FRIDAY OLOKOR visited some victims of the killings in some communities in Plateau State and reports that the fear of Fulani herdsmen is the beginning of wisdom
To the average Nigerian, Plateau State is a great delight. It is not just because of cold weather. No, far from that; apart from being the Home of Peace and Tourism, it is also described as the belt that holds Nigeria together. But all these positive appellations are now history. In Plateau State, the fear of Fulani herdsmen is the beginning of wisdom. Things have fallen apart and it does not appear that the centre could still hold.
Although the peace in Plateau State was said to have been broken in 2001 by religious fanatics, the worrisome dimension rose to its crescendo with the activities of suspected Fulani herdsmen who, when they come, would kill, steal and destroy. This has been the story in Bassa, Jos North, Bokkos, Barkin Ladi, Riyom and some other local government areas in recent times.
Documents obtained by SATURDAY PUNCH from Irigwe Development Association indicated that between January 25 and March 12, 2018, the chiefdom lost over 70 persons to the armed Fulani herdsmen terrorising Bassa and part of Jos North LGAs. It was also revealed that between September, 2017 and February 2018, some villages in Bassa LGA came under heavy and gruesome attacks by Fulani herdsmen in a genocidal manner.
The spokesperson for Miango Youths Development Association, one of the affiliates of IDA, Lawrence Zongo, went historical about the resurgence of the attacks and blamed the attacks on the Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association of Nigeria, Plateau State chapter.
He said, “No fewer than 26 villages were attacked, 99 people killed, 44 people injured, 863 houses razed down with food bans, 347 farmland produce worth millions of Naira destroyed, 15 motor bikes and a bus burnt.
“Over 24 irrigation water pumps have been burnt and destroyed, more than 23, 000 Internally Displaced Persons recorded.” Zongo said the attacks began in Ncha village on September 7, 2017 with the gruesome killing of more than 20 people, mostly women and children in their sleep, adding that houses were also razed down completely. According to him, since that fateful day, peace has eluded the Irigwe nation.”
The MYDA emphasised that ever since the Ncha incident, the Fulani herdsmen have continued to launch nightly unexpected attacks in other communities “in line with their threat that Ncha was just the beginning.”
But the chairman of MACBAN in Plateau State, Mohammadu Nuru Abdullahi, alleged that apart from rustling of their cows, there had been severe attacks on his kinsmen which had claimed many lives.
He said MACBAN was “overwhelmingly shocked” that the Irigwe militias in an effort to accomplish their mission of terrorising Fulani herdsmen in Bassa LGA, had on Monday 5/3/2018 attacked Fulani cattle herders and mercilessly killed three persons without provocation.
“It is also disturbing that the Irigwe community would always trespass into other neighbouring LGAs and launch their attacks and kill our people for no cause.”
He had said on the same day when three of his kinsmen were killed, the same militias attacked and killed a total of 38 cows; 20 of the cows belonged to Wada Alh Audu, while 18 belonged to Umaru Ibrahim.
Abdullahi said, “The Irigwe militias usually cross into Riyom, Jos South and part of Southern Kuduna to strike. In this particular incident, they operated from Rukwechungu village of Miango district in Bassa LGA into Gero village of Gyel district in Jos South LGA.
“They also beat up and wounded Haruna Zakariya, who is now receiving treatment in a clinic at Rafin Bauna. It is on record that this militia group has been unleashing terror on our innocent cattle herders in the areas.”
At present, the palace of the Ada Gwom (District Head) of Dong District in Jos North LG, Kaze Inyam, has been turned to an unofficial camp for Internally Displaced Persons where victims come to get food, clothing and temporary shelter. Many of the women said Fulani herdsmen have left bitter pills in their mouths as they now live on charity.
Priscilla John who lost his grandfather during one of the attacks by the herdsmen, belongs to this category. She gave a brief account of what happened and how her grandfather was killed in Donkassa at about 6:30 am last week Wednesday.
“We woke up that morning and started hearing serious gunshots, and we started running. Before we knew it, all our houses had been razed down. Presently, we do not have where to stay but live on charity. People have been assisting us with food, our neighbours in Dong used to give us food in the morning, afternoon and evening”, she stated. But her disappointment is that the killing was happening in present-day Nigeria. “We have become homeless. The education of our children has been truncated. The government should assist and come to our rescue”, she stated.
For Ladi Azi, a petty trader, who claimed to have “lost everything”, including her five children and great grandchildren, life has become meaningless for her and her husband.
“Our houses were razed, food items burnt to ashes and five of my children and grandchildren slaughtered,” she stated. But she was lucky as she was not at home when the marauders struck. Azi said, “Before the attack, I had gone to buy foodstuff for my children and by 8 pm, one of them was killed by the Fulani outside the house. The other four were killed right inside the house.” She said she had decided to leave everything to God because it is only God that will fight for her and avenge the death of her five children and grandchildren. “It is God that gave me the children and if the Fulani felt they had taken my children away from me, let the will of God prevail. No money, no clothing and no food. Our farms have been taken over by cows which graze on our crops. My husband and I don’t have any other person that will take care of us now and our children are gone”, she stated.
For 70-year-old Asabe Ado, her brother’s skull was cut into two with cutlass by the assailants who also burnt down 12 houses in one fell swoop. According to her, the villagers mistook the booming guns as those of armed robbers.’ They were the dreaded herdsmen.
Ado said, “My elder brother was killed by the Fulani people on Wednesday last week in Dong. We woke up that day and we heard gunshots. We were trying to know what the problem was about because in ordinary days like that when we hear of those guns, we conclude that they are thieves and armed robbers.
“After the continuous gunshots, we saw a large number of Fulani herdsmen advancing towards our direction. They started shooting, killing many people, including my elder brother. They burnt 12 houses and displaced many others. My brother’s skull was cut into two with a sharp cutlass and he died immediately. Since then, things have not remained the same again.”
Perhaps, the worst attack was that which was carried out on the spouse of 62-year- old Esther Titi Samuel. Her husband was roasted alive following a fire which was set to his house. The attackers also killed her grandson.
She said, “I lost my husband and grandson to the attacks by Fulani herdsmen in Dong. I was lucky because I was not around. The Fulani came to our house and when my grandson wanted to run, he was shot and killed. Unfortunately, my husband was in the room and there was no way he could escape because the house had been set on fire and he was roasted in the fire.
“That day, I decided that I would avenge on any Fulani person. But that thinking has now died down because I have forgiven them. But let me mention that a few days ago, cows came to eat all our crops.”
The Ada Gwom (District Head) of Dong District in Jos North LGA, Kaze Inyam, was in tears as he narrated to the Plateau State Coordinator of Northern Nigeria Women Initiative, a Non-Government Organisation, Dr. (Mrs) Jorphia Gupar, how his subjects were killed.
He said soldiers had led cows to the communities sacked by Fulani herdsmen. The Fulani men came to attack houses where their women were sheltered at the time Rafiki, a nearby community was being attacked.
“Since the 2001 crisis, we have never witnessed any problem here in Dong. At that time, Fulani left their things and ran away but we called them to stay back, nobody touched their property. At that time, people irrespective of religion and tribe ran to take shelter in this house (my palace).
“On October 1, 2017 was when we first witnessed problem, I received a call that Fulani were killing our people, I was surprised, when we got there, we saw the level of destruction, it happened again on October 24, 2017.
“We only have cutlasses for our farm work but when they attacked with guns, what can cutlass do against guns? We are still wondering why soldiers left the community at the time of the recent attack. Was it to give the Fulani enough time to kill and burn the houses?
“The worrisome aspect is that when some Fulani women heard gunshots in Rafiki, they ran into our people’s houses in Dong but their men came and picked them and turned around and burnt the houses where their women took shelter.
“My people have sighted soldiers bringing cows to occupy the areas where our people’s houses were burnt and the people displaced. Soldiers who are in Hilux vans lead them. If this can happen, what is the hope for the common man?
“We have discovered that on several occasions when the Fulani people attack us, the military personnel are not always on their duty posts. But we are so surprised that after successful attack and the killing of our people, we will see the same soldiers escorting the Fulani and their cattle to feed fat on our farms.
“We have been living together, treated them like our brothers and sisters. But recently, after giving shelter to the Fulani women and their children, their relations and husbands will come and take them and their children.
“In a few days’ time, they will come and launch attack on us, kill our people and burn our houses. It is so sad that the same military personnel who should give us protection will abandon us. We no longer have confidence in the military but God is with us.”
Several calls, SMS and WhatsApp messages to the spokesperson of the Special Military Taskforce codenamed Operation Safe Haven, Major Umar Adams for response were not replied.
For about two months, he has refused to take calls from our correspondent, after he and the OPSH Commander, Major-Gen. Anthony Atolagbe, had complained about reports from THE PUNCH titles.
Adams had also shut out our correspondent from all events organised by the OPSH.