Published on Friday, 10 May 2013
Written by Hir Joseph (Lafia), Isiaka Wakili, Abdulkadir Badsha Mukhtar & Misbahu Bashir (Abuja)
A man who claimed to be a member of the Ombatse cult group that killed dozens of policemen in Nasarawa State on Tuesday said yesterday they acted in self defence, as authorities announced a sharp rise of the death toll in the violence.
Officials at the Dalhatu Araf Specialists Hospital in Lafia said they received bodies of 88 security men who were killed while on their way to raid the cult’s shrine, following reports that they were forcefully initiating people into the cult.
Picture of bodies of slain police officers being deposited at the Dalhatu Araf Specialist Hospital in Lafia
But state police commissioner Abayomi Akeremale said the number of security agents confirmed dead was now 30, up from the 23 announced on Wednesday, while 17 others were still missing.
“We can confirm 30 killed. Our men are still in the bush searching,” Akeremale said yesterday, adding: “Efforts were being made to bring the perpetrators of this dastardly act to book. We believe that members of the group are still in the bush around the area and we would do all we can to smoke them out.”
Spokesman for the state police command DSP Michael Ada told Daily Trust that leader of the ill-fated operation Assistant Commissioner of Police (ACP) in charge of Operations Momoh Mohammed was also killed.
The incident happened as a detachment of security forces were headed to the shrine of Ombatse, a deity of the Eggon people, at Alakyo, 10 kilometres from the Nasarawa State capital, following reports that they were torturing and forcing people in churches and mosques to swear to an oath of allegiance to the Ombatse deity.
Followers of the deity laid an ambush and opened fire on the police vehicles transporting 60 personnel, killing 23 of them, and only 19 returned to base, the police commissioner had said on Wednesday.
But Daily Trust learnt yesterday that the police operation involved at least 100 personnel including riot policemen, SSS personnel and men of the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps.
The BBC Hausa radio reported yesterday that sources at the Dalhatu Araf hospital in Lafia said 88 bodies of security men were deposited.
Speaking in a BBC Hausa interview yesterday, a man who claimed to be member of the Ombatse sect said they killed a total of 90 policemen “in self defence” during the Tuesday evening incident.
He said they had received information of an impending police assault on their village and therefore mobilised to fight back.
“We received reports that police were on their way to our place, we do not know why they are coming, so we prepared against their arrival,” he said, without giving his name.
“They were up to 160 in about 12 vehicles. We stopped them and asked what brought them to our place and they told us that they came for one old man (the chief priest). We told them we were not going to allow them into our village unless they gave us a good reason.”
He said the police then fired teargas, and the villagers retaliated by using knives and cutlasses. “They started attacking us with teargas followed by shootings with guns. We do not have guns, we responded with only knives and cutlasses and we pursued them out of the town. Nine of our people were killed,” he said.
But Mr. M.B. Maina who said he is the Ombatsa leader told the BBC Hausa radio it was Alakyo villagers, and not his people, who attacked the police team.
“We are not happy with what happened with those police but government–not of Nasarawa State alone but Nigerian government, the whole country—there is need for justice from the part of the government. So it was not Ombatsa, it was the villagers. Ombatsa is all over the world but we are peace loving people.”
Meanwhile, Nasarawa State deputy governor Dameshi Barau Luka held a security meeting with heads of the various security agencies at the Government House yesterday, but outcome of the meeting was not made public.
‘Enough of police killings’
The violence in Nasarawa State happened hours after gunmen launched a pre-dawn attack on security formations in Bama, Borno State, killing 37 security agents, among them 22 policemen.
The police headquarters in Abuja yesterday issued a statement saying it received with sadness the unprovoked killings of policemen in parts of the country, and that “enough is enough.”
“This disturbing, condemnable and highly distressing incident (in Nasarawa), coming closely after similar ones in Bayelsa and Borno states, have thrown up new and emerging threat in the delicate task of policing our country,” the statement signed by the police spokesman Frank Mba said.
“We consider the attack not just an attack on the Nigeria Police and its officers and men but an attack on the collective will of Nigerians to protect and preserve our dear fatherland; this we have vowed to put an end to.
“Consequently, Inspector General Mohammed Abubakar has directed all its field commanders and Special Units including Assistant Inspectors-General o and Commissioners to harness all resources available within their domain in ensuring that this reign of terror and lawlessness is brought to an end.
“The Nigeria Police Force working in conjunction with all positive minded Nigerians, will do everything within its powers to fish out and bring to book all those involved in this and other similar killings of law enforcement agents. We must put an end to this endless circle of impunity. Enough is enough.”
Meanwhile, President Goodluck Jonathan yesterday cut short his trip to southern Africa to return to Nigeria because of the recent violence.
Jonathan attended the World Economic Forum on Africa in Cape Town, South Africa, and was scheduled to proceed to Namibia yesterday and return to Nigeria today.
But in a message posted on social networking site Twitter yesterday, Presidential spokesmen Reuben Abati said: “Due to the security situation at home, President Jonathan cuts short his trip to South Africa. Visit to Namibia also aborted. He is on his way back home.”