Herdsmen: The rise of military’s death toll
For three years running since the advent of the presidency of the Fulani – born major General Muhammadu Buhari, his kinsmen have escalated targeted violent campaign of arson; mass killings and deprivation of farming assets of persons in different communities all around Nigeria.
Their bloody insurgency has adversely affected the public rating of the current President just as the calculated and tacit support given to the activities of these rogue herdsmen by the current lopsided national security team made up of predominantly Fulanis has provided the needed body of evidence to conclude that it's possible that the serial attacks by armed Fulani herdsmen may have the imprimatur of some top persons within the Presidency.
The fact that the spokesman of the Nigerian Police Force called the Benue state governor a drowning man because he asked that the incompetent Inspector General of Police be removed shows that there may be more to these killings than the eyes of the ordinary people of Nigeria can see. As our imaginations run riots on the poor response mechanisms by the current administrators, the armed Fulani herdsmen have left us with an assurance that they truly came prepared for a long drawn out battles. The evidence is in the casualty figures from these bloody attacks.
As the attacks by armed Fulani herdsmen becomes more deadly and sophisticated by the day, the critical question on the lips of Nigerians is why the commander-in-chief of the Nigerian Armed Forces has so far failed to activate military mechanisms to flush out these armed Fulani herdsmen and restore normalcy in these flashpoints made up of mostly Northern minorities and largely Christians.
In such states like Southern Kaduna; Taraba, Adamawa, Benue and Nasarawa, these dare devil and well-armed Fulani herdsmen have successfully carried out horrendous and devastating violent attacks even as the many deadly attacks by them in Benue alone has led to the killings of nearly a thousand persons.
But what has come out of the presidency is only political drama and some sugar -coated press statements.
President Buhari who came under heavy torrents of criticisms for choosing to go partying at the colourful wedding of the daughter of the Kano State governor rather than pay solidarity visits to such places like Dapchi in Yobe state whereby 104 school girls were snatched away by armed terror group of boko haram terrorists, capitulated and belatedly visited these flashpoints of frequent attacks including Benue state that has clearly become the epicenter of the armed Fulani insurgency.
Recall that Benue State is being attacked after Miyetti Allah cattle owners association rejected the anti-open grazing law and threatened actions. So there is a nexus between the anti-open grazing law of Benue State; the call by President Muhammadu Buhari on Benue to accommodate other Nigerians, the open defiance of the anti-grazing law by the IGP Alhaji Ibrahim Kpotum Idriss and the widespread killings of villagers and forceful takeover of farmlands by the marauding armed Fulani herdsmen.
However, these bloody attacks are not good enough to elicit decisive steps such as swift military deployment and the classification of the parent body of cattle owners as a terrorists group because of their documented evidential records of showing support for these bloody attacks. It took many weeks after over 100 Benue people were killed before the Military authority started contemplated possinle deployment. The IGP has also failed to disarm these armed Fulani herdsmen brandishing Ak-47 and other weapons of mass destruction but has instead gone after members of lawfully established vigilante groups to retrieve double barrel guns issued to them after licencing them to bear arms. However, armed Fulani herdsmen have increased their impunity just as they aren't hiding anymore about who is responsible for all of these attacks.
In Benue State, a leader of Miyetti Allah cattle owners association was quoted on British Broadcasting Service, Hausa section, claiming that Fulani herdsmen had to attack Benue State because the villagers were rustling their cows. In Plateau these armed Fulani herdsmen restarted their campaign of violence after Miyetti Allah Cattle Owners Association published a media statement alleging that some cows were stolen by some Plateau youth.
However, the annoying silence of the president, his failure to take earliest decisive military steps and his assertions that the blocking of grazing routes by states is the cause of the attacks is seen as playing whilst the country burns. The President is behaving like a man whose house is on fire but who was more concerned about catching rays that are running away from the inferno.
But these armed Fulani herdsmen have upped their game by waging daring attacks not only targeting civilian soft targets but have been known on many occasions to have actually fought face -to- face with operatives of the Nigerian armed forces and police as if to tell Mr. President that they perfectly decoded his body language.
In a part of Mambila whereby the armed Fulani herdsmen and certain suspected local militia have engaged each other in rounds of bloody battles, over a dozen mobile policemen were slaughtered by suspected armed Fulani herdsmen who reportedly had attacked some villages and when confronted by the police apparently overcame the police with their superior fire power..
The photographs of these slaughtered MOPOL operatives were splashed on social media pages even as the gory and gruesome nature of the killings of these law enforcement agents on the line of duty has compelled observers to accuse president Muhammadu Buhari of being soft with these armed Fulani herdsmen as against his hasty proscription as a terrorists group of the unarmed indigenous people of Biafra (IPOB) which never killed even a fly. Mind you, Amnesty International has it on records based on forensic evidence that the military killed over 800 unarmed IPOB members even as many were tortured during the month long operation python dance two.
Bombarded and possibly rattled by these accusations of partiality in the handling of the rampaging bloody violence unleashed by armed Fulani herdsmen, President Muhammadu Buhari then visited Benue State and other flashpoints whereby he confessed to a bewildered nation that his Inspector General of police disrespected his instruction to relocate to Benue State and beef up the tempo of counter attacks against armed Fulani herdsmen.
Buhari also issued a tepid and watery media instruction that any armed Fulani herdsmen seen with AK-47 should be arrested and prosecuted.
There is no information to demonstrate his commitment to instruct the armed security forces to crush these armed Fulani herdsmen whose activities have so far enjoyed government support at the highest echelons including the subtle justification made by Defence Minister.
Following on the heels of the not so encouraging remarks by Buhari that armed Fulani herdsmen be arrested, the military authority that had stood by and watched as armed Fulani herdsmen unleashed blood cuddling mass killings, then made what they called reading riot act on murders by armed Fulani in Benue, Taraba and other states.
The Nigerian Army warned perpetrators of the killings and destruction of property in Adamawa, Benue and Taraba states to desist forth-with, saying the Rules of Engagement (ROE) against arson and murder were to apply henceforth.
In a statement by the Director Army Public Relations, Brig. Gen Texas Chukwu, the military said it was working with other security agencies to ensure that the perpetrators were brought to book.
The statement reads in part: “The attention of the Nigerian Army has drawn to the continued disturbing, senseless killings and wanton destruction of properties in Adamawa, Benue and Taraba states.
“In view of this, we strongly warn the perpetrators of these crimes to desist forth-with. The Nigerian Army, in conjunction with sister services and other security agencies, is working assiduously to identify and arrest all those involved regardless of their disposition in the society, including government functionaries.
“We would like to unequivocally reiterate that the Army Headquarters warns the arsonists and killers to stop or face decisive action by troops.
“Our rules of Engagement (ROE) is clear on arson and murder, therefore, no such criminal acts would be allowed in any of the aforementioned states.”
But the dare devil armed Fulani herdsmen immediately made nonsense of the presidential belated directive and the so-called riot act read to the military on the unprecedented mass killings by armed Fulani attackers just as these attackers have now attacked and killed soldiers to show that they meant business.
The military outfit in Plateau, Operation Safe Haven (OPSH), has confirmed the death of two of its officers in a fresh attack following the mass burial on Tuesday of 29 persons in Bassa council area of the state.
The spokesman, Major Adam Umar, who confirmed the development, said two others were receiving treatment in an undisclosed hospital.
He said; "There was a clash between the tribes, Irigwe and Fulani where both of them were trading allegations and accusations today (yesterday) which resulted in the clash.."
"The situation is under control now. Eight persons were arrested from both sides. We have also recovered ammunition. Two of our men lost their lives in the clash while two are in the hospital now receiving treatment."
"We have reinforced security within the area. We now have a fighter jet which has also been introduced to enhance surveillance so that any troublemaker is picked up by the military. There have also motorcycles to pierce through difficult terrains as well as vehicles."
"As I speak, the leaders of the two warring factions are at the Government House for a serious stakeholders' meeting at the instance of the state government."
The youths reportedly mobilized and were sighted by reporters to retaliate by venting their anger by allegedly setting ablaze houses of herdsmen in the locality. The herders, in turn, responded leading to sporadic shooting in Rafiki village.
The incident, according to an eyewitness, started around 5:00a.m. With four locals attacked before fleeing the area. He noted that one person died while the remaining critically injured three people had been admitted at the Bingham University Teaching Hospital in Jos.
According to him, what really irked the herdsmen was the arrest of four of theirs, armed with AK 47 rifles, by the police on Tuesday.
He said houses were burnt, gunshots heard, as natives flee homes for safer places.
He disclosed that the scene was close to Dong village and Wild Life Park, two kilometers away from Jos, the capital city, expressing the fear that the crisis might engulf the city if mishandled.
But as the Irigwe youths allegedly started the offensive, the OPSH (soldiers) operatives swung into action and arrest the situation.
Relatedly, armed Fulani herdsmen killed a Catholic catechist at Tse Orogbo, while his brother-in-law, Ayem Mbakuur, escaped unhurt in Benue.. The two were said to be heading for the 6.30a.m. Mass when the attack occurred.
Same day, two brothers - Aondowase and Ahanbee Uma - were reportedly ambushed and killed by herders in Guma council area of the state, according to newspaper accounts.
The media gathered from locals at Yelewata that the two bodies were recovered by youths after an alarm to the police after being deposited at an undisclosed morgue.
The victims were said to be returning from Yelewata market on a motorbike around 8:00p.m. When they ran into an ambush by the herdsmen who later set their motorcycle ablaze.
A community source, who pleaded anonymity, told the media that one of the survivors, Orihyev Nyaga, shot on the left hand, said he was returning from the market on a motorcycle when he ran into a road block mounted by the herdsmen.
As death toll from armed Fulani attacks on the part of the military has now started to embark on a progressive upward swing, what is left for the imagination of Nigerians is when president Buhari will act like a statesman that his supporters claim he is, and declare armed Fulani herdsmen and their backers known as Miyetti Allah Cattle Owners Association as a terror organization. The time to act is now. Luckily, more people are beginning to mount pressures on Buhari to declare armed Fulani herdsmen as terrorists. The latest is the Nobel laureate Professor Wole Soyinka who has just been quoted in the media as stating that in Lagos. The President must take concrete steps to stop the carnival of bloodthirsty violence by armed Fulani herdsmen.
*Emmanuel Onwubiko is head of Human Rights Writers Association of Nigeria and blogs @ www.huriwanigeria.com ; www.emmanuelonwubiko.com ; www.huriwablogspot.com .