As the 48-hour ultimatum given to residents of about six villages in Barkin Ladi and Riyom Local Government Areas in Plateau State to vacate their homes expired last night, the villagers were seen massively relocating yesterday.
This is coming as the Defence Headquarters Monday insisted that there was no going back on the planned offensive against the terrorist groups alleged to be hiding in the areas.
THISDAY gathered that though the Beroms have hastened out of the villages with their valuables, with the state government providing refugee camps for them, the STF has been criticised by the Muslim community in Jos.
Confirming the relocation of the Beroms, the state government in a statement signed by the Commissioner of Information, Mr. Yiljap Abraham, said, "following the order by the Task Force to the five communities in Riyom Local Government Area to relocate in view of military operations, Governor Jonah Jang has directed that arrangements be made to provide immediate relief to the internally displaced persons. "Already, a special committee of the state government is working with authorities of Riyom and Barkin Ladi Local Government Areas, and has designated areas to receive and provide relief to the persons.
"In Riyom, camps identified are the Ra-Hoss Primary School, Community Hall Riyom and the old local government secretariat. And in Barkin Ladi local government, camps identified are in Kura Falls and COCIN Gangare in Barkin Ladi town. The state government has also started relief interventions in these areas with immediate effect."
But the state Ulama Elders Council has expressed reservation on the plan to raid the communities, saying "the STF should show humane consideration in carrying out its assignment so as to avoid the traps of those who may like to use it to achieve their sinister aim of systematic sacking of all towns and villages where Muslims inhabit in the northern zone of the state".
In a statement released to newsmen and signed by its spokesman, Hon. Sani Mudi, yesterday in Jos, the council expressed concern over the 48-hour ultimatum given by the STF to communities in Mahanga, Kakuruk, Kuzen, Maseh and Shong II to "vacate immediately with their valuable" for what the STF termed an ongoing "Military Operation" in the area, noting that these communities are mostly populated by the Fulanis.
The statement described the new development as "an unfortunate setback in the gigantic task of maintenance of peace in the state by the STF. "This order is clearly arbitrary and violates the fundamental right of these citizens as enshrined in the constitution of Nigeria."
The council further stated that there would be nothing wrong if the STF engages the affected communities in dialogue if it is really out to assist them, a gesture which the statement said the Ulama believes will even be appreciated by the communities if sufficiently convinced and carried along.
According to the Chief of Policy and Plans (CoPP), Defence Headquarters, Air Vice Marshal Dick Iruenabere, the operation is meant to save lives and restore lasting peace in the troubled areas and the state.
Iruenabere disclosed this yesterday to journalists at a joint press conference with the Chairman of the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), Mr. Chidi Odinkalu who came to Defence Headquarters to ensure that peoples rights are not violated on the process.
He said that the reconnaissance carried out by the Special Task Force (STF) after the massacre that took place last two weeks at Barkin Ladi and Riyom villages revealed that the perpetrators of the heinous crime are using the five villages as a hideout.
He said: "The conference is to actually clarify misconceptions about what have been going on in the press for the past two days with regard to the relocation order in Plateau state.
"Plateau State has been pacified for the past one and half years or so but in the last two weeks we have had a dangerous twist and resurgence of terrorists acts,
"From our reconnaissance we carried out after the attacks we discovered that some terrorists are still within those villages," he stated.
Meanwhile Plateau State Governor, Jonah Jang, has said he is not aware of the position of the purported Northern Governors' Forum (NGF), credited to Governor Babangida Aliyu of Niger State over the STF Military operation in Barkin Ladi and Riyom Local Government Areas, saying as a member of the NGF he should have been informed about such position.
A statement by James Mannok, the Director of Press Affairs to Governor Jang, said there was a possibility that Aliyu was speaking in his capacity as Governor of Niger State.
Jang said "Governor Aliyu needs to appreciate the changing internal dynamics of the current security challenges in the affected areas culminating in the military operation targeted at the terrorist still hiding in the hills and killing innocent lives on the Plateau; a matter which is beyond settler-indigeneship, but acts of terrorism, capable of tearing this nation apart."
Jang cautioned Aliyu against statements that convey sentiments, adding that his efforts should be tailored towards a nationalistic posture "especially at a time when this nation is yearning for greater harmony."