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Herdsmen killings: Kogi voters threaten ‘reprisal’ for insensitive leaders come 2019

By John Akubo, Lokoja
25 March 2018   |   3:24 am
The brutal killings of innocent Nigerians by suspected Fulani herdsmen may have grave implications on how the electorate cast their votes in 2019 elections. The same electorate that voted overwhelmingly for President Muhammadu Buhari and the All Progressives Congress (APC) candidate in Kogi State with high hopes and great expectations said they would no longer…

Kogi State Governor, Alhaji Yahaya Bello.

The brutal killings of innocent Nigerians by suspected Fulani herdsmen may have grave implications on how the electorate cast their votes in 2019 elections.

The same electorate that voted overwhelmingly for President Muhammadu Buhari and the All Progressives Congress (APC) candidate in Kogi State with high hopes and great expectations said they would no longer be cajoled with sweet electoral promises only to be left at the mercy of Fulani herdsmen.

Some political analysts fear there might be no 2019 or Nigeria after all, if Fulani herders’ rampage and wanton killings are not checkmated

The death toll from the killings across the country has continued to rise, as government and security agencies seem overwhelmed and bereft of ideas on how to tackle the situation.

The affected victims in Kogi State are now waiting for 2019 elections to respond in kind to leaders that have failed them when they were needed the most.

They have resolved to use their PVCs to save their people from further massacre, now that they have finally realised that the authorities don’t have their safety in mind.

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Their grouse is predicated on the fact that they voted for the ruling party, APC, both at the national and state levels, only for their fortunes to get diminished more than ever. They have been left to lick their wounds in attacks that made them lose more than 50 of their loved ones.

This time, the killings have dampened the hope of better days ahead, as the fear of Fulani herdsmen is the beginning of wisdom. They can no longer go to their farms for fear of being attacked.

The people, who depend solely on yields from their farms to make a living, are now gripped by fear of hunger and starvation, occasioned by their inability to harvest their crops, most of which are being destroyed by the herders, who have occupied their farmlands and even appropriated the foodstuff they stored for rainy day.

When The Guardian visited Ogane-Nigwu, in Dekina local government area and Ojuwo-Ajomaigbi, in Bassa local government area of the state, most of the communities numbering about eight were ghost towns.

The people were said to have fled their communities to Anyigba, Etutekpe and Ikpakpala and Ologba, all in Dekina local government areas and Ikende in Bassa local government after the attacks. The survivors still think they are in a dream world, and praying that they wake up soon.

The attackers, numbering over 500 arrived in boats on Wednesday at Ogane-Nigwu and opened fire on the people, while burning their homes. A resident said the attack might not be unconnected with a 2015 disagreement that led to the death of four Fulani men and unspecified number of cows.

He narrated how the herdsmen used to undermine the natives by feeding their animals with their farm produce. There were even allegations that the herders used to harvest their cashew nuts, which they took to market for sale, until the natives started asking them how they came about the nuts, when they didn’t own any plantation.

It was gathered that this was what caused the altercation in 2015, leading to the death of four Fulani men in Ogane-Nigwu. The fear of a reprisal attack in the areas affected the 2015 governorship election, as people in eight polling units did not come out to vote.

This was one of the reasons for the supplementary election in the 2015 governorship that created the opportunity for APC to impose Governor Yahaya Bello on the state after the death of its standard bearer, Prince Abubakar Audu.

The survivors told The Guardian gory stories of their ordeal in the hands of their assailants. Aside from slaughtering those that could not be killed by gunshot, the invaders also looted the community and carted away not fewer than 47 motorcycles belonging to the victims, their foodstuffs, as well as destroyed their farms, especially cashew plants.

And because of the incident, women and children had to be moved to safer locations. This happened just as the state governor, Alhaji Yahaya Bello, said his administration would set up a judicial panel of inquiry to look into the attacks by the “armed bandits.”

Analysts, however, took on the governor, describing his comments as nauseating. They wondered how such a panel would be of any help. They asked rhetorically whether he expected the Fulani herdsmen or their victims who are in their graves to appear before the panel.

They equally expressed concern over the governor’s penchant for referring to the Fulani attackers as armed bandits. They laid the blame for the killings squarely at the governor’s doorstep, since he had earlier thrown open the borders for Fulani herders to come in.

They expressed disappointment that despite Operation Cat Dance in Kogi and other North central states, the killings have continued unabated, as the suspected herdsmen operate freely with no counter attack, particularly in Kogi State.

When The Guardian visited the affected areas, it was gathered that the survivors returned after three days to bury their dead in the company of security operatives.

Speaking with newsmen during Bello’s visit to the community in Ojuwo-Ajomaigbi, a survivor, Reuben Usman, said the herdsmen invaded the community at about 7am and rounded them up shooting and killing any one in sight.

He explained that the assailants, who were dressed in black clothes (Jalabia), invaded the community with sophisticated weapons and started shooting sporadically, while setting houses on fire.

Sumaila Okpanachi, another villager, said they were informed that the herders were camped in a nearby forest for over one week, which prevented them from going to their farms to harvest cashew nuts.

He explained that the Bassa people in their midst were also targeted, as the Fulani herdsmen accused them of leaking their secrets to the natives. So, they also fled. He said the security operatives are camped in a primary school far away from where the attacks occurred.

While addressing men of the Nigerian Army from 913 battalions drafted to the communities, Bello said he would set up a judicial commission of inquiry to investigate the attack.

The governor said he would not fold his arms and allow Fulani herdsmen to wipe out people of the communities. “As a government, we will as much as possible comfort the families, Igala kingdom and the entire Kogi State. It is most unfortunate,” he said.

But the Audu/Faleke Political Organisation condemned the killings of people of Ogane-Nigwu and Aloko in Dekina and Bassa local government areas of the state. A statement signed by Hon. James Abiodun Faleke described the killings of over 25 people in those communities and destruction of houses as the height of wickedness. “The news came to us as a shock. What? Can we ever equate cows with human lives? How did we come to this sorry pass as a people,” the statement queried.

The group said the duty to prevent further escalation of the crisis rests squarely on the state.

Faleke called on the Bello administration, which gave Fulani herdsmen a blank cheque to operate in Kogi State to urgently act and draw the attention of Miyetti Allah leadership to the wicked assault on Kogi people.

He urged Bello to also rally the various security organisations to action.

“We find it difficult to believe the statement credited to the government after the attack, which said ‘the attack was politically motivated,’ instead of being bold enough to accept responsibility for its failure.

We have lived with Fulani in our various communities since times past and never had cause to fight them.

We are, therefore, appealing to the original peaceful Fulani people living in our midst to be more accommodating and volunteer information to security agencies on the invaders and criminals parading themselves as Fulanis,” the statement said.

“How can the state government set up a judicial panel, when investigations are still ongoing to unravel and arrest perpetrators of the heinous crime? We sincerely hope this is not another opportunity to witch-hunt perceived political enemies.

“We are aware that the government bought over 300 handsets for some of its political informants to give information to it on any body or group discussing or found to be speaking ill against government in all the 21 local governments.

We advise that those informants be used to help track herdsmen’s movements and not peaceful Kogites.”

The Statement called for sustained vigilance by the people and advised that any suspicious movements or activities should be promptly reported to security agencies. It called for support from well meaning Nigerians and agencies for relief materials for displaced members of the communities.

The state chapter of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) also said Bello’s open invitation to the rampaging herdsmen and setting up of cattle colonies without adequate security measures brought about the killings.

In a statement signed and issued by Achadu Dickson, director of Research and Documentation, the party said the governor should explain his role in the killings, following his invitation to herdsmen and ceding of some land in the state for the establishment of cattle colonies, even though the people were against it.

“The PDP condemns in strong terms the gruesome murder of innocent citizens by the herders. Their action has vindicated the party’s position from the onset that Bello’s action of establishing cattle colonies was an invitation to anarchy.”