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Ending bloodbath in North-Central – Punch

By The Citizen
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The bloodbath in the North-Central states has continued for so long, inuring the public and media to an unfolding human tragedy. While national and global attention is riveted on the atrocities of Boko Haram terrorists, bloodletting, arson, brigandage, rape and impunity are on the rampage in large parts of the region with attendant human misery and economic ruin. The federal and state governments concerned need to respond more effectively to halt this descent into anarchy.

Never since the run-up to, and during, the Nigeria Civil War have so much violence and bloodletting gripped the country. In parts of the North-Central states, pogroms and what some describe as ethnic cleansing are clearly in evidence. Cattle rustlers and herdsmen continue to pillage villages and slaughter their inhabitants, joined often by ethnic militias and mercenaries disguised as herdsmen. The carnage has not only shattered the social cohesion of the region and cast its over 200 odd ethnic nationalities into mutually hostile camps, people are dying in their thousands and the economy is in tatters. Government's tepid response should give way to a more effective strategy before the entire Northern Nigeria implodes into a lawless wasteland.

From Nasarawa to Kaduna, Plateau to Taraba and Benue to Kogi states, peace has departed many communities. Just last week, 38 persons, mostly women and children, were killed by gunmen who attacked some villages in southern Kaduna State's Sanga Local Government Area. At the end of the mayhem, the local people recorded a death toll of 200. The state had witnessed a similar mayhem in January when seven members of the same family were slaughtered in Manchok; about 100 persons died in attacks on three villages in Kaura LGA in March, while six persons were killed during an attack on Fadan Karshi village. Last Saturday, gunmen ambushed and killed 13 Fulani herdsmen in Maihula, Bali LGA of Taraba State.

Hundreds have been similarly slaughtered in Plateau, the formerly renowned centre of hospitality. There is a common element in the mayhem: everywhere, Fulani herdsmen are fingered as prime perpetrators of pogroms and mindless slaughter of the innocent, with local youths staging equally bloody reprisals. In Benue, several villages have been sacked in the last one year in a war of attrition on Tiv villages, allegedly by Fulani gunmen and mercenaries. The war between the two has spread from Benue, Plateau and Nasarawa to Taraba State, with Wukari as its epicentre. Between 270 and 300 persons are estimated to have been killed in Wukari in the three months to June this year.

So far, the Federal Government has failed to understand the dynamics of the onslaught on communities in the Middle-Belt and further southwards. According to rights groups tracking ethno-religious conflicts in Nigeria, murderous attacks by 'Fulani herdsmen' have spread through all the Middle-Belt states, predominantly non-Muslim, minority areas of the north-eastern and north-western states and down to the southern states.

Indeed, the pattern of attacks, the state's response to them and the reactions of the northern majority elite have persuaded groups such as the minority self-determination associations, the Northern chapters of the Christian Association of Nigeria and several state and federal legislators from the zone that there is a deliberate ethnic cleansing agenda under way to drive millions away from their homelands and fill them with new nationalities or, at least, dilute the majority of the indigenous population. The Fulani on the other hand, allege that their cattle are often stolen and their families attacked by locals.

Human Rights Watch estimates that over 150,000 persons have died in ethno-religious conflicts in Nigeria since 1979. Since 1986, the North-Central zone has accounted for a significant number of this figure.

Inter-ethnic conflict in the North-Central zone is doubly vicious because it invariably becomes ethno-religious and sectarian. At the root of the conflict is usually contest over land ownership and access to water sources. Unlike ethnic conflicts among southern nationalities, however, minority ethnic groups in the North are often mostly Christians, while the Fulani, Hausa and associated ethnic groups are predominantly Muslims. Since the minorities are predominant in the Middle-Belt and southern parts of the North-East and North-West, their conflicts with the Fulani and Hausa invariably assume a religious dimension. The International Crisis Group also explains that the prolonged Sahelian drought has forced the herdsmen southwards from Chad, Niger Republic and far Northern Nigeria to contend for grazing land and water with agrarian communities in the Middle-Belt, leading to conflict and violence.

But the crucial factor promoting violence in the region is the evil convergence of politics and religion. The Northern political elite has for long used religion to gain political ascendancy and, in the process, has spawned violent religious extremist groups that preach a hate-filled ideology that seeks to exterminate opposing faiths and their adherents.

We cannot continue on this self-destructive path. The Federal Government needs to overhaul its entire security apparatus and restructure the intelligence, police and military for greater efficiency. Violence continues to escalate despite the existence of numerous task forces and deployment of military in 33 out of the 36 states of the federation. Moles, traitors and officers who take sides in the sectarian and ethnic strife should be identified and severely punished to deter others.

The vaunted cohesion of the old North and the slogan of 'one destiny' have been shattered to the extent that all attempts to solve common problems have stalled, while the region continues to record the world's poorest poverty, health, employment and literacy rates. The 19 Northern states should urgently come together to map out joint strategies to save the region from total collapse and end the horrendous carnage.

Until the Northern state governors stop blaming the centre and the cynical manipulation of religious and ethnic sentiments, the region will continue to slide into anarchy.