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Saturday, 19 September 2015

My duty is to defend my people - Dickson Tarkighir

House of Representatives member representing Makurdi/Guma Hon. Dickson Tarkighir spoke to reporters in Lagos on why he petitioned the Executive Secretary of the National Human Rights Commission over the attack by soldiers in the North Bank community, Makurdi, Benue State and other issues.

 You recently led community leaders of North Bank Ward 2 to the National Human Right Commission Headquarters to submit a petition; what was your mission?
I was at the Human Right Commission Headquarters with some leaders of the affected area, to submit a petition to the Executive Secretary of the Commission, in connection with the attack by soldiers from Nigerian Army School of Military Engineering (NASME), a military formation in Makurdi on the North Bank community which falls under my constituency. This is a matter of great concern to me, especially as is a demonstration of utter disdain from a few misguided elements within the military. It is a painful experience. This is an attack that the world should condemn in entirety. This horrendous violation of my people’s fundamental human rights is very provocative. But, instead of taking the laws into our hands, we have taken steps at handling such violations or complaints arising there from. We have led protest to the agency that is responsible for the protection against violation of human rights because we want justice and so we were there to seek justice by reporting this incident.

What led to the attack on the North Bank community by soldiers?
On the 14th day of August 2015, some soldiers from NASME barracks embarked on a reprisal attack on North Bank 2 community. This reprisal attack is understood to have been triggered by an altercation earlier in the day between a soldier named Private Innocent Okoro and three other young men in the community over a lady. This reprisal attack carried with it the hallmark of a lawless society as some soldiers displayed total disregard for civil authority in the pursuit of justice and instead, descended on an entire community at the dead of the night beating inhabitants of the area, setting over 200 cars ablaze while shattering glasses, doors and windows of more than 100 houses they hadn’t the time to set ablaze. This sordid act lasted up to the early hours of the next day and left in its aftermath, charred remains of burnt cars, hundreds of injured residents of the area in hospitals, broken windscreens of cars punctured tyres of vehicles and hundreds of people in tears wondering what wrong they had done.
Was there any documented evidence presented to the Commission and how many lives were lost in that incident?

We presented two albums containing photographs of the attack on the community; we also have CCTV footage of the attacks as well as an ID card of one of the soldiers, who lost it in the course of the attack. All of these, we believe, will aid the team of NHRC investigators that would be visiting the community. On the death toll, we are lucky and happy too that no life was lost, even as over a hundred residents of the area were hospitalized.
What was the response of the Benue State Government over this incidence?
The Benue State Government was very proactive. I must commend the efforts of our governor, Chief Samuel Ortom who visited the area twice; provided succor to victims of the attack. He set up a committee to look into the remote and immediate cause of the attack while suing for peace. Let me also quickly add the senator representing the Zone, Senator George Akume also visited the victims and expressed his sympathies while suing for restraint and calm by the people over such an unnecessary provocation. The aftermath of this incident has received the highest levels of solidarity from our leaders who have all come out to condemn this act.
What were your prayers in the petition?
 Well, having personally visited the attacked community and taken stock of the amount of damage visited on my people and knowing that this is not the first time this kind of attack has occurred, we were strongly guiderd in the way that we would approach this and what demands we believe would ensure that a repeat is averted. Therefore, we have asked for a full fledge investigation into the remote and immediate causes of the violation of the human rights of my people by soldiers of NASME and to fish out and ensure the prosecution of all culprits involved as well as demanding for compensation to victims of this dastardly act. Soldiers from this same barracks have attacked the North Bank community at least six times now. It would be recalled that this barracks was to be relocated to Abia State by the then chief of Army Staff Lt. General Azubuike Ihejirika, but we pleaded with the authorities and they accepted our plea that the barracks remain. It’s quite and irony that this love is not reciprocated in this case as the soldier chose instead to visit mayhem on the host community.
We ant to be assured that this is going to be the last time soldiers will attack our people because we are ready to take this matter even to the international Criminal Court (ICC), to seek redress if nothing substantial is done in terms of prosecutions and compensation.

Are you confident that case will get justice?
We have presented our case; we strongly believe that this has to stop especially as we now have a new government in place that has preached and promised change and refined ways of doing things. We believe that the Nigerian military particularly soldiers of NASME Barracks have crossed the line and there is need for this to be clear and for it to stop.
you are aware that Boko Haram started it’s widespread violence because one of their leaders was killed and they believe he didn’t get justice and you can see the outcome today in the country. It has led to insurgency. We are not going to resort to that through but the point has to be made about what likely end these kinds of actions can lead to. On our part, we opt for respect of the law and due process. This is why we want the National Human Rights Commission because we believe we would get justice there.

How will you describe Governor Samuel Ortom’s 100 days in office?
It has been impressive. He governor’s outing so far, portends the arrival of good things to Benue. Within 100 days, the governor ensured the renovation of structures and accreditation of programmes at the school of Nursing and Midwifery Makurdi. Let me also use this medium to commend the governor for tackling insecurity in the state particularly for restoring peace between Tiv and Fulani herdsmen as well as his Amnesty Programme, where arms  are being surrendered by those who owned, possessed and used them illegally.

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