Killings: Any light at the end of the tunnel?

Just as the killing of Buharin Daji, the Mafioso-in-chief of Zamfara state armed banditry has not stemmed the killings in Anka and Zurmi local governments, or have the arrests of some Boko Haram leaders stopped the insurgents’ attacks in Borno and Yobe states, the nabbing of Mr Aliyu Teshaku, head of Benue Livestock Guards, on suspicion of his involvement in some of the deadly attacks across the state may not necessarily usher in the needed peace in Benue state as ELEOJO IDACHABA notes in this report

House reads riot act
For the first time, the National Assembly didn’t stop at just condemning the incessant killings across the country but went a step further by summoning President Muhammadu Buhari to appear before the House of Representatives and address the law makers on efforts being made to arrest the spate of killings last Wednesday. Not that alone, the House also resolved to suspend plenary for three legislative days as a mark of solidarity with Nigerians, over the continuing bloodshed in the country.

In addition, the lawmakers passed a vote of no confidence on all the service chiefs and security advisers of the president, calling for their replacement, in order to engender fresh ideas that will tackle the current insecurity. Similarly, the lower legislative chamber had directed that all killers or armed herdsmen must be declared terrorists and all cattle rearers must be duly registered. Likewise, the House also urged Buhari to, within 24 hours, deploy the requisite number of personnel and equipment to the identified locations of the bandits in Benue state to flush them out and establish permanent military bases in the affected locations within seven days.

Specifically, these resolutions followed a motion brought under matters of urgent public importance by Hon. Mark Gbillah, on the alleged attack by army personnel on innocent residents of Naka, a village in Gwer-West local government area of Benue State and the inability of the army and other security agencies to quell the incessant murder of indigenes of the state by the armed herdsmen. In the last one week, attacks by unknown gunmen have become more frequent and deadly but the killings are not limited to Benue state; other states have also not been spared.

The Naka attack
Mr Francis Ayagah, the chairman of Gwer West local government, said that the soldiers had descended on Naka residents around 11:00 am on April 19 and began burning houses indiscriminately. According to Ayagah, a soldier was earlier killed by hoodlums and he immediately reached out to the Brigade Commander to avert trouble. The council chairman said that the Brigade Commander gave him ‘’a list of suspects and we arrested five of them overnight. It was while we trying to take them to the brigade that soldiers stormed the town and started burning houses.”

After the attack, more than 300 houses, including food stuffs, were lost to the rampaging soldiers. In addition, several lives were lost and a 65 year old sick man was burnt alive in one of the houses that were destroyed. Similarly, more than 10,000 people have been displaced, further worsening the existing humanitarian crisis in the area. Mr Akile Gbande, a retired civil servant escaped the attack but lost his life savings to the inferno and two days later, he died of apparent heart failure.

“After the attack , my father collapsed, we took him to the general hospital in Naka but he could not survive, ‘’ Gbande’s son Terfa told Blueprint Weekend. He further said that the deceased’s wife is also in a critical condition because of Gbande’s sudden death. On his part, Mr Fanen Tso was lucky to be alive but the father of eight, whose house and food stuff were burnt, is passing through hard times. He told our correspondent that ‘’the attack was sudden, so I managed to escape with my family to a safe place to avoid being killed. ‘’

Two priests, 17 worshippers gunned down
Five days later, unknown gunmen again killed two priests and 17 other worshippers at a Catholic Church in Ayar-Mbalom village of Gwer East local government. The gunmen, according to reports, had attacked the worshippers while they were observing the 5:30am mass. In addition, the attackers also burnt down many houses in an operation that lasted one hour.

One Samuel, a relative to one of the victims, said that the attackers had laid siege on the affected area on Monday evening. He said that they first attacked Ayar Mbalom, a nearby community, but they were repelled by locals. ‘’They made efforts all through the night on some villages within the surroundings and met with stiff resistance,” he further said.

However, the attackers lurked in a forest close to Mbalom village, Samuel had explained, from where they monitored the community. According to him, the gunmen descended on the funeral that was taking place early in the morning and attacked the mourners. “Some of the attackers used machete on their victims while the others shot sporadically, killing the priests and many other people. A lot of people were injured and death toll might likely rise as some of the injured are in bad shape,” Samuel said.

Significantly, Benue state is not the only killing field in Nigeria as virtually all states in the north have been having their own share of attacks with attendant loss of lives and property. In the last two weeks, over 50 lives have been lost in Zamfara, Kogi and Nasarawa states, including Borno state.

Mubi bomb blast kills 27
Last Tuesday, 27 people died and 64 others were injured in twin bomb blasts that rocked a mosque and stalls at a busy market in Mubi town in Adamawa state. Witnesses said loud explosions ripped through the Gwanjo market around 1 pm, when the market was crowded and traders prepared for noon prayers, leaving behind dismembered bodies of victims. According to reports, the first blast occurred at the mosque located in the market, killing all members of the congregation. Simultaneously, the second one destroyed another part of the market. Security agents quickly mobilised to the scene and cordoned off the scene, evacuating the victims. However, they turned away sympathizers and people looking for information about their friends and family members.

Significantly, the twin blasts paralysed Mubi town as residents said that Kasuwan Kuturu market and cattle markets were deserted for fear of being targeted. In a statement issued by Ahmed Sajoh, Commissioner of Information and Strategy, Alhaji Ahmad Sajoh, Governor Mohammed Umar Jibrilla Bindow had ordered the immediate provision of medical supplies and mobilization of medical officers to the general hospital .

‘’In addition, the Adamawa State Emergency Management Agency (ADSEMA) had been ordered to supply food and non-food items to the hospital to cater for victims and victims relations,” the statement said.

Bama suicide bombers
On the same day, two suicide bombers, aged between 13 and 14, lost their lives in Bama town of Borno state, killing two worshippers as well. The bombers who are suspected Boko Haram terrorists, had invaded a mosque in Bama Dina area of Shehuri /Mairi/ Hausari ward of Bama local government on April 22. The incident, according to residents, took place at about 5:15am, when the two suicide bombers detonated Improvised Explosive Devices ( IEDs) that were strapped to their bodies, at the time when some Muslims were in the middle of prayers.

Sources however disputed the number of casualties, insisting that so many people were killed and injured in the attacks. However, the Caretaker Chairman of Bama Council, BaShehu Gulumba who said, normalcy have been restored, confirmed that two suicide bombers and two innocent civilians were killed, as 10 other people sustained injuries in the blasts.

Zamfara seeks divine intervention
In Zamfara state, almost no day passes without a person being killed by unknown gunmen, especially in Anka and Zurmi local government areas. On March 30, the Emir of Anka, Alhaji Tahiru Ahmad lashed out at security agents when Governor Abdul Azeez Yari paid him a condolence visit over the death of some of his subjects. The Emir, without mincing words, had said that he has lost confidence in the ability of the security agents to protect his people. Specifically, the emir had said that international communities like the European Union and United Nations should come to his peoples aid since the Nigerian government can no longer guarantee their safety.

Similarly, Governor Yari had earlier spoken in the same manner last February, when he visited the Emir of Zurmi, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar to condole him over the massacre of 42 people by unknown gunmen. Yari said that his administration had alerted security agencies on the impending invasion, 24-hours before the gunmen struck. In frustration, Yari said that “I feel I let down the people of this state whenever I remember the promise I made to them that when they elect President Muhammadu Buhari into power, these killings will end. But unfortunately, things are now getting worse.”

On April 12, suspected armed bandits killed at least 20 people in attacks on Kuru-Kuru and Jarkuka villages in Anka local government. The deadly raids came barely two weeks after at least 30 people were killed by suspected armed bandits and cattle rustlers in Bawar Daji village of the local government area. According to reports, armed bandits had earlier attacked Kuru-Kuru village and were planning to launch a fresh attack on another village nearby when the residents of Jarkuka village mobilized to offer help to those under attack at Kuru-Kuru.

Malam Yusuf Ali, a resident of the area recalled that “when the armed bandits learnt that residents of Jarkuka were mobilizing to offer help to their neighbours, they intercepted and started shooting them indiscriminately killing at least more than ten.’’

The spokesman of the state police command DSP Muhammad Shehu said the gunmen had also raided an illegal mining site and killed people but he did not give the actual number of casualties. Owing to these spate of attacks, Anka emirate council had directed the people to fast for three days in order to seek God’s intervention over insecurity in the area.

Army nabs brain behind Benue killings
Penultimate Friday, the Nigerian Army’s 707 Special Forces Brigade in Makurdi, had arrested Aliyu Teshaku, head of Benue Livestock Guards, on suspicion of his involvement in some of the deadly attacks recorded across the state since January 1. In particular, Teshaku was arrested on his alleged involvement in the attack on a Catholic Church, where at least 15 worshipers were killed, including two Catholic priests. Major Olabisi Ayeni, spokesperson for the Army said security agents moved in time to prevent attacks that were being hatched by Mr Teshaku and his cohorts in Bauchi, Borno and Yobe and Nasarawa States.

According to reports, Teshaku was once detained at the Force Headquarters in June 2011, when he turned himself in, after being declared wanted as a Boko Haram suspect. But he was later released by the Defence Intelligence Agency (DIA), then headed by General Babagana Monguno, now the National Security Adviser, in September 2011.

Significantly, Teshaku’s arrest is seen by some Benue officials and activists as a setback for the Samuel Ortom administration’s efforts against the activities of herdsmen in the state. In 2013, Teshaku was the head of Civilian Joint Task Force, which was tasked with checking attacks in Benue and Nasarawa States. Last year, the group changed its name to Benue Livestock Guards, following the introduction of anti-open grazing law.

Leaders of Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association have repeatedly called for Mr Teshaku’s arrest, accusing him of enforcing the anti-open grazing law and leading a militia allegedly raised by the governor. Specifically, soldiers had arrested nine suspected killer herdsmen on the Benue border with Taraba State last January and they accused Teshaku of providing them with arms. However, Teshaku had accused the military of trying to frame him, alleging that the military was carrying out the agenda of Miyetti Allah which remained vehemently opposed to the anti-open grazing law.

Going by precedents, the arrest of an alleged mastermind may not stop the killings in Benue state, just as the killing of Buharin Daji, the Mafioso-in-chief of Zamfara state armed banditry has not stemmed the killings in Anka and Zurmi local governments, as have the arrests of some Boko Haram leaders stopped the insurgents’ attacks in Borno and Yobe states. Indeed, Teshaku’s arrest is a step in the right direction.

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