Published On: Mon, Jul 9th, 2018

Global outrage grows over incessant herdsmen killings

…there is anarchy in the land – Utomi

 

By OBINNA EZUGWU

The incessant killings in Nigeria by Fulani herdsmen seem to attracting more global attention as U.S. and U.K. have taken the government to task to stop it. During his recent visit to the U.S. by President Buhari, American President Donald had expressed concern over the orgy.

Buhari and Trump Photo: AFP

Last week, the British House of Lords dedicated a session to dissect and condemn what majority of them agreed was a systematic targeting of Christian communities in Nigeria’s Middle Belt following the gruesome murder of over 200 people in Barkin Ladi, Mangu and Riyom local governments in Plateau State by suspected Fulani herdsmen between June 23 and 24.

In an emotionally charged debate, various members of the upper legislative chamber of the British Parliament, including Lord David Patrick Alton, Lord George Chidgey, Baroness Claire Stroud, Baroness Caroline Cox, Lord Denis Tunnicliffe and many others, took turns to repudiate what they concluded was creeping ‘Jihad’ waged on the Christian population of the North Central.

And like many Nigerians, they expressed worry over President Muhammadu Buhari’s seeming unwillingness to bring the killers to book, even as they faulted the description of the carnage as “Herders/Farmers clashes” as according to them, what is happening is not a clash, but an invasion.

“As we will hear later from my noble —and courageous — friend Lady Cox, who has visited these areas, these attacks have been systematic and go on unabated,” noted Lord Alton in his particularly detailed submission.

“I have sent many of these details to Ministers but in the interests of time I will just give the House a snapshot from a few days in April of this year. On 10 April, 10 people were killed in Ukum in Benue state. On 10 April, 51 were killed in Wukari, Taraba state. On 12 April, 41 were killed in Ukum, Benue state. On 12 April, two were killed in Makurdi in Benue state, and another 41 were killed in Ukum in Benue state.

“In April, during early morning mass, militants attacked the parish in Makurdi killing two priests and 17 members of the congregation. ACN has also highlighted the 15,000 orphans and 5,000 widows in the north-east—an area that has come under repeated attack from Boko Haram. I would be grateful to hear from the Minister what humanitarian aid we have been able to provide for victims.

“CSW reports that in the first quarter of 2018, Fulani herder militia perpetrated at least 106 attacks in central Nigeria. The death toll in these four months, purely from herder militia violence, stands at 1,061. An additional 11 attacks recorded on communities in the south of the country claimed a further 21 lives. One spokesman said: “It is purely a religious jihad in disguise.”

Alton argued that by the nature of attacks, the description of it as clashes between farmers and herders had become inappropriate.

“There has certainly been a long history of disputes between nomadic herders and farming communities right across the Sahel, over land, grazing and scarce resources—I have visited places such as Darfur myself and have seen that at first hand. It is true that attacks by herder militia have, on occasion, led to retaliatory violence, as communities conclude that they can no longer rely on the Government for protection or justice. Between 1 January and 1 May this year, there were 60 such attacks,” he said.

“However, compared with the recent escalation in attacks by well-armed Fulani herders upon predominately Christian farming communities, the asymmetry is stark and must be acknowledged by the UK Government in their characterisation and narrative of this violence.

Alleged Fulani Massacre at Agatu, Benue state. Photo Credit TVC

Given the escalation, frequency, organisation and asymmetry of Fulani attacks, does the Minister believe that the references to “farmer-herder clashes” still suffice? In the face of the reports of violence collected by impartial human rights groups, there is no place here for, as it were, moral equivalence; nor is it sufficient for the Government merely to urge all sides to seek dialogue and avoid violence.”

Interventions had also come from Human Rights body, Amnesty International (AI), the United Nations (UN), Intersociety and sundry individuals, all expressing shock, not just at how frequently lives are being lost, but the inaction of the Nigerian authorities.

In a statement signed by its media officer, Isa Sanusi, on Thursday fortnight ago, AI observed that the failure of Nigerian government to hold murderers to account is encouraging them and fueling rising insecurity across the country.

The body said independently verified estimated figures showed at least 1813 people have been murdered in 17 states in the country this year, double the 894 people killed in 2017.

“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,” Osai Ojigho, Director Amnesty International Nigeria explained.

“The authorities have a responsibility to protect lives and properties, but they are clearly not doing enough going by what is happening.

“The latest incidence in Plateau State, where armed gunmen attacked 11 villages on 23 June for at least seven hours and killed at least 200 villagers without intervention from security forces should be investigated.”

UN Secretary-General, António Guterres, in a statement by his spokesman, Stéphane Dujarric equally expressed concern over violent conflicts between farmers and herders in countries across West and Central Africa, particularly the Plateau attacks,  and called on relevant governments, regional organisations and civil society to work together to find acceptable and lasting solutions to the conflicts.

Yet, the International Society for Civil Liberties and the Rule of Law, Intersociety, had alleged that killer herdsmen and Boko Haram insurgents have in the first six months of 2018, killed 1,750 Christians and other non Muslims.

In a statement by its Board Chairman, Comrade Emeka Umeagbalasi; Head Civil Liberties and Rule of Law, Obianuju  Joy Igboeli and Head, International Justice and Human Rights Programme,  Chinaza Ndidiamaka Bernard, the group said the killer herdsmen also massacred 8,800 Nigerians mostly Christians  in three years,  from June 2015 to June 2018.

“Nigeria is drifting to genocide through killing, maiming, burning and destruction of churches and other sacred places of worship and forceful seizure and occupation of ancestral, worshipping, farming and dwelling lands of the indigenous Christians and other indigenous religionists in Northern Nigeria.

The above are, many would agree, justified concerns about the gradual descent into anarchy by Africa’s most populous nation

As Professor of political economist and former presidential candidate, Pat Utomi puts it: “There is also anarchy in the land, an example being the recent killings in Plateau.

Pat Utomi

“The problems that led to these killings and similar ones before them were identified by a foreign scholar decades ago but nothing was done to avert the crisis. The whole country is hostage to about 60 or less people who manipulate everything for their benefit, which is the hurt of the rest of us,” Utomi said while delivering a lecture at the University of Nigeria last week.

But even with the outrage, the killings have continued unabated. The murder of over 200 people in Plateau was followed by the yet another killing of six persons in the early hours of Sunday in an attack on Rahwol-Fwi village, Fan District area of same Plateau State. A Baptist Church, Government Hospital and 17 houses were burnt during the attack. Subsequently, three individuals were killed in another Benue attack on Thursday.

Previous repeated attacks in Southern Kaduna and Agatu in Benue State had been more deadly, leaving over 800 and 500 dead respectively. It’s a pattern, Benue has particularly been in the thick of things in recent months, there is hardly any week without an attack.

It is turn by turn. Every now and then, a community in Benue, Southern Kaduna, Plateau, Taraba, Adamawa, Kogi states all the way down to Enugu in the South East, Ondo in the South West, Edo in the South South, Zamfara in the North West,… indeed all over the country, is invaded.

It is almost a daily harvest of bloodshed and the security agencies seem either overwhelmed or indifferent in putting a stop to it.  Either way, it’s evident that the agencies are overstretched or complacent.

On New Year Day 2018, an attack in Guma and Logo local government areas of the State left 73 dead. In March, two Catholic priests and 17 worshippers were hacked to death. In-between those two incidents, there were several other attacks that claimed lives in double figures. Benue State governor, Samuel Ortom has organised two mass burials in 2018 in what some say is ethnic cleansing.

“In the case of ethnic cleansing, I think it is safe to say that the security agencies are colluding with the armed bandits,” said Afenifere chieftain and elder statesman, PA Ayo Adebanjo. “I say that Buhari is aiding and abating the herdsmen, that’s the truth.”

Despite being labelled the fourth deadliest terrorist group by the global terror index, they are at worst described by the Buhari government as a criminal gang from Libya and their attacks designated generally as a communal clash. It is a clash that has left thousands dead, millions displaced and farming communities expelled and the country on the brink of war; yet nothing serious being done.

Nigerians are justifiably shocked at how cheap life has become in the country, but even more shocking, many say, is the apparent lack of proactive government action.

At no time were people killed with such frequency and impunity apart from the civil war. And indeed, many like the Imo State governor, Rochas Okorocha despite being a member of Buhari’s party and a staunch supporter of the President and chairman of APC Governors’Forum, recently admitted that “Nigeria is a country at war.”

But it’s a war with a seemingly pampered enemy, an enemy the government appears all too unwilling to confront but is rather busy throwing blames around.

“Government handling of these killings has been inadequate,” said former President of the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Nigeria (ICAN) and a chieftain of the All Progressives Grand Alliance, Mr. Chidi Ajaegbu. “Nobody is happy with what is happening. It is tragic.”

Soyinka

On Thurday last week the Christian Association of Nigeria, CAN, in the 19 northern state met with Buhari mandated him to stop the killings. Buhari in response condemned those accusing of supporting the herdsmen as wicked and unfair to him.

The same point was made by Nobel Laureate, Prof Wole Soyinka who noted: “The agitating question then is this: since this rampage began, has even one herdsman been brought up before those same courts on a charge of murder, much less sentenced to death at such lightning speed? Shall we wake up and find that they have been hanged? Yet Zamfara has lost hundreds to the homicidal orgy of these same herdsmen. There is a skewed application of justicial proceedings here that baffles many, this writer among them.”

Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association (MACBAN) didn’t hesitated in owning up to the Plateau massacre, claiming that it was reprisal attacks to the killing of their 300 cattle. Buhari had in a statement through his spokesman, Garba Shehu, conveniently blamed “desperate people” who had “pursued their quest for instability and chaos which they hoped would give them an advantage in the coming elections.”

The police had however arrested 11 suspects in connection with the killings of over 200 in Plateau. The suspects, who according to Police spokesman, Jimoh Moshood, were in possession five AK47 rifles and two live cartridges, are Biliaminu Abdullahi; Samaila Saleh; Muhammadu Kabiru; Aminu Mohammed; Alhassan Saidu and Abubakar Adamu.

Others included Gazali Isah, Hamza Inusa, Yahuza Yau, Dahiru Ahmed and Friday Musa.

Spokesman of the military Special Task Force (STF), Major Umar Adams, who confirmed the subsequent attack on Sunday, but said only four persons died, also told ThisDay that four persons had been arrested in connection with the attack and added that the military high command had ordered the STF to relocate its headquarters from Jos to the troubled local council.

But the arrests have not convinced many that the government is doing enough to put a stop to the killings, and many continue to wonder why the leadership of Miyetti Allah are still walking free.

The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Nigeria (CBCN) last week Tuesday, in a statement, reiterated its on President Buhari to step aside over the killings.

“Barely two months ago, from the Eternal City of Rome during our Ad Limina Visit, we, the Catholic Bishops of Nigeria, issued a statement expressing our grave concerns about the spate of violence in our country and the federal government’s inability to deal with the situation,” the statement read.

“That statement came on the heels of the gruesome murder of two of our priests along with 17 other parishioners in Benue State on 24 April this year. The latest horrendous massacre of scores of innocent Nigerians, especially children and women, including pregnant women, in Plateau State, by the same rampaging and murderous terrorists who now seem to be operating without any hindrance in the Middle Belt and other parts of Nigeria, shows that our last statement, like all the others before, has been completely ignored by those whose primary responsibility it is to protect the lives and property of Nigerians.

“Once again, we ask President Muhammadu Buhari to please save this country from further pain and avoidable chaos, anarchy and doom. May we here repeat what we said in our last statement: ‘If the President cannot keep our country safe, then he automatically loses the trust of the citizens. He should no longer continue to preside over the killing fields and mass graveyard that our country has become.’”

The seeming deliberate inaction of the Buhari government towards resolving the issues and putting an end to what is gradually turning into genocide of Rwanda proportions has led to suspicions of a certain bid to exterminate the Christian communities of the North Central and foist Fulani domination.

Recently, the National Christian Elders Forum (NCEF) championed by Gen. T.Y. Danjuma and Chief Solomon Asemota (SAN), warned that the present generation of Christians in Nigeria may cease to exist in 25 years from now. According to them, the present generation of Christians faces the risk of being the last set of Christians in Nigeria.

They noted specifically that President Buhari “is openly pursuing an anti-Christian agenda that has resulted in countless murders of Christians all over the nation and destruction of vulnerable Christian communities.”

It had come to the shock of many for instance that while several communities have been attacked in Adamawa and no arrests of the attackers made, some “Christian” youths accused of plotting reprisal attacks on Fulani communities were quickly sentenced to death.

But it must be emphasised that from available evidence, the resident Fulani community is as worried over the attacks as everyone else.

The president insists his critics are being unfair, and indeed if anyone is expecting any serious action from his government, such a person is now sure to be disappointed as he had made it clear he is resorting to prayers.

Speaking when he visited Jos in the aftermath of the attacks last week, he said the cause of the crisis was injustice and that his government has tried its best and can’t do anything except to pray.

“There is nothing I can do to help the situation except to pray to God to help us out of the security challenges. What has happened is a very bad thing. The bottom-line is that justice must be allowed to take its course.

“Whatever is being given to the media, we have to be very responsible about it. Take for instance the situation in Benue. The Benue subsistence farmer knows that the Nigerian cattle herder that he knows doesn’t carry nothing more than a stick, occasionally sometimes, something to cut grass to feed his cattle.

“But the present herder, I am told, carries an AK47, and people are even blaming me for not talking to them because maybe (they say) I look like one of them.

“There is some injustice in these aspersions. It is noteworthy that many Nigerians still acknowledge that despite the security challenges, this administration has made notable successes in the security sector.”

His assertion had not gone down well with many, expectedly. Yoruba socio-cultural group, Afenifere, which in a communiqué issued at the end of its General Assembly in Akure on Tuesday, described the president’s response as infuriating.

“It is very infuriating that the president’s response and that of Miyetti Allah appeared to have been authored from the same lap-top,” Afenifere said. “Their reactions did not depict any sense of sympathy or regret.”

President Buhari’s response to the incessant killings has been to propose grazing reserves for the herdsmen. But when Nigerians cried foul, he proposed cattle colonies. Again, when cattle colonies generated outrage, the government backtracked, only to announce recently that 10 states: Adamawa, Benue, Ebonyi, Edo, Kaduna, Nassarawa, Oyo, Plateau, Taraba and Zamfara, have been selected to donate lands for what it called ‘The National Livestock Transformation Plan,’ that would cost N179 billion of public funds.

Many were miffed at the idea, wondering why public funds should be used to promote private business. The Igbo Youth Movement described the move as a “caliphate agenda to conquer and subdue the rest of Nigeria.”

Fulani herdsmen with rifle

Indeed, Dr. Nura Alkali, a Fulani social commentator also picked holes in the said proposal, wondering in his post, why people would insist on continuing the 17th century nomadic lifestyle in these modern times, and indeed why the government should be looking for lands in the South for ranching when the North has it in surplus.

“When you travel from Bauchi to Yola, look on both sides of the road, all you see are farmlands up to the horizon,” he wrote. Keep in mind that Adamawa and Bauchi are among Nigeria’s largest states. Toro LGA in Bauchi (6,932 sq. km) is larger than each South East State except Enugu (7,161 sq. km).

“The whole of Ebonyi State (5,533 sq. km) – which welcomes the proposed cattle ranches – boasts of only 80 percent of the land area of Toro LGA. And Ebonyi is now in the news for a deadly fight over farmlands with a community in the neighbouring Cross River State. So, is cattle ranch more viable in Toro or in Ebony?” he queried.

“It is Northern States that have land for cattle ranches which by nature, have enough grass and water all year round, thus removing the need for herdsmen from Jigawa or Sokoto to journey to Ebonyi or Delta in search of pasture. Why cattle ranch in Ebonyi unless the Igbo want to raise cattle.”

Nura lamented that Miyetti Allah who he described as a gang of criminals who profit from conflicts are now seen as the leaders of the Fulani.

“Miyetti Allah claims to represent Cattle Fulani who live as nomads, that’s their opinion. In my opinion, it’s a case of the blind leading the blind. Only the blind will insist on living a 17th century life in 2018.

“Besides being blind, Miyetti Allah also thrives in conflicts. In any case, Town Fulani like me are in limbo. Sadly, a group of riff raffs called Miyetti Allah are now mistaken as Fulani leaders.”

Speaking on AIT on Tuesday, presidential spokesman, Femi Adesina caused yet another stir when he told Nigerians that it was better to give up their lands for ranches than being killed by the herdsmen.

“Ancestral attachment?” he queried. “You can only have ancestral attachment (to land) when you are alive. If you are talking about ancestral attachment, if you are dead, how does the attachment matter?”

Allegations of a plot to exterminate the Christian community in Nigeria are rife, and statements like those of Adesina’s are only helping to complicate matters. The NCEF’s position may be a bit extreme, but with the escalating conflicts in the land occasioned by the incessant killings, these are surely uncertain times.

 

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