By OBINNA EZUGWU
Nigeria, Africa’s most populous nation presents itself as the continent’s giant. But it’s an acclaim it has lived out in all that is undesirable. Last year, the country became the global headquarters of extreme poverty. And this year, it has become, arguably, the world’s biggest human abattoir. Even countries at war are better off in terms of human casualty.
Sorrows, tears and blood, to borrow from the late Afrobeat legend, Fela Anikulapo Kuti, have become the country’s regular trade mark – the nation’s sad new normal. So preponderant is the country’s killing fields that the populace have almost become inured to sights of decapitated bodies, severed heads and piles of dead bodies that daily fill social media space. Indeed, the news of fresh deaths now comes around as any other news.
Between March 30 to April 4 this year, computed figures from the U.S. Council on Foreign Relations’ showed that more than 204 individuals were killed by the combined effort of bandits, soldiers, Fulani herdsmen sectarian groups in Zamfara, Adamawa, Borno, Taraba, Kwara, Kaduna and Benue, while about 50 were kidnapped in Kaduna, the new hotbed for kidnappers. About 2000 lives were lost in Zamfara state alone in 2018 according to Senator Kabiru Marafa.
The Council had, of course, failed to capture six deaths by herdsmen in Anambra, two in Enugu, while it is apparent that the continuing attacks in Southern Kaduna villages by herdsmen and retaliatory attacks by locals have accounted for loss of over 200 lives within the period according to Kaduna government figures and community accounts. Kaduna is one ugly scene in the horror of blood harvest playing in the country.
From 2014 when the herdsmen crisis began to escalate to unprecedented proportions, the state has accounted for numerous deaths and it is hardly abating. But of course, Zamfara is the newest hot frontier. Within the past couple of months, Zamfara, a once peaceful and thriving State in the North West, more than any state in the country, has come to epitomise the Hobbesian state of nature where life is “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short.”
For a long stretch of time, the combined force of cattle rustlers and gold mining bandits have snorted life out of thousands of Zamfara villagers. For the most part, they have died alone, abandoned by the government they elected and which swore to protect lives and property. It’s a country where, for many, life has lost value.
“Things are ten times worse than what they used to be. And that’s the consequences of choice,” says rights activist and initiator, End SARS campaign, Sega Leveilleur. “If a leader doesn’t value human life, to point that cows being killed brings tears out of his eyes, but when humans are killed, he says it is political and they leave it at that, then you know what we have become.
“Everybody is going back to sleep thinking that it’s not their business since it doesn’t happen in their village. But it’s still coming. The people who are being killed today are mostly those who campaigned for change and who believed that their salvation had come with the coming of this administration, and you can imagine their disappointment now.”
Last week, Zamfara governor Abdulaziz Yari disclosed at a Town Hall Meeting in Gusau, the state capital, that a total of 3,526 persons were killed by armed bandits in the state, while 500 villages have been affected and scores injured in the last five years.
“Nearly 500 villages have also been devastated and 8,219 persons injured, some are still in critical condition,” the governor who spoke through the Secretary to the State Government, Prof. Abdullahi Shinkafi, said. He also noted that over 13,000 hectares of farmlands were either destroyed or made useless as the farmers can no longer farm there.
“The economy of the state has seriously suffered because thousands of shops were destroyed by the rampaging bandits who had displaced thousands of our people from their places of abode, many of whom cannot sleep with their two eyes closed because of fear,” he added.
The villagers so displaced, numbering tens of thousands now reside in IDP camps, where life is lived in agony. Fathers have painful stories of lost sons and daughters; children of lost parents and mothers of lost husbands and children.
Yet, for the greater part of these five years, Zamfara has died in silence, with little attention from the federal government. It had taken the protest led by the state born journalist, Ms Kadaria Ahmed in Abuja last week for the government to take any action of note. The same week, the government announced ban on mining activities in the state and the Chief of Army Staff, Lt. Gen. Tukur Buratai announced launch of operation Harbin Kunama, later disclosing his intention to relocate temporarily to the state. The Senate also approved N10 billion for victims of the violence.
But the Zamfara tragedy has raised other questions. It had been fuelled by the activities of gold miners in the state and many continue to wonder how it is that such large gold deposits exist in the state – and other states – but nothing of it comes to the federal government as revenue to be shared by federating units as is the case with oil revenue from the Niger Delta.
“This illegal mining is not happening only in Zamfara, it is happening right now in Bauchi and Plateau, there are over 20 sites, likewise in Taraba,” said Facebook user, Auwal Muhammad Gidado.
“The problem is that those in charge of the sites are foreigners and they have police guarding them. They say Gen. Abdulsalam and Aliyu Gusau own mining sites in Zamfara”
Gidado continued: “The killing is to divert attention. There are sites in Kaduna State, in Birnin Kwari to be precise. Although I’m not a fan of (Sheikh Ibrahim) El-Zakzaky, but he talked about this a couple of years ago.”
The gold mines, the deaths and the profiteers, like Nigeria’s many absurdities, will go unexplained. The poor villagers are expendables. A few days from now, the tension would abate and life will go on, for Zamfara, as is now ‘normal’ – the normal that villages in the North East face daily in account of Boko Haram atrocities.
“I’m horrified by what the country has become. A bunch of Nigerians came together to say they wanted change. And they wanted change because in Nigeria, a lot of us believe that without somebody beating us up or treating us maliciously, or unless somebody who is a former military officer is in charge of Nigeria, the country cannot move forward,” Leveilleur says.
“So, they believe that the slavery they experienced during the military interregnum, if it doesn’t continue, the country cannot move forward. Because of that, they were looking for a military man in ‘agbada’ who is going to whip them into prosperity; who is going to make hardship a religion, such that with faith, Nigeria will be better. This is what they did.”
It was in part, for his failure to tackle Boko Haram carnage in the country’s North East – and indeed, North West – that former President Goodluck Jonathan was voted out of office in 2015. President Muhammadu Buhari, being a former military general, had promised to lead the war against the terror group from the front.
His eventual emergence as president was to be bad news for Boko Haram, dubbed World’s most deadly terrorist group in November 2015 by Global Terrorism Index. But four years down the road, Boko Haram remains a lethal force attacking military bases and sacking villages and for many, the Buhari government has simply proved to be incapable of delivering.
“The Minister of Information, Alhaji Lai Mohammed said they have defeated Boko Haram technically, but we know otherwise. They are more interested in telling the world lies than in equipping the security agencies to secure lives and property of the citizens,” notes Adeniyi Alimi Suleiman, founder Centre for Human Rights and Social Justice, a Lagos based rights group.
The American Council on Foreign Relations, CFR’s Nigeria Security Tracker (NST) documented 2,021 attacks by Boko Haram between June 2011 and June 2018. It said 37,530 people were killed within the period. Over the same period Armed Conflict Location and Event Project (ACLED), a non-governmental organisation based in Sussex, U.K. said it identified 3,346 incidents in which 34,261 people were killed. The number has since increased as attacks have continued.
“We are not satisfied with the way things are going,” Suleiman laments. “Buhari is not ready to protect lives and property of the citizens. He is more concerned with propaganda. Even his anti corruption war is a farce. I personally wrote petitions against many people in his party, including (Rauf) Aregbesola and former commissioner for justice, Rasheed Ajibola; I wrote a petition to the EFCC, they couldn’t do anything. See the case of Gandollar (Abdullahi Ganduje) who was caught on video stealing money, but Buhari raised his hand in Kano.”
“We are not happy with the way security is being handled. The killing is too much. There is hardly a day that you don’t hear about 17 or more people are killed either in Plateau, Benue, Borno, Kaduna, Zamfara or Enugu. Apart from that there are lots of extra-judicial killing by security agents.”
To its credit, however, the Buhari administration has managed to confine the terror group’s campaign to villages in the North East. The number of deaths which peaked between 2014 and 2015 has reduced. But what has been gained in the effort against Boko Haram, has been lost to the other escalating flash points of insecurity.
Apart from Zamfara, Sokoto has equally had a taste of deaths in the hands of bandits. Katsina, Buhari’s home state is facing its worst security challenge as kidnappers and bandits take a toll. Kaduna has become another hotbed for kidnappers and of course, there is the mother of them all, Fulani Herdsmen now classified as the world’s 4th most deadly terrorist group, which have continued to kill, maim and displace communities across the country, more prominently in the North Central, North East and Kaduna in the North West.
Perhaps the only drastic thing that has changed since 2015 is the level of outrage incidents of violent crime generate. The hitherto vociferous Northern leaders have gone largely quiet. Many say, because one of their own in Buhari, is now president.
“When GEJ was at the helm of affairs, some Imams used to curse (Al-Qunut) him on Fridays,” wrote popular Twitter user, Abdul Basit @AA Basitt. “The popular belief then was that GEJ was responsible for the killings in the North, but today, those killings have doubled but nobody is saying ‘pim’ because Buhari is at the helm of affairs.”
In 2016, herdsmen killed not less than 500 in sustained attacks in Agatu, Benue State. About the same period, the herders killed estimated 800 people in Southern Kaduna. The violence continued throughout 2017 and reached catastrophic proportions last year.
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 organised two mass burials in 2018 in what some say is ethnic cleansing.
The murder of over 200 people in Plateau State shifted away from Benue for a season. Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) reported that in the first quarter of 2018, Fulani herder militia perpetrated at least 106 attacks in central Nigeria, in which 1,061 people were killed. “An additional 11 attacks recorded on communities in the south of the country claimed a further 21 lives.”
But it is not only these non state actors that are spilling blood of Nigerians. Indeed, the country’s security forces compete favourably in this regard. From 2015 when over 350 members of Islamic Movement in Nigeria (IMN), otherwise called Shiites were killed in Kaduna by solders, the army has not looked back in extrajudicial killings. The group’s leader, Sheikh Ibrahim El Zakzaky remains in detention in defiance of court judgment for his release. Members of the Indigenous Peoples of Biafra (IPOB) have been killed in their hundreds.
Late last year American-based newspaper, New York Times, released a video showing Army shooting dead Shiite marchers along the Abuja-Zuba Expressway between October 27 and October 29, 2018. The army had said the Shiites were armed with stones and petrol bombs and had attacked troops of Army Headquarters Garrison on official duty, escorting ammunition and missiles from Abuja to Army Central Ammunition Depot in Kaduna State.
However, New York Times said a video which it obtained showed that the soldiers shot at civilians who were fleeing the scene.
“But a close review of video from the largest and most deadly of the protests, as well as interviews with more than a dozen witnesses, clearly shows the military opening fire on unarmed demonstrators, sometimes shooting indiscriminately into the crowd at close range as people turned and tried to flee,” the report read.
“Photos and videos recorded that day show at least 26 bodies. The group said it had collected a total of 49 bodies during four days of protests.
“The killings are the latest example of a military that for years has been accused of human rights abuses, with rarely any punishment or action taken, despite President Muhammadu Buhari’s promises to crack down on military violations and restore security in the country.” The newspaper noted that the killings generated little outrage in the country as neither Buhari nor members of the opposition condemned it.
“The security agencies themselves are more interested in killing unarmed citizens than anything else,” says Suleiman. “Look at what they did to El-Zarkzarky. ” Suleiman insists the rot flows from the top. “Any moment that you put square pegs in round holes, that’s what you get. You cannot expect any positive outcome,” he says.
“Everything is falling apart and you can only trace the cause to the power that be. Once the president of a country who is supposed to be the champion for rule of law denigrates it, everything bad follows. We are seeing the escalation of atrocities because the government itself is promoting it.”
The role of the military during the recently concluded elections, especially in Rivers State where soldiers actively participated in snatching of ballot boxes leading to deaths of at least 37 people, represent another new low.
Recent killing of Kolade Johnson, a young football fan shot dead in Lagos by Special Anti Robbery Squad (SARS) once again, brought to focus police brutality in the country.
“When they have a problem with a special unit, what they do is to create another unit – just like we do in the ministries. But we keep forgetting that it is lack of proper planning and lack of sustainability that is the problem,” regrets Leveilleur.
“They don’t check themselves. They think the problem is the institution. That’s why you have SARS, SACS, we have Special Anti Kidnapping, Special Anti Cult, SPS, SOS, we have so many of them; it’s insane. You can keep creating all those things. They are putting their energy together to feed on our young. This is the problem we are facing.”