A Season of Killings in Niger

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Laleye Dipo writes on the wanton destruction of human lives by villagers and herdsmen for flimsy reasons

First, it was the desecration of a place of worship in Etogi Village in Gbara ward in the Mokwa Local Government Area of Niger State where 21 persons, including a man of God, who were thanking Allah for making them to see another day were killed when herdsmen stormed the holy place and snuffed out their lives. According to eyewitnesses, they were slaughtered like rams with blood flowing from the mosque as if it was an abattoir.

Twenty four hours later another carnage was reported in Tunga Malam Village, a cattle market not too far from Paiko, the headquarters of Paikoro Local Government Area, when five persons were killed in cold blood over an undisclosed disagreement between a villager and Fulani man.

It was in the same Paikoro Local Government Area where four Fulani herdsmen were killed a couple of months back over grazing of animals into farmlands, an incident that spread to Kpadna in Bosso Local Government Area leading to the killing of several people and destruction of property worth several millions of naira when men of the Nigerian army invaded the communities in search of arms and ammunition they claimed were hidden in the village which allegedly had been used to attack the Fulani herdsmen.

The state government had set up two commissions of inquiry to look into the “remote and immediate causes” of the Paiko and Kpadna disturbances.

The panels discharged their duties but months after the submission of their findings, the government is yet to come out with a position or release a white paper, even after the Senator representing the area in the National Assembly Senator, David Umaru, asked the government to implement the report of the commissions of inquiry.

This inaction by the government may have strengthened villagers and Fulani herdsmen to take laws into their hands as the last two incidents have shown.
The incident at Etogi Village was the second in recent times.

A couple of months ago the villagers and the Fulani herdsmen who had settled in the community were said to have clashed, leading to the murder of a Fulani man. The clash, just like the recent one, was over the refusal of the Fulani settlers to pay royalty to the natives for the land they were given to stay, farm and graze their cattle.
The demand for royalty caused a misunderstanding leading to the killing of a Fulani man.

The timely intervention of the leadership of both the natives and the Fulani’s as well as the security agencies did not allow the crisis to escalate.
“The killing of a herder was managed but it appears they (herders) were not satisfied and decided to retaliate,” Police spokesman Bala Elkana said while reacting to the last skirmish between the villagers and the Fulani settlers.

There is a story that when fishing business thrived in Etogi some 60 years ago, the community released some of their land to the Fulani herdsmen in exchange for royalties. However fish farming in the area is reported as not being lucrative any longer, resulting in the villagers making moves to reacquire their land.

It was said that the villagers reached another agreement with the herders for them to use the land for dry season farming and that the Fulanis should allow the harvest of rice and other farm produce before allowing their animals graze on the land.

Alhaji Abubakar Taofiq Tauheed confirmed this much when he said the refusal of the Fulani settlers to respect the terms of the agreement was partly responsible for the frictions between the villagers and the Fulanis over the years.

A youth leader in the community, Jibril Kpogi, blamed the latest crisis between the Fulanis and the community on one of the Fulani leaders whose name he gave as Tanko Yuguda.

According to Kpogi, Yuguda had become “untouchable” and even boasted of having god-fathers in Bida, the headquarters of their emirate and in Minna, the state capital.
Yuguda was said to have the largest number of heads of cattle in the community and by extension the richest man there.

After the last skirmish between the Fulanis and the community which led to the arrest and detention of Yuguda for one week by the police in Minna, he (Yuguda) was reported to have, after his release, threatened to deal with the villagers. He reportedly moved out his cattle and family from the settlement.

Kpogi, narrating how the herders wreaked havoc on their community, claimed that it was Yuguda’s four children, Babari, Nda, Namadu, and Chepa that showed the houses of villagers to the attackers before they embarked on the slaughtering spree.

On how the village head escaped the assault, it was said that the invaders allowed him to run away because ‘’he has been sympathetic to the cause of the Fulani settlers.’’ The village head surfaced when the state acting governor Alhaji Ahmed Mohammed Ketso visited the troubled community for an on-the-spot assessment, to the consternation of his subjects.

According to reports, the attackers invaded the 1,500 population small island community coming through boats and riding on motorcycles. The invaders surrounded the village to ensure no one escaped. Allegedly led by the children of Yuguda, the attackers, after slaughtering those saying the early morning prayers in the mosque, were led from one house to the other by these children where men and children were brought out and killed like fowls. The attackers requested for money from their victims which they collected and still killed the villagers.

The deputy village head was said to have been caught in the bathroom where he was taking his bath before coming out for the early morning prayers; he was gunned down there.

One Soje Jibrin, according to an eyewitness, was killed along with seven of his children while Adamu Usman who asked his wife to show where he kept his money was slaughtered after the money had been taken. It was said that one Abdullahi Yanda, the richest man in the village, lost more than N3m to the attackers before he was shot.
All efforts to locate Tanko Yuguda have so far proved abortive.

The affected village has become a ghost of itself. Women were seen carrying their luggage on their heads, heading towards the river bank for journeys to unknown destinations; stench from decomposing dead bodies buried in shallow graves and rotten fish abandoned by their owners, who had either died or fled, filled the air.

Eleven graves where those that were massacred were shown to the state’s Acting Governor, Alhaji Ahmed Mohammed Ketso, who was on an on-the-spot assessment of the troubled community. Three of the graves lying side by side were that of a father, his wife and son. A bowl containing the decomposing liver of the wife of the man was placed on her grave.

Similarly, the remains of the Imam of the village mosque, Imam Saidu and the Deputy village head, Alhaji Ahmadu Tella, who were both killed by their attackers, lay close to each other.

Most part of the ground was also blood stained.
Kpogi debunked the claim that only 21 persons died in the attack. According to him, some of the villagers were forced into the river Niger where they reportedly drowned while others who ran into the forest were yet to be seen.
The mosque that witnessed the attack was under lock and key when the acting governor visited.

One interesting scenario in the community was that no Fulani herdsman was either in the troubled area or in their own settlement.
The acting governor, Ketso expressed sadness at the large number of human lives lost for no just cause and warned that the government ‘’will no longer tolerate the killing of innocent people in the state for whatever reason,’’ Ketso said in reaction to the massacre and similar incidents that had taken place in the state in the last couple of months.

“As a responsible government, we cannot fold our hands and watch the people being killed like animals under whatever excuses. This type of senseless act will no longer be tolerated by this government.

“We will do everything possible to protect the people because that is our responsibility as a government; what I have seen here today and the testimonies from the people, is a crime against humanity which must not be allowed to repeat itself.
“We have witnessed a number of killings here in this state and it is time we rise-up to the occasion and deal with those involved decisively. Nothing is worth the life of the people.’’

Kesto, who was accompanied to the community by the state’s Commissioner of Police, Muazu Zubairu, said the state government would work closely with all the security agencies in the state to check the activities of these armed bandits, stressing that:“as a government, we will assist them with logistics, we have started discussion with them.”

The state’s Commissioner of Police, Zubairu, also described the massacre as a “heinous crime”, assuring that the perpetrators would be fished out, and punished accordingly.

“This is not acceptable, it is a heinous crime against innocent citizens of this country and I can assure you that my men are equal to the task, we will fish out the perpetrators of this crime and we will bring them to face the law.

“This act is condemnable because they have raped, they maimed and they have killed innocent citizens, so what I can assure you is that wherever these people are, we will find them and make them face the crime that they have committed.”

The state’s Emergency Management Agency has put the death toll in the crisis at 27, saying three corpses were recovered from the forests while three others died at the Federal Medical Centre, Bida.

The police however ascribe excessive consumption of alcohol as the cause of the disturbance. Police Public Relations Officer, DSP Bala Elkana, said three suspects each have been arrested in connection with the two incidents. He also said peace has returned to the troubled communities.