By KATO P. LAFAN, Kaduna
When the Chief of Defence Staff, General Abayomi Gabriel Olonisakin announced the appointment of Major General Augustine Chris Chukwudi Agundu as the Commander, Operation Safe Haven, Plateau State, most natives and other stakeholders expressed reservation.
The announcement which was made known via a statement signed by Brigadier General John Agim, Acting Director Defence Information, said that he was to take over from Major General Anthony Atolagbe who had been redeployed to Defence Headquarters and appointed Director of Campaign Planning.
Major-General Anthony Atolagbe who assumed office as the Commander of Operations Safe Haven (OPSH) in Jos, Plateau state on August 11, 2017, was said to be making appreciable progress with the onslaught against gunmen killing and burning villages on the Plateau.
Atolagbe who was transferred from Defence Headquaters as Director, Peace Keeping and Operations took over from Major General Rogers Ibe Nicholas who was transferred to the Army Headquarters as Chief of Logistics Department.
Leading protests against his removal, the Plateau State Chapter of the Action Democratic Party (ADP) called on President Muhammadu Buhari to reverse the transfer of the Commander of the Special Task Force, code named Operation Safe Haven (OPSH).
The Party made the call through its chairman in the state, Nanyah Andrew Daman while briefing journalists in Jos, the State Capital, to express its displeasure over the transfer of the Commander.
Daman said, “The Action Democratic Party (ADP) in Plateau State received the transfer news of the Commander of the Operation Safe Haven, Major General Anthony Atolagbe with total shock, disappointment and utter suspicion. On Monday, 23rd July 2018.
“The ADP Plateau State joins lovers of peace and development to call on the President Muhammadu Buhari to direct the Chief of Defence Staff, Abayomi Gabriel Olanishakin and the Chief of Army Staff Gen. Tukur Burutai to reverse with immediate effect the transfer of the award winning Operation Safe Haven Commander, Gen. Atolagbe.
According to the ADP Chieftain, the transferred Commander ensured the arrest of perpetrators of the genocide against the people of Barkin Ladi, Riyom, Mangu, Bokkos, Bassa and environs.
Similarly, a group loyal to President Muhammad Buhari, condemned the redeployment of the Army Commander.
The group, Buhari Tarzarce Vanguard (BTV), which is at the forefront of championing the re-election bid of President Muhammadu Bujari, faulted the redeployment of the commander of Operation Safe Haven (OPSH) in Plateau State, Major General Anthony Atolagbe.
While appealing to the DHQ to rescind its decision, the group maintained that doing otherwise would send wrong signals to the natives, who have confidence in the capacity of OPSH under Atolagbe to prosecute the defence mandate, professionally.
According to the BTV, there are fears in some quarters that the posting of Atolagbe out of the state, may not be unconnected with the arrests of some suspected herdsmen, in connection with recent crisis in the state.
Though the Buhari support group acknowledged that postings and redeployments were a prerogative of the military authorities, they argued that the timing was wrong and suspicious, hence the appealed for a return to the status quo.
In a statement signed by its coordinator, Alhaji Muhammed Biba on Wednesday, the group alleged that the courage exhibited by the commander in arresting the suspected herdsmen alleged to be involved in the last crisis, may have facilitated his posting out of the state.
BTV charged the Chief of Defence Staff (CDS), General Gabriel Olonisakin, to either rescind his decision, or the military authorities be ready to be held responsible for any further bloodshed in the state.
“We are indeed shocked! When we woke up to this reality. Citizens are thrown aback by the decision of the Defense Headquarters to further dim our chance in 2019 by redeploying a focused military officer who was bent on restoring lasting peace to the North Central.
“This is not only sad, but very disheartening and does not project our great party and Mr President’s fight against terrorism in good light, “the group said.
“How do you redeploy an officer who has made far- reaching positive discoveries on the most challenging and hidden sources of problems bedevilling the entire country? What is the reason for his sudden redeployment?
“Why is the redeployment coming at a time that very critical arrests have been made and useful revelations made indicting prominent people? Why the deployment at a time the opposition and and a section are maliciously accusing the Presidency and the North for being behind these herdsmen?
“Is it that the military high command doesn’t really want an end to this conflict for their game? The president must rise up and stand with the people once again by ordering immediate reversal of the posting of Commander of STF in Jos, this will restore confidence in the entire North Central states.”
“While BTV appreciates the fact that postings and redeployment is a routine military traditions, we must state that this particular one is done in a bad faith and will greatly affect our chances in North Central in 2019 and the Presidency must act now to forestall further damage.
“Our party is already facing a lot of challenges in the North Central states due to the farmers/ herdsmen conflicts and if this posting is not reversed immediately, sentiments will rise and will greatly affect our chance,
“We are constrained to note that, upon all these milestone achievements, which are in line with president Buhari’s policy direction on security , it was left to be seeing why and how the defense headquarter could contemplate the commanders redeployment at this critical time when opposition are looking for campaign”, the group said.
The most emotional cry stemming from the redeployment of the OPSH Commander, came from a group which tagged itself ‘Victims of herdsmen killings.
In a statement circulated on July 24, titled ‘WITHOUT PREJUDICE: POSTING OF NEW OPSH (STF) COMMANDER BY DHQ’ the group totally condemned the posting.
“The news of the redeployment and replacement of Major General AM Atolagbe as the Commander of OPSH (STF) with one Major Gen AC Chukwudi Agundu has come to Plateau people as a rude shock in view of the fact that it is fraud with suspicion.
“It is common knowledge that Gen AM Atolagbe has rebranded and optimized the operations of the OPSH in the wake of the recent genocide by killer herdsmen on the Plateau. Particular note can be taken of the following:
1). He relocated his operational base as Commander to B/Ladi town, the theatre of the herdsmen terror attacks to forestall further attacks. This rare measure was already paying off.
2). He arrested some reknown perpetrators of the killings whose confessions was as a major lead to unravelling the masterminds and sponsors of the ethnic cleansing and Land Grabbing Agenda.
3). He refused to take orders from Brig Gen Bello Chieg of Staff OPSH who has been consciously and strategically positioned in the OPSH, Jos for not less than 7 years to serve as as the main promoter and implementor of the Land Grab Agenda.
1). Why would DHQ post out Gen AM Atolagbe at a time when his operational actions and deployments are yielding desired results and bringing calm to the terror stricken communities?
2). Why is the posting coming on the hills of arrest of reknown perpetrators of the killings by Gen Atolagbe?
3). Why has DHQ left Brig Gen Bello as COS of OPSH for 7 years running thus positioning him as the defacto Commander all this while?
4). Is this hurried posting not confirming the fears of Plateau people that the DHQ is doing the beeding of the powers that be and the vested interest determined to FORCEFULLY ANNEX AND PERMANENTLY OCCUPY THEIR ANCESTRAL HOME AND LAND?
1). The DHQ should rescind its decision and revert to status quo by retaining Gen Atolagbe as the Commander OPSH.
2). If there must be any posting at all, it should be that of Brig Gen Bello who has overstayed in the OPSH. It is unheard of that an officer becomes a landlord in one station for that long!
3). We shall hold the CDS responsible for any further genocide on the Plateau if he insist on this posting. Nor shall we allow the Land Grabbing Agenda to continue.
4). All the 52 communities under forceful occupation by herdsmen in Plateau State should be recovered and reverted to the ancestral owners just as is presently being done to lands recovered from Boko Haram in the North East.
VICTIMS OF KILLER HERDSMEN GENOCIDE,
PLATEAU STATE.,” the group demanded.
Meanwhile, after he was redeployed, the Social Media was trending with the message below:
“This is Major General Atolagbe, the Commander of STF in Jos. He was removed as the Commander because he arrested some Fulani herdsmen and detained them against the order to release them from Aso Rock. Nigeria is gone.”
It would be recalled that just two months ago in May 2018, Major General Atokagbe was recognised by a reputable global organization, the International Federation of Civil Rights and Liberty Organizations, conferring an award of excellence on him, for restoring relative peace between farmers/herdsmen in plateau state, after years of ethno-religious conflicts that saw hundreds dead.
The awards, “Outstanding Commander of Military Operation in Nigeria and Icon of Human Rights and Conflict Prevention”, which was presented to the security Chief, in Jos, according to the organization, followed his unique roles in handling the Plateau crises which yielded desired results.
Speaking at the ceremony, President of the International Federation of Civil Rights and Liberty Organizations, Dr Michael Spencer, said General Atolagbe was picked for the awards having viewed the conflict prevention and mitigation strategist of Operation Safe Haven.
According to him, Atolagbe won the heart of his organisation, especially in terms of civil-military relationship, after its analysis of activities of various military operations in the country.
The awards, he revealed, also came after the organisation’s “multi level under cover investigations in the 1st, 2nd 3rd and 4th quarter of 2017 as well as 1st and 2nd quarter of 2018″ which proved that Atolagbe and his ” able team have earned themselves” double points on the ladder of their career and earned excellent points for the entire country in the world perception index.”
Dr Spencer said the organisation before arriving at its verdict, carried out “extensive background checks on civil – military approach to security issues; operational strategies, respect for United Nations human rights and rules of engagement; attention on welfare of troops;priority to training and retraining of troops for better service delivery and provision of world class decent detention facilities.”
Others, he mentioned, were “the inclusion of enhanced community relations which has promoted quality relationship between host communities and the troops, the introduction of specialized operational motorcycles for troops to permeate difficult terrains during emergency operations, prioritization of troops adherence to professional ethics and improved relationship with the civil society organizations which has enabled many inquiries possible.”
“Your activities as commander of Operation Safe Haven Jos, and your officers and men have exposed you to public scrutiny more than most military establishment because you are directly dealing with the people who are unfortunately not in the war front.
“Therefore, the level of curiosity, anxiety and panic has to be censored by independent organizations in order to arrive at an acceptable judgment of the situation, “he told the Army General.
He spoke more on his organisation’s decision:” “Let me respectfully guide us to the reality that this is not the only operational command in the country, of course including in the police, we have done critical analysis and reviews have been subjected to independent opinion polls using various analytical indices.
“All results we generated both from our head office in London , and new Jersey and our country office points to one direction-that Major General Anthony Atolagbe remains an outstanding commander in military operations in Nigeria within the period under review.”
He commended The chief of Defense Staff General Gabriel olorunshaki, the Chief of Army Staff, Lt.General Tukur Buratai, for appointing such a square peg in square hole, and for also providing the platform for excellent officers to excel” besides opening “doors for external inquiry into the activities of the military.”