a soldier, of 19 year-old Mr. Terhile Jirbo.

Mr. Jirbo was attacked for relieving himself near the cement factory and refusing to pack the waste with his mouth when a soldier ordered him to do so.

Mr. Jirbo survived the attack but the bullet tore his mouth apart and left him permanently disfigured.

Villagers, who responded after the shooting by staging what several witnesses said was a peaceful demonstration to the Dangote factory, met a bloody pushback by the troops.

Hours after the protest, the soldiers opened fire killing seven of the protesters including a woman, who was shot in the head at close range.

The 19-year old woman, Doose Ornguze, a resident of Tsekucha, near Mbayion, survived the first shot at her, and was trying to crawl to safety before a soldier walked up close and fired into her skull.

Ms. Ornguze was the parent figure for her two siblings, and managed to keep herself and two siblings in school, despite losing both parents years back.

Months of investigations by PREMIUM TIMES showed years of tension between Gboko community and Dangote company, and exposed how neither the government nor the company reached out to the community or punished the trigger-happy soldiers.

Military and police authorities told this newspaper in June that investigations were ongoing several months after the attack.

The Nigerian Human Rights Commission, NHRC, also said it was carrying out investigations on the killings and had reached out to the military and leaders of Gboko community.

While the government agencies were foot-dragging in their investigations, Mr. Dangote who is Africa’s richest man had reached out for settlement with members of Gboko community after this newspaper exposed the killing.

The Ter Gboko, Gabriel Shosum had in an interview with PREMIUM TIMES on Tuesday, September 16, confirmed that Mr. Dangote settled with families of those killed and or injured during the attack March 18 attack.

He said cheques were handed over to the beneficiaries at the multi-purpose conference hall of the cement company on August 22.

According to the monarch, each family that lost a youth got N5 million cheque while those who were injured got cheques of N2 million each.

While Mr. Dangote’s firm has accepted responsibility and settled with the community, none of the government agencies that investigated the killings has come up with any report on the matter.

The spokesperson for the Nigerian Army, Olajide Laleye, a Brigadier General, sounded angry on Monday, when PREMIUM TIMES sought to know the progress so far made on the investigation.

“Why are you saying that soldiers killed the youths? Do you have clear evidence to show that soldiers carried out the shooting?” Mr. Laleye queried.

He insisted that investigation into the killings was still ongoing, adding that the military cannot make any statement on the case.

Gen. Laleye said, “The fact that seven youth were killed is not been in doubt but you cannot categorically say that soldiers shot and killed them.

“Investigation is still ongoing and I cannot tell you anything until it is concluded. If you say soldiers shot and kill the seven youth in Gboko, you must be ready to provide evidence to prove it.”

The Police Public Relations Officer, PPRO, Benue State Police Command, Daniel Ezeani, also told this newspaper that investigations are still ongoing on the killings.

He said, “The matter is still under investigation and that is what I can tell you for now. That’s all the CIB (Crime Investigation Bureau) told me. They are doing something about it.

“By the time we conclude our investigations we will come up with a statement. For now we cannot make any statement about it.”

Asked how long it would take to conclude the investigation, Mr. Ezeani said, “Investigations can be extended. It depends on what is on the ground.

“For now, we are still making efforts to get this and that. Investigation can take any time frame so long as the police have not gotten to the root of the crime.”

When reminded that Mr. Dangote has settled with victims of the shootings, the PPRO said the Police were not aware of the settlement.

“We are not aware of any settlement. We cannot say anything about it since we are not aware of it,” Mr. Ezeani said.

Attempts to speak with the Executive Secretary of the NHRC, Bem Angwe failed as he would not grant an interview to this newspaper.

The commission’s spokesperson, Fatima Mohammed, had insisted that only Mr. Angwe could speak on the issue and promised to arrange a meeting with PREMIUM TIMES.

Three weeks after she made the promise, Ms. Mohammed called on Monday to say her principal was very busy and could only speak to us when the report of the investigation is ready.

While the Army continues to dilly dally in taking action against the killers of the protesters, it was fast in trying soldiers who it said attempted to kill their commanding officer, the then General Officer Commanding of the newly created 7th Division in Maiduguri, Maj-Gen. Ahmed Mohammed.

That incident happened on May 14, over two months after the March 18 date when the Gboko natives were murdered.

Twelve of the soldiers involved in the Maiduguri incident have since been sentenced to death by a military court martial.

PREMIUM TIMES report on the killings had sparked outrage from local and foreign human rights groups who called for extensive and thorough investigations into the killings, and for punishment for the soldiers responsible for the attack.

The United States-based Human Rights Watch had called on the Nigerian government to “urgently investigate and bring to justice, those responsible for the alleged shooting by security forces Terhile Jirbo and the subsequent killing of peaceful protesters.”

The President, Institute for Human Rights and Humanitarian Law, Anyakwee Nsirimovu, had said the attacks again showed the military’s lack of regard to human lives and must be immediately investigated.

“When these kinds of things happen and people see other ways of getting back at society, they readily pick on it. That is why it is easy for groups like Boko Haram to continue to have recruits all over the place because the structural violence and terrorism of the state,” Mr. Nsirimovu said.

“What happened in Gboko is an example of what turns ordinary people into taking extreme reaction against authority. Government must bring the killers of the youths to justice.”

Romy Mom, who heads the Abuja-based Lawyers Alert, a non-governmental organisation, had said the killings merely conformed to a history of violence by the Dangote group against the Mbayion community of Benue State.

Mr. Mom said Lawyers Alert was in the process of compiling such cases of violations when it received reports of the latest attacks.

“For several years Mbayion community have cried and did everything to bring Dangote to the negotiation table but to no avail. It is a shame that it has taken the blood of the Gboko martyrs to bring him to the negotiation table,” Mr. Mom said.

Twenty-four hours after our first report was published, Mr. Dangote arrived in Benue State where he met with state officials, including Governor Gabriel Suswam, leaders of Gboko and Mbayion community where the killings occurred.

Shortly after the meeting, Mr. Dangote named a high-powered committee to negotiate and reconcile with the aggrieved community.

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