Published On: Sun, Jul 15th, 2018

Blood, blood everywhere: Herdsmen, rustlers on the rampage

–  Violence, a well-articulated plot to grab land – Expert

 By AYOOLA OLAOLUWA

Nigeria is gradually descending into a Hobbesian state with the growing killings in the Middle Belt, in addition to the destruction of lives and properties in the North West and Boko Haram insurgency in the North East.

Defenseless citizens are being killed like chicken on a daily basis across the country.The blood of innocent women, men and children daily flow like a river, as herdsmen rustlers, bandits and cultists launch orchestrated attacks which largely go unchallenged.

Investigation revealed that frequent attacks and resistance against rampaging Fulani herdsmen have increased in the last three years with growing intensity in places like Adamawa, Plateau, Southern Kaduna, Nassarawa, Benue and Plateau States, mostly Christian areas of the North. The casualty figure which is mounting daily is alarming.

According to the United States Council on Foreign Relations (CFR), at least 19,890 deaths were recorded in the country since June 2015, just after President Buhari assumed office on May 29, 2015.

In its own report, the United Kingdom-based Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) disclosed that Fulani militias killed 1,061 people in about 106 attacks on communities in the North Central in the first quarter of 2018. The group said 11 other attacks on communities in the southern parts of the country by the militia claimed a further 21 lives.

Also, the Amnesty International said that verified estimated figures indicate that since January 2018 at least 1,813 people have been murdered in 17 states, which is double the 894 people killed in 2017. The death tolls reflect killings as a result of farmers-herders conflict, communal clashes, Boko Haram attacks and banditry.

“We are gravely concerned about the rising spate of killings across the country, especially the communal clashes between farmers and herders and attacks by bandits across at least 17 states.

“The authorities have a responsibility to protect lives and properties, but they are clearly not doing enough going by what is happening” said Osai Ojigho, Director of Amnesty International Nigeria.

Several security sources, however, told BH that the figure is far higher as many deaths are covered up and largely unreported.

While the Federal Government continues to blame the crisis on the familiar Fulani/Farmer clashes, the crisis has assumed a genocidal dimension with herdsmen playing the lead role in the theatre of killings.

According to Business Hallmark findings, the already dire situation is being compounded by the seeming failure of government to serve justice, making Nigerians to resort to self-help to secure their lives and property. Due to government’s failure to bring perpetrators to book, the killings are spreading to other hitherto peaceful parts of the country.

The election of President Muhammadu Buhari, it has been insinuated, has emboldened rampaging Fulani militia to operate with greater intensity and freedom. The fire-power and logistical capability often deployed by the militia suggest a deadly and well organized force is at play.
Last week Tuesday, the country woke up to the news of another gruesome killing of over 40 people in Sokoto State, previously immune to the crisis, by cattle rustlers believed to be renegades from Fulani militias.

From Benue to Nasarawa, Taraba, Adamawa, Plateau, Kogi, Kaduna, Osun, Oyo, Delta, Edo, and Enugu, no state appears to be free from the onslaught of the herdsmen/kidnappers, who now lay siege to homes and schools, and armed bandits who block highways and unleash mayhem on motorists and travelers.
Nigerians are daily inundated by the mainstream and social media with gory pictures of the carnage unleashed on innocent Nigerians. Mass graves now signposts the herdsmen and bandits’ bloody mission to plunder and rape the Middle Belt and Southern parts of Nigeria, a move many see as land grab.

Benue

Attacks by Fulani herdsmen in the North-central state of Benue has led to the killing of at least 1, 769 persons. Out of the 23 local government areas in the state, the rampaging herdsmen have invaded 14. Though, attacks by herdsmen on Benue communities and reprisals from indigenes predate the present administration, the killings have escalated since the incumbent president assumed office.

According to the state government and the state police command, in the North-east Senatorial District of the state, the herdsmen have invaded Katsina-Ala, Kwande, Logo, Ukum; leaving out Vandeikya, Konshisha and Ushongo.

In Benue North-east Senatorial District, the killer herdsmen have attacked all the other local government councils except Gboko. The council areas invaded by the killer herdsmen include Guma, Gwer-West, Gwer-East, Buruku, Tarka and Makurdi local government councils.

The invasion of Ogbadibo, Agatu and Apa local government areas in Benue South Senatorial District are however the most brutal. On July 7, 2015, one local was killed and several others injured following an attack on mourners in Imande Bebeshi in Kwande LGA.

On November 5, 2015, 12 persons were killed, while 25 others were injured in Buruku LGA following an attack by suspected herdsmen.

On February 8, 2016, 10 people were killed and over 300 displaced in clash between herdsmen and farmers at Tor-Anyiin and Tor-Ataan in Buruku LGA.

On February 29, 2016, herdsmen invaded several Agatu villages and farm settlements in broad daylight, gunning down children, women, men and the elderly. By the time the siege subsided, over 500 villagers were reportedly massacred and over 7000 were displaced in 10 villages including Aila, Okokolo, Akwu, Adagbo, Odugbehon and Odejo.

Over seven villages were razed, while eight residents were killed by herdsmen in attacks on Ngorukgan, Tse Chia, Deghkia and Nhumbe in Logo LGA on March 9, 2016.

Also, on February 29, 2016, 11 people were killed in EdugbehoAgatu LGA, including a police inspector, while on March 10, 2016, two were killed in an attack on ObagajiAgatu.

In the same vein, 15 persons were killed by rampaging Fulani herdsmen, who attacked farmers in Ipiga village in Ohimini Local Government Area on January 24, 2017.

On March 2, 2017, no fewer than 10 persons were killed in a renewed hostility between herdsmen and farmers in Mbahimin community, Gwer East Local Government Area of Benue State, while seven people were killed when herdsmen attacked a Tiv community, Mkgovur village in Buruku local government area on March 11, 2017.

On May 8, 2017, three persons were confirmed killed by herdsmen in Tse-Akaa village, UgondoMbamar District of Logo Local Government Area of Benue State and less that one week after, many people were killed by herdsmen in three communities of Logo Local Government Area of Benue State.

Between January and July of 2018, over 200 people have been killed in the state. The worst attack was recorded on January 1 when 73 people were killed in Logo and Guma LGAs.

Several attacks have taken place after that, including the one on a Catholic church where 19 people, including 2 priests were killed.

 Plateau         

Between Saturday, June 23 and Sunday, June 24, 2018, the country witnessed one of the most gruesome attacks in history when Fulani militants attacked several communities in Plateau State leaving behind death and destruction.

At the end of the attack which spanned three local government areas of BarkinLadi, Riyom and Jos South, lasting over six hours, over 200 were reportedly killed and thousands made homeless when their communities were totally wiped out.

According to an advocacy group, Stefanos Foundation, 11, 515 Internally Displace People (IDPs) are now taking refuge in 13 locations in the state following the June 23 and 24 attacks on 15 communities in Plateau State.

Several people were later killed in renewed and reprisal attacks before normalcy was later restored. It would be recalled that the state had witnessed relative peace for over three years until the latest attack which the Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders’ Association of Nigeria (MACBAN) claimed was a retaliation of the loss of 300 cows in recent times.

 

Sokoto

On July 11, 2018, some bandits attacked villages around Gandi in Rabah Local Government Area of Sokoto State, killing over 40 people. Some villages in the area were also razed by the attackers and residents displaced.

According to Senator AdamuAliero (Kebbi Central), the bandits that unleashed the mayhem, operate from Zamfara forest where they have been carrying out nefarious and barbaric killings of innocent people over a period of two years.

“They moved with motorcycles that carried up to three people numbering about 30 motorcycles in all – meaning that the armed men were up to 90. The bandits sent two people to the village to buy food for them and the villagers observed that the emissaries were armed and they were interrogated by the villagers and found them to be bandits similar to the ones operating in Zamfara. The villagers apprehended and executed the two emissaries,” he said.

On June 12, the Police Public Relations Officer (PPRO) in the state, Cordelia Nwewe, said that at least eight persons were feared dead during a clash, including an elderly person who the bandits went to kidnap.

Taraba

Like Benue and Plateau, Taraba has also witnessed its own share of attacks. According to the state government, over 200 residents have been killed by Fulani militia. In March 2018, no fewer than seven people were dead and property worth millions of naira was destroyed following series of attacks on Takum and Ussa Local Government Areas of thestate.

In April 2018 more than 51 bodies were recovered in Jandeikyula, a village on the border of Benue and Taraba states, after armed bandits invaded the village.

In May, 18 farmers were hacked to death on their farms by suspected herdsmen. Reports credited to the police describe the attack as the handwork of unknown persons in the area while the victims were on the farms. This is contradicted by other reports which said the farmers were killed in their sleep at Dan-anacha in Gassol Local Government of the state.

Also in May, the Police Command in Taraba confirmed the death of nine persons in early morning attacks on Tutuwa community in Ussa Local Government Area of Taraba.

 Nigerians react

Some Middle Beltnatives, who are resident in Lagos, while speaking to Business Hallmark, said that cows have become more valuable than human lives.

“The popular saying that a ‘live in Nigeria is worth 1kobo’is more fitting for the North Central. If a cow, even a calf that is worth less that N20, 000 is killed in the region, a whole community or more are wiped out. The Federal Government also sends in troops to look for the rustlers who are mostly Fulani’s. I say they are Fulani’s because we don’t handle cows, we don’t know their language. It is only someone familiar with herding that can steal a cow.

“But when hundreds of people are killed and several communities destroyed, the government looks the other way. The Federal Government has deployed Special Forces to Zamfara, Bauchi and Adamawa to hunt for cattle thieves while helpless and ill-equipped policemen are sent to look for the protected and better armed Fulani militias.

“When rainstorm destroyed some properties in Bauchi recently, President Buhari led a government delegation to the state, while he did not deem it fit to visit Benue, Taraba and Plateau where horrendous crimes were committed. He only visited after a lot of outcry and demands for him to do so.

“Have you ever heard of any Fulani herdsman that was successfully prosecuted for the massive killings of our people? Rather, locals with knifes and sticks who only defended themselves while being attacked have been sentenced to death by hanging by a biased system. We will continue to defend ourselves if the government is not ready to protect us,” said a visibly agitated Mrs. Rose Ajene.

A security expert who did not want his identity revealed said that what is happening in the North Central and some parts of North West is a daring and well-articulated move to grab land through ethnic cleansing.

“The savagery of the herdsmen has evolved from an occasional tragedy to a normalized fact of life. Their goal is to transform the lands they lust after into a large cemetery, a vast graveyard where only grass, cattle and cow herds thrive. Their objective is land grab; their strategy is genocide.

“Unfortunately, Nigerians, particularly Southerners are not seeing it for what it is. Intelligence reports suggest a clear religious and political dimension to these killings. The so-called harmless herdsmen are masking a greater menace: religious and political conquest of a scale comparable to expansionism.

“A number of patterns are beginning to emerge and we must see the pattern in the activities of the Janjaweed in Southern Sudan, which began to sack villages, rape and kill and abduct women, especially young women whom they sold to slavery.

“There is increasing evidence that these people whom the local media often glibly call ‘Fulani herdsmen’ may be more than it seems.The killers are not the normal Fulani herdsmen that drive their cattle through the forest and streets. These are well-trained soldiers, with very sophisticated arms.

“Such a possibility should not be dismissed as conspiracy by sane minds, because most political and conquest movements are the products of conspiracies often publicly denied or even ignored until it is too late,” the worried security expert said said.

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