From MURPHY GANAGANA and JOHN ADAMS
For Maryam Umar, a grandmother resident at a Fulani settlement close to Yaba, a remote community in Gwada district, Shiroro Local Government Area of Niger State, her heart bleeds daily. In the past 26 months, sorrow and anguish has been her companion.
Barely two years ago, she lost her beloved son, Abdullahi Umar, in hazy circumstances. Last month, some gunmen invaded her home and pumped hot bullets into three of her grandchildren aged between three and five. The three kids, Abubakar Umar, aged 5, Ibrahim Umar (3) and Umar, 4, died instantly. The only female among them, 12-year-old Aziba Umar, escaped death by the whiskers, but sustained severe machete cuts for which she is still being treated at the General Hospital, Minna, the state capital.
On Friday, September 15, 2017, Maryam left home for an undisclosed destination but returned hours later to find the lifeless bodies of her grandchildren on her doorsteps. In her state of shock, she managed to rush Aziba, who was groaning on the floor to a nearby clinic for revival. When she eventually returned from the clinic, the corpses of her kids had vanished; what she met were some dead animals.
The children were brought under her custody by their mother, Rabi, who remarried and relocated to Sokoto State after the death of their father. In tears, the grandma searched frantically for the bodies of her children, but had no clue to their whereabouts till date. Aziba, her only surviving granddaughter, is still in pains.
It was after the dust settled that Maryam got to know what led to the attack on their settlement by the gunmen who showed no mercy in sending her grandchildren to their untimely graves for an alleged offence they were innocent.
Sunday Sun learnt that the death of Bello Saidu, a resident of the Gbagy ethnic stock which dominate the area, sparked the attack on the nearby Fulani settlement where the kids were killed. Sources said prior to Saidu’s demise, a Fulani man identified as Husseini Umaru resident in the community was accused of theft and dragged to the palace of the District Head of Yaba, Mallam Saidu Mohammed Yaba. Rather than handing the suspect over to the police, some unidentified members of the community were said to have tied him to a tree in a bid to execute jungle justice.
However, Husseini later escaped with a burning anger and suspicion that the late Saidu who was his close friend had a hand in his ordeal. He visited his home and lured him to a bush where he killed him. Before Saidu’s body was recovered two days after, his wife, Hauwa, had raised the alarm that her husband was last seen with Husseini. Members of the community mobilized and invaded the nearby Fulani settlement in search of Husseini. When they could not find him, they shot the three kids and inflicted machete cuts on the 12-year-old girl.
Following the attack, Maryam and other Fulani in neighbouring settlements fled their abodes to distant communities. While the women and children were said to have relocated to Gwada, the men moved their cattle out of the community to another gracing area in search of peace.
But peace has also taken flight from Yaba, as the inhabitants no longer sleep with their eyes closed. Uneasy calm pervaded the community when one of our correspondents visited last week, amid fears of a reprisal attack by the Fulani. Residents, however, kept sealed lips on the development for fear of being arrested by security agents.
Meanwhile, the police at Gwada where the incident was reported, promptly arrested the Yaba monarch and some other members of the community suspected to have been involved in the attack on the Fulani settlement. They have been arraigned and remanded in prison custody. However, the police say Husseini, the man at the centre of the saga, is at large and homicide detectives are on his trail. Abigail Uneze, a Superintendent of Police and spokesperson for the Niger State police command confirmed the development.
Maryam Kolo, Director of the Niger State Child Rights Agency, told Sunday Sun that the agency’s intervention was sought when Aziba was taken to the Minna General Hospital with deep machete cuts. She described the attack as a heinous crime against innocent children, while assuring that the perpetrators would be brought to book.
Senior Special Assistant to the Governor on Nomadic Affairs, Abdullahi Babayo Adamu, told Sunday Sun that the state government has waded into the matter with a view to forestall a reprisal. Babayo, who is also state chairman of the Fulani Consultative Forum, warned government would not tolerate a situation where people take laws into their hands.