The Inspector-General of Police, Ibrahim Idris, has withdrawn the police Special Forces from Benue communities, barely five weeks after he deployed them to keep order and security in the wake of a string of deadly attacks linked to suspected herdsmen.
The officers were removed on February 14 from Logo and Guma Local Government Areas, where scores, including security agents, have been killed in suspected herdsmen attacks since January 1. They were taken to police rank and file mess in Makurdi, the state capital.
Their withdrawal came two days after three security agents, comprising a policeman and two Civil Defence officers, were confirmed killed and two others declared missing in suspected herdsmen attacks across the two local government areas.
The state police commissioner, Fatai Owoseni said the withdrawal was strategic and warned against reporting police operation at a time of crisis.
The special forces are amongst about 96 regular officers sent to Belarus in 2014 to receive training as snipers, rocket-propelled grenade experts, rangers, bomb disposal technicians, amongst others.
Upon their return to the country in December 2014, they were briefly deployed in Maiduguri to support their counterparts in the Army, Navy and Air Force in the war against Boko Haram. In February 2017, Mr. Idris ordered the deployment of 71 of them in Southern Kaduna to help quell the incessant clashes between herdsmen and residents there.
In July 2017, when abduction cases along the Abuja-Kaduna Highway became frequent and the police leadership came under pressure to take action, Mr. Idris deployed the elite police unit in Kateri, a town in Kaduna State along the highway.
The officers remained along that axis curbing the activities of kidnap-for-ransom syndicates until January 11 when they were moved to Benue following attacks on villages that left more than 70 dead within two days.
The special forces were primarily stationed in Anyiin, a major town in Logo LGA where thousands of displaced villagers are still putting up in two separate camps for the internally-displaced persons.
During their deployment, the officers patrolled villages across Logo and Guma LGAs and regularly exchanged gunfire with suspected herdsmen. The special forces were expected to be joined by soldiers in the military intervention exercise named ‘Ayem Akpatuma’ or ‘Cat Race’ when translated from Tivs are the major tribe in Benue State.
The troop, whose size has not been disclosed by the military, is scheduled to be in Benue and five other states for only six weeks. Perhaps because it has not had immediate impact, the withdrawal of the special forces from the communities was not immediately detected by state government and activists in the state.