As Nigerians continued to decry and churches accross the country protested the rising wave of killings due to mostly farmers and herders’ clashes in several states, especially the Middle Belt region, a chronology of the deaths compiled by THISDAY has shown that a total of 901 persons have been reportedly murdered in the Middle Belt alone in the first four months of 2018.
The number includes 19 persons reportedly killed in Birnin Gwari Local Government Area of Kaduna State and in Gwer West Local Government Area in Benue State at the weekend, another 50 persons who were murdered in Offa, Kwara State, after armed robbers attacked and robbed five banks early this month, as well as those killed in pockets of ethno-religious clashes in the region.
It, however, excluded those who died from Boko Haram attacks in Borno, Yobe and Adamawa States, illnesses, childbirth, cholera and Lassa fever, among others.
The states covered by the compilation comprised Benue, Taraba, Kaduna (mostly Southern Kaduna), Kwara, Plateau, Nassarawa, Niger, Kogi and Adamawa.
According to the chronology on persons reportedly cut down violently in the region in the first four months of 2018, April recorded the highest number of deaths as 412 persons were killed this month alone.
It was followed by January, during which at least 272 persons were killed, March recorded 162 deaths while 62 persons were reportedly killed in February.
In all, Benue State recorded the highest number of reported deaths as 308 persons were killed in the state in the first four months of 2018. The state has also recorded an increase in the destruction of property and farmlands in the period under review, as well as thousands of displaced persons who have been chased away from their homesteads.
Also, the compilation showed that 192 persons were killed in Taraba State in the first four months of the year, while in Kaduna, 75 deaths have been recorded.
In the same vein, 84 persons were killed in Plateau State due to attacks blamed on suspected herdsmen in the first four months of the year, while 127 persons were reportedly killed in Nassarawa.
In Adamawa State, the number of persons that were reported to have died due to clashes between farmers and herders was put at 56, while 43 were killed in Kogi.
Nigerians have continued to condemn the spate of killings in the region.
Governor Samuel Ortom of Benue State, whose state has accounted for the highest number of deaths, has insisted that the perpetrators of the gruesome murders must be apprehended, saying that such barbaric acts were unacceptable in the 21st century.
He has continued to reiterate his call for the arrest of the leadership of Miyetti Allah Kautal Hore whom he has accused of sponsoring the Fulani herdsmen militia and was still moving freely in Abuja while giving directives to the mercenaries.
Also, the Senate last week summoned President Muhammadu Buhari to appear before it to provide a comprehensive briefing on the efforts of his administration to addressing the increasing security challenges in Benue, Taraba and other states in the region.
This came just a day after the House of Representatives issued a similar summon to the president.
The Senate, however, said it would liaise with the House of Representatives to have a joint session with the president.
The President of the Senate, Dr. Bukola Saraki, said the briefing by the president would afford the lawmakers the opportunity to know what was really going on with regards to security.
After the briefing, the Senate would then deliberate and take a position on the call for a state of emergency in Benue, and on the status of the service chiefs, Saraki had said.
19 Killed in Kaduna, Benue
Despite the rising death toll since the beginning of the year, yet another 19 persons were reportedly killed at the weekend following the invasion of Janruwa community, Maganda District in Birnin Gwari Local Government Area of Kaduna State, and of Gwer West Local Government Area in Benue State.
About 13 others who sustained injuries in Birnin Gwari were rushed to the hospital.
The Janruwa incident was said to have occurred at about 1 p.m. on Saturday when gunmen stormed the community and started shooting indiscriminately in all directions.
The victims were said to be local miners and the villagers. Some of those killed were said to have been burnt beyond recognition by the bandits.
According to an eyewitness, seven corpses were taken to the morgue at the Jibril Maigwari General Hospital, Birnin Gwari, while others were buried in accordance with Islamic rites.
The 13 persons who sustained injuries from gunshots were rushed to a hospital in Kaduna for treatment, said the eyewitness.
There was concern that the casualty figure may rise as several people were still missing yesterday.
A resident of the area who pleaded anonymity said the Birnin Gwari area was under siege by armed bandits.
“We are living in perpetual fear. We cannot go to the market or farms, we are not safe in our homes. We are once again under siege and we need urgent intervention by both the state and federal governments,” he said.
Confirming the incident, the Kaduna State Police Commissioner, Austin Iwar, however, said 10 persons were killed while 13 others were injured.
According to him, six of those injured were taken to the Birnin Gwari General Hospital while others were taken to Kaduna for treatment.
Suspected Fulani herdsmen on Sunday also attacked and killed five residents of Agagbe settlement in Gwer West Local Government Area of Benue State.
A resident of the community Ternenge Aondonna disclosed that the herdsmen invaded the community unprovoked and began to shoot at the people.
He said many residents fled as the sporadic shooting was going on.
He said five bodies were discovered but added that many people were still missing.
The police were yet to confirm the latest killings, as phone calls to the police spokesman in Benue State were not answered.
Pope Decries Benue Church Attack
Meanwhile, Pope Francis has decried the attack on St. Ignatius’ Catholic Church last week that killed 15 people, including two priests.
In his remarks yesterday to the public at St. Peter’s Square, Vatican City, the pontiff prayed for Nigeria’s Christian community to find harmony and peace, reported the Associated Press (AP).
The massacre last week occurred in Benue State, which has recently seen a series of attacks, many linked to an ongoing dispute between farmers and herdsmen.
The president had described the attacks on the church as an attempt to stoke a religious conflict.
Also reacting to the unending killings in the country, especially in the Middle Belt, Nigeria’s Nobel Laureate Prof. Wole Soyinka yesterday called on Buhari to order all land-usurpers in the affected towns and villages across the nation to quit those forcefully occupied lands within 48 hours.
Soyinka, in a statement he personally signed, also called on the president to issue orders to the military and the police to ensure that wherever illegal occupiers are found, they should be meted the same treatment as are accorded terrorists.
The Nobel Laureate, in his characteristic allegorical prose, used tomorrow’s May Day celebrations to ask Buhari to issue the orders.
In the statement titled, Mayday! Mayday! Mayday! Soyinka said: “Mayday, uttered three times, is the distress call used to signal a life-threatening emergency primarily by aviators and mariners.
“Long before its adoption for that function, however, and more traditionally, there did exist Labour (or Workers’) Day, dedicated to the entitlement of workers to the value and dignity of their labour.
“The Nigerian constituency is left to determine which attribution — or both, or none — is deafeningly clamorous this May 1 of this year, 2018.
“No matter, one feels it a duty to call the attention to the painful convergence of both appropriations. Could such a co-option serve equally as a summons for a last-chance, eleventh-hour reprieve?
“There are certain eerie parallels in the Nigerian present to a certain Mayday disorder, one in which that distress call was never heard. Aeroflot Flight 593 of September 28, 1994, was such an event, a flight in which all occupants of that plane perished. After preliminary official denials, the undeniable – and the tragically inappropriate factor of the crash was formally acknowledged – a laissez-faire, unprofessional conduct with human lapses, among which nepotism – by that, or any other name – loomed large.
“The captain was not even in the pilot’s seat – others were! They were the pilot’s family – mostly his children. The family member who actually begun the spiral of disaster by pulling the wrong control leaver was – the captain’s son, to whom his even younger daughter, some moments earlier, had yielded the controls. The pilot’s seat had been turned into a family game of musical chairs.
“Where was the captain? Somewhere along the aisle, saluting the passengers – all quite proper, and indeed encouraged by regulations. He had placed the plane on autopilot – just as this nation has been for some time – so he walked between the seats, dispensing and acknowledging greetings – it was a long flight to Hong Kong, after all.
“The plane went into a sharp turn after the wrong lever was pulled, and the autopilot disengaged. The original flight pattern was annulled – does that echo a campaign manifesto? – and the plane was now in unqualified hands.
“It took ages for the pilot to regain his control seat as some passengers were already tumbling from their seats into the aisle and he had to fight his way through bodily obstacles. All that, from a reconstruction of events.
“The ‘black box’ – or flight recorder – indicated that the pilot never even got round to shouting ‘Mayday’ over the radio – he was too busy struggling to restore the plane’s technical functions, shout instructions, pull the plane out of a nose-dive, and attempt to right the craft – too late!”
Using this narrative of the circumstances that led to the crash of Aeroflot Flight 593, Soyinka flash forwarded two decades later to the present, recalling the number of desperate organisations calling on the Nigerian captain (Buhari) to bury his pride and cry “Mayday” across all airwaves.
He said Buhari should call on the international community for assistance to rescue the country “on its terminal nose-dive”.
Setting aside his parable, Soyinka called on the president to give a nation-wide order to all land-usurpers in the affected towns and villages across the nation to quit those forcefully occupied lands within a 48-hour deadline.
“Issue orders to the military and the police that, wherever illegal occupiers are found, they should be meted the same treatment as are accorded terrorists.
“Instruct all agencies that, once cleared of usurpers, the rightful occupants should be escorted back to their farmsteads and villages and provided maximum protection.
“We must go beyond arresting a token handful of herders caught with arms – there are still hundreds of them in the forests. It is not enough to back the anti-open grazing laws, so late in the day, but we shall leave that for later.
“Right now, the violated and dispossessed demand restitution, and with no further delay or subterfuge. All available forces should be deployed to right a hideous, unprecedented wrong that has left the nation drowning in blood – we simply cannot continue one day longer to endure this forceful feeding off human blood.”
He described the continuing bloodshed in the country as “ethnic cleansing”, saying Nigerians must no longer beat around the bush. “The shade of Rwanda hangs over the nation,” he added.
Soyinka also called for investigations to identify the “high-placed sponsors” behind the killings, “some of whom have launched mercenary units to intensify carnage and chaos in order to stem the stride of Nemesis closing in on them for past criminalities and the cascade of corrupt revelations”.
Meanwhile, a map produced by a U.S. development agency in Februrary has shown that a Boko Haram splinter group Islamic State in West Africa (ISWA) continues to occupy large swathes of Borno and Yobe States, stretching into the Lake Chad Basin.
The report by Reuters which sited the map, belies the continued claims by the Buhari administration that it has “technically defeated” the terrorists and they no longer occupy any territory in the country.
The report shows that from ISWA, from the shores of Lake Chad, is on a mission to win over the local people.
Digging wells, giving out seeds and fertiliser and providing safe pasture for herders are among the inducements offered by ISWA, which split from Nigeria’s Boko Haram in 2016.
“If you are a herder, driver or trader, they won’t touch you – just follow their rules and regulations governing the territory,” said a herder, who moves cattle in and out of ISWA territory and whose identity Reuters is withholding for his safety. “They don’t touch civilians, just security personnel.”
The campaign, which has created an economy for ISWA to tax, is part of the armed insurgent group’s push to control territory in Northeastern Nigeria and in Niger.
ISWA stretches farther and is more entrenched than officials have acknowledged, according to witnesses, people familiar with the insurgency, researchers and Western diplomats who have for the first time provided details of the group’s growing efforts to establish a form of administration in the Lake Chad area.
A map produced by the U.S. development agency in February showed how ISWA territory extends more than 100 miles into the Northeastern Nigerian states of Borno and Yobe, where government has in many areas all but vanished after a decade of conflict.
The Islamists have not been defeated, as the Nigerian government claims, and researchers said ISWA, less extreme than Boko Haram, has evolved into the dominant group. The U.S. map paints a similar picture, with ISWA operating in much of Borno.
“Islamic State has a terrible reputation for being so brutal around the world, and people can’t imagine an Islamic State faction could be more moderate (than Boko Haram),” said Jacob Zenn, of The Jamestown Foundation in Washington D.C.
The Lake Chad countries – Nigeria, Niger, Chad and Cameroon – have long neglected the region, allowing ISWA to create a stronghold from which to launch attacks. Its gains contrast with setbacks for Islamic State in Syria and Iraq.
It makes sense for ISWA to organise the local economy and raise taxes, said Vincent Foucher, who studies Boko Haram at the French National Centre for Science Research.
“It opens the longer game of trying to create a connection to people,” he said, adding that if ISWA succeeds it may become a greater threat than Boko Haram.
In 2015, Buhari pledged to finish off Boko Haram. Officials have maintained that this has been achieved, although the conflict continues into its tenth year. A presidency spokesman declined to comment for this story, said Reuters.
Analysts estimate that ISWA has 3,000-5,000 fighters, about double Boko Haram’s strength. But ISWA’s territory is not completely secure. The Nigerian Air Force often bombs, and troops from Lake Chad countries attack the insurgents’ domain around its shores and islands.
Nigeria’s Armed Forces “just see them as Boko Haram,” said Brigadier General John Agim, spokesman for the Nigerian military, at a briefing. “We are not interested in the faction, what has that got to do with it?”
“They are not a government, they kidnap girls from schools,” Agim told Reuters in a separate interview.
The military has announced an operation “to totally destroy Boko Haram locations in the Lake Chad Basin” – ISWA’s domain – and end the insurgency within four months.
But ISWA has so far proven intractable in its Lake Chad bases, where troops have been unable to make effective inroads, according to a Western diplomat who follows the group. The Nigerian military had “completely lost the initiative against the insurgency,” they said.
The diplomat said ISWA was ready to cede less important areas because the military could not hold them. “However, they maintain absolute control over the islands and immediate areas near them where they train, live, etc.”
The U.S., British and French militaries are helping regional governments with intelligence and training. Western officials declined, or did not respond to, requests for comment.
ISWA protects locals from Boko Haram, something Nigeria’s army cannot always do. That, according to one of the people with knowledge of the insurgency, has won the group local backing and eroded support for the military.
ISWA is led by Abu Musab al-Barnawi, the son of Boko Haram’s founder, Muhammed Yusuf, whose killing by the police in 2009 sparked an Islamist insurgency in Nigeria that, according to the Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project, has so far cost more than 34,000 lives.
ISWA’s leaders are low-profile, not appearing in videos or claiming responsibility for attacks, possibly to avoid the international media, and the ire of regional governments.
This contrasts with the wholesale violence of Boko Haram under the publicity-hungry Abubakar Shekau, who has executed even close lieutenants. His group has strapped suicide bombs to women and children to attack civilians in mosques, markets and refugee camps.
Boko Haram and ISWA are bloody rivals, but some travellers in ISWA territory feel safer than elsewhere in Nigeria’s Northeast.
“They have checkpoints for stop and search, and if you are a regular visitor they know you,” said a second herder, adding that ISWA has spies everywhere, including informers who alert them to military attacks.
He described seeing Islamic State’s black flags and said preachers were used to win people over.
Under ISWA, men must wear long beards, night-time movements are restricted, and prayers are compulsory, the herder said. Offenders can get 40 lashes.
The herders said ISWA provides safe grazing for about N2,500 ($8) a cow and N1,500 ($5) for smaller animals. ISWA also runs slaughterhouses for the cattle, taking a cut for each animal, as well as from other activities like gathering firewood.
Maiduguri is the biggest city in Nigeria’s Northeast, the centre of the military’s fight against Boko Haram.But rural areas largely remain no-go zones for the authorities. It is there that ISWA is making its mark, offering people protection, particularly from Boko Haram.
“Al-Barnawi is sending people into IDP (displaced persons) camps to encourage people to return and farm, and the people are,” said a person with knowledge of ISWA’s activities.
The person said Nigeria’s military plays into the insurgents’ hands by shutting down markets to deny supplies to the group, while ISWA encourages business.
“They are friendly and nice to those who come to the area, while they indoctrinate other people and sometimes they bring motorcycles for those who want to join them,” a charcoal maker said.
Despite its name, experts believe ISWA’s ties to Islamic State in the Middle East are limited.
“What’s clear from ISWA primary source documents is that ISWA has asked IS for theological guidance on who it is lawful to attack,” said Zenn. Daily activities, including military operations, are left to its own leaders, he said.
Others say the insurgency lacks the broader appeal of Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.
“ISWA is the largest IS affiliate, but it’s very much a Nigerian organisation. It doesn’t have foreign fighters coming, it’s hard to get to this place,” said the Western diplomat.
What fighters it does have can carry out targeted attacks, including the February kidnapping of 100 schoolgirls from the town of Dapchi, most later released without explanation, and a deadly raid on a Nigerian military base in March.
But ISWA faces a dilemma: while wooing the population, it has harshly punished those who resist it, for example massacring dozens of fishermen last August, and this could hurt its standing with local people.
“It’s important not to paint too rosy a picture,” said Foucher, the researcher.
TIMELINE ON KILLINGS IN MIDDLE BELT SINCE JAN 1
· January 1 – 73 killed in Logo and Guma LGAs in Benue
· January 1 – 2 killed in Awe LGA, Nasarawa
· January 1 – 25 Killed in Keana LGA, Nasarawa
· January 3 – 3 killed in Markurdi, Benue State
· January 4 – 6 killed in Wukari in Taraba
· January 4 – 1 killed in Gassol LGA, Taraba
· January 5 – 4 Killed in Lau LGA, Taraba
· January 5 – 15 killed in Tse Akombo, Tse Vii and Tse Agule vilages in Benue
· January 6 – 55 killed in Lau LGA in Taraba State
· January 8 – 3 killed in Sardauna LGA, Taraba
· January 8 – Two policemen killed in Logo, Benue State
· January 13 – 10 killed in Birnin Gwari LGA, Kaduna
· January 13 – 1 killed in Makurdi LGA, Benue
· January 14 – 1 killed in Bassa LGA, Plateau
· January 14 – 1 killed in Ibi LGA, Taraba
· January 16 – 5 killed in Madagali LGA, Adamawa
· January 16 – 5 killed in Guma, Logo and Okpokwu LGAs Benue
· January 18 – 11 killed in Madagali LGA, Adamawa
· January 21 – 1 killed in Barkin Ladi LGA, Plateau
· January 21 – 6 killed in Juman LGA, Adamawa
· January 23 – 9 killed in Ardo Kola, Adamawa
· January 24 – 4 killed in Kaiama, Kwara
· January 25 – 15 killed in Bassa LGA, Plateau
· January 26 – 3 killed in Bassa LGA, Plateau
· January 26 – 2 killed in Ukum, Benue
· January 29 – 1 killed in Guma, Benue
· January 31 – 1 killed in Jema’a LGA, Kaduna
· January 31 –9 killed in Birnin Gwari, Kaduna
· February 1 – 4 killed in Gassol, Taraba
· February 2 –10 killed in Song, Adamawa
· February 5 – 2 killed in Guma, Benue
· February 6 – 8 killed in Obi, Nasarawa
· February 8 – 6 killed in Shellen, Adamawa
· February 10 – 2 killed in Benue
· February 10 – 3 killed in Bassa, Plateau
· February 11 – 4 killed in Jema’a, Kaduna
· February 12 – 2 killed in Guma, Benue
· February 26 – 12 killed in Kajuru, Kaduna
· February 27 – 20 killed in Demsa, Adamawa
· March 1 – 15 killed in Saradauna, Taraba
· March 4 – 20 killed in Saradauna, Taraba
· March 5 – 25 killed in Okpokwu, Benue
· March 7 – 2 killed in Takum, Taraba
· March 8 – 11 killed in Bassa, Plateau
· March 9 – 9 killed in Bokkos, Plateau
· March 12 – 26 killed in Bassa, Plateau
· March 13 – 7 killed in Guma, Benue
· March 13 – 1 killed in Lokoja, Kogi
· March 14 – 32 killed in Daima/Omala, Kogi
· March 14 – 6 killed in Bassa, Plateau
· March 15 – 5 killed in Takum, Taraba
· March 19 –10 killed in Omala, Kogi
· March 20 – 11 killed in Birnin Gwari, Kaduna
· March 22 – 3 killed in Jos South, Plateau
· March 24 – 5 killed in Makurdi, Benue
· March 30 – 6 killed in Jema’a, Kaduna
· April 4 – 6 killed in Chikun, Kaduna
· April 4 – 4 killed in Takum, Taraba
· April 4 – 10 killed in Gwer West, Benue
· April 5 – 5 killed in Dobga, Taraba
· April 5 – 30 killed in Gwer West, Benue
· April 5 – 50 killed in Offa, Kwara*
· April 7 – 4 killed in Bali, Taraba
· April 7 – 2 killed in Agatu, Benue
· April 8 – 5 killed in Birkin Ladi, Plateau State
· April 8 – 5 murdered in Obi, Nasarawa
· April 8 – 4 killed in Keana, Nasarawa
· April 9 – 1 killed in Guma, Benue
· April 10 – 10 murdered in Benue
· April 10 – 51 killed in Wukari, Taraba
· April 12 – 2 killed in Markudi, Benue
· April 12 – 2 murdered in Birnin Gwari, Kaduna
· April 13 – 5 killed in Bassa, Kogi
· April 14 – 4 killed in Logo, Benue
· April 14 – 78 murdered in Obi, Nasarawa
· April 17 – 1 killed in Logo, Benue
· April 18 – 4 killed in Bassa, Plateau
· April 19 – 1 killed in Kutigi, Niger
· April 19 – 1 killed in Gwer West, Benue
· April 20 – 31 killed in Guma, Benue
· April 25 – 19 killed in Gwer East, Benue
· April 25 – 38 killed in Guma, Benue
· April 25 – 7 killed in Awe, Nassarawa
· April 28 – 14 killed in Birnin Gwari, Kaduna
· April 29 – 5 killed in Gwer West, Benue