•Our hospitality has caused us our blood, Manga Residents Lament
By Femi Bolaji, Jalingo
The environment was relatively calm when Saturday Vanguard arrived at Manga village. The riverine community with a rural setting is located in Takum local government area of Taraba state. The entire village was still in a mourning mood and the feeling of apprehension was visibly written on their faces.
Some women were seen wailing on the grave of their loved one who had just been buried while others sat in clusters with a gloomy demeanour. They had just lost their monarch and five other persons to the gunmen they said were Cameroonian separatists who attacked their village penultimate Tuesday.
Starting from the river bank of the 40MW Kashimbila Hydropower Dam, the journey to Manga aboard an engine propelled boat took more than one hour before we docked at the entrance of the community with a little above 3000 inhabitants.
They are mostly fishermen and hunters who only engage in subsistence farming all year round. Life before the invasion of their community by the separatists, was peaceful and full of happiness.
Their closest neighbours are not only Shibong Communities in Takum LGA, but also Shibong Communities in Furu-awa Subdivision of the Northwest region of Southern Cameroon who they both share the same cultural heritage.
Aside from speaking the same language, they engage in similar trade and some are blood relatives who were only geographically placed in either side of the two countries after the 1961 plebiscite which ceded this trust territory to present day Northwest Region of Cameroon.
However, the struggle for an independent Southern Cameroon has exposed these communities in the Northwest region of Cameroon to danger. Their last resort to escape the onslaught of both the government forces and the separatists’ fighters in their country was to flee to the Nigerian side where their kinsmen are living peacefully.
This move has now dealt a big blow on their kits and kin in Nigeria who gave them refuge when they were most vulnerable. Their host penultimate Tuesday, sacrificed some of their own, including a monarch to protect their refugee brothers who were trailed to Nigeria by their attackers.
The fatalities from the coordinated attacks which started from the Cameroon side and later extended into Manga village in Nigeria claimed 12 lives, while over 20 persons, including women and children are still unaccounted for. Houses and other valuables were also not spared when the attackers struck.
‘Some Were Still Asleep When the Gunmen Attacked’
The Cockerel’s crow must have woken some of the inhabitants of Manga village that fateful Tuesday morning. While some were still sleeping between the hours of 6 and 7 am when terror visited where they call home, school children were also preparing for school.
But the sight of fiery looking men, and the sounds of gunshots in their hitherto peaceful community resulted in a pandemonium that left behind sorrow and anguish. The attackers were said to have docked their boats in a village in Cameroon and navigated the mountain paths into Manga village to unleash mayhem on the armless inhabitants.
Children took to their heels; their mothers who were preparing their meals left their boiling water unattended to when the sounds of gunshots rented the air. Their men were helpless and could not defend their home, because the attackers came unannounced at the early hours of the day when most were about to sail out.
The only resistance against the attackers was the fire power of some officers of the Nigeria Immigration Service who were stationed there, and also helped with the evacuation of women and children their boat could carry to safety.
In a matter of minutes, six lifeless bodies were already lying bare, including that of the Village head of Manga, who was killed in his palace.
‘Our Village Was Attacked for Accommodating Our Brothers from Cameroon’
Prior to the attack on Manga village, the locals who spoke to Saturday Vanguard said some villages on the Cameroon side had witnessed constant attack from the separatists. Even though they never stated why the Separatists were attacking those they claim to be fighting the Cameroonian authorities for, the residents of Manga village claimed they were targeted by the Cameroonian separatists for being a generous host to their brothers seeking refuge in their domain.
Abubakar Manga, who works in the palace, was one of those that fled for his life and narrated what he could recall.
“Our saving grace were the immigration officers that had a post here when the gunmen struck in our village, if not the fatality would have been more.
“Our attackers followed a narrow bush path from the foot of the mountain behind the village into our community. We just saw men with guns that early morning shooting at anything on site.
“The palace was close to the road they followed and that was why they were able to gain access to our monarch and killed him. Some people ran into the river while others followed the bush and mountain to escape being killed. This is the first time something like this is happening here and before now we have never had any issue with either the Cameroonian forces or the Separatists.
“Our only sin is that we gave refuge to our brothers running from Cameroon. The Immigration officers were the ones that called for backup from the military but the attackers left before their arrival.
“Six dead bodies were recovered during search and rescue and more than 20 persons and three children are still missing,” he said.
Another resident, Kezia Manga, said most of those that fled into Manga village were from Okpa community in Cameroon which was attacked by the Separatists on Sunday.
“The separatists attacked Okpa and another village on Sunday in Cameroon. Those that could run fled to this village and others in Nigeria.
“We were surprised on Tuesday about 6am when we started hearing gunshots because the fighters came in here to attack us for providing refuge to those that ran here.
“From what we heard three people each were killed in the two villages they attacked in Cameroon before coming here,” she said.
The Leader of Hunters in the Shibong area, Alexander Adams said the absence of mobile telephone networks delayed their coming to Manga.
“We got the information late because most of the gallant hunters are not stationed in Manga. By the time we mobilized and came in here, the attackers had left.
“We have been in this village from that Tuesday till now to complement the work of other security operatives.”
Younger brother of the deceased Monarch, who is also an aide to governor Darius Ishaku of Taraba state, Joseph Manga, was emotional while speaking to Saturday Vanguard.
Manga fought hard to control his tears on arrival during our visit. He noted that his brother was loved by the people and the manner at which he died does not befit his status as a traditional ruler.
“I am very pained. I have never been in pain like this in my life before. My elder brother led his people with the fear of God and that is why he was loved by his subjects.
“His death is a bitter pill that we have been forced to chew by some people we have no problem with but decided to inflict pain on our community.
“We are waiting for the government to protect us because as it is, we are very vulnerable. Thank God the soldiers are now here, and that is why most people that fled had to come back.”
‘If the Military Outpost was Active, the Dead Would Have Been Alive’ – Monarch
The Chief of Kashimbila, Alhaji Zakari Musa Gyendi, was also in Manga during Saturday Vanguard’s visit to condole the community over the loss of their monarch. He disclosed that a military outpost used to be in Manga village where Nigerian soldiers monitor activities along Nigeria border communities with Cameroon.
He regretted that the absence of soldiers in the Shibong axis had made residents of that area vulnerable to attacks. He pleaded with the federal government to reactivate the military outpost just as it was during the Abacha era.
“During the Abacha era, the military outpost in Manga was very active. You would see soldiers monitoring activities along these border communities in Shibong.
“We want the government to resuscitate it and bring soldiers back here because if the soldiers were here when Manga was attacked, I am sure the dead would have been alive and the attackers would have been dealt with.”
The Third class Chief of Shibong Chiefdom, HRH Alexander Yamusa Garkwe, who was also in Manga said the nature of the latest killings in Manga village, which is under his jurisdiction has made his subjects vulnerable.
More worrisome, according to him, was the killing of the Village head of Manga and some of his subjects by separatists from Cameroon.
He however called for the deployment of Marine Police, Army and more Immigration officers to effectively man border communities and combat the growing threat to their collective survival.
We would Liaise with FG to Combat This Threat – Taraba Govt.
A delegation of Taraba state government and heads of security in the state were also in Manga village for an on-the-spot assessment of what was left after the attack.
The state Commissioner for Information and Re-orientation, Danjuma Adamu, who led the team, said the state government would liaise with the Federal government to ensure the killings of innocent Nigerians by foreigners on Nigerian soil does not repeat itself.
“We have seen things ourselves now and we have heard the requests made by the communities here. Ours is to report back to the state governor for quick intervention and I am certain something positive would follow.
“Also, the military are now stationed here and we are sure that lives and properties are safe. And as for relief items, something positive would be done to cushion their hardship.”
Chairman of Takum LGA, Shiban Tikari, also sent a strong warning to the Separatist fighters to desist from attacking villages under his purview.
He was confident that Nigeria troops are capable of preventing further attacks on vulnerable communities along that axis.
“If not for the presence of the military here now, we would have frustrated all the living things in these mountains you are seeing here.
“We shouldn’t have been the ones to be attacked after providing refuge and food to those running from Cameroon into our communities. We won’t take this anymore and I hope this is the first and last of such attacks on our communities,” he said.
Saturday Vanguard’s check round the village revealed that soldiers have been stationed in various strategic entry and exit points of Manga.
A military camp has also been raised where the soldiers use as their barrack.