By Agaju Madugba, Favour Nnabugwu, Luka Binniyat, Demola Akinyemi,Wole Mosadomi, Marie-Therese Nanlong & Peter Duru
THE attacks are often vicious just as the death statistics have become even more alarming. From the remotest communities in southern Kaduna State to some other equally rural settlements in parts of Plateau, Benue, Kwara and Niger states, reports indicate that activities of herdsmen may have gone beyond herding and grazing their cattle.
And, elsewhere in Sokoto, Zamfara and Kebbi states, cattle rustling has apparently become such a lucrative venture that bandits raid unsuspecting communities, slaughtering residents in the process of carrying out their trade.
On March 14, 2014, gunmen reportedly launched midnight attacks on four communities of Manchok in Kaura local government area of Kaduna State and by the time they were done, the relevant authorities confirmed a total of 119 residents killed at Maisankwai, Tyekum, Maikakpang and Angwan Kura in the Bondong district of Manchok.
Survivors later fingered herdsmen as responsible for the massacre. And in June 2015, gunmen also suspected to be herdsmen equally attacked the Katsak village of Jema’a local government area of Kaduna killing nine persons with a similar incident occurring the same night of June 17, at the Ungwan Danborno community of Birnin Gwari local government area where bandits also murdered five other persons while a total of about 15 persons were said to have sustained varying degrees of injuries during the two incidents.
Similar gory reports have continued to make the rounds in virtually all parts of the North as bandits launch unprovoked attacks on residents, rustling their cattle as well as vandalizing farm lands across the affected states.
In Zamfara State, as at July 2015, 52 residents had been killed due to the activities of cattle rustlers in two communities of Shigama and Kwokeya, according to the member representing Kaura Namoda/Birnin Magaji Federal Constituency at the National Assembly, Aminu Jaji. Apart from well over 100 others injured and property destroyed, Jaji noted that the rustlers stole some 1000 cattles from the communities.
And, in Sokoto, according to the 1 Brigade, Nigerian Army, soldiers in the area recovered no fewer than 22,378 livestock between July and September 2015, in Sokoto, Zamfara and Kebbi states. The Director, Army Public Relations and spokesperson, Operation Restore Peace, Captain Umar Shuaib, who disclosed this in a statement noted that a total of 248 suspects were arrested and that the initiative was part of efforts of the military to restore sanity to the affected areas.
Kaduna: The indigene/settler syndrome
For several years, the predominant Christian southern Kaduna people have consistently held the view that they are the original inhabitants of the area and regard the minority Muslim Hausa and Fulani community as settlers.
The development has reportedly been a major source of many years of ethnic and religious conflicts between the two communities. Days after his inauguration, the Senator representing southern Kaduna senatorial zone, Danjuma La’ah, lamented what he described as unrelenting mass murder of villagers in his area and the destruction of their communities by armed men, suspected to be Fulani.
According to him, “the manner in which our people are being killed with impunity still resembles the same fashion of mindless murder of our people under the former government. This has given me much concern and I want to call the attention of the world to this wickedness that has been going on without any seeming solution. I am disturbed that the government of Kaduna state, despite of all its promises to safeguard our lives and property has not done enough.”
On its part, a coalition of southern Kaduna groups led by Vincent Bodam says it has what the group describes as a comprehensive record of the attacks in the area, since 2011.
According to the group, about 50,000 villagers fled their homes in Sanga local government area after four days of continuous attacks in May 2014, by alleged Fulani armed men.
As Bodam puts it, “the latest attack is the invasion of Numana Chiefdom by Fulani militia in which mainly Ninzo, Nandu, Gwantu and Gwandara natives in Sanga local government area were massacred on the 25th of June. At Fadan Karshi, 37 persons were killed, 55 injured two homes were burnt.
The casualties in Ambe include 40 killed, 102 injured, and the whole town of about 400 homes and 50 shops with three churches all burnt. Kobin which was attacked in broad daylight was left to mourn 31 deaths, 92 injured. Sabon Gida recorded 11 deaths and 21 injured. At Dogon Daji, the Fulani gunmen also left in the wake of their killings, 24 deaths, mostly women and children.”
Attacks by bandits not Fulani
But the Meyeti Allah Cattle Breeders Association of Nigeria, the pan-Fulani socio-cultural group, has denied the involvement of its members in the killings, describing southern Kaduna as their ancestral home too and that they cannot possibly take part in its destruction.
The branch Chairman of Miyetti Allah, Ardo Ahmadu Suleiman, told Saturday Vanguard that the bandits operating in southern Kaduna are, “strange people who also rustle our cows and they do not also spare us, even as Fulani people. We condemn the attacks and those engaged in the killings are not Fulani.
They hide under Fulani garb to cause disharmony among us. Our fathers and our great grandfathers were born in southern Kaduna. We are also Southern Kaduna people and we also have farms too. Some people wear our garments in the night to confuse others that we are the ones. Every southern Kaduna person is my brother and sister.”
Another prominent Fulani, Dr. Abdulrazak Durungwa, a former Executive Director of Kaduna State Emergency Management Agency, also exonerates his people of complicity in the attacks credited to Fulani herdsmen. According to him, “The so-called Fulani carrying out the attacks in southern Kaduna are not part of us.
They are evil and very wicked. We suspect that they come from other countries. We are also their victims. They steal our cows and when you challenge them, they kill you. I have lost several cows to them and as I talk, I am yet to recover them. I do not have any home outside southern Kaduna. I consider myself a bona fide native of Kagoro because that is where I was born and raised.
However, in Kaduna State, most of the banditry and cattle rustling take place in communities around the Kamuku Forest located in Birnin Gwari local government area and shares boundaries with Katsina, Niger, Zamfara and Kebbi states. The five governors have had series of meetings in Kaduna and Abuja in a quest to find a solution to their common problems of cattle rustling and armed banditry.
According El-Rufai, “the forest which is in the centre of Kaduna, Niger, Katsina, Kabbi and Zamfara states has been of serious security concern. So, we need to address it because that forest is capable of breeding future Boko Haram. So, we meet to brainstorm with a view to fashioning out a coordinated approach in tackling the security challenges in our states.
This is has become necessary to avoid spill over. We meet with security chiefs in charge of our respective states so that we can as quickly as possible, bring an end to the loss of lives, cattle rustling and loss of property.”
Kwara State: The Bororos on rampage
Attacks by alleged Fulani herdsmen popularly known as “the Bororos” on farmers and residents of Kwara have continued to spread across the three senatorial districts of Kwara South, Kwara North and Kwara Central. In all instances, several lives were lost and property destroyed.
Reports indicate that Oro Ago, in Ifelodun local government area of in the southern part of the state has had its fair share of the attacks with the destructions of their farmlands which led to the death of two persons, earlier in the year.
According to President of Oro-Ago Development Union (ODU), Chief Richard Olaniyi, “criminal activities of the Bororo settlers are not the first of its kind. We have had to bear with their excesses for the sake of peace in times past. Some of their past nefarious acts include constant encroachment into indigenes’ farmlands with their cows thereby destroying agricultural products, intermittent robberies and shooting, indigenes while working on their farms.”
There have been similar incidents at Patigi local government in the northern part of the state. Reports said that shortly after the Easter celebrations, there was bloody clash between Fulani herdsmen and locals there, said to have been triggered by suspected cattle rustlers who attacked members of the community. An unspecified number of persons were said to have lost their lives during the incident.
One of the victims of yet another attack, Zainab Yahaya, from Kaiama local government area narrated her experience. “I cried for three months over my loss in the hands of Fulani herdsmen when they chased us away from our farms and allowed their cattle to feed on our crops,” she says.
But Secretary of Miyett Allah Cattle Breeders Association in the state, Alhaji Ibrahim, told Saturday Vanguard that, “there has never been any time that our members destroyed farms in the course of rearing their cattle that the victims were not adequately compensated stressing.”
Abuja FCT: Compassionate herdsmen
The growing menace of Fulani herdsmen in Abuja’s rural areas has continued to spark off armed clashes between the communities and the ethnic Fulani herdsmen. Some of the farmers say they no longer leave their harvests and seedlings herdsmen often vandalize such huts and allow their cattle to feed on their products.
A famer who pleaded anonymity lamented that, “we are fed up with the menace of the Fulani herdsmen. Apart from destroying our farms, they take their cattle into our rivers, our only source of drinking water, to defecate.”
Recounting experiences of some of the farmers, District Head of Kubwa, Chief Adamu Abubarka Waziri, noted however that the Fulani do not waste time in apologizing to farmers whose farms are vandalized.
“But if you do not approach them calmly, they can be violent, he said, adding that, “just recently, Fulani cows entered my farm and ate my corns but when l asked why they allowed their cows into my farm, they said the cows were taken out by their children while the adults were busy with other chores. Last week their children entered and destroyed my bananas.
I had to go and report to their leader and asked him why his children entered and destroyed my bananas. He apologized. When such reports come, we call the Fulani elder, that is the Galadima, and we then table the complaint.
The person involved will be taken to the farm and everyone will inspect and evaluate the level of damage done and they will decide if the owner of the cows should pay for the damages or not. The fine normally ranges from N10, 000 to N20, 000 and if the Fulani person cannot afford to pay for the damages, he is made to sell his cows to raise money for the compensation. There has been cordial relationship between the Gbagi and Fulani here. We try as much as possible to maintain peace and unity.”
Niger State: Second position in cattle rustling
Cattle rustling has apparently taken a new dimension in Niger state as the perpetrators are now heavily armed and carry out their attacks from the thick forest in Niger state, to neighbouring states like Sokoto, Zamfara, Kaduna and Kebbi.
Besides storming different villages especially night, killing, maiming and stealing cows and other domestic animals, they also descend on commuters plying the routes and rob their unsuspecting victims of their valuables and cash.
Our correspondent reports that these armed rustlers launch their attacks from Lapai, New Bussa, Kagara, Gurara, Kafinkoro forest and thus making Niger state to be second in the number of cattle rustling nationwide, according to statistics from the Niger state branch of Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association of Nigeria.
The group said that in the past eight months, more 4000 cattle have been stolen while police also confirmed that 1,048 cattle, 135 sheep and goats were recovered out of the 16 cases reported.
Last week, some 30 cattle rustlers reportedly invaded Allawa village in Shiroro local government and embarked on a two-hour late night raid, at the end of which five of the villagers were killed and shops and houses set ablaze before the attackers escaped into the bush.
Based on the extent of damages and incessant occurrence leading to loss of lives and property worth millions of Naira, the Niger state Governor, Alhaji Abubakar Sani Bello, and his counterparts from Sokoto, Kaduna, Zamfara and Kebbi states have agreed to form a joint patrol team and also carry out raids of the forests harbouring the armed herdsmen.
However speaking in an in an interview, Secretary of the Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association of Nigeria, Alhaji Sadiq Abubakar, says the crisis goes beyond security surveillance adding that for a lasting solution, government should embark on constant sensitization of the Fulani herdsmen and the farmers on the need to completely shun violence and embrace peace and that this can be achieved by educating kids of the Fulani herdsmen.
Plateau State: Armed herdsmen patrol the hills
The menace of Fulani herdsmen to farmers and other rural dwellers in Plateau state occur almost on daily basis especially in Riyom, Barkin Ladi, Bokkos, Mangu and Langtang South local government areas. The activities of these supposed herdsmen have sent shivers down the spines of even the urban dwellers as there have been cases of rape, attempted rape, ambush and killings along lonely bush paths.
Survivors most times with machete cuts and in virtually all the cases, victims and eyewitness accounts identify the attackers as Fulani herdsmen wielding dangerous weapons such as AK47, daggers, among others.
At other times, the attackers descend on entire communities, killing any residents at sight while in some other cases, isolated attacks and killings occur when victims are at work on their farmlands or passing through lonely footpaths.
Mrs. Chundung Sok of Rim village in Riyom local government area says she and other women are afraid of going to the farms for fear of the Fulani herdsmen who launch indiscriminate attacks on residents.
According to her, “you know for many years now, our community has been under deadly attacks by Fulani. We cannot go anywhere, farm, market, school or even leisure visits. Even if you manage to cultivate the land, they will send their cows to eat the crops.
Sometimes, they just come and cut down the crops and kill anyone they see. They always roam these hills with guns and knives. Even a little Fulani boy is dangerous because he has a weapon in his clothes.”
Another farmer, Mark Dachung from Foron community of Barkin Ladi said he left farming for other menial jobs for survival as going to the farm exposes one to a greater risk of being killed by the herdsmen.
According to him, “I used to have few cows and some plots of land where I cultivate crops but for two years now, I have left farming because of the Fulani. I had to sell all my cows because keeping cows in your house is a licence for one to be killed.
Right now, I engage in menial labour, carrying sand, blocks and fetching water for builders but even at that, we always go in a group because going alone, a Fulani man grazing his cow can just kill and leave you by the wayside.
Sometimes they even attack a group but at least, it is a bit safer walking that way. No one should deceive you, all Fulani roaming the state are armed and that is why they attack and kill people at will and even the Operation Safe Haven does nothing to them.”
But Fulani herdsmen interviewed denied carrying dangerous weapons or attacking people while grazing their cattle. One of them, Dauda Yalo, who resides at Kwok in Barkin Ladi described himself as a Peace Ambassador who is a role model to other youths in the community and does not carry any weapon while grazing his cattle.
He said, “last Saturday, my house was burnt at about 6 am as I just stepped out of the building. I suspect a soldier who may want to pitch the Fulani against the Berom. I am a Peace Ambassador and I know the essence of peace.
However, another Fulani herdsman, Ado Muhammad said, “you know that we are always in the bush, we carry weapons to protect ourselves against attacks. Even the stick we carry is not ordinary and that is why you see a little boy with a stick alone in the bush.
A Fulani man has nothing to fear, that is why we can transverse the length and breadth of the forest to feed our cows. We do not hold weapons to kill but protect ourselves against any attacks either by people or wild animal. A Fulani is a peaceful person.”
Benue State: Peace returns
After last May’s dastardly killing of over 100 persons, including women and children by suspected Fulani herdsmen in villages and refugee camps located at Ukura, Gafa, Per and Tse-Gusa in Ukemgbiraghia Twarev ward of Logo local government area, Benue state in the last four months has enjoyed some reprieve from the incursions of the herdsmen.
Before this period, there was hardly any month that the state did not record a bloody clash between the herdsmen and farmers with the attendant high level of casualties. The clashes also left on its trail, high number of internally displaced persons who fled the conflict zones.
From Makurdi to Agatu and to Logo local government areas, Benue communities were theatres of war between the marauding herdsmen and the locals. However, in the last four months, there has been a certain level of calm and sustained peace while majority of the displaced persons have also returned to their homes.
Some reports attribute the relative peace to measures put in place by the Governor Samuel Ortom’s administration which includes a programme urging people in possession of illegal arms to return them, for financial reward.
According to the Security Adviser to the Governor, Col. Edwin Jando (rtd.), “the amnesty programme is one of the best things to happen in this state since its creation.
“It has provided a platform for those in possession of illegal arms to surrender them to government and we all know that without such weapons in circulation, incidents of bloody clashes will be reduced to the barest minimum and government took cognizance of that fact.
There is no doubt that the programme remains a model that should be emulated by other states to ensure sustainable peace in their various communities”