For many indigenes of Miango, Irigwe chiefdom in Bassa Local Government of Area of Plateau State, North Central Nigeria, home, today is exile, sacked from ancestral lands by heavily armed terror militia simply called Fulani herdsmen – rated few years ago by Global Terrorism Index (GTI) as the 4th most deadly terrorist group globally – in a protracted violence described as genocide by Nobel Laureate, Professor Wole Soyinka.
The past few weeks had seen an uptick. On Saturday, July 31, seven people were killed and 250 houses razed in some communities of Miango chiefdom, a statement by Mr. Davidson Malison, National Publicity Secretary of Irigwe Development Association said.
On Tuesday, August 10, global human rights body, Amnesty International said not less than 112 people were killed, 160 abducted and thousands displaced in communities in Plateau and Kaduna states from July to August 5, 2021, a situation it blamed on the Nigerian authorities’ failure to live up to their obligation to protect the right to life.
Inaction from security agents amid the ensuing violence has surprised many.
But the world only became aware of the of the troubled locality when on August 14, about 90 travellers said to be Sufi Muslims who attended an annual Zikr (prayer session) and celebration of the Islamic new year in Bauchi and were brutally attacked by assailants police quickly identified as Irigwe youth on their way back to the South where they reside.
At least 23 of the travellers were murdered by the mob. More carnage was, however, prevented by personnel of Special Task Force (STF) who arrived the scene amid the violence. The violence, orgy, was roundly condemned by President Muhammadu Buhari – and everyone whose voice meant something in the country – with promise made to bring the attackers to book. Within a day over 20 Irigwe youth were rounded up and arrested, amid a curfew imposed by the state governor, Simon Lalong.
However, previous attacks in the locality by herders which were ignored by authorities had prompted the ugly response. A resident of the area who preferred anonymity told our correspondent in the days leading up to the incident, herders had killed a number of people, while about 50 houses had been burnt, with half of that number completely razed to the ground.
Indeed, two days before the incident, the Irigwe youth had announced that they were conveying the corpses of their kin slain by the suspected herders for burial in Bassa on Saturday. Reports said they had set out in a convoy for the burial on Saturday morning when the violence broke out along the way at Rukuba Road.
As they went with the corpses, they met some vans conveying some Muslims identified as Fulani along on their way and stopped them. And explanations by the travellers that they were only commuters from Bauchi, fail on deaf ears as the angry mob insisted that Rukuba road does not connect Bauchi highway. Suspecting that the travellers may have come to attack at the burial ground, the mob descended on them with stones, machetes and just any weapon their hands could find.
The outrage over the killing has dampened. But even more brutal onslaught on communities in the area by the said herders have continued. And as usual, the victims are left to lick their wounds.
“When the incident of last week happened (the killing of Muslim travellers), the government was quick to identify the attackers as Irigwe youth. But the killing of yesterday, nobody has come to identify them. Instead, they are referred to as unknown gunmen,” said Hon. Dachung Bagos, member representing Jos East Federal Constituency on Channels, Wednesday.
“People are killed on a daily basis, houses are being burnt and communities displaced, but the government prefers to call the attackers unknown gunmen. But when communities decide to defend themselves, they are identified and punished.”
On Monday, the Christian Association of Nigeria, TEKAN/ECWA bloc, said through its leader, Rev. Moses Ebuga, that over 85 persons were killed and more than 55 others hospitalized following herdsmen invasion of Irigwe.
According to the group a total of 3,141 houses were burnt within 18 days of the crisis in Irigwe, while alleging that within the same period about 1,520 houses were vandalized, 2, 901 farms destroyed and 5,901 families displaced as a result of attacks by suspected Fulani herdsmen.
The Church leaders maintained that more than 29,805 people have been displaced, more than 26 villages destroyed and 39 Communities affected in during the period under review.
“We would like to use this medium to give a report of what has happened as observed and recorded by the Church. From July 30th to August 17th, 2021, over 85 persons were killed, over 55 persons were hospitalized, over 3,141 houses were burnt, about 1,520 houses vandalized and 2, 901) farms destroyed, with 5,901 families displaced,” Ebuga said.
“More than 29,805 people displaced, more than 26 villages destroyed, all within 39 Communities in Irigwe chiefdom of Bassa LGA.
“As Christians, and especially our Bloc on the Plateau cannot remain silent while its members and properties are destroyed by the Killer Fulani herders and militias, with no efforts by the government to stop these evil acts.”
The Christian leaders alleged that even within the communities, the indigenes are singled out by security agents.
“It has also come to our notice and we have verifiable evidence that whenever there are government directives or security agencies proceed on a house search for weapons or any such item, such are being carried out among the natives who barely are able to defend themselves from their regular and aided attackers and are further rendered helpless and more vulnerable in the face of the usual house to house onslaught which has become their fate, but surprisingly, the killer Fulani herder roam about with weapons strapped on their bodies in the open glare of the same security agencies are untouchable,” Ebuga said.
“This is preposterous. We wish to state categorically that defence is a fundamental human right enshrined and protected by law and to this, we urge the government to be weary in invading the privacy of law-abiding and peaceful citizens and harassing them and dispossessing them of even common kitchen utensils.”
On Tuesday, 36 persons were killed while several others were injured in attack by the suspected herders in Yelwa Zangam, Jos North Local Government Area. The killers stormed the community with sophisticated weapons around 10 pm and killed the victims while several others who sustained injuries during the attack were rushed to the Bingham University Teaching Hospital in Jos.
The hospital has since said it’s overwhelmed by the number of victims brought to it, even as it has solicited for blood donors.
On Wednesday, mourners took about 20 corpses of loved ones killed in the attack to the State House of Assembly, urging the state lawmakers to liaise with other arms of government to tackle the menace. The house subsequently passed a resolution asking residents to defend themselves, a call that prompted a siege on the assembly by security agents Monday morning.
But in a country where every security outfit is centrally controlled, state governments do little on their own. And the government of Lalong appears desperately helpless.
“We have instances where the criminal elements are arrested and before you know it, their case files are transferred to Abuja and that’s the end of it,” Mr. Dan Manjang, the state commissioner for information told Channels TV last week.
“There are secret cows. The state government has conducted its investigation and came up with white paper, but nothing is done.”
Manjang said communities have been displaced and their lands taken by the killers. But as opposed to using security agents to fish confront the killers, he said the government had signed laws that would make it possible for those displaced reclaim their lands through the courts.
“There have been communities displaced and their lands taken. But there is a limit to what the state government can do. We have passed laws enabling people to go and reclaim their lands. We keep saying it’s farmer/herders clashes, but people’s lands are being taken, it’s criminality.”
Indeed, the ‘criminals’ embarking on the audacious attacks and land grab appear to be above the law, and this inability of the federal government to bring them to justice as they unleash mayhem from Plateau to Benue, Kaduna and the rest of North West and elsewhere, has given rise to increasing suspicion of a sort of collusion; a possible attempt, some have said, to ‘Afghanistanize’ the country. A reference to the rapid take over the Afghanistan by the Taliban.
“There are real fears that the federal government of Nigeria as presently constituted maybe working in concert with jihadists who want to impose jihad on Nigeria,” noted spokesperson for Alaigbo Development Foundation (ADF), Chief Abia Onyike.
Few days ago, the world was held spellbound as the Afghan Taliban, an extremist group branded a terrorist organization by the United States and other world governments, swept to power in the middle east country, implementing own strict version of Islamic codes that practically enslave women and with no tolerance for people of other faith.
It’s been days of the Taliban rule and as the reality of the carnage the development could portend dawns – none more visible that Thursday’s bombing of the entrance of Kabul International Airport that left nearly 100 people, including several American soldiers, dead – Nigerians are drawing parallels between the events and the unfolding carnage in the country.
“Nigerians have suffered enough untold hardship. Deliberate provocation and open invitation to ‘Afghanistanisation’ and ‘Somalianisation’ should not be allowed to compound their woes,” said Akogun Tola Adeniyi, veteran columnist and former MD of the Daily Times of Nigeria.
The over a decade long Boko Haram war in the country Northeast has now been compounded by the carnage of even more vicious terror attacks on communities in various parts of the country as exemplified by the herders’ attacks.
Away from Plateau and havoc being wreaked there, the terror groups had demonstrated in July, demonstrated their war capabilities by bringing down a Nigerian Air Force (NAF) Alpha Jet aircraft in Zamfara in July. Still, last week, they did the unthinkable by invading the country’s elite military academy, the Nigerian Defence Academy (NDA), Kaduna, killing two officers: Lieutenant-Commodore Wulah and Flight-Lieutenant C.M. Okoronwo, while another, Major Christopher Datong was abducted by the terrorists who have since demanded N200m ransom for his release.
The daring attack on the military academy, had followed several attacks, kidnappings and killings in communities across the Northwest, including abductions of primary, secondary and university students in their hundreds, some of whom were brutally murdered. Many have been released after payment of huge sums of money as ransom, the latest being pupils of Tanko Salihu Islamiyya School in Tegina area of Niger and 32 more students of Bethel Baptist High School, 31 of whom are still being held.
“The jihadists that the Buhari junta rechristened bandits, have: Shot down a military jet with a Surface-to-Air-Missile, Attacked the Nigerian Defence Academy, Wiped out communities in Kaduna, Niger, Zamfara, Katsina, Kebbi & Jigawa, wrote author and former aid to ex president, Goodluck Jonathan, Reno Omokri, @renoomokri.
In the Christian North Central states of Plateau and Benue, the violence is more pronounced as religious and ethnic violence with several indigenous communities sacked over the past few days in a carnage that has led to the killing of hundreds and burning of several houses.
“The intention is to Islamisze Nigeria,” declared Kunle Olawunmi, former Navy Commodore Professor of Global Security Studies who had been in military intelligence for 35 years, in a Channels TV interview for which he has been invited by the government for questioning.
“Some people have this mindset to Islamize Nigeria. These people are known. They don’t mind if the economy is dead. They are are hard liners who just want to Islamize Nigeria. They look at the Taliban, for example, and they feel they can do it here.
“They don’t care if people die in the process, it’s fine as long as they dip the Quran in the Atlantic Ocean.”
Olawunmi who noted that some of the hard liners known to the intelligence community to have links with terrorists, are now in government, further alleged that the attack on NDA had insider collaboration, while arguing that the security crisis in the country is about sociocultural issues, as according to him, “as long as you speak Hausa or Fufide you can do anything you like.”
The Buhari government’s policy of rehabilitating and reintegrating thousands of Boko Haram fighters captured or who surrendered to the military – some of whom are said to have been recruited into the armed forces – has particularly rattled many, even as a recent investigation by the New Humanitarian revealing that former jihadist commanders – including those who took part in the 2014 massacre of hundreds of people in Bama, Borno State – are living free on the government’s payroll under a secret rehabilitation programme called ‘Sulhu’ (peace-making in Arabic) has left many mouths agape.
Under the Sulhu programme said to be run by the Department of State Services (DSS), terrorists who agree to leave the Sambisa Forest war zone are housed with their wives in an estate in Kaduna State and a monthly stipend provided by the security outfit.
Seen by many pacifying terrorists who have caused the death of over 350, 000 Nigerians, according to United Nations estimates, by a government which is often relentless in crushing agitators and separatists elsewhere – exemplified by onslaught against members of the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) and its leader, Nnamdi Kanu in the East of the country; as well as Yoruba nation agitator, Sunday Adeyemo, alias Sunday Igboho in the West – several observers say the policy towards terrorist group demonstrates double standards.
“The agenda of the present administration is to Islamize and Fulanize the nation like former President Olusegun Obasanjo, Professor Kunle Olawunmi and other patriotic Nigerians have rightly said,” said Benue State governor, Samuel Ortom in a statement on Thursday.
Ortom’s Benue, as with most of Christian middle belt region – have continued to witness repeated attacks by the herders who are said to sometimes occupy sacked villages in a campaign seen as a land grab agenda with ethnic and religious colouration.
The Information and Culture Minister, Lai Mohammed in an interview with News Agency of Nigeria in Washington, United States, last week, however, insisted that “Nigeria will not prosecute repentant terrorists, because there are international conventions that must be followed.”
Mohammed argued that calls for the prosecution and killing of the repentant militants, rather than granting them amnesty, were against global best practices,” he said.
“I personally spoke to the military authorities before I left Nigeria and they said what they were doing is what the global practice dictates about soldiers that surrendered that should be treated as prisoners of war.
“You cannot just shoot them because there are international conventions that give rights also to prisoners of war.
“What the military is doing is that when they surrender, they profile them to ensure that they are genuine and reintegrate them into the society.’’
The minister added that it was unfortunate and inconceivable that some Nigerians would be going about with fake news that the surrendered insurgents would be engaged by the military.
Coming from a government that had no issues court-martialling former Theatre Commander, Operation Lafiya Dole, Maj Gen Olusegun Adeniyi, while also jailing several also soldiers for complaining about lack of weapons to fight the insurgents, the minister’s argument has, for many, validated their concerns about possible attempt to Islamize the country.
“Afghanistan is staring us in the face and we don’t know it. Even in Afghanistan, the government wasn’t granting the Taliban amnesty openly the way we are doing here. It’s a dire situation,” said Deji Adeyanju, activist and government critic in an interview with Punch.
“At the same time, Buhari is dealing with soldiers, who are demanding better weapons. Under this government, a critic was jailed in Adamawa for criticising the President and the governor there.
“The same government that killed protesters at Lekki tollgate is the one embracing and forgiving Boko Haram; the same government that cannot tolerate secession agitators and killed IPOB members, Sunday Igboho’s aides and Shi’ite members; the same government is pampering Boko Haram today.
“Yes, we are on the way to Afghanistan and it’s going to be very bad, because terrorists don’t repent; they don’t change. They are only looking for ways to get closer to power so that they can hijack and destroy the country as is currently happening in Afghanistan.”