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Looming Crisis on the Plateau…Villagers, Landowners accuses Army of Human Rights Abuse

BurataiTension has continue to rise among villages surrounding the Headquarters of the 3rd Armoured Division, Maxwell Khobe Cantonment, Bassa Local Government Area of Plateau state following an intimidation and harassment of land owners and villagers by personnel of the Maxwell Khobe Cantonment , Rukuba Barrack.

Today’s Challenge reliably gathered that youths in the area are also set for a show down if the alleged provocation, blockage of routes without alternative continue in the area and if not checked by the authorities may obstruct the various peace processes in the state.

According to a petition to the Zonal Coordinator North Central office of the National Human Rights Commission by One Mrs. Rita Akison titled “Allege harassment, intimidation, threat to personal dignity and denial of rights to own a property”, narrated that she left her well-paid job in the United States of America to come to Nigeria and established a Non- governmental Organisation (NGO) Angakurodoli Refuge Foundation in Bassa local government of the State.

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She added that the foundation which currently has about five orphans has been established to also campaign against substance abuse, provide shelter to orphan and vulnerable street children and to rehabilitate drugs addict and enable live decent lives and thereby positively contribute to the development of the society.

Mrs. Akison, revealed that it is on this premise that she decided to established a block industry so as to enable her use the proceeds from the block business to sustain the foundation but lamented over the number of times personnel of the 3rd Armoured Division of the Nigeria Army invaded the block industry with guns to stop her from operating the block factory.

According to her, during one of such visits to the premises, the soldiers warned the workers never to return to the place again. She added that for Eighteen weeks now, the block industry been crippled as a result of the action soldiers which according to her has resulted in her inability cater for the orphans.

In its reaction through a letter addressed to the Chairman of Bassa LGC dated 22nd February and signed by Col. O.D Williams for Acting General Officer Commanding and made available to newsmen in Jos, titled “Observation on breach of security within the vicinity of Maxwell Khobe Cantonment” and read in part “ In view of the above, I am directed to humbly request you to instruct the owners of those houses and shops to immediately stop further construction of their structures in view of the proximity to the Cantonment, more so, this could further be used by Boko Haram terrorists and other miscreants as a base to spring attacks on the Cantonment.”

The 3rd Division in its reaction further added, “Accordingly any person seen within those structures will be view as criminal element and ardent supporters of extremists and hence will be arrested and prosecuted.”

In the same vein, the authorities of Bassa LGC in a letter from the office of the Executive Council Chairman addressed to the GOC 3rd Armoured Division, dated 4th April, 2016 with reference BLG/LAN/TP/F/1 titled “Re: Observation on breach of security within the vicinity of Maxwell Khobe Cantonment “ posited that the asking the Nigerians especially the property and land owners to vacate vicinity outside the Barracks is a violation and infringement on the fundamental human rights as enshrined in Chapter 4, Section 34 (Right to Dignity of the Human Person), and 43 (Right to acquire and own immovable property anywhere in Nigeria) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 2010 (as amended)”.
According to the letter which was signed by Secretary of the Hon. Joseph Adi Agun for the Management Committee said the council being a third tier of government is saddled with the statutory responsibility of administering all lands within its jurisdiction in accordance with the Nigerian Constitution adding that as a council, it is duty bound to create a peaceful and enabling environment where both civilians and Military will harmoniously co-exist devoid of humiliation of any kind, just as it is the case in other Cantonment like Kaduna, Ibadan, Enugu and Ikeja where the military have erected fences to secure their boundaries surrounded by civilian populace.

The council in its letter maintained added “That there is a spatial demarcation between the Cantonment and the area in contention is not within the vicinity of the Barracks as claimed in your heading. Those we know that are within the vicinity of the Barracks are Fulani herdsmen who are residents and are rearing their cattle in the Barracks, hence a buffer zone should have been created within your area of jurisdiction and not outside”.
It further stressed that in line with the Environmental Impact Analysis (EIA), the Cantonment should have taken cognisance of eventualities during construction.

“In view of the above, asking these Nigerians and owners of the structures, lands to vacate that vicinity outside the Barracks is violating and infringing on their founder mental human rights as enshrined in chapter 4, section 34 right to dignity of human person and 43 right to acquire and own immovable properties anywhere in Nigeria of the constitution of federal republic of Nigeria 2010 as amended”.

The council posited “We wishes to use this medium to crave that you use your good office and resort to a formal way of acquiring land for that purpose, you can liase with the council who will take you down the due process as provided for land use Act 1978.”

Similarly, in another letter from the North Central Coordinator of the National Human Rights Commission also dated 14th April,2016 and addressed to the GOC 3rd Armoured Division and signed by Mrs. G. N. Pam said:

“The Commission wishes to reiterate the position of the Local Government and advise that the 3rd Armoured Division as a respected and highly distinguished professional agency of government, to follow due process of law in handling the issue at hand. We recognised the importance of securing the Barracks, but in doing so, the military is still expected to uphold the laws of the land and respect the rights of citizens.”

NHRC further added that, “In the light of the above, we recommend that citizens with properties within the area of contention be allowed peaceful enjoyment of their private properties until such a time that the military acquires the land through due process.

Meanwhile, Mrs. Rita Akison has called on the Chief of Army Staff (COAS) to educate his men on the need to observe the law of the land adding that they forget often that there is a constitution governing the country.

According to her, as a professional soldier with integrity, the COAS should demonstrate this as nobody is above the law in a democratic setting where the rule of law is supreme

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