By Dele Sobowale
“Let them hate; as long as they fear.” Lucius Accius, 170-85 BC.
Killer herdsmen have finally grabbed the entire nation by the scrotum. Suddenly, everybody who was deaf, indifferent and callous about the rape of Agatu in 2016 is now talking. Virtually all are hypocrites – from Aso Rock to Government House Makurdi to the traditional rulers who have now been unmasked as the patrons of the murderous herdsmen. Forget the Inspector General of Police, IGP, who recently apologised for regarding the atrocities of the herdsmen as “communal clashes”. It has taken the death of over 150 people in Benue and Taraba states for the nation’s front line security officer to acknowledge that there are bands of killers around called herdsmen. Elsewhere in the world, he would have done the needful for his gross incompetence and negligence which in some ways contributed to the deaths.
It was particularly amusing in a tragic way when President Buhari ordered the IGP to relocate to Makurdi two weeks ago. When did Mr Idris transform into a battalion all by himself. If the police force in Benue could not help the situation, how would adding one person, even if he’s the IGP, help the situation. Obviously, Nigeria’s Commander-In-Chief, C-I-C, of the armed forces was not fully versed of the situation in Bunue, Taraba, Nasarawa, Plateau and elsewhere. Permit us to help out by reminding Nigerians and the global community of how the rape of Agatu in 2016, was the rehearsal to what is happening now and what will happen in the future.
In May 2016, a report was published on these pages titled STANDING ON THE GRAVES OF AGATU – together with some of the pictures from our visit to Agatu after the siege of 2016. In 2016, despite the avalanche of reports, comments, announcements from leaders and some of the led, we arrived in Agatu three weeks after the carnage to discover that no reporter from any of the newspapers with a correspondent in Makurdi had visited Agatu personally. All the reports on which the public was commenting were sourced from the wire services and based on hearsay from those streaming out of Agatu.
After four days of going round Agatu communities, interviewing the people as well as traditional rulers, we made an observation which was ignored by everybody including the President, governor and all the security agencies which are now running around trying to find a lasting solution to the problem. From all that has happened so far, we are still missing the point.
First, permit us to present the Agatu 33, representing the unknown number of over three hundred people murdered in cold blood during the siege of Agatu. In some instances, entire families were wiped out.
“ Late, Joseph Enenche, Joseph Yakubu, Joseph Alabali, Eluma Godday, Ojo Godday, Abia Michael, BlessingMichael, Ngbede Anjonu, Ayo Joseph, Ikwuunife Anjonu, Sunday Edo, Isah Edo, Ibrahim Otache, Abu Alhassan, Andrew Samson, Onyachei John, Eluma Ochechie, Ibrahim Jumoh, Ochewuikuru Pius, Musa Ikpa, Musa Ibrahim, Anjela Ogoto, Ekoja Ochiba, Jenebu Ocheinu, Oyigowo Yakubu, Yakubu Ishu, Saduan Itologwu, Allihasan Isa, Yakubu Ali, Onune Sule Daddy Isaac, Ochokpefu Alabali, Momoh Kasimu”—33 out of several unknown victims of the siege of Agatu. Source: EDOR OBIABO, The ADA-GALE of Aila, Agatu, Benue State, at Egba Agatu, May 4, 2016.
Like most tragedies occurring in Nigeria, the siege of Agatu by armed men, had been badly reported and mostly misinterpreted in a manner that is now drawing us towards uncontrollable violent conflict. The “Agatu 33”, for lack of a better name to describe them, would either become known in the history as the strongest wake up call for national action regarding the incessant fatal clashes between the herdsmen and farmers/host communities, or they will constitute the first installment in a series of deaths resulting from other clashes in the future.
THE M5 OF MASS KILLINGS
Our return to Agatu, last year May, offered fresh insights which most people – including government officials – are not aware of in the discussions about herdsmen. Even the Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association of Nigeria, MACBAN, might be speaking on behalf of bands of murderous marauders, outside their control, who might have a still, unknown, agenda. Two days in a hotel, talking to two survivors of the attack the year before, revealed that the large scale murders were never spontaneous. Instead, they followed the same pattern as the Agatu massacre. For lack of another name let me call them M5 — mobilization, methodical, merciless, mass murder.
One of our informants had grown up in a Fulani household, although a Basa-Nge indigene, who also speaks Hausa fluently. His ability to speak the language of the invaders saved his life and also allowed him to observe some of the operations at Agatu live on the first night.
A band of four men would approach a cluster of houses and buildings. One would fire shots to wake up the people; the second carried petrol which would be sprayed on the buildings and retreat. Several shots will ring out from the two with weapons. They will then set the buildings on fire – giving those inside one of two choices – stay inside and roast or come out and get cut down with bullets. Contrary to the conventional wisdom that the herdsmen were avenging loss of cattle or the death of some of their members during conflict with farmers, it became clear that they had other objectives in mind. Their goals were more long term. As the massacre continued in Agatu, the survivor heard some of their assailants talking. The thrust of the conversation is what should send shivers down our spines.
They took on Agatu as test rehearsal for a more sinister motive which is now unfolding. Benue State is home to several ethnic groups including the Tiv, Idoma, Igede, Basa, Juguns as well as Hausa, Fulani and a few other Nigerian ethnic groups. But, among the indigenous groups, the Agatu are among the smallest; some of them are even in Nasarawa State which is just across the river. Virtually all of them are farmers; they also depend on river water. These are the same resources the herdsmen want very badly, especially during the dry season. Clashes have been occurring with increasing frequency for years between the farmers and the herdsmen. As a matter of fact, they quite often know themselves because some of the herdsmen and women had kids with other ethnic groups in Agatu. So, for a long time the conflicts could be regarded as a “family affair”.
Everything changed in 2016 – when for the first time farmers were confronted with armed mercenaries joining the fray on the side of the herdsmen. Until then, every skirmish had ended in some form of amicable settlement. But, in 2016, the farmers were issued an ultimatum. “Stop disturbing our movement or there will be hell to pay.” Naturally, the threat was dismissed as an empty boast – until the attack. The attackers got away with mass murder; they received two extra dividends for their efforts. Neither the Federal Government nor the State Government did anything to come to the aid of the Agatu people; nobody was punished for it. The Agatu, a minority in Benue State, and tiny minority in Nigeria were easily expendable. Nobody, not the President, the Governor, The Senator, their Representative gave a damn about them. After shedding the political crocodile tears about them, they were quickly forgotten. By December 2016, the Agatu had been enslaved in their own land. The herdsmen now trample all over their farms and none can complain.
With Agatu subdued, as my informant told me, he was certain that the herdsmen would attempt the same thing in other communities. Fear, by the communities under siege, had become their major weapon.
At first, nobody noticed the movement towards the eastern part of Benue State. Gradually, as they moved towards Gboko/Yandev, and started linking up with other units in Nasarawa and Taraba State, especially around Katsina Ala, and one community after another in that confluence of state boundaries fell to their onslaught, it became clear that the blitz method tested successfully in Agatu was being applied everywhere – the surprise M5 attack which leaves the same message with the communities under siege.
Because the attacks were scattered over several states, it was difficult, at first for anybody to notice a method and pattern to the incidents. Even, the state governments failed to dot the lines and to recognize the deliberate plan to subdue whole portions of their states. Only the recurrent attacks on communities in Tiv land served as a wake up call to Government House Makurdi. Capturing Agatu might be forgiven, but Tivland would never be tolerated. The Tivs and the Hausa/Fulani had engaged in historical combat. The frequent invasion of Tiv communities rekindled the mutual hostilities. Clearly, a great deal of the uproar about herdsmen’s massacre of innocent Benue citizens is associated with the fact that they have this time slaughtered the “untouchables” of Benue State.
CAMERA MEN AT THE THEATRE OF WAR
Earlier, it was mentioned in this write up that a four-man band would usually move in tandem when these premeditated mass murders are being organized. The parts played by three of them were defined. One is a pyromaniac and two armed and merciless assassins. The reader should have been asking about the fourth member of the team. The question which came to my mind at the time was “What role does he play in the whole drama?
When told that his task was to video all the atrocities, my first and until recently, reaction was to dismiss it as a blatant lie and an attempt to demonise the villains even more. A prominent Nigerian said last week that video recordings of atrocities were sent to Aso Rock. At least two things should be clear by now. One, whatever happened was not spontaneous. Two, several video tapes of such massacres must be lying somewhere with the sponsors of the video.
Then, some important questions must trouble all of us. First, have the video recordings been tampered with to mislead government officials? Second, if somebody took all the trouble to video mass massacre of Nigerians in their own country and sends the video to Aso Rock without response, what sort of government do we have?
LAST LINE: Just as this article was about to be sent to the SUNDAY EDITOR, report of another attack in Taraba was received. Most likely it would have followed the Agatu template for creating fear in communities in order to subdue them.