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2018 As Blood-soaked New Year

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From Gamboru, Borno State, North-east Nigeria, through Saghev District, Benue State, North-central to Omoku, Rivers State, South-south, the land flows with the blood of innocent and defenceless Nigerians in the New Year. CHIDI NWACHUKWU writes.

Nigerians, at the dawn of the New Year 2018, were greeted with the sad news of the killing of some 17 worshippers in Omoku, Rivers State, who had gone to usher in the New Year at their various places of worship. In Kwara State, North-central Nigeria similar attempts were made on the life of Christians by an irate group that chorused “allahu akbar” on the cross over night. The perpetrators of the mass killing in Omoku, the headquarters of the Ogba/Ndoni/Egbema local government area (ONELGA), opened fire on their unsuspecting victims who were returning home from church service at about 12:23am, January 1, 2018. Apart from the 17 that died instantly, more than 30 persons were grievously injured by bullets.

While there are speculations that the perpetrators of the heinous act in Rivers State may have been cultists who were on rampage or on some sort of reprisal attack, or even Fulani cattle herders, no concrete information has yet been offered as to why such mindless onslaught would be unleashed on unarmed, innocent citizens who were merely basking in the joy of the New Year. Further information revealed that the gunmen had at the same time they attacked the worshippers, operated at the Kirigani and Oboh axis in Aligwu, in the same Omoku, where they dragged out the husband and three children of one Prophetess Comfort Ordu, and shot them to death. Cold-blooded killings in which people are trailed to their houses and assassinated have continued unabated in Rivers State. Many of such killings have been closely linked to cult gangs who operate freely in the state in their endlesd supremacy battle.

Following the Omoku killings, a former Rivers gubernatorial aspirant and director general of the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA), Dakuku Peterside, took a swipe at the Rivers State governor, Nyesom Wike, directly accusing him of playing politics with the lives of the Rivers people, and further claimed that the governor did not make enough security available to the people of Omoku, especially as the governor was fully aware that the state under his watch is a volatile one that has seen countless incidents of mass killings and destruction of property.

Peterside’s attacks came on the heels of Governor Wike’s declaration of total war against the unidentified culprits and even promised N200million reward to anyone who is able to offer useful information that can lead to the arrest of the culprits.

In Kwara State, hoodlums unleashed violent attacks on Christians worshippers who were at their respective places of worship to usher in the New Year. The Catholic and Methodist churches in the Ibrahim Taiwo Isale area of Ilorin, the state capital, were attacked and damaged by those identified as Islamic miscreants who invaded the church premises with knock-outs, clubs, stones and cutlasses causing a stampede among the worshippers, and robbing them and attempting to rape the female worshippers. In a twist, members of Quareeb Muslim Group who also gathered at the United Secondary School in same Ibrahim Taiwo Road to also usher in the New Year were also attacked by the same hoodlums.

And as the New Year set in, a fresh bout of coordinated massacre was carried out in Benue, Kaduna and Taraba states. The Benue attack has been described by President Muhammadu Buhari as “One attack too many” and rightly so, given that the state has had to grapple with series of mindless massacres of its indigenes in the last five years. Communities mostly occupied by the Tiv speaking people of the state have been worst hit in the relentless attacks by Fulani herdsmen since the war between herdsmen and Benue farmers was ignited. The bad blood that is in place between farmers of Benue State and the Fulani pastoralists among them was compounded by the  November 1, 2017 enforcement of the Anti-open Grazing Law by Governor Samuel Ortom government in the state.

Ortom, however,insists that the Anti-open Grazing Law would not be repealed whether the killer herdsmen like it or not. The Benue New Year massacre that claimed over 50 innocent lives actually started on the night of December 31, 2017 at about 5:00am in and ended on Tuesday, January 2, 2018 in Tomatar community. Of the over 50 victims were 9 livestock guards who were detailed to ensure the enforcement of the open grazing prohibition law. Aside killing the guards, their operation vehicles were torched. Tomatar is a densely populated community at the heart of the Saghev District of Guma local government area of the state.

About six communities were affected in the Benue sneak massacre. They include Gaambe-Tiev, Ayilamo and Turam communities which were attacked on the New Year day at about 10:00am, when many of the dwellers were returning from the New Year Day church service. The invaders carried out a well-orchestrated and simultaneous killing across the villages, taking the people unawares, and perpetrating the dastardly act without meeting the slightest of resistance. Many of the survivors of the attacks have lost all hope in life and are even wishing that they had better been killed along with their kith and kin, than left to endure the kind of excruciating pains that were inflicted on them by their attackers. Azer Dominic who recounted his ordeal in the hospital where he is writhing in excruciating pains, told newsmen that he clearly witness the butchering of his wife and the torching of houses and farm produce worth millions of naira, while Peter Zion who received multiple machete cuts, could not say anything because of the degree of injury inflicted on his face and body.  Dooshima Anande who is severely depressed and utterly devastated by her bitter experience, told newsmen that she lost a brother who had just completed his National Youth Service Corps in the attack.

The Benue State governor, Samuel Ortom, who broke down in tears on assessing the damage done to his people, has insisted that the terror being visited upon his people by the herdsmen, can be contained only if the leaders of Miyetti Allah Kautar Hore, the umbrella body of herdsmen in Nigeria are arrested and prosecuted since according to him, the president and other officials of the group have openly sworn to resist any attempt by any state government to restrain their herdsmen from practicing their nomadic style of cattle rearing. The governor further said that he alerted the federal government on the impending attack, and urged President Muhammadu Buhari to move swiftly to mobilize the armed forces towards securing the people to no avail. His revelation elicited strong criticism and vilification of the Buhari-led administration as critics opine that the president is complicit in the Benue attack.

Critics have also observed that the president has not shown political will to stem the tide of incessant attacks on innocent citizens of the country under his watch. It would be recalled that countless attacks have been visited on the Benue people in the last few years, resulting in the death of hundreds of innocent people and the destruction of property worth millions of naira. The Agatu massacre of February 2016 readily comes to mind. Massive as it was, the Agatu carnage did not prompt any swift action from the federal government.

In Kaduna, Dr. Gambo Makama, the Etum Numana of Numana Chiefdom, in Sanga local government area of the state, was on New Year day, cut down alongside his his pregnant wife by unknown gunmen. His vehicle and other valuables were torched. The sad event occurred when the traditional ruler took a short trip to his ancestral home in Tsauni Ayuba to celebrate the New Year with his kinsmen. The gory incident has elicited angry reactions from the public. The Numana Community Development Organization (NCDO) issued a press statement, condemning the dastardly act and demanding an immediate response from the presidency on the monarch’s murder and the many cases of massacre of the Southern Kaduna people, and the sacking of their communities by Fulanis.

Centrum Initiative for Development and Fundamental Rights Advocacy (CEDRA), a rights advocacy group strongly condemned President Buhari’s slow or inaction towards the killings in Southern Kaduna, and accused him of conniving with his Fulani kinsmen to perpetuate a regime of mindless blood-letting against the Christian-dominated Southern Kaduna.

Southern Kaduna People’s Union (SOKAPU), an umbrella body of the Southern Kaduna coalition and several other watchers have strongly linked the fate of Southern Kaduna people equally to the Kaduna State government’s non-challant attitude towards tackling the incidencies of ethnic and religious cleansing against the people.

Many now strongly believe that the attacks by Fulani herdsmen on farmers in the communities where they rear their livestock have assumed a hugely bad dimension that has outstripped the evils of Boko Haram terrorists.

Observers recall that in July 2016, President Buhari visited Shinkafi and Maradun local government areas in Zamfara State to personally inspect the level of damage done to cattle herders and their cattle by cattle rustlers, and to also launch the stationing of a full battalion of special forces in the state to crush cattle rustling in Zamfara, Kebbi, Katsina and Kaduna States. He dressed in military fatigue to show how seriously he took the matter. Observers argue that the president all the while has been expected to repeat same gesture and posturing in the states devastated by herdsmen attacks, in order to demonstrate to them that he value the precious lives of his citizens. But none of that has happened.

 

 

Equally worrisome is that the notoriety of the killer herdsmen only soared with the Buhari administration. In the past, the herdsmen only confronted those who attempted to rustle or harm their animals; and they did this with bows and arrows and machetes. But today, herdsmen wield AK47 and AK49 military assault rifles and sack villages from Nigeria’s North-central to the inner reaches of the South-west, South’east and South-south. A few Fulani herdsmen who have been unlucky to be arrested have revealed that they usually get their supply of weapons from some highly placed persons who have special interests in their activities.

Boko Haram terrorists, the country’s mortal unrelenting enemies capped the New Year blood-letting with a ghastly suicide bomb attack on a mosque on January 3 in Gamboru, Borno State, killing at least 11 people. Gamboru is a border with Cameroon. The attack comes as the terrorists step up their campaign of violence in the region.

 

While the police confirmed that at least 11 people were killed, the mosque was reduced to rubble.

“Only the muezzin has survived and we believe more bodies are buried under the debris,” Umar Kachalla, a civilian militiaman, told the news agency AFP. “The death toll may likely rise,” he added.



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