The defence headquarters made the description on Saturday in a statement by Maj.-Gen. John Enenche, the Coordinator, Defence Media Operations.
The News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) recalls that Chief Goodman Dahida, the President General of the Tiv Cultural and Social Association (TCSA) in Taraba had made the allegation.
Dahida further alleged the troops also destroyed properties belonging to people of Tiv extraction in the name of manhunt for bandits in Southern Taraba.
Enenche, who said the military high command would investigate the allegation, explained that the troops indeed conducted a dawn raid at Rafin Kada in Wukari Local Government Area and Yojaa in Donga Local Government Area of the state on June 29.
According to him, this dawn raid was on a confirmed bandits’ hideout based on actionable human and technical intelligence on their activities in the general area.
“This intelligence was gleaned from both military intelligence sources in the field, as well as credible local sources in those same communities, who affirmed the activities of the bandits as it were.
“What Mr Dahida should understand is that troops do not just embark on operations for the mere fun of it, especially when lives are at stake.
“Before operations are conducted, the Military Intelligence Fusion Cell gathers and effectively processes this pool of information, before emerging with actionable intelligence.
“This, as such ensures that troops operate with utmost accuracy of information, and consequently know where to go and what to do.
“Again, during the actual operation, the troops came in contact with suspected Tiv militias at Tse Juku village.
“The armed militias opened fire on sighting the troops, who responded with superior firepower, thereby neutralising four of them in the process while an unconfirmed number escaped with gunshot wounds.
“Troops also recovered two locally made rifles, 55 rounds of 5.56mm ammunition, 117 rounds of 7.62mm ammunition, three mobile phones, three AK 47 magazines, two motorcycles, one military shirt uniform, one Peace Corps ID Card belonging to one Mr Anyor Fidelis, and some charms,” he said.
Enenche stated that in an operation where soldiers engaged and killed four bandits as well as recovered arms, it was difficult to understand what “innocent civilian families” would be doing in the midst of armed bandits, as claimed.
He added: “The DHQ wonders why TCSA failed to note or acknowledge the fact that these same troops deployed in Taraba State have to a large extent fostered peace in the state, particularly protecting mostly Tiv farmers against marauding armed herdsmen.
“It is, therefore, an act of mischief and deliberate attempt to discredit the concerted efforts of Nigerian troops in the theatre, as well as tarnish the image of the Nigerian military.
“Also disheartening is the allegation that troops are colluding with Jukun militias to exterminate Tiv people.
“Clearly, the TCSA’s claim is incredible to say the least, as it makes no sense that the military which has devoted so much resources in terms of manpower and equipment to protect the good people of Taraba State, would at the same time want to `exterminate’ these same people.”
According to Enenche, men and women (soldiers) from all ethnic groups in the country – Tiv and Jukun inclusive – are among the troops operating in the state to ensure peace.
He said it was unfortunate that rather than commend the troops for their diligence, sacrifices, and commitment to fostering peace in Taraba, the TCSA had decided to disregard such sacrifices and efforts.
The coordinator said the troops had left no stone unturned in the effort to foster peace between various ethnic groups, notably the Tiv and Jukun whose communal clashes were well-documented in the public domain.
These efforts, according to him, are evident in the routine meetings and engagements organised by troops to bring peace to the troubled areas.
He said such efforts were indications that the military had nothing against the Tiv people or any other ethnic group.
“For all intents and purposes, it must be noted that the Armed Forces of Nigeria have a mandate to go after armed bandits, herdsmen, militias, and all other criminal elements, be they Tiv, Jukun or from any other ethnic group for that matter.
“Troops are strictly guided by Rules of Engagement (ROE).
“This is in addition to the International Laws of Armed Conflict, and International Humanitarian Law, among other constitutional provisions, which guide the conduct of our troops in any engagement.
“It is, therefore, mischievous to suggest that soldiers are “raping their wives and daughters, and also destroying their properties in the name of manhunt for bandits in Southern Taraba.
“However, in line with global best practices, the Military High Command will investigate these claims with a view to unraveling the true state of affairs.
“The TCSA, meanwhile, are enjoined to refrain from making unsubstantiated claims in the public domain,” he said. (NAN)