The Recurring January Killings

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For us here in Nigeria, January has become a bad omen: a month of sorrow, anguish, pain, and loss of loved ones. For the past four years, it has become a tradition, a recurring decimal, an annual ritual, the horrendous attacks on Nigerian communities by suspected Fulani herdsmen, which will leave scores of people dead, many others butchered or severely wounded, and several houses burnt, or destroyed.

We will condemn this as dastardly act and call on relevant authorities to rise to the challenge. The government will issue a statement equally condemning the attacks, and will promise to fish out perpetrators of the act and bring them to book. There it will end.

It is either that those who carried out the attacks were not traced, or that those arrested, were later released after a public show, that is, after being paraded. The next year, we will be treated with the same story of herdsmen attack. The beat goes on.

These herdsmen attacks take the same pattern. Surprise invasion of the targeted community in the middle of the night, when everybody is asleep. They will come in their numbers and invade the community, set houses ablaze, drag out their occupants, maim or butcher them, and then retreat to where God knows.

In 2016, suspected herdsmen attacked some communities in Agatu Local Government Area of Benue State, with at least, 16 people murdered in their sleep. In one of the reports, the herdsmen stormed Ebete community under Usha ward of the local government area around 1.00 am in the night, burnt down their houses and started killing people at will.

In 2017, it was the turn of Nimbo in Uzo Uwani Local Government Area of Enugu State, where many people were dispatched to the great beyond and the entire community razed down. Not less than 100 herdsmen were involved in the attack.

According to one of the suspects who was later arrested and paraded, a 24-year old, Muhammadu Zurai, at least 100 men were involved in the attack. Said he: “Fulani leaders rearing cows in Taraba, Kogi, Benue, Nasarawa, Katsina, Niger and Kaduna States contributed representatives to take part in the attack”. In other words, it was a coordinated attack.

Muhammadu Zurai further revealed that prior to the attack, kolanuts were shared among Fulani leaders in these seven states, urging them to support the attack.

“Two days before the attack, a meeting where the plans were perfected was held in Ameke town, Kogi State. After we attacked the town through the bush, I saw a man who had just been slaughtered on the ground. I brought out my phone and recorded the scene. I recorded the video to show my relatives in Kogi where I live how successful the operation was”, he confessed.

In 2018, the herdsmen returned to Benue State. As part of their New Year gift, from the night of December 31, 2017, all through January 8, 2018, they launched attacks in communities in the two local government areas of Logo and Guma, and killed a total of 73 people. The bodies of these 73 men, women and children, were buried at a mass burial ceremony organised by the state government on January 11, 2018.

Between January and April, that year, no less than 246 people were killed in the state, including two Catholic priests and worshippers in a Church.

In the same January 2018, at least 86 people were killed in Plateau State, following violent clashes between farmers and cattle herders in the state. Reports had it that fighting began when ethnic Berom farmers clashed with Fulani herders, where 86 people were killed, six persons injured, while 50 houses were burnt,15 motorbikes and two vehicles.

In Taraba State, in 2019, at least 13 people were killed and several houses burnt in two separate attacks in Ardo Kola and Donga local government areas of the state. According to reports, six people were killed in Janibanibu in Ardo Kola LGA near Jalingo when armed herdsmen invaded the village at about 6pm, while seven were killed in an ambush at the border between Wukari and Donga LGAs.

This year, January 2020, it has become the turn of Kogi State. On January 3, suspected herdsmen invaded Tawari Community in Kogi local government and left 23 persons dead. The attack was said to have been launched at about 1.00 am by gunmen numbering over 100.

Locals said the attackers invaded the community and began shooting sporadically and setting ablaze residential houses and places of worship. The ward chairman of the All Progressives Congress (APC) in Tawari ward, Ibrahim Simbabi, and the Chief Imam of the village, Mallam Zakari Salihu, were amongst those killed in the attack.

The attackers also razed down the oldest clinic in the area which was built by missionaries during colonial rule and burnt the official vehicle of the traditional ruler of the area, the Aguma of Tawari, Alhaji Idris Tawari, among other property. Residents said the attackers went street by street torching houses and killing people. They came in their numbers on motorcycles and began killing and burning buildings until the early hours of Friday.

“The gunmen were up to 100 in number. They came into the community with motorcycles around 11:15 p.m. when villagers were sleeping. They entered selected houses, packed foodstuff and motorcycles and burnt selected houses”, one of the reports said.

Our question has been: since none of these attacks was spontaneous, but premeditated and carefully planned, why was it that our security agencies were not able to detect them before the herdsmen carried them out? It is only when they had launched the attacks that the security agencies will begin to chase shadows, and to shed crocodile tears.

This makes many people begin to think and to believe that perhaps, the hands of those in authority were involved these attacks. Otherwise, why do we have both the covet and the general police, and other security agencies? Is it not to nip crisis in the bud?

Paradoxically, they only make public show of some of the few people said to be arrested in the attacks. We never heard of what happened to them thereafter: when they were charged to court, tried and sentenced, which would have served as deterrent to others. This equally makes some people begin to suspect that perhaps, these evil men might have been thrown back to the society to continue with their dastardly acts.

Again, why is it that these organized attacks happen every January, as New Year gift? Since we know that this is becoming a recurring decimal, why didn’t we rise to the occasion and stop them before the plan is hatched?

These are some of the questions currently agitating our mind as we join a few of our sincere countrymen to offer our condolences to all those who lost their dear ones in these horrendous attacks.

About Dons Eze

DONS EZE, PhD, Political Philosopher and Journalist of over four decades standing, worked in several newspaper houses across the country, and rose to the positions of Editor and General Manager. A UNESCO Fellow in Journalism, Dr. Dons Eze, a prolific writer and author of many books, attended several courses on Journalism and Communication in both Nigeria and overseas, including a Postgraduate Course on Journalism at Warsaw, Poland; Strategic Communication and Practical Communication Approach at RIPA International, London, the United Kingdom, among others.

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