The spokesperson of Operation Safe Haven, Capt. Umar Adams, made the denial in Jos on Wednesday.
The President of Rigwe Development Association, Sunday Abdu, had accused soldiers deployed in the area of complicity, saying, “The soldiers masterminded the killing; that was what happened. The people were at home when they heard gunshots. Some of them were assured by the soldiers of safety. Then, one of the soldiers told the ward head to follow them for protection. And he obliged, believing that the soldiers would give them safety.
“As this was going on, some young men, women and children were gathered in the classroom of a primary school. One of the young men refused to enter the classroom, insisting on staying with the soldiers. The person saw everything that happened.
“He saw some people in the bush giving signs with their hands to the soldiers. It was between 6:30 and 7:00 pm; he saw the hand as if it was calling some people. The boy told the soldiers, ‘See oo, there is somebody in the bush giving signals with his hands and he is a Fulani person.’’
‘‘He said that immediately after that, there was a gunshot and the soldiers advised residents to remain in the classroom while they (the soldiers) went for the attackers. He alleged that one of the soldiers signalled the assailants to attack.
“That was how the execution was carried out,” he said.
But Adams disagreed with Abdu, insisting that the attackers were too many for them to curtail.
He said, “During the killings, there was gunshot exchange between our troops and the attackers. The attackers came en masse and they were shooting sporadically and the people in the village started running towards one of the bases where our men were deployed. That was when our men offered them safety in the classroom.
“But as those attackers were still advancing, our men had to repel them by engaging them in gunshots. But because it was dark and they were many in number, our men didn’t know that there were others who came from another direction. While our people were attacking those ones, others came from a different route and fired the people in the classroom. But to our greatest disappointment, people are pushing the blame on us.”
Adams claimed that the Fulani herdsmen wounded by the troops were assisted to escape by their colleagues after the exchange of gunfire.
“When the attackers were firing at our people, our men were also firing back. Our people were able to shoot some of them; but because of their number, they were moving those who were wounded by our gunshots,” he said.
Adams also claimed that the base of OPSH in the area was destroyed because the soldiers tried to stop the protesting women from attacking the Fulani after the killing of a young man.
He said, “About two days earlier, there was tension the day some women in Rigwe community demonstrated because a boy was discovered dead. Out of their anger, they suspected that the Fulani people were responsible and decided to take a revenge on them.
“Our people intercepted them because our mandate is not to promote violence but to ensure that people live in peace. They wondered why soldiers stopped them from unleashing their anger on the suspects. When our boys were intercepting the ones trying to cause trouble, some of them moved out to scatter our checkpoints.”
Meanwhile, the Catholic Bishops Conference of Nigeria has condemned the killings in Plateau State despite the dusk to dawn curfew imposed by Lalong in Bassa Local Government Area.
A statement issued by the President of CBCN and Catholic Archdiocese of Jos, Ignatius Kaigama, said, “The evildoers should not go unpunished and necessary security lapses should be rectified.”
He said, “An attempt by the Governor of Plateau State, Simon Lalong, to inspire reconciliation and mutual forgiveness was not successfully implemented by the parties concerned. It is however still not too late. It is better late than never. It is a fact that many Fulani speak the Irigwe language and many Irigwe speak the Fulani language which goes to show the long period of peaceful coexistence. But the events of the past week indicate that the peaceful, harmonious and fraternal coexistence has been severely wounded.”
In a related development, the Adamawa State Governor, Mohammadu Bindow, has offered to broker peace between the Fulani herdsmen and farmers in Plateau State towards halting attacks on rural communities in Miango.
The News Agency of Nigeria reports that rural communities in Bassa Local Government of Plateau have come under heavy attacks that claimed lives in the last three weeks.
Among villages hit were Ncha, Taegbe and Ndizewron, where 26, six and 29 persons were confirmed killed.
Bindow, who visited his Plateau counterpart, Simon Lalong, to commiserate with him over the attacks, described the violence as “unacceptable,” and pledged to work with the governor to end the bloodshed.
“As a governor of a state that hosts the leader of the Fulani worldwide, the Lamido of Adamawa, I am in a good position to intercede, if it is established that Fulani people are involved in the hostilities,” he said.
Bindow said he was particularly saddened by the violence because he grew up in Plateau and was a student of Government Secondary School, Miango, where the attacks were carried out.
“I will lead my brother, the Governor of Plateau, to the Lamido for discussions. I will plead with the Lamido to visit the area to speak with the people, if need be.
“I don’t know where the Plateau problem came from, but we will join hands with you and do our best to ensure that the problem becomes a thing of the past,” he said.
He condoled with Lalong over the death of his younger brother, Wummen, who he described as “very hardworking” and prayed that God would grant the deceased eternal rest.
In his response, Lalong appreciated Bindow for the show of affection, saying that the visit had strengthened the relationship between the two states.
He regretted that violence was returning to Plateau after two years of uninterrupted peace.
“For 15 years, violence was our lot, but that was replaced by two years of stability before the recent incidents,” he said.
He said government was already leveraging on the prevailing peace to bring development to the people.
Lalong, however, said that the people of Plateau were determined to sustain the peace and urged the residents to report any suspicious persons or movement to the law enforcement agencies.