There are emerging reports of how men of the Nigerian Army deployed to engage bandits raped women, plundered valuables and killed people in the Konshinsha local government area of Benue State in April.
According to the Foundation for Investigative Journalism (FIJ), a lot of atrocious activities were carried out in a village, Bonta, likening it to a slaughterhouse. The newspaper also reported that the Nigerian military brought down houses, schools and clinics. They shot at defenceless villagers and wasted dozens of lives.
“They claimed they were here to protect us but they only came for us,” says Emmanuel Gungul, a youth leader. “They destroyed our properties and slept with our women, all in the name of chasing the bandits that killed their soldiers.”
FIJ revealed that the community clinic was burnt down by the Army.
Dr. Akera Terkimbir who does not know how the war started shared his ugly experience during the crisis.
In March 2019, he was deployed as the head of the medical team at the Bonta Health Centre. Now, the military has brought down the clinic.
“I was sitting here around 8 am when I saw an aeroplane coming,” Terkimbir recalls, agony locked in his eyes. “I was told that soldiers brought it. I was here with my staff. We were armless, we could not help ourselves, so we decided to run away.”
When the angry soldiers came firing rockets, Terkimbir said, sick patients and nursing mothers in the maternity ward scampered away. Everyone in the clinic ran for dear life.
“We lost some of our patients on admission,” he said. “One foetus and three patients were killed during the attack.”
Shimenenge Wade, 29, died in front of the clinic. He was just recovering from typhoid and malaria but the soldiers’ invasion ended his life. As he trudged out of the clinic, he lost his footing, hit his head on rubble and died.
Also diagnosed with severe malaria, Mbalamen Kumaga, 28, was lying on the sickbed when the soldiers stormed the clinic.
She removed the syringe needle plugged into her vein and ran for her life. Unfortunately, Kumaga fell flat on the ground when a bullet from the military’s sporadic shootings hit her. She died immediately.
Mbanengen Pendamo, 28, was said to have died at home. He managed to escape the soldiers’ vengeance in the clinic. But on his way home, the military airstrike struck him. He died in front of his house, in the pool of his blood.
“We also had a foetus born prematurely which died in the hands of its mother during the attack,” Terkimbir shared. “It’s a sad moment for us.”
The newspaper also reported stories of rape and loots that went down during the crisis.
Mercy Thomas, 31, was having a nap in her shady room. The time was 11:40 pm. The sex worker woke up suddenly, noticing that a “cold iron” was placed on her forehead. As she opened her eyes, an army officer “appeared like a ghost” and ordered her to open her legs.
“I was really scared,” Mercy recalled. “He removed my pants and started having sex with me. I cried but nobody came to my aid.”
It was a busy night at the Man City brothel in the Shangef Tiev area of Benue. The Army’s invasion 50 kilometres away in Bonta did not stop the daily routine of sex workers and their customers.
After killing dozens of innocent citizens in Bonta, the soldiers returned to cause more mayhem, looting bottles of alcohol and raping women and sex workers.
“When he finished having sex with me,” Mercy continued, “he began to beat me for not crying while he was sleeping with me. He said he did not enjoy sleeping with me because I did not cry. Then he left.”
During an interview with Hembadoon, another sex worker at the brothel, her eyes were filled with tears. The 28-year-old lady narrated how she was also raped at gunpoint by a soldier at night.
“I was sleeping outside of our yard,” Hembadoon recalled. “I suddenly felt all wasn’t well. I woke up from sleep and saw that an army officer had placed a gun on the pillow side of my bed. He sat and watched me sleep.
“When I woke up I knew everything was not fine as I couldn’t see anyone. The army officer ordered me into my room and slept with me at gunpoint.”
Doris was gang-raped by more than two military officers in her room. Accounts of Hembadoon and Mercy reveal that she was a salesgirl at the brothel and not a sex worker, but the soldiers “raped and violated her."
“As for my sister, Doris, she’s not one of us but she was raped by those officers,” Mercy said. “She was seriously manhandled by two of the military guys.”
Although sex with strange men is the daily business of Hembadoon and Mercy, they admitted the army officers never sought their consent when they barged into their brothel. They said the officers raped other women, like Doris, who are not sex workers.
“Those army guys will not see anything good in life for what they did,” Mercy said her eyes filled with anger.
Their atrocities did not end with murder and rape, they also robbed the defenceless citizens in broad daylight.
During the vengeful raid, the soldiers turned a local church, St. Lucy’s parish, to an operational base, denying the worshipers of their activities. The military men also invaded a bar and looted bottles of alcohol.
“Pray for my home place, Shangev Tiev, so they can survive this onslaught by well-armed soldiers,” a resident had told FIJ. “They have taken over the parish house at Awajir and have made it a barrack of sorts. This has become their operational base. From here, they pounce on anything they want and it is theirs.”
Three other residents verify the claim, saying, “The soldiers watched football for free anywhere and at the end took a percentage of the viewing centre’s collection."
“They drank in the bar after raping women. If you see what people went through. It’s so pathetic,” another resident revealed.
In the event of the agony unleashed in the community, students were forced out of school.
The expanse of the Bonta Primary School has been turned into a learning ground for ghosts. The secondary school was razed. Other private and public schools in the community are shut down indefinitely.
Achirgbenda Gideon, 55, is still shocked by the level of destruction caused by the military men. It baffles him that “the soldiers could be so heartless” that they couldn’t spare schoolchildren.
“Everything was destroyed,” Gideon said. “They couldn’t even pity children.”
“They came and started shooting. They were camouflaged, and they were putting on explosive devices. Some people developed hearing problems due to the sounds of explosives. The aeroplane was moving around and the ground soldiers were moving too. They were destroying houses.”
Before the invasion, there were over 400 pupils in the primary section of the school and about 600 in the secondary section, according to Gideon, but they have all been forced out of school.
Nigeria already had more than 10 million out-of-school children — the highest in the world — according to the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF). By invading and destroying schools in Bonta, the military has added over a thousand to the number of out-of-school children in the country.
“And, unfortunately, no government official has shown interest in our matter,” Gideon adds. “We’re left alone in this mess.”
POOR TEACHERS, PEASANT FARMERS
The massacre that broke out in Bonta has turned school teachers of the town into peasant farmers, especially in Tse-Jembe village. Dozens of the pupils are seeking refuge in neighbouring communities. Some of the children orphaned by the killer soldiers are struggling to survive without their parents.
“The soldiers were burning and destroying houses in the name of looking for bandits,” says Jembe Myom, a teacher-turned-farmer. “So people ran. Then from there, we came back and discovered our school had fallen, the staff quarters had been burnt and everything had been destroyed in our school by the army.”
Myom, anguish written all over him, stutters when asked about the whereabouts of his pupils. “We don’t know where they are,” he declares. “In fact, it will be difficult to find them because the soldiers have destroyed their houses and they have no place to live now.”
Iorfa Dominic, the principal of Mbata Comprehensive High School, expressed worries about the resumption of academic activities in the community. He has taken no step as the headteacher of the school because he does not know the right authority to write.
Dominic was more worried about himself. He has lost his wife, his home and his job to the fatal violence. He was concerned about survival, now that he has no other means but farming.
“We don’t have anything to do,” he said on behalf of the school teachers. “Our homes have been destroyed and the school has been brought down. We only go to the farm during the day and return at night.”
In the first part of this investigation, FIJ had provided an evidence-based report that established how Nigerian soldiers massacred over 50 villagers in Bonta and denied it. The army claimed to have killed only 10 bandits who, allegedly, were responsible for the killing of its soldiers.
However, villagers in about 20 communities visited in Konshinsha revealed that all victims of the military invasions were defenceless citizens who knew nothing about the killing of the soldiers. Several residents who gave accounts of the incidents said they did not know of any armed bandit killed during the revenge mission.
“When they say they’re going after bandits, what is the method of going after them?” Stanley Akaaer, a resident of Bonta, said. “If they feel those people are members of the community, our community is well-structured; they should use the structure of the community to fish out the culprits, not killing and destroying peoples’ houses.
“They killed people who were even too old to run and they said they were looking for bandits. That’s against the principles of human rights. When soldiers kill anybody now, they call them bandits. There is no single bandit in that community.”
Moses Ahon, another member of the community, whose house was burnt, said the soldiers deliberately unleashed havoc on more than seven towns in the name of killing bandits.
“The fact is, whether they’re looking for bandits or not, they opened fire on defenceless citizens; people ran away and they’re unaccounted for right now,” Ahon said.
“They burnt my house and my farm and destroyed the market square in the name of looking for bandits. The army should be civil, not to invoke jungle justice on citizens.”
Calls to Onyema Nwachukwu, the Nigerian Army’s spokesman, for his response to the findings of this investigation were ignored. He also did not respond to a text message sent to his phone.