US embassy cable - 01ABUJA2827

NIGERIA: BENUE UPDATE FROM SSS DIRECTOR GENERAL

Identifier: 01ABUJA2827
Wikileaks: View 01ABUJA2827 at Wikileaks.org
Origin: Embassy Abuja
Created: 2001-11-06 10:18:00
Classification: SECRET//NOFORN
Tags: PINS MOPS PREF PGOV NI
Redacted: This cable was not redacted by Wikileaks.
This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.

S E C R E T SECTION 01 OF 02 ABUJA 002827 
 
SIPDIS 
 
 
NOFORN 
 
 
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 
     B. ABUJA 2750 
     C. ABUJA NI 2776 
     D. IIR 7 800 0052 02 
     E. IIR 7 800 0065 02 
     F. IIR 7 800 0064 02 
 
 
Classified by CDA Andrews; Reasons 1.6X5, 1.6X6. 
 
 
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 
SUMMARY. 
 
 
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. 
 
 
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. 
 
 
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. 
 
 
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.) 
 
 
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 
continuing. 
 
 
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. 
 
 
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. 
 
 
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 
perhaps well-armed. 
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. 
 
 
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. 
 
 
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.) 
 
 
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. 
 
 
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. 
Andrews 

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