The northern belt of the country has become a hotbed of deadly attacks, ranging from the mayhem perpetrated by Boko Haram insurgency to some questionable ‘gunmen’ attacks on communities leading to several deaths and thousands being displaced. MOHAMMED ISMAIL, Yola; Ayado Solomon, Makurdi; ACHOR ABIMAJE, Jos; Kareem Haruna, Maiduguri; Andrew Ojih, Taraba, and Abba Abubakar Kabara, Zamfara write
Although normalcy has returned to some parts of the north, especially Adamawa and Borno border villages, following intensified military onslaught against insurgents who are mainly taking refuge in Sambisa forest, an uneasy calm continues to reign in the border villages as those displaced are afraid of going back to their villages until the current operation aimed at dislodging the insurgents was over.
However, some displaced persons that are currently taking refuge in Gulak are wary of returning due to fear of the insurgents relaunching attacks on them. Mr Vandi Kwagha, a displaced person, decried the utter failure of security apparatuses to contain the crisis, wondering how such large number of people could move without being detected, if there were no foul plays. Another victim of the insurgent attacks, who simply identify himself as Zira, said the insurgents seemed to have defied all security tactics, despite the emergency rule in place and despite the large chunk of taxpayers money being expended on security matters.
Some of them disclosed to LEADERSHIP Sunday that whenever the insurgents launched attacks, the soldiers deployed to some of the areas used to take to their heels, while in some instances, it was alleged that the soldiers would leave their duty posts before the insurgents stroke.
Before the current military onslaught which seems to have succeeded in reducing the intensity of the attacks across the border villages, many residents said they could not fathom why the attacks seemed to be on the increase despite emergency rule imposed on the three northeastern states. As if to compound the predicaments of the villagers, the attackers always escaped and seemed to defy the eagle eyes of security operatives and were never apprehended.
And as the confusion brought about by the lackluster attitude of the security operatives continues to worry the people, Governor Murtala Nyako accused the federal government of doing nothing to bring down the insecurity bedeviling the north, alleging that he suspected a conspiracy to annihilate the people and economy of the region. The governor did not mince words in his vitriolic comments against the federal government whose inaction he insisted was disheartening and crassly unbecoming.
The governor insisted that “we know that every gun is manufactured and they can be traced. So, we want to know who ordered the weapons, we want to know who transported them, because we know if one placed an order for weapons, he will have to fill up documents which will indicate the destination of the weapons, and the manufacturer will ensure that the weapons only reached the destination.” The governor further said that “we can easily trace how these weapons are being bought and how they were ferried into the hinterland from the port.” But why has the government not been able to address the issue of insurgency in the north? Could some powerful people be behind this gruesome act, as Governor Nyako alleged that only two groups of people could pass any security checkpoint without being scrutinized, and they are “executive officeholders, including the President and the governors,” and of course “security operatives”.
While raising further doubt on the ability of the government to tackle the crisis, the governor added that, “we were told that whenever they want to kill our children, the soldiers around the schools will be withdrawn or they will be directed not to repel the attackers,” alleging further that “we even learnt that a soldier was queried for trying to repel the attackers”.
In Benue State, the insecurity has a different outlook, as it is not linked to the dreaded Boko Haram sect. The most recent attacks by gunmen which have been credited to heinous attacks of Fulani herdsmen include the ransack of over 200 villages, killing of no fewer than 30 farmers, and the shooting at the convoy of Governor Gabriel Suswam in Guma local government area of the state. These gunmen always invaded the villages in the night and unleash terror on the residents, burning houses and places where foods and other items are stored. It is however not certain whether the perpetrators of these dastardly acts are really herdsmen that are in the agrarian state for grazing or members of the terrorists group.
However, it was learnt that the gunmen usually hide in the bushes and are seen with few cows during the day. But in the night, they attack villages, killing people and destroying their property. They seemed to have always surpass security checks and roadblocks mounted on strategic highways and local routes. But recently, men of the Nigeria Immigration Service in the state arrested over 251 illegal immigrants suspected to be terrorists in Makurdi, the state capital. They included artisans, water vendors and shoemakers who claimed to have migrated from Chad and Niger Republic in search of greener pasture. The police in the state also arrested an alleged Boko Haram kingpin at the Kanshio area of Makurdi. The police command disclosed that the suspected Boko Haram member was found with six blank cheques and copies of maps of some parts of the state, allegedly marked for destruction.
The Plateau State situation is as bad as that of Benue, as local government areas like Riyom, Barkin Ladi and Jos South are always spots of attacks allegedly by Fulani herdsmen. These areas have become blood spots arising from violent attacks that usually leave hundreds of people dead, thousands homeless and scores of houses destroyed.
Only recently, attacks in Barkin Ladi and Bokkos councils of the state by gunmen left about 29 people dead. It was learnt that the attacks took place in two villages, one of it Rakong near Kafi Abu. A former councillor in Barkin Ladi, Hon Davou confirmed that 12 people were killed during the attack in the area. In another attack in Rapyem village of Barkin Ladi no fewer than 13 people were confirmed killed in another fresh attacks by unknown gunmen in the area that included nine children. The majority leader of Plateau State House of Assembly, Hon Daniel Dem, described the attacks as sad, saying the constant killings of villagers were regrettable, while confirming that 10 persons, mostly women and children, were burned to death in Rim. In the same vein, another tension in Dadin Kowa and Gyel areas of Jos South LGA led to the alleged killings of nine hunters who were said to have gone out for hunting. The killings sparked a riot in Dadin Kowa.
However, villagers in the state are pointing accusing fingers at members of the Special Task Force (STF), as each time the attacks were carried out, military identity cards were allegedly found at the scene of the attacks. Furthermore, it is often alleged that the attacks are carried out always very close to military checkpoints or bases, raising the question that where were the military personnel when the attacks were being carried out?
Borno State is a hotbed spot of insurgency, as Boko Haram members have continued to unleash terror on the residents of the state, especially Maiduguri, the state capital. The residents have however taken up the role of protecting themselves by keeping night vigils to safeguard their community, having realised that even the heavy presence of policemen and soldiers would not guaranty their safety.
On Friday, March 14, 2014, gunmen, believed to be Boko Haram members, staged one of the most audacious attacks on the state capital. Their target was one of the state’s most fortified military facilities, the Giwa Barracks, headquarters of the 21 Brigade, where they stormed and killed soldiers and civilians, and freed their detained members. The terrorists, who had allegedly threatened to stage a deadly attack on Maiduguri, even as they boasted that on the day they would do so, nothing would stop them, eventually made real their threats. They drove in a convoy of 26 vehicles, comprising pickup vans and some armoured personnel carriers that were seized from soldiers months ago, and few motorcycles. They engaged the military in gun battle for more than four hours, even though they suffered major casualty at the end of the attack that sent over 10,000 residents fleeing from their homes. The Civilian-JTF, LEADERSHIP Sunday learnt, were mobilised in their thousands into the barracks to assist the soldiers, before the airforce fighter jets arrived.
Close to 500 corpses, mostly Boko Haram members, were buried last week in three mass graves. The incident had left many residents of Maiduguri in fear and lost of hope that peace would soon return to their region. Their major worry was that “how on earth could the Boko Haram march into Maiduguri, about 300 of them in broad daylight to boldly attack the barracks and residents living around the area; yet half of the soldiers deployed to the state are stationed in the state capital?”
However, the police commissioner in Borno State, Lawan Tanko, said “the police, as a collaborating force in the fight against the insurgency, may not be the right persons to pass a judgement on the operation”. He believes what the Nigerian forces are fighting in the northeast is tantamount to war, and the military is doing its best giving the fact that the fight is being fought not in a clearly defined field, but among civilian community. Boko Haram has stolen the people’s sleep, as hundreds of die-hard members of the Civilian-JTF, as well as courageous civilians, would rather remain awake, beating drums and singing anti-Boko Haram songs than going to bed, only to be slaughtered or shot by their common enemies.
In Katsina State, the recent attacks and subsequent murder of about 120 persons in two council areas of Faskari and Sabuwa remained the worst attacks in the history of the state. In the attacks, hapless citizens were gruesomely massacred with their houses and other properties destroyed in broad daylight. The villages of Mararabar Maigora, Maigora, Sabon Layin Galadima, Kurar Mota, Munhaye and Unguwar Doka of Fasakri and Sabuwa council areas came under heavy attacks. Findings indicated that the attackers stormed these villages on motorcycles and had a field day as they reigned terror on innocent villagers. They reportedly stormed the village wielding AK 47 rifles and other sophisticated weapons, attacking the residents without resistance from any quarter. Of course, these attacks have led to the displacement of thousands of persons, with women and children who are obviously most vulnerable being worst hit. Prior to the attacks in Faskari and Sabuwa council areas, gunmen, riding on a motorcycle, had attacked and killed three policemen at a checkpoint along Katsina-Kano Road. Quite disturbing also is the fact that few hours after the Faskari and Sabuwa attacks, the gunmen attacked officers of the Nigerian Customs Service at a checkpoint along Katsina-Jibiya Road. In the attack, three officers were wounded. However, victims of Faskari and Sabuwa attacks specifically claimed that the attackers were Fulani herdsmen, some of whom have left with the villagers before embarking on the attacks.
Musa Dalhatu Gafai, a retired security officer, said a lot still needed to be done in the area of intelligence gathering, urging security agencies to engage in serious synergy and information sharing, even as he stressed the need for residents to provide useful information to the security agencies. But even as people continued to raise concerns, there have been no reported cases of arrest let alone prosecution of suspected persons by the police or other security agencies.
In Taraba State, the police public relations officer, ASP Joseph Kwaji, told LEADERSHIP Sunday that the command has put numerous measures on ground to tackle the attacks by Fulani herdsmen. Kwaji said patrol teams have been put in place at various areas prone to Fulanis’ attacks to make sure that there is no breakdown of law and order. He also disclosed that intelligence operatives have been drafted to various areas to closely monitor the activities of the Fulani herdsmen and the native Tiv.
A victim of one of the communal attacks in the state, simply known as Kaaov, said he managed to fled to Takum town just by the grace of God. “The Fulani herdsmen always come to attack us at an odd time.” Kaaov, however, called on government to mobilise more security personnel to the affected communities to check the escalation of the crisis.
Among major security challenges facing Zamfara State are the persistent attacks and killings of innocent people by alleged cattle rustlers and periodic strikes by unknown gunmen. Incidences of such attacks by gunmen have often assumed different strategies, while the gunmen would sometimes appear in military uniforms to deceive the people in the area. But in most of the reported cases, they were spotted on msswotorbikes in many operations. In one of such attacks in Anka local government area of the state, over 70 suspected gunmen, allegedly dressed in military uniforms, attacked Bawar Daji community in the area, causing serious confusion that forced most of the residents, including the district and village heads, to flee for safety. Although the gunmen were believed to be suspected Fulani herdsmen as disclosed by the police command, questions were being raised on how the unsophisticated rural Fulani herdsmen could have had access to military uniforms and also lay their hands on dangerous weapons like the AK47 rifles used.
In a recent attack, a large group of gunmen allegedly in military uniform, numbering over 50, attacked Damba village in Gusau local government, killing one Usha’u Aliyu and made away with some amount of money. An eyewitness and the father of the deceased, Mallam Aliyu Usman, said the bandits besieged the village at about 1.00am in a house-to-house operation, beating any victim who failed to produce some amounts of money.
A female victim, Malama Aina’u, narrates that she was awoken by a frightening bang on the main entrance of her house, and when she came out of her room she saw a large group of strange men in “military uniform”, wearing helmet, “when they suddenly grabbed me and asked me to show them my husband”.
Continuing, she said, “I told them in fear that my husband had travelled,” but they left one of their members to guard her as they searched her house. “But the man left to guard me begun to assault me sexually.” Another female victim, Hajiya Dubu Hassan, said she was mercilessly beaten and robbed of the sum of N10,000, but according to her, “the robbers later gave me N5,000 out of the money to take care of my seven young orphans.”
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