Earlier, Abayomi Akeremale, the State Police Commissioner, said, “The Ombatse gunmen opened fire on our men, killing 23 and burning them,” Nassarawa state police chief said, adding that 17 officers remain missing.
Akeremale said the security forces decided to arrest some Ombatse leaders after they receive reports they were embarking on forced conversions in the village of Elakyo, near Lafia, the Nassarawa capital.
Speaking through an interpreter on the phone, the traditional religionist denied shooting at the policemen, saying his groupresponded only with machetes and knives, not bullets, and only after the police had killed nine of their members.
Denying that they have been committing force conversions in mosques and churches, he said the policemen arrived in 12 patrol trucks and opened fire on his group.
“We were in our place performing our rites, when our members alerted us that police may come for our father and leader,” he said. “Suddenly that day, the armed police came with guns and we say what happened? They did not answer us but started spraying teargas on us and killed nine of our members. In return for self defence we killed 95 of them, we have no guns it was machetes that we used in defending ourselves and eventually killed them. There is nothing like gun attacks.”
On attacking mosques and churches, the sect member, first pointing out he has not been instructed to speak, denied the reports.
“We don’t do that,” he told our reporter. “Our group is serious about morality, we are against liquor and don’t harbour it, no sleeping with men and no stealing. We are on our own seeking protection for our own people, and the police just entered us.”
TENSION IN NASARAWA: 100 Police, DSS officers missing in Lafia
The Nasarawa State Police Command has said that only 17 out of the 90 Police officers, excluding other security officers, who were on a mission to arrest the chief priest of Ombatse Shrine, located at Assakyo village, about 10 kilometres from Lafia, the state capital, returned so far with various degrees of wounds.
Ombatse in Eggon language literally means “time has come”.
This came as President Goodluck Jonathan, yesterday, cancelled his scheduled visit to Namibia to personally oversee efforts by security agencies to contain the new security challenge in Borno, Nassarawa and Benue states. Already, 40 dead bodies of the missing policemen had been recovered from the forests.
Meanwhile, the House of Representatives, Arewa Consultative Forum, ACF, and the Benue State Governor, Gabriel Suswam have condemned the killing of the policemen and officials of the Department of State Security, DSS, saying the action was not only unacceptable but also “revolting.”
Jonathan on a state visit to South Africa, was expected to proceed on a state visit to Namibia in continuation of his investment drive across Africa. A statement by his Special Adviser on Media and Publicity, Dr Reuben Abati said: “In view of recent developments at home, Jonathan has cut short his visit to South Africa and aborted his state visit to Namibia which was due to start today” (yesterday).
He said on arrival, the president will meet with the Chief of Defence Staff, the Service Chiefs, the Inspector-General of Police and heads of national security services to review the security situation in the country.
Also, as a result of the latest development, the Inspector General of Police, IGP, Mohammed Abubakar declared, yesterday, that the killing with impunity of officers and other members of the rank and file of the force in parts of the country, had reached intolerable stage. He noted that the reign of terror would be brought to an end henceforth.
Abubakar spoke through the Police Public Relations Officer, Frank Mbah in Abuja. He said: “We must put an end to this endless circle of impunity. Enough is enough.”
Policemen to wear black arm bands
He ordered policemen throughout the country to wear black arm bands for a period of one week in honour of the their colleagues killed in recent days in Bayelsa, Borno and Nasarawa states or elsewhere. The Department of State Security, DSS, also said it had deployed a search and rescue team to determine the number of its officers involved.
The Arewa Consultative Forum, ACF, and the Benue State Governor, Gabriel Suswam condemned Wednesday’s ambush of the policemen. Suswam, specifically called for firm action against the perpetrators of the crime.
Earlier reports indicated that 23 of the officers were killed in an ambush by the Ombatse worshippers but the police confirmed, yesterday, that 30 corpses of the slain officers had been recovered. Governor Tanko Al Makura of Nassarawa State had said, Wednesday, that 20 policemen were killed during the incident by a militia group, known as “Ombatse” in the village located along the Akwanga-Lafia Road.
He said the policemen were murdered while on official duty to dislodge the militia group when they were ambushed and killed. The governor said that the group, which had besieged the state, was bent on destabilising the State Government.
The new development caused tension in Lafia, as policemen and traffic wardens kept off the streets. There was chaos as most traffic lights were not functional, leading to traffic gridlock as motorists struggled to outsmart one another, trying to wriggle out of the situation.
Vanguard also noticed that the confusion was compounded in the nooks and crannies of Lafia and environs as the dead bodies of mobile policemen so far recovered were being moved to the Dalhatu Specialist Hospital Lafia, mortuary.
Crowds of sympathizers and relations of victims wept openly on the streets as the bodies of the slain officers were being conveyed in trucks to the mortuary.
17 injured police officers returned — CP
The State Police Commissioner, Abayomi Akeremale, who commented on the incident confirmed that only 17 out of the 90 policemen excluding other DSS agents had so far returned with various injuries. The police spokesman in the state, DSP Michael Ada, later told Vanguard that 30 dead bodies of policemen had so far been recovered, adding that, “our rescue teams are still in the bush searching for other missing officers.” Altogether, it was said that 117 officers including policemen were involved.
Giving reasons for the ill-fated mission, Police Commissioner Akeremale said: ”The militia group called Ombatse was going about in mosques and churches forcing all people of Eggon extraction in and out of Lafia to drink a particular concoction prepared from herbs and anyone who failed to comply was beaten up and harassed. It was agreed at the state security meeting that the Ombatse Shrine priest be arrested to stop such activities.”
Other government sources further told Vanguard that Ombatse, was believed by the government to be behind most of the violence and killings being perpetrated in Nasarawa State in recent time.
Eight police patrol vans burnt
It was learnt that out of the 11 police patrol vans used to convey the mobile policemen for the operation, eight were burnt beyond recognition by the militia group.
However, sources said that only one member of the group was reportedly killed during the operation which lasted for more than 24 hours in the Lakyo village where there was no telephone service.