On April 9, news of the death of 11 soldiers, including their captain, broke on the internet. The attack was carried out by a group known as Bonta Boys. Over time, several attacks have been carried out by Bonta Boys.
What is now evolving into a terror group, started as a community youth-led response to regular land clashes in Benue State, North-central Nigeria.
The group originally hails from Bonta community in Konshisha Local Government Area of the state and sources confirmed to HumAngle that they are now in contact with other armed groups, hence the recent scaled-up attacks.
Bonta community shares a boundary with Ukpute community in Oju L.G.A. Although they are both homes to different ethnic groups, for years, both communities lived peacefully side-by-side but this is not the case anymore.
For over a year now, the two communities have been fighting over land. Ukpute indigenes have repeatedly accused Bonta residents of land encroachment.
The Bonta people have also been accused of attacking Ukpute people on their farmlands, beating their women, carting away their farm produce and kidnapping children on some occasions.
Things came to a head eight months ago when Ukpute community carried out a reprisal attack. Residents told HumAngle that the community was tired of constantly being attacked by Bonta Boys. Since then, it has been a series of attacks.
Is it more than a community crisis now?
HumAngle gathered that the Bonta youths had put a group together originally to quell the communal clashes but the group has grown to become more.
In the quest for victory, reports indicate that the group contracted bandit groups to obtain better weapons in fighting the Ukpute community.
Local sources told HumAngle that a combination of youths from the Bonta community and the bandits is what is now referred to as Bonta Boys. They noted that the group has now been hijacked by armed groups fighting for different motives and have taken to attacking security operatives.
Multiple reports also allege that they are involved in killing-for-cash.
With the recent increase in banditry in the country, residents fear that a likely future attack is imminent, especially with the bold attack on the Nigerian military that led to the death of about 11 soldiers.
The backstory of the recent military attack by Bonta Boys
There have been incessant cases of communal clashes between the people of Konshisha and Oju L.G.A. over boundary demarcation. As part of efforts to resolve the crisis, the Benue state government held a series of meetings with stakeholders from both local governments with a view to arriving at an amicable solution to the problem.
Considerable progress had been made and a final date fixed for all stakeholders to meet in the disputed areas to fully demarcate the boundary so that peace could reign.
Trouble however started on the eve of the final meeting during the Easter holiday when Bonta Boys reportedly invaded Ukpute community while they were worshipping in church. The armed group killed women and children, destroyed houses, yam barns, markets; and burnt down shops. The survivors of the attack ran for their lives, leaving the community desolate.
In a statement detailing the attack on the military officers, Brigadier-General Onyema Nwachukwu, Acting Director Defence Information said, “72 Special Forces Battalion deployed troops deployed on the Oju side of the boundary and troops of the Battalion were on their way to replenish their colleagues on April 5 when they were attacked by armed bandits at Bonta in Konshisha L.G.A.”
The troops, under command of a Captain, were seized at a checkpoint mounted by Bonta Boys and taken into Konshisha forest where they were all brutally murdered. Not satisfied with killing the soldiers, the bandits proceeded to burn all the eleven soldiers and their captain beyond recognition while their weapons and ammunition were carted away.
Military reinforcements were dispatched to Bonta the following morning. Unfortunately, the reinforcement also came under attack from close to 500 armed people who had occupied Bonta.
Nwachukwu added that the sheer number of youths involved in the attacks suggest that the armed groups cannot be from Bonta alone, but were joined by armed groups from other parts of Konshisha L.G.A.