S E C R E T SECTION 01 OF 02 ABUJA 002827
E.O. 12958: DECL: 1.6X5, 1.6X6
TAGS: PINS MOPS PREF PGOV NI
SUBJECT: NIGERIA: BENUE UPDATE FROM SSS DIRECTOR GENERAL
REF: A. ABUJA 2708
Â¶B. ABUJA 2750
Â¶C. ABUJA NI 2776
Â¶D. IIR 7 800 0052 02
Â¶E. IIR 7 800 0065 02
Â¶F. IIR 7 800 0064 02
Classified by CDA Andrews; Reasons 1.6X5, 1.6X6.
Â¶1. (S/NF) SUMMARY: During a November 2 meeting, SSS DG Are
briefed the CDA on the recent violence in Benue. It was a
mystery to Are how the 19 murdered soldiers had let
themselves be disarmed. Are insisted the Army was
investigating the alleged reprisals against villagers and
planned to punish those responsible. Pointing to the number
of ex-military in the State, Are expressed concern Tiv
leaders needed to exercise statesmanship or the situation in
Benue might deteriorate further. Are estimated the number of
internally displaced persons (IDP) to be 186,000. END
Â¶2. (C) CDA Andrews November 2 met State Security Service
(SSS) Director General Kayode Are to discuss the recent
violence in Benue/Taraba States. The meeting was arranged in
response to CDA's indirect request to VP Atiku Abubakar for
an opportunity to meet with someone who had accompanied him
on his fact-finding mission to Benue and Taraba.
Â¶3. (S/NF) Are showed Andrews an internal SSS investigative
report summarizing interviews with witnesses and suspects in
the murder of the 19 soldiers (16 bodies have been recovered
to date). Contrary to allegations in some media, no senior
GON official nor any nationally prominent figure was
implicated for supporting the Tiv militia. The most senior
person directly implicated in the soldiers' deaths was the
deputy chairman of a local government area.
Â¶4. (U) COMMENT: While not accusing Gemade of the deaths of
the soldiers and for reasons that may have to do more with
factional infighting in the PDP, Benue Governor Akume has
publicly blamed embattled PDP Chairman Barnabas Gemade for
hiring local thugs to engage in violence during a student
protest against the Army's alleged reprisal attacks. Gemade,
in turn, has charged Akume with fomenting dissent in order to
further his political agenda. END COMMENT.
Â¶5. (S/NF) Are said the SSS might never be able to determine
how the 19 soldiers were disarmed. The operating hypothesis
(see Ref D) is that the soldiers believed their ROE precluded
use of weapons, even in self-defense. The soldiers, Are
continued, were marched by the militia to the Zaki-Biam Local
Government Area (LGA) headquarters, where the LGA Chairman,
Pilate-like, washed his hands of the situation, saying the
soldiers should be taken to the police. At the police
station, ethnic Tiv police told the militia (in the Tiv
language) that the soldiers were "their problem" and that
they should "take care of them." The soldiers were murdered
soon after; all were decapitated and castrated. Some were
disemboweled. Heads were mounted on poles and paraded.
(NOTE: Horrific photographs of the butchery were printed in
"Tell" magazine. END NOTE.)
Â¶6. (S/NF) Despite the gruesome nature of the soldiers'
deaths, SSS believed the military's response was wrong. Are
said the Army is considering courts-martial for any soldier
involved. There was no indication yet that anyone above the
rank of captain might have been complicit, but that
possibility could not be excluded. Investigations were
Â¶7. (C) CDA told Are that the GON needed to do a better job of
letting the public know that it was investigating both the
original murders and the reprisal attacks, with the intention
of tracking down culprits and bringing them to justice.
Partisans of one side to the conflict in the area were
contacting diplomatic missions, the media, and possibly NGOs
to present their perspective. The GON's relative silence
risked creating an atmosphere in which its eventual
explanation might be seen as a contrivance. Individuals and
groups concerned with human rights in the U.S. were not
unmindful of the difficulties the GON faces in resolving the
crisis. They would show patience, but patience should not be
misinterpreted disinterest, Andrews stressed. If the GON has
a story to tell, it should tell it accurately but quickly.
Nigeria's diplomats could do so in capitals to which they are
accredited. The GON should not rely exclusively on the
reporting of foreign diplomats in Nigeria.
Â¶8. (S/NF) Are said he was perceived by all sides in the Benue
clash as neutral. He had, in fact, reached out to some "Tivs
who want peace" to seek their support in lowering tensions.
He specifically mentioned retired BG John Atom Kpera. He
wanted the GON to avoid an "information war" with Tiv
representatives and would encourage his interlocutors to urge
their ethnic brethren not to put the GON in a position where
it would feel compelled to respond to public accusations.
Â¶9. (S/NF) Are expressed concern, however, that if Tiv leaders
did not begin to energetically discourage militia action, the
security situation in northern Benue state could deteriorate
badly. He was saddened that two suspected militia members
had served under him in the Army. One, he said, was a
particularly competent soldier and leader with combat
experience in Liberia and extensive time in peacekeeping.
With the Tivs, the Nigerian Army was not facing the usual
ethnic thuggery; many of these men were well-trained and
Â¶10. (U) NOTE: Police three weeks ago stopped a vehicle
belonging to a retired military officer and reportedly found
several thousand rounds of ammunition. The vehicle was
stopped in Nasarawa State, apparently headed for the
Taraba/Benue border area. END NOTE.
Â¶11. (S/NF) Andrews asked if conditions permitted Embassy
personnel to visit IDP camps. Are said most camps were
around Makurdi and he had no objection to visiting this area
since it was relatively secure. SSS believed there were
about 186,000 IDPs (Governor Akume has suggested the number
might be around 250,000, a figure Are considered too high).
Are discouraged visiting the Gboko, Takum and Wukari areas
because the security situation was still unstable. He agreed
that inhabitants there could indeed show significant
destruction caused by the Nigerian Army, and reiterated the
GON's intention to prosecute those responsible.
Â¶12. (S/NF) Are claimed that LTG Malu's (ret) house was
attacked not out of animus toward Malu but because fleeing
militiamen began shooting at soldiers after taking refuge in
the compound. Are said he was not taking Malu's calls
because Malu had the unfortunate tendency to quote publicly
those with whom he spoke. (COMMENT: Are avoids public
appearances, preferring to work in the background. He is
deeply allergic to being quoted publicly. END COMMENT.)
Â¶13. (S/NF) Notwithstanding significant public antipathy
toward the Tivs who many consider an aggressive, militant
group, President Obasanjo was intent on restoring "everyone"
to his land. That would be difficult this time, Are opined,
because those who had driven the Tiv out of Nasarawa and
Taraba had wiped out traces of Tiv habitation wherever
possible. They had razed villages and even removed cemetery
markers, for example. While lamenting this activity, Are
expressed some sympathy for the Tivs' antagonists. Tivs, he
said, do not assimilate into the local communities. They get
the local populations to provide them (unused) land but then
build their own, separate communities. After a generation or
two, Tivs often try to take over the entire area and drive
out the original settlers. Are agreed that the importance of
"indigenousness" in Nigeria's political system was a major
aggravating factor in the violence.
Â¶14. (C) COMMENT: The gruesome murders of the hapless soldiers
have moved many Nigerians toward disgust at the Tiv militia.
While Nigerians do not condone the reprisal attacks, they
understand the emotion behind them. Further, many Nigerians
view the military as the only institution capable of
maintaining order by containing large-scale violence. If the
army now is perceived as vulnerable to attack by ethnic
militias, then maintenance of order becomes even more
difficult. Thus, for those who see the Army as the lone
institution that stands between them and possible chaos, the
deaths of the civilians in Benue is an unfortunate but
acceptable price to pay. The importance of
reprofessionalizing Nigeria's Army is thus once again made
clear. END COMMENT.