* Says 4,000 killed in 3 years
By Kingsley Nwezeh in Abuja
The Amnesty International (AI) said Monday that the Nigerian government’s failure to act and bring perpetrators to book resulted in the death of 4,000 people in clashes between herdsmen and farmers across the country in the last three years.
This is coming as the Nigerian Army has accused AI of plotting to destabilise the country, expressing its intention to canvas for the closure of AI offices in Nigeria.
In a new report, ‘Harvest of Death: Three Years of Bloody Clashes Between Farmers and Herders’, AI said that 57 per cent of the 3,641 recorded deaths occurred in 2018.
It said: “Security forces were often positioned close to the attacks, which lasted hours and sometimes days, yet were slow to act.”
According to the global human rights watchdog, in some cases, security forces had prior warning of an imminent raid but did nothing to stop or prevent the killings, looting and burning of homes.
“Our research shows that these attacks were well planned and coordinated, with the use of weapons like machine guns and AK-47 rifles,” Director of Amnesty International Nigeria, Osai Ojigho, said.
The report noted: “The Nigerian government has displayed what can only be described as gross incompetence and has failed in its duty to protect the lives of its population and end the intensifying conflict between herders and farmers.
“The authorities’ lethargy has allowed impunity to flourish and the killings to spread to many parts of the country, inflicting greater suffering on communities who already live in constant fear of the next attack.
“Yet, little has been done by the authorities in terms of prevention, arrests and prosecutions, even when information about the suspected perpetrators was available.”
According to the report, “At least 310 attacks were recorded between January 5, 2016 and October 5, 2018. The attacks were most frequent in Adamawa, Benue, Kaduna, Taraba and Plateau. Other parts of the country including Enugu, Ondo, Oyo, Delta and Edo also recorded attacks.”
The organisation said it started documenting clashes between farmers and herders from January 2016, adding that between August 2017 and September 2018, researchers conducted 10 field trips to 56 villages in five states.
AI said the report was based on 262 interviews with victims, eyewitnesses, community leaders, medical practitioners, religious leaders and government officials, including members of the security forces.
Researchers, it added, also analysed 230 documents, including medical records and reports by the security forces.
The pro-human rights agency observed that the conflict has also been dangerously politicised by some state government officials who have inflamed tensions by embarking on a blame game along political party lines.
The report said one of the deadliest attacks took place on June 7, 2017 when attacks on Fulani communities in Taraba State began, and lasted four days with dozens of dead bodies found in the bush afterwards.
The body said it interviewed 21 women in communities affected by the famers-herders attacks, adding that many spoke of losing their husbands and having to take care of their children alone.
It recalled that on February 20, 2017, Zilian village in Kaduna was attacked, adding that a woman described how she ran and hid in an old latrine pit as her husband was killed in the attack while her six-year-old daughter was severely burnt.
AI further noted that in Kaduna and Zamfara States, what started as clashes between herders and farmers turned into a total collapse of law and order, with armed gangs raiding villages, kidnapping people for ransom and killing hundreds of people in recent years.
AI stated that villagers told the organisation that they were regularly confronted by attackers wielding machine guns and assault rifles, adding that it took photographs of different ammunition casings from the scenes of attacks in Adamawa, Kaduna and Benue States, and received photographs of other casings from Plateau State.
In all cases, the AI report said weapons analysis showed that the attackers were likely to have been armed with machine guns like the PKM and G3, and AK-47 rifles.
Meanwhile, the Nigerian Army has accused AI of plotting to destabilise the country.
A statement signed by Army spokesman, Brig-General Sani Usman, said: “The Nigerian branch of Amnesty International that has hitherto been well respected has deviated from the core values, principles and objectives of the original Amnesty International domiciled in the United Kingdom.
“There is credible information that the Nigerian branch of the international non-governmental organisation is determined to destabilise the Nigerian nation.
“This is noted through fabrication of fictitious allegations of alleged human rights abuses against the Nigerian security forces and clandestine sponsorship of dissedent groups to protest, as well as unfounded allegations against the leadership of the Nigerian military.”
The army stated: “They have tried over the years using Boko Haram terrorists conflicts, Islamic Movement in Nigeria, some activists and now herders-farmers conflicts.
“The NGO is at the verge of releasing yet another concorted report against the military, ostensibly against the Nigerian Army. Consequently, Nigerians should be wary of Amnesty International (Nigeria) because its goals are to destabilise Nigeria and to dismember it.
“The Nigerian Army has no option than to call for the closure of Amnesty International offices in Nigeria, if such recklessness continues.”