…Now Nigeria’s deadliest killer group

By Olakunle Olafioye

Killer herdsmen may have dislodged Boko Haram terrorist group from its unenviable rating as Nigeria’s deadliest killer group as latest statistics indicates that suspected criminal herdsmen accounted for the deaths of more civilians in the country in the last one year compared to those killed by suspected insurgents within the period.

Believed to have killed no fewer than 20,000 people in Nigeria and displaced 2.3 million from their homes particularly in the North east since 2009, the Islamic fundamentalist sect, according to Global Terrorism index in 2015 was rated world’s deadliest terror group and by inference Nigeria’s deadliest killer group, two years ago.

But checks by Sunday Sun have shown that killer herdsmen killed more Nigerians in the last 12 months than those killed by Boko Haram terrorists.

No fewer than 1,404 deaths related to the activities of herdsmen were recorded within the period under review while Boko Haram accounted for at least 418 deaths from 36 attacks within the period.

Killer herdsmen: A statistics of horror

The staggering casualty figure from the vicious activities of criminal cattlemen includes the victims of last December’s carnage in Southern Kaduna where it was reported that a total of 808 people were killed in several attacks across 53 communities; and victims of the repeated attacks on Agatu people in Benue state where no fewer than 300 people reportedly died in series of attacks allegedly perpetrated by suspected herdsmen between January and March, 2016.
Prior to the Christmas eve’s attacks on Southern Kaduna, the state had witnessed two previous similar attacks. The first was the August 3, 2016 violence in Godogodo Town, Jema’a Local Government Area where it was estimated that 11 people were killed while the second attack took place in Unguwan Anjo with three people reported dead.

Benue State accounts for eight of the reported 25 mindless attacks said to have been carried out by herdsmen across the country in the last one year.

Some of these attacks include the May 14, 2016 attack on Tarfi Village of Binnev Ward, Buruku LGA where 12 people were killed. A similar attack earlier in the month in Igbogon community of Tsaav ward in Ukum LGA claimed had 15 lives.
Two separates attacks on June 19 and 21 also left at least 75 people dead in several communities across Tombo, Logo and Ukum Local Government Areas of the state, while 17 people were killed in other attacks recorded in the state between July 7 and 25.

After the January 23, 2016 invasion that left no fewer than 30 people dead in Girei Local Government Area of Adamawa State, the vicious activities of bandits suspected to be herdsmen were also recorded in the state six months later when the killers once again struck at Kodomum village on July 30, killing at least 30 people
In the South east, Enugu state felt the brutality of killer herdsmen more with at least four different attacks which claimed 44 lives.

Forty people were said to have been killed in Ukpabi, Nimbo in Uzo-Uwani Local Government Area of the state on Tuesday, April 26, 2016 when the bandit herdsmen struck. An earlier attack on February 27, 2016 in the state had reportedly claimed two lives in Ajona-Ogbo town of Abbi Community of the same local government,   same casualty figure recorded when criminal herders invaded Ndiagu Attakwu and Akegbe Ugwu communities of Nkanu West Local Government Area on August 24, 2016.

Two separate attacks by suspected cattlemen also reportedly claimed 15 lives in Niger State in the last three months. Nine people reportedly died when criminal herdsmen invaded Rafin Gona and Gbagyi Villages both in Bosso Local Government Area of the state on January 14, 2017. Cattle rustlers were however, blamed for the earlier attack which claimed six lives in Shiroro Local Government Area of the state on November 17, 2016.

There were similar orgies of violence allegedly perpetrated by herdsmen within the period under review in states like Ekiti where two people were killed in Ikole Local Government Area on May 21, 2016; Plateau State where three died on July 18, 2016; Aniocha South Local Government  Area of Delta where two people were shot at Ubulu-Unor community on 15th September, 2016 and Rivers State where 12 people were killed on March 25, 2016. 

Carnage by Boko Harm
After riding roughshod on the nation in 2015 when it took its bloody campaign to an unprecedented level with the killing of estimated 6,006 people from 270 attacks, members of the Islamic fundamentalist sect found themselves in a more difficult terrain in 2016 as they were forced out of their comfort zone by the military.

The group which was known for its large scale violence has since resorted to suicide bombings in populated areas in the north east, a development security experts identify as reason for the low carnages carried out by the group in the last one year.   

Boko Haram first attack on January 31, 2016 claimed 86 lives in Maiduguri, the highest casualty figure while the lowest casualty figure recorded from the activities of the group was recorded in Bita where one person reportedly died when the insurgent struck on November 14.
Other major attacks allegedly perpetrated by the group include the February 11, 12 and 13, 2016 bombings in Dikwa, Yakshari and Kaficha Villages, all in Borno.  The attacks claimed 92 lives; September 21 at Malam Fatori (40 dead); another attack on March 16 claimed 24 lives in Maiduguri the same casualty figure as the June 16 attack in Kuda Kaya, Adamawa State.   

Boko Haram insurgents also struck in Garshiga on October 17 where they killed 20 people; Chibok January 26, (13); Kasuwar Shanu, Borno December,26 (11) Ungudiri, Borno Novemer 9 (9); Damboa, Borno September 20 (8) same as the October 12 attack in Maiduguri.

Twelve other attacks in the state accounted for 22 deaths an average of less than one casualty per attack.

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Security experts speak

Speaking on this development, a security expert, Dr. Ona Ekhomu who described the situation as scary said the situation where herdsmen and Boko Haram are in competition over who kills more Nigerians is an indication of weak governance.

According to him, “What this means is that good governance has taken flight from Nigeria. This is an issue which the government needs to look at very well because we are seeing the symptoms of a failing state. Nigeria has not failed yet as a nation but we are failing,” Ekhomu said.

He noted further that a situation where herdsmen carry out their wanton attacks in virtually all the six geopolitical zones in the country unlike Boko Haram terrorists whose attacks are limited to the north east, has more insidious implication for the country.

According to him, “a situation where herdsmen can strike anywhere in the country is scary. And unfortunately since the government said they are foreigners nothing has been done about it.

“The menace of killer herdsmen is Nigeria’s biggest security concern today. My fear is that the herdsmen can recruit fleeing Boko Haram insurgents who have been displaced by the military from their natural habitat to join forces in visiting violence on Nigerians,” he noted.

Dr. Ekhomu who accused the government of treating killer Fulani herdsmen with kids gloves called on President Muhammadu Buhari to rise to the occasion. “Killer herdsmen are waxing stronger because Buhari is treating them with kids gloves the way Jonathan treated Boko Haram when he kept saying they were our brothers.

“If these killer cattlemen are foreigners as they claim, our response to their attacks has been so unimaginable because it appears we want them to take over Nigerian territory.   

“The president needs to get the cabinet together and come out with proactive action. Besides this there are legitimate herdsmen who are going about their normal business without killing or molesting anybody, all we have to do is to work in conjunction with these legitimate herdsmen to flush out the killer ones,” he said.

Also speaking on the development, Col. Gabriel Adetunji Ajayi (retd) said the challenge posed by killer herdsmen continues to persist because state governors have failed to live up to their responsibility as  chief security officers in their respective states. “These killer herdsmen continue to carry out their nefarious activities because there is no superior counter power to deal with them and those that have been arrested among them have not been properly prosecuted. 

“The problem is not about Buhari. It’s a about people not rising up to defend their rights. Why have the state governors not approached the Supreme Court to seek interpretation of what the constitution provide for them to effectively function as the chief security officers in their respective states.

“The constitution does not provide the state governors with teeth to bite as chief security officers in their states and they are not making efforts to get their own teeth. What does the constitution want them to use to secure their states? Are they supposed to use federal police that does not belong to them? They should approach the Supreme Court for the interpretation of this,” he said.

The retired colonel who noted that there is a fundamental difference between herdsmen and Boko Haram terrorist said killer herdsmen could only be tamed by a superior fire power. “There is a fundamental difference between Boko Haram terrorists and herdsmen. While Boko Haram members are prepared to die and kill others because they do not value human life including theirs, herdsmen are only ready to kill but they not ready to die.  Since they are not prepared to die, if they are aware that there is a superior fire power against them, they will put their hands in their pockets. This is why the governors have to live up to their responsibility as chief security officers in their respective states,” he said.

Moves by government
As part of efforts aimed at finding lasting solution to the lingering bloody clashes between farmers and herdsmen in the country the federal government recently set up a 16-member technical committee to develop a roadmap that would solve the problem once and for all.
The minister of interior, Abdulrahman Dambazau, who inaugurated the committee in Abuja few weeks ago, stressed the need for the administration to tackle the problem head-on.

According to him, the committee is expected to come up with a well-worked strategy that would help to end the killings.

“The committee is expected to draw up a roadmap for an all-inclusive gathering of stakeholders to address the lingering conflicts between the pastoralists and sedentary farmers,’’ Dambazau said.

The committee according Dambazau is to fashion out a framework for resolving the crisis, including identifying the problems underlying the conflict from regional and national perspectives.

The committee is also expected to identify regional/local laws that impact on the conflict and outline a tentative strategy to deal with the matter.