Since the dawn of the New Year Fulani herdsmen have been on rampage in Benue and Taraba states where many Nigerians have been killed, with the federal being deliberately clueless in stopping the carnage
NO. Nigeria is not in a state of war. The world can also attest to that. But that seems to be the message being passed as Fulani herdsmen took laws into their hands and brazenly attacked innocent Nigerians in a guerrilla faction, killing many of them and rendered thousands of others homeless.
From the eve to the dawn of the New Year, reports of violent attacks of innocent Nigerians in Benue, Taraba and adjourning states have continued and still remain the lead stories in the media. The attacks have left several homes in Benue and Taraba states mourning, scattered and moaning their losses.
But the security agencies have been unable to protect the people and arrest the Fulani herdsmen behind the devastating and wanton killings unlike the despatch with which they handled security threats in the South East and South South to quell the Indigenous People of Biafra whose members do not carry arms, and Niger Delta militant crisis. This has caused a great debate in the country whether Nigeria is united and whether the government is favouring one ethnic group against the majority of others primarily because President Muhammadu Buhari is a Fulani and a patron of the Miyetti Allah Cattle Rearers Association before he was elected into office.
Amidst the outcry from Nigerians about the ineptitude of government in checking the wanton killings of the Fulani herdsmen, both Benue and Taraba states in the Middle Belt of Nigeria buried corpses of their loved ones. The burial saw the outpouring of outrage and calls by prominent Nigerians to declare Fulani herdsmen as terrorists.
The grief felt by the affected communities was driven home on Tuesday, January 9 and Thursday, January 11, when Taraba and Benue states conducted mass burials for the fallen victims of Fulani herdsmen.
In Taraba State, killer-herdsmen attacked Donadda, Lavoro, Katibu, Didango and Maku communities on Monday through Tuesday, January 9, and set the entire communities ablaze after killing anyone in sight. More than 200 homes and huge piles of foodstuff were also destroyed, while hundreds of people deserted their homes.
Of about 55 victims killed during the attacks, mass burial was conducted for 25 recovered bodies. The mass burial which attracted government officials, family members and sympathisers was also witnessed by policemen and soldiers who cordoned off the area as the burial was hurriedly done by angry youths amid fear of the attackers coming for them.
Even then, there was an outpouring of grief as relatives of the victims and sympathisers who witnessed the burial wept uncontrollably. In their annoyance, they rained curses on the federal government for failing to secure the lives of the citizenry across the country.
They debunked insinuations that the attacks were a fall out of the crisis between Bachama farmers and the Fulani militia in Adamawa State, insisting that they were attacked without provocation.
Narrating her ordeal, Paulina Haila, a mother of four who lost her husband in the attack, alleged: “My husband was slaughtered like a goat in my presence by the Fulani people. They razed our community and in my village alone 35 persons were killed. Are the Fulani herdsmen fighting a war with Christian communities in Taraba State? Why are they killing us for no reason?” she asked.
Titus Makovini, a pastor, another victim who spoke to newsmen, said the attackers entered the community church and slaughtered some worshipers, as well as some of those who ran into the church for refuge while others fled into the bush.
He claimed that for the two days that the attacks lasted, there was no security reinforcement in the various communities which were currently deserted as most people had moved into the internally displaced persons, IDP, camp in Jalingo, the state capital.
According to reports, most of the bodies mainly of children, women and elderly, were recovered from burnt houses, bush paths and farmlands. Some of the bodies had swollen. Victims were said to have tried to escape from the marauders, but were hacked down by another set of herdsmen who ambushed them in large numbers.
Their attackers used mostly “sophisticated guns and poisoned knives” to carry out the massacre, described by many as “genocide.”
Governor Darius Ishaku of Taraba State accused the elite of masterminding the killings based on their territorial ambition for political and economical control of the state. He, therefore, urged Nigerians to pray for the country.
David Akinremi, Taraba State commissioner of Police, on Tuesday visited the affected area to see things for himself. Although no arrest were made. The police chief alleged that “the attackers came from neighbouring Adamawa State, where they are already at war with the Bachama ethnic group.”
Some victims lamented their ordeals to this medium. David Jonathan, a cleric from Katebu tribe, in an emotion-laden voice, said: “We don’t deserve this, because we didn’t provoke anyone.”
In a similar and more elaborate faction, Makurdi, the Benue State capital Thursday, wore a sombre look as the burial of 71 persons massacred by Fulani herdsmen took place. The burial ceremony was organised by state government for the victims after three-days of mourning period for the dead. Governor Samuel Ortom, who led the proceeding, had ordered three days of mourning that started on Tuesday, January 9.
At the conclusion of the period of mourning on Thursday, the government held a memorial service in honour of all the victims at the IBB Square in Makurdi, the state capital.
Families of the victims and hundreds of mourners, with most donning black attires, attended the memorial service amid outpouring of tears and anger at the attacks.
The memorial service was attended by Ortom, state government officials and other dignitaries such as John Odigie-Oyegun, national chairman of the All Progressives’ Congress, APC; Gelorge Akume, former Benue State governor, and Michael Aondoaka, a former minister of Justice.
In attacks allegedly carried out by Fulani herdsmen in Guma and Logo Local Government Area of Benue between Sunday, December 31, 2017, and Tuesday, January 2, no fewer than 50 people were reportedly killed.
Another 11 persons were reportedly killed in a fresh attack on Tombu village of Logo LGA, again by suspected Fulani herdsmen, on Saturday, January 6.
Invariably, Terve Akase, chief press secretary to the governor, put the death toll of the attack victims at 71 by Monday, January 8.
Alarmed by the mounting death tolls arising from the gruesome attacks on innocent Nigerians by the alleged armed herdsmen on communities in Benue, Taraba states and other neighbouring states, Nigerians from all walks of life have been venting their angers on the federal government and making various suggestions to deal with the matter.
Prominent among them is Wole Soyinka, a renowned playwright and Nobel laureate, who on Wednesday, January 10, cried out that the herdsmen “have declared war against the nation.”
Similarly, he accused the federal government of culpability and “definitely guilty of looking the other way while the herdsmen attacked communities without let or hindrance,” and that the administration of President Muhammadu Buhari “must indeed be held complicit.”
In a four-page statement titled: “Impunity Rides Again,” issued on Wednesday, January 10, Soyinka expressed disappointment in the manner the administration had treated the nefarious activities of the herdsmen across the country, stressing that the present national outrage was “over impunity.”
The professor emeritus in English literature said the Indigenous People of Biafra, IPOB, did not come anywhere close to the homicidal propensity and attempt at dominance before it was declared a terrorist organisation.
While acknowledging that some progress had been made by Audu Ogbeh, minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, in the past two and a half years in improved farm produce, he flatly rejected the minister’s explanation that the federal government had neglected livestock farmers over the years.
He charged that citing government neglect as the rationale would make the herdsmen attacks sound like the full story, but applauded the plan by Ogbeh’s ministry “to empower and organise herdsmen and cow farming”.
“I am in a position to know that much thought – and practical steps – have gone into long-term plans for bringing about the creation of ‘ranches’, ‘colonies’ – whatever the name – including the special cultivation of fodder for animal feed and so on and on.
“However, the present national outrage is over impunity. It rejects the right of any set of people, for whatever reason, to take arms against their fellow men and women, to acknowledge their exploits in boastful and justifying accents and, in effect, promise more of the same as long as their terms and demands are not met.
“In plain language, they have declared war against the nation, and their weapon is undiluted terror. Why have they been permitted to become a menace to the rest of us? That is the issue!” he charged.
In a similar charge, Tony Nyiam, a retired colonel and former army intelligence officer, flayed the federal government’s refusal to send soldiers after the Fulani herdsmen involved in the Benue killings as an act of double standard. He noted that soldiers were deployed against agents of the IPOB, Niger Delta militants, among others, and alleged that the hesitation to send soldiers after the heavily armed herdsmen stood truth on its head.
In an interview, Nyiam, who compared what happened in Rivers State recently to that in Benue State even given that more people have died in Benue than in Rivers of recent, said that the deployment of soldiers helped in the tracking down and killing of Johnson Igwedibia, the Rivers State kidnap kingpin, who was known as Don Waney. “There are double standards that we see here. Today, the cult guy in Rivers has been killed by the military because the military (troops) were sent in. Why will President Muhammadu Buhari send police to Benue, why not the military? When it was the case of the militants, soldiers were sent. When it was the case of IPOB, soldiers were sent. In the case of sophisticatedly armed invaders, mainly as said by the Kano State Governor (Abdullahi Ganduje) as foreigners, you send police, that is pure double-standard,” he said.
The security expert in questioning the policy framework in tackling the insecurity said: “There is a failure at both the policy and operational levels. At the policy level, you cannot use police action against sophisticated armed invaders of one’s community.”
Iyorwuese Hagher, a former Nigerian High Commissioner to Canada, expressed regrets that Buhari has allowed the ‘genocide’ in the Middle Belt to go on unimpeded, thus betraying his campaign promise to Nigerians that his government ‘‘will always act in time and not allow problems to irresponsibly fester.’’
In an open letter dated January 5, 2018, and addressed to Buhari, Hagher said in allowing the wanton attacks of herdsmen against Benue, the president had acted irresponsibly.
The former ambassador reminded the president: “I had warned you of the possibility of a horrendous genocide in Benue, Plateau, Taraba, Southern Kaduna, and Southern Adamawa States. I asked you to be proactive and stop the genocide that has been ongoing but which would burst out in the open and shock the world within 18 months. Your office replied my letter on September 28th, 2016, and the reply was couriered to me in the United States, thanking me “immensely” and giving me the assurances that the advice would be heeded.
“With the current situation on ground, I regret to now inform you that it is seventeen months since my warning and prediction and your government did nothing to pre-empt or prevent the genocide. The nomadic terrorists have finally accelerated the ethnic cleansing in Benue State. They have strategically moved against the Tiv, the largest minority ethnicity in northern Nigeria. These perpetrators believe that if they can ethnic cleanse the Tiv, then nobody can stand in their way to possess the land and carve a new geo-polity and demography for the middle-belt.”
Hagher, who was a second republic senator on the platform of the defunct National Party of Nigeria, NPN, further reminded the president: “the protection of lives and property of the citizens is more important than your war against corruption! The protection of lives of citizens is the most sacred responsibility of the state and your presidency. Your government has failed woefully in this regard. Mr President there is no greater corruption than the government looking the other way while the strong bullies kill the weak with impunity and pleasure!”
Besides, he said: “You have now desecrated that altar. By refusing to arrest those that brutally butchered defenceless innocent Benue women and children, you have imperilled northern unity and taken sides with evil,” he said.
Abubakar Tsav, a retired commissioner of Police, in an interview said law enforcement agencies must be empowered to deal with security challenges in Nigeria. He also said only when the federal government ensures justice whenever such attacks happen that the attacks would stop. “The government must ensure justice otherwise there would always be Fulani herdsmen attacks, if their cattle are stolen and they do not get redress,” Tsav said.
He similarly supported ranching system as a way of stopping indiscriminate grazing that has been causing crisis and leading to killings. He said: “Ranching remains the best option to prevent clashes between herdsmen and farmers. Allowing the herdsmen to stay in the bush or graze their cattle on other peoples’ farms is not good. The government should also reach out to the Fulani herdsmen association, Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association and devise ways and means of ending the attacks,” he said.
On his part, Paul Unongo, a veteran politician and the convener, Northern Elders Forum, charged Benue people to rise up and defend themselves if the federal government continued to deny them protection and security in accordance with the United Nations, UN, Charter. Unongo, who stated this in an interview with journalists on Thursday, January 11, in Makurdi, reiterated that if the FG continued to deny them protection and security they should urgently organise measures to provide security and protection for themselves, loved ones under the UN charter.
“You have the right to protect yourselves, help yourselves and save yourselves and your race from total annihilation,’’ he said.
That notwithstanding, Vice President Yemi Osinbajo on Sunday, January 7, warned that the killings allegedly by herdsmen should not be politicised. He said a political interpretation could ignite unprecedented crisis and cautioned that under no condition should Nigerians allow anyone to create a religious crisis.
Osinbajo sounded the warning during an inter-denominational church service to mark the 2018 Armed Forces Remembrance Day Celebration at the National Christian Centre in Abuja.
The vice president said due to the prevailing circumstance regarding the violence and loss of lives in parts of the country, President Buhari had ordered the police and the armed forces to deal decisively with the situation and ensure that the perpetrators were found and punished.
He recalled that it was the politicisation of Boko Haram at the early stage of the group that gave rise to its heinous activities, and enjoined Nigerians not to fall into another trap regarding the problems associated with herdsmen.
Osinbajo said: “We must recognise that as dangerous and as deadly and heartless as these killings are, there is also the danger of our allowing politics to play a part as this could lead to what we sometimes say “pour petrol into an already burning fire.”
In the same tone, Femi Adesina, special adviser to the president on Media and Publicity, said it would be “very unkind” to say attacks by herdsmen were rampant because President Buhari is Fulani.
He recalled that between 2013 and May 2015 when Goodluck Jonathan was president, 756 people were killed in herdsmen attacks.
In a video posted on his Facebook page on Wednesday, January 10, Adesina said Buhari was determined to “crack this issue.”
He argued: “In 2013, particularly, there were nine cases of herdsmen invading communities in Benue state alone and more than 190 people were killed.
“In 2014, there were about 16 of such tragic developments with more than 231 people killed. And then there was a change of government in May 2015. But between January and May 2015, there were six attacks which left about 335 people dead.
“Now, the question is, during that period, did we have a Fulani president?
“This is showing us that the issue of herdsmen attacking settlements, attacking farmers, attacking communities is pure criminality and it is something that government must deal with.
“It is the duty of government to preserve the lives of the citizenry. It is the responsibility of government to maintain law and order and that this government is determined to do.
“Therefore, let nobody say that all this is happening because we have a Fulani president.
“We have had many Fulani presidents in the past and this issue of herders and local communities at loggerheads has predated this government.
“But I will just like to appeal to Nigerians that the Muhammadu Buhari government is determined to crack this issue, is determined to get to the bottom of it and it will get done.”
Apparently in an effort to stem the tide, Governor Ortom met with Buhari in the State House, Abuja, on Tuesday, January 9. Despite the two hours meeting, the governor disclosed that he was not in support of the proposal by the federal government to create cattle colonies in the country to control open grazing by cattle rearers.
Audu Ogbeh, the minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, had at the end of a meeting in Abuja of ministers and governors on the rampant killings of innocent souls in Benue and other adjoining states on Monday, January 8, said that the federal government had resolved to set up cattle colonies on 5,000 hectares of land where herdsmen can live and tender their cattle.
But Ortom, while answering questions from State House correspondents, insisted on the enforcement of the Anti-open Grazing Law in his state, noting that until the January 1, mayhem in Benue, relative peace had largely been achieved in the state since the law took effect.
“For the colony thing, I don’t know what colony is. I’m waiting to be briefed about what colonies mean. I don’t understand it… but like I keep saying, for us, the way forward is ranching. The way forward is ranching because it is a global best practice. And it is not just practiced in other parts of the world, on African soil in Swaziland, South Africa, Kenya, Tanzania, Mozambique, almost all African countries that rear cattle, they ranch, so why can’t we do the same thing here?
“It is not for me to create ranches. I know that as a farmer, I have one in my farm and there are several other people who are free to do so. The permits are available for people who want to ranch their cattle to access land and begin to ranch.”
But it appears that the herdsmen are not interested in ranching, given their current attitude to the anti-grazing law.
Besides, the Community Development Coalition, a non-governmental organisation group, on Wednesday, January 10, alleged that Fulani herdsmen were still carrying out killings in the Guma and Logo local government areas of Benue State.
The group added that the atrocities were occurring despite the deployment of police operatives and soldiers and the relocation of the IGP to the state.
Yima Sen, the CDC convener, told journalists in Abuja on Wednesday, January 10, that he had visited the affected communities and was informed that attacks by the herdsmen had not abated.
He alleged that the security forces on the ground had been unable to stop the bloodshed across the state. “I left the crisis area about five hours ago and from my consultations with the people, killings are still going on. I am not satisfied with the security situation; I have also consulted with the people and they are not satisfied with the situation,” Sen said.
The CDC said it would do all that was legally possible to support government and ensure the full implementation of the Benue State Anti-open Grazing Prohibition Law.
That is understandable. But Governor Solomon Lalong of Plateau State, said he had warned Ortom not to pass the law without getting an input from Fulani herdsmen. Lalong reasoned that if his Benue counterpart had listen to him and got the herdsmen involved as he did in his state, there would not have any problem. However, the government of Benue State insisted that all interested parties were invited before the bill which passed through first, second and third reading was passed into law by the State House of Assembly. Does that suggest that there is a way out after all? Your guess is as good as mine.