The incessant attack by Fulani herdsmen which has claimed hundreds of life in the month of March alone is increasingly becoming a source of worry for governments and people in the affected North-Central states
| By Olu Ojewale | Apr. 7, 2014 @ 01:00 GMT
LIFE is gradually becoming very unbearable in several parts of Northern states of Nigeria. With the incessant insurgence of Boko Haram sect in the North-East, the North-Central appears also to be enmeshed in violence arising from attacks of Fulani herdsmen. Since the beginning of March hundreds people have been killed in some states in the North-Central. In the past few weeks, the activities of the notorious Fulani herdsmen have become a source of concern to the people in the area, and, indeed, the entire country. Juliet, a civil servant in Makurdi, capital of Benue State, who does not want her full name in the media, was agitated when she spoke to Realnews recently on the tense situation in the state which is making a lot of people to live in fear. “We are all worried because they (Fulani herdsmen) are still there attacking people. They would just attack, kill people and once people run away from their villages, they steal what they could find and set their houses on fire, and run back to the bush. We are really not safe,” Juliet said.
Indeed, there seems to be no let-up in the herdsmen’s attacks of innocent farmers in the North-Central of the country. It was another day of bloody day in Benue State on Tuesday, March 25, as the notorious herdsmen went on another killing spree in Tse-Agena, Mbalom district, Ikpayonge and Adeka market, Oweto in Gwer and Agatu local government areas. More than 60 persons were reported killed in the attacks. The attacks obviously prompted Gabriel Suswam, governor of the state, to call on the military to assist the state government in tackling the increasing wave of attacks on communities in the state by suspected Fulani herdsmen. Suswam made the appeal during the ninth matriculation of students of the Nigerian Army Institute of Technology and Environmental Studies, NAITES, held at the Nigerian Army School of Military Engineering, NASME, Makurdi. The governor, who was represented on the occasion by Terna Ahua, head of service, however, said the state government, in collaboration with other security agencies had been taking proactive measures to check the persistent crisis. “It is, therefore, pertinent to appeal to the Army formations in the state to continue to collaborate with the state government to address these security challenges. And unless we act promptly, we may lose impetus and erode the public confidence and trust of the citizenry about our commitment to the safety of lives and property.”
Indeed, there was tension in many parts of the state, even in Makurdi, the seat of the state government, following the alleged attacks of suspected Fulani herdsmen in Agena, Mbtseda, Mbalom district, Gwer Local Government area in which more than 60 people were alleged to have been killed. Christiana Alaaga, a member of the House of Representatives, representing Gwer/Gwer West Federal Constituency, said the attackers stormed Agena village, a popular railway settlement in Mbatseda, Mbalom district, at about 6am on Tuesday, March 25. Alaaga, who expressed shock at the wave of violence in her state, said: “They opened fire on the houses and as people attempted to escape, they gunned them down. We counted 20 bodies. Many others sustained serious injuries and were taken to the hospital in Aliade and Makurdi.”
An eyewitness, who did not want his name in the media for security reasons, said: “They came in around 4am when the people were still asleep and unprepared for the attack. Everyone was woken up by the barrage of gunfire, the wailing of women and children who were running frantically for safety in the mist of the confusion.
“The painful part of this attack is that communities in Gwer have had no prior incidents with the herders; that is why we all believe this is a premeditated attack. This carnage must not be allowed to continue; over 60 bodies have been removed from that village and the search for several missing persons in still ongoing. We earnestly want the state and federal governments to act fast before these mercenaries encircle the state capital.”
Daniel Ezeala, a superintendent and Benue State police public relations officer, while confirming the attacks said that the command had recovered and deposited some corpses at the Makurdi Federal Medical Centre. Notwithstanding, the village has remained tense, and for good reason. For more than two weeks, hardly a day had passed without an attack on the natives in Benue by suspected herdsmen and their militia.
Indeed, the Tuesday attacks came on the heels of weekend’s bloody fight between Tiv youths and the suspected Fulani herdsmen in which about 55 were killed in Guma Local Government Area of the state. In the attack, about 55 persons were killed on Sunday, March 23, afternoon in what has been regarded as one the bloodiest clashes between Tiv youths and suspected Fulani herdsmen at Gbajimba, headquarters of Guma Local Government Area of the state. In the clash, heavy gun battle was said to have ensued in the besieged town for several hours forcing women and children to flee to nearby villages and Makurdi for safety. Prior to that, Tse Ortom-Adorogo, home town of Samuel Ortom, minister of state for trade and investment and supervising minister of aviation, was sacked by rampaging herdsmen who also said to have attacked the convoy of Governor Suswam on the same axis by the invaders.
The bloody fight in Gbajimba started when the suspected herdsmen stormed the town in the morning of that day but they were repelled by armed Tiv youths who engaged them in a bloody fight. “They came in their numbers very early this morning from Awe Local Government Area of Nasarawa State and made an attempt to seize the town and the local government secretariat but they were confronted by our youths who resisted them, forcing them to beat a retreat. Just this afternoon at about 1 o’clock, they staged a more coordinated attack on the town, this time they came in their hundreds, shooting, burning down houses, huts and killing anything in sight,” an eyewitness was quoted as saying. Many persons could not be accounted for after the fight.
However, despite its initial state of helplessness the Police station in Gbajimba was said to have restored peace to the town. During the conflict fear was expressed that if security personnel did not quickly mobilise into the town, the invaders might succeed in taking over the town after sacking about 100 villages in the local government area in the past few weeks. “Our fear is that if Gbajimba is allowed to fall into the hands of these marauders, it could be used as a launching pad to attack Makurdi which is just a few minutes’ drive from the ancient town,” a resident said.
According to the National Emergency Management Agency, NEMA, no fewer than 100 communities had been displaced by herdsmen in Benue State alone. Abdusalam Mohammed, North-Central zonal coordinator of the agency, said this on Monday, March 24, in Makurdi when he presented relief materials to displaced victims at the St. Mary’s Primary School, Makurdi. Mohammed, who led a team of NEMA officials from Jos, said they were in the state to distribute the materials to cushion the effects of the displacement. He said no fewer than 52,000 people were already in the camps established by the Catholic Diocese of Makurdi in the state.
The Catholic Diocese of Makurdi established camps at Daudu and six other places to cater for the needs of the victims. Steven Lawani, deputy governor, who received the items, assured that the state government in collaboration with the federal government would chase out terrorists from the state. Lawani said there were plans to return the victims to their homes to enable them to embark on their farming activities. “Government plans to take you back to your homes as soon as possible. There is no food we give you here that is better than what you have in your homes,’’ he said. He said the state government was collaborating with the federal government, and would leave no stone unturned to make sure that all the displaced persons return to their ancestral homes. He described the invaders as terrorists who took the peace-loving people by surprise, adding that working with the federal government the state would work towards pushing the invaders out of the land.
The herdsmen attacking villagers in different parts of the country in order to force their will on the people who may not allow their cattle to graze on their farmlands are not new to people. While farmers usually accuse herdsmen of destroying their farmlands, herdsmen also claim that their hosts have been hostile by killing their cattle. Even in the Southern parts of the country, Fulani herdsmen have had cause to engage their hosts in serious conflicts.
But in the recent attacks, it has been suspected that the attackers are mercenaries from Niger Republic.
Lending credence to the belief is fact that some of the herdsmen are now armed with sophisticated weapons along the traditional machetes, bows and arrows. As it has also become evident, the recent attacks are not restrained to Benue State alone. Barely four days after suspected Fulani herdsmen killed 37 people in Benue, three villages in Kaduna State, March 15, were similarly attacked by suspected Fulani herdsmen in which about 200 people were killed. The villages were identified as Sankwai, Tekum and Unguwarr Gata in Kaura Local Government. The villages are inhabited by native Moroa people in Manchok chiefdom, about 250 kilometres south of Kaduna metropolis, capital of Kaduna State. The attackers also set the villages on fire.
Gideon Bughu, a resident of Sankwai village, said about 50 gunmen first came on Friday night, March 14, and attacked the village. Later on Saturday, the gunmen came back around 4am, and attacked the other villages. “They fired into homes. As women and children scampered to escape, they were shot and later cut with machetes. They set our homes on fire. If you stayed inside, you were burnt. If you run out, they shoot at you. The men stayed inside, so most of those burnt were men. But the villagers managed to kill some of the Fulani men, some of whom wore army uniform,” Bughu said in a press interview. Bughu said he managed to escape with bullet wounds and was admitted at a hospital in Jos. “I am told that about 45 people in my village were burnt. And 30 shot and cut with machetes,” he said. Similar attacks were said to have been carried out in Tekum and Unguwar Gata. In Unguwar Gata, sources said between 75 and 80 were killed and in Tekum, between 60 and 70 were also killed with hundreds of others injured.
Aminu Lawan, Kaduna State police spokesman, confirmed the attacks, but said he could not ascertain the number of casualties. “I have been briefed by the District Police Officer in Manchok that three villages in that axis were attacked with a number of casualties and some homes burnt… We have sent detectives to the place to ascertain what happened. We have also sent troops who are now combing the surrounding hills for the murderers. We also gathered that the villagers were able to kill some of the invaders.”
A new twist was added to the alarming situation the convoy of Governor Suswam came under gun attack from suspected Fulani herdsmen on Sunday, March 9. The governor was on his way from Makurdi, to a displaced persons’ camp in Guma Local Government Area, when he was attacked at Tse Akenyi, leading to Torkula village. The herdsmen, on sighting the governor’s convoy, reportedly came out from the bush and fired at the vehicles. The governor’s security detail repelled the attackers, who were said to be carrying sophisticated weapons.
Apparently shaken by the incident, Suswam still continued on his journey and visited Gbajimba, the administrative headquarters of Guma Local Government, where he addressed the displaced persons. Addressing the people in the area, he said: “I salute each and every one of you for your courage and steadfastness throughout this period. This is beyond the herdsmen; this is real war. On my way to this place, they exchanged gun shots with us for over one hour before we were able to come here. My people are being killed, butchered and their homes destroyed. So, if the security agents, especially the military, cannot provide security for us, we will defend ourselves. I cannot abandon you people at this point in time to die. You voted me to provide security for you and I must do that for you. These Fulani are not like the real Fulani we used to know. Please return to your homes and defend your land, do not allow anybody to make you slaves in your home land.’’
The attack on the governor caused a lot of reactions across the country from both his friends and foes. But the attacks have not abated in different parts of the North-Central states. In Taraba State, a group of armed men suspected to be Fulani herdsmen entered Buwa village, Ibi local government area, burnt many houses and shot everyone on sight on Sunday, March 23. In the raid, about seven persons were killed. According to residents, the armed invaders numbering more than 20 stormed the village at about 1.15 am and engaged in shooting of residents and burning of their houses. The invaders were identified as Fulani herdsmen who migrated from Benue and Nasarawa states as a result of the crisis between Tivs and Fulanis in the areas.
Also in the state,suspected Fulani herdsmen killed 35 persons and burnt property worth millions of naira in an attack on Ikyo, Catholic Church, Agwaza, Kokonbo, Azer, Lijam, Akesa, Tyow Doshima, Tse Saka and Kwaghlando districts in Takum local government area on March 16. Peter Kaaov, a resident of one of the villages, told newsmen that the armed men identified to be Fulani headsmen numbering more than 70 invaded the villages at about 2pm. Kaaov, who fled with his newly wedded wife to Takum town, said that more than 16 persons were killed by the gunmen in other neighbouring villages while several others sustained various degrees of injuries. He claimed that the invaders, identified to be Fulani herdsmen came from Benue State, as a result of the crisis between the Tiv and Fulani in the area.
To stem the tide, Garba Umar, acting governor of the state, summoned a meeting with the chairmen of the 16 local governments in the state. At the meeting, Umar warned that government would not hesitate to deal with anyone or group of persons found having hands in the crisis. He promised that government would be more vigilant to deal with any situation that might threaten the security of the state.
Some herdsmen similarly invaded Riyom Local Government Area of Plateau State, March 5, killing not less than 10 people. More than 100 houses were also been burnt. The gunmen reportedly stormed Gwon, Torok, Gwawereng and Gwarim all in Rim district of the Local Government Area early in the morning of the faithful Wednesday, shooting sporadically and setting houses on fire. According to a survivor, who craved anonymity, the attackers were Fulani herdsmen accompanied by some people in uniform. Daniel Dem, majority leader of the Plateau State House of Assembly, who represents Riyom, confirmed that 10 persons mostly women and children were burnt to ashes by the attackers. He described the incident as sad, especially the constant killings of innocent people in his constituency. “In most of the villages, attacks are carried out in the presence of men of the Special Task Force; why are they not going after the attackers?” he queried. Hence, some persons called for the withdrawal of the Special Task Force from the state, saying they had caused more harm to the people than protecting them.
Rather than that, faction of Nigerian Governors’ Forum led Governor Jonah Jang of Plateau State, would want both federal and state governments to strengthen security agencies in every part of the country to stop the incessant attacks. Rising from its second meeting of the year in Abuja on Thursday, March 27, the forum condemned in strong terms, what it called incessant and senseless killings of innocent Nigerians in many parts of the country. Governor Olusegun Mimiko of Ondo State, who addressed journalists at the end of the meeting, said: “The forum deliberated on the security situation in the country and strongly condemned the senseless killings in Benue, Katsina, Kaduna and other North-eastern states, and sympathises with the governors and people of those states.” Speaking in the same vein, Governor Godswill Akpabio of Akwa Ibom State and Governor Suswan decried the security situation in the country and particularly in Benue. They said the situation had become so bad and it would require concerted of all concerned to put out the flame of discord being fanned by the rampaging herdsmen. “All the state agencies must rise to the occasion and governors on their part must redouble their efforts in terms of intelligence gathering and also in policing. We must do everything possible to assist the security agencies to succeed in our various states,” Akpabio said. Also present at the event were the governors of Plateau, Ebonyi, Kogi, Cross River, Bauchi, Anambra and Enugu states, as well as the acting governor of Taraba State. The governors of Bayelsa, Abia, Sokoto and Katsina states were represented by their deputies. The deputy governor of Sokoto State was also in attendance.
Also irked by the upsurge in attacks and killings by the Fulani herdsmen, the Senate on Thursday, March 20, mandated its committees on security and intelligence, defence and army, police affairs as well as interior to investigate the incidents. In a motion sponsored by Barnabas Gemade, former national chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party and a serving senator representing Benue North East, the Senate noted with dismay how human lives had become increasingly very cheap with impunity being the norm. While expressing serious worry about the development, the senate said: “Anxiety caused by incidences of serial night killings and daylight mass attacks bordering on war crimes is approaching a panic loss of confidence in the federal security regime. The pattern of federalised policing under a unitary command may have made sense under military regimes in the past, but it is hardly the best in the prevailing situation of insecurity with the increasing volume of grassroots crimes and attacks on the nation’s defenceless rural communities.” The senators similarly expressed worry over the likelihood of famine if drastic steps were not taken to end the attacks and return the displaced persons to their homes so that they could continue with their farming.
In his contribution, Ike Ekweremadu, deputy president of the Senate, said the establishment of a state police structure would provide lasting solution to the problem of violence and insecurity across the country. He said that so long as Nigeria continued to centralise policing, it would be difficult to ensure effective security. “We run a federal system of government and it is completely unacceptable in a federal system for us to have a centralised police. Policemen are not magicians. There is no way a policeman can stay in one kilometre and know when a crime is being committed in another kilometre. We must be able to provide sufficient police personnel that should be, at least, one policeman per hundred metres. And this can only be achieved if we decentralise our police, ensure that we have state police and possibly, local council police that are well co-ordinated and regulated. We had problem in the past in this area because they were not well regulated and co-ordinated.” The Senate committees were mandated to jointly embark on a fact-finding mission in Benue, Plateau, Kaduna, Nasarawa, Borno, Adamawa and Yobe states where violence and killings have persisted. They were given two weeks to do present their reports.
In the meantime, Mohammed Abubakar, inspector-general of police, deployed four units of anti-riot policemen from the Force headquarters in Benue State on Monday, March 24. The 600 policemen were expected to contain the perennial violence between Fulani herdsmen and farmers in the state in which hundreds of people had been killed and thousands of people displaced, especially in Guma Local Government of the state. Abubakar, who announced the deployment before his meeting with assistant inspectors-general of office, to review the security situations in Benue, Taraba, Kaduna and Zamfara states where there had been communal clashes between Fulani herdsmen and farmers in recent times, said: “As I am talking to you today (Monday), I have four units of mobile policemen right from the headquarters, inside the bush in Benue. They are being led by the deputy inspector of police (operations) and commissioner of police (mobile force). They are protecting those innocent people.”
The police boss identified difficult terrain, delay in getting information due to network problem and lack of police presence in those areas as some of the challenges facing security agencies in tackling the clashes. “These attacks take place inside the bush. Most of the people attacked are in the villages, and sometimes, some of the difficult areas we encounter are difficult to police. Secondly, information comes to the police very late because of the network situation. Remember, most of these places, if you check, there is no existence of police station or posts. So, the commissioner of police in respective commands has to grapple with how to take policemen to such place and how they will remain permanently,” he said.
In an interview with Realnews, Ebongabasi Ekpe-Juda, a security analyst, alleged that politicians were behind the attacks. He pointed out that unlike in the past, the herdsmen had now started to carry sophisticated weapons which must have sent a message to security agencies that they were being sponsored by some people. “They were not carrying sophisticated arms before. They were using machetes with their bow arrows. The politicians who are sponsoring these attacks are only thinking about election because they want to annex the land especially where Christians are occupying because they know that they cannot win elections in these areas unless they occupy the lands. Look at what is happening in Plateau, Benue and Taraba where is strong presence of Christians. That is what is going on,” Ekpe-Juda said. To restore sanity in the affected area, he said the government would only need to do two things: there should be presence of police in the all remote areas and that government must track down those sponsoring the crisis. “Government must track down those sponsoring the herdsmen and punish them. The Bible says when the shepherd is taken the sheep is dispatched. That is the only way out this mess,” Ekpe-Juda argued.
But whether the government has the resources to police every village in the country and has the political will to track down and punish the culprits is another kettle of fish. In the meantime, the fear of Fulani herdsmen in some of the affected areas is as real as daylight, and definitely another security concern for Nigerian security agencies that are already overstretched by the Boko Haram insurgence.