…as blood of worshippers flows in Niger mosque
Niger State was thrown into mourning last week in separate attacks, gunmen, suspected to be herdsmen, struck in two different local government areas- Mokwa and Paiko, leaving 26 murdered.
Etogi village, Gbara Ward in Mokwa local government area of the state is a settlement of about 1,500 people who are predominantly fishermen. The community had, for over 50 years, lived in peace with herdsmen settlers before the sour relationship that escalated to the killings.
Our correspondent gathered that the crisis started about four years ago over a grazing land.
The land was said to have been leased to the herders by the villagers but controversy arose over the ownership years later when the community wanted to use it for dry season farming, a development that did not go down well with the herdsmen who said they were not ready to vacate the land.
The Etsu Nupe, Alhaji Yahaya Abubakar, in whose domain the parcel of land is located, allegedly intervened severally but the two parties stuck to their different positions. It was gathered that some months ago, the mediators sent by the Etsu to once again look into the matter were rounded up by the villagers and locked up in a room while demanding the release of their kinsmen arrested by the police, saying the Etsu Nupe’s emissaries will not be released unless their people were also set free. Viewed as an affront to the traditional ruler, the Etsu handed off the issue.
Opportunity to strike
Because of the crisis, the Sarkin (head) of the herdsmen in the community, Tanko Yugudawas, was said to have been chased out of the village.
The mission was carried out but with a vow from some of the Sarkin’s men to avenge his humiliation.
The opportunity allegedly came, penultimate Saturday, when a herder was said to have been stabbed by one of the villagers over an argument and, in retaliation, the herdsmen mobilized and killed several people.
Killing in the mosque
It was an early morning raid.
Nobody expected it from the herdsmen who were said to be armed with guns, daggers, knives among others and stormed the village as early at 5a.m on motorcycles and canoe and made straight to the community mosque where the early morning prayer, led by the Imam of the village, Alhaji Saidu Imam, was going on.
Caught unawares, the suspected herdsmen started slaughtering the worshippers in the mosque, starting with the Chief Imam.
Those who managed to escape from the mosque were said to have been pursued, caught and killed.
The sporadic shooting in the mosque woke up women and children in the village and, as they also tried to escape, some of them, who came face to face with the gunmen, were murdered.
For about two hours that the attack lasted, no help came due to the lack of access road and communication to Katcha, the headquarters of Katcha local government area.
While it was easy for the village adults to escape, the children fled in different directions. Five of the children declared missing are suspected to have plunged into river Niger while trying to escape. Many of the adults also sustained varying degrees of wounds while fleeing the troubled spot.
House to house killing
Knowing that many of the villagers may have still been in their compounds, the gunmen were said to have stormed the houses.
An eye witness told our correspondent that the house of the village Head, Bala Abdullahi Pog, was the first port of call. But he had fled.
In most of houses visited, the gunmen were said to have been after cash and ended up collecting millions of Naira from their victims and also killed some in the process.
The only woman killed, Zainab Suleiman, was said to have been shot because of her uncooperative attitude after she was asked to show the gunmen where the money of her husband was kept. The husband was said to be away to the mosque when the wife was killed at home for refusing to lead the gunmen to where their money was kept. It could not be immediately ascertained wether the husband was among those murdered in the mosque.
One prominent businessman in the village, Abdullahi Yanda, was said to be among those murdered in his bedroom even after he had given about N3m to the gunmen. Unlike the woman who was killed for preventing the attackers from having access to the money kept in her home, another woman was said to have been spared for “co-operating” with them and leading them to where money in the house was hidden. Even then, the husband was said to have been ordered to say his last prayer and killed in the wife’s presence and the money taken away.
The deputy village head, Alhaji Ahmadu Tella, aged 75, was allegedly traced to his bathroom and killed.
Man, seven children dead
One Soje Jibrin was said to have been killed along with his seven children.
The whereabouts of his wife were not known as of the time of going to press
An eyewitness told our correspondent that Soje was taken in his residence and ordered to line up his children who were slaughtered one after the other before the assailants descended on him.
Why help didn’t come
Etog is a reverine community. In fact, it will take not less than one hour to the nearest police station which is in Katcha while the only means of transport is canoe.
It was learnt that though a distress call was made to the police in Katcha, the difficult terrain made it difficult for help to come and this gave room for the massacre of the villagers without any challenge.
It is an understatement to describe the situation in the community as pathetic.
Blood flowed on the streets while there were also blood stains everywhere in the mosque. Survivors were rushed to Mokwa General Hospital for treatment.
For the villagers who witnessed the massacre but lucky to be alive, the decision to flee, leaving their sources of livelihood behind was not a mistake and, as far as they were concerned, they put their lives before material gains.
The suvivors were not willing to return home despite the heavy presence of security men in and around the community when Sunday Vanguard visited on Thursday; and not even with a plea by the state government asking them to return and carry out their normal business without fear.
Meanwhile, those who were killed in the attack have been given mass burial.
Niger State government delegation, led by the Deputy Governor, Alhaji Ahmed Ketso, rushed to the community for on-the-spot assessment of the level of damage.
Ketso condemned the attack in strong terms and assured that the perpetrators will be brought to book.
Meanwhile, another tragedy struck in Gidan Mallam, a village, in Paikoro local government area of the state, popular for the sale of cattle.
An eye witness said the crisis which claimed five lives, occurred after an argument between a villager and a young herder in the market during which the herder stabbed the villager to death resulting in retaliation from the villagers who killed four herdsmen.
Our correspondent gathered that the cause of the argument was also the claim of ownership of a land within the community.
However, police spokesman in the state, DSP Bala Elkana, when contacted, confirmed the death of four people, saying the argument was not over land but alcoholic influence.
Meanwhile, three people have been arrested in connection with the Gidan Mallam deaths while armed police men have also been drafted to the area.