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Not yet peace in Taraba

Communities in North East state smart from deadly communal clashes.
Scores dead, 3,000 displaced in attacks on 50 villages.
Outrage over fresh killing of six alleged cattle rustlers at market square.

It is a season of blood flow in Taraba State. People are killed on a daily basis in violent confrontations impelled by drive for grazing fields, farmlands and allegations of cow rustling. The Northeast state which prides itself as nature’s gift is enveloped in fear.

No fewer than 73 persons were believed to have died from communal clashes between the Hausa-Fulani and Yandang communities in Lau Local Government Area of the state. About 50 villages were also burnt. By the time the dust settled, more than 3,000 people had become homeless.

Only last Sunday, residents of the local government area were preparing their evening meals when they heard bone-chilling sounds of gunshots. The staccato sound of gunshots was not new to residents.

A killer militia masquerading as herdsmen had invaded the vast swathe of the council area. Without being told, they ran helter-skelter for dear lives, but it was too late. Forty-two persons, mainly aged men, women and children, were reportedly fell by bullets from the guns of the gunmen.

A heart-rending story was told of how a septuagenarian woman ran to hide herself in a flowering shrub but had her throat sliced by another set of herdsmen who had laid ambush.

In all, more than 20 villages were sacked, crop farms destroyed and homes torched.

When our correspondent visited the scenes of slaughter on Tuesday, the affected villages looked like ‘ghost towns.’ Lau was completely deserted. Not even security personnel were seen, even though police spokesman, David Misal, said SARS and MOPOL commanders had “temporarily” relocated to the affected areas to calm the situation.

Among the affected villages are Bujum-Yashi, Bujum-Wagure, Bujum-Waya, Wagure, Bujum-Kasuwa, Bujum-Centre, Yoti, Galadimawa, Bamga-Dutse, San-Turaki and Mayo-Lope.

Others are Yilti, Bunzung, Sabon-Gida, Kwajafa, Sobon-Layi, Budon, Bawa-Garki and Kpanti Ladi.

“They came and began to attack and kill, without provocation. You can see how they have burnt down all the villages,” lamented Bitru Dare, a resident of Bujum-Kasuwa.

The Chairman of Lau Local Government Council, Weni Yafi Weni, who conducted reporters round the rubbles, cried out that the state and federal government should jointly wade in and stop the crisis.

He said: “I see no end to this crisis, and I can see hunger looming because we are in rainy season and nobody is farming. The little farms made have been destroyed.

“I am calling on the government to provide enough security for displaced people to return to their homes.”

In January, 68 persons were killed by herdsmen in the same Lau villages. When Benue State lowered its flag as it buried 73 victims of herdsmen attack in brown boxes, Taraba committed their dead to earth in mass graves, without caskets.

The latest attacks have displaced more than 3000 persons, some of them sustaining severe injuries. The bulk of the displaced persons are taking refuge in Negatavah Primary and Secondary school in Jalingo while others are camped in Pupule and Pantisawa, all in neighbouring Yorro Local Government Area.

Camps of despair

A visit to the internally displaced persons (IDP) camps revealed a people in anguish and without hope. As the children can no longer attend schools in their ancestral districts, so their parents have abandoned their jobs, predominantly farming and teaching. They sleep on bare floor while they are bitten by mosquitoes and other insects.

They look hungry, with symptoms of ill health. What about the rains that hit them when there is cloudburst? They have no basic utilities such as clothing items and cooking utensils. Yet, they live in fear that even in the camps, they could be attacked.

The Nation gathered that the displaced persons are a distraction to pupils that school in those camps. Some women, for instance, bathe in the open, it was learnt.

Police spokesman, David Misal, an Assistant Superintendent of Police (ASP), said the Deputy Commissioner and Assistant Commissioner of Police in charge of Operations were shuttling the camps on a daily basis to monitor the situation.

He added: “We are also engaging critical stakeholders from the area in series of meetings with a view to restoring peace.”

Taraba State Deputy Governor, Haruna Manu, at the prompting of Governor Darius Ishaku on Monday visited the IDP camps in Pantisawa and Pupule, all in Yorro Local Government Area. He was accompanied by the Deputy Speaker, Mohammed Gwampo, Secretary to the State Government (SSG), Anthony Jellason, the Military Commander, MS Adamu and the Commissioner of Police, David Akinremi.

The deputy governor was received by the council chairman of Yorro, Joseph Sonweri; the chief of Pupule (Kpantin Kwaji), HRH Abubakar Buba Nyala and the chief of Mumuye, HRH Ado Adamu Mazan.

Manu brought the affected ethnic groups, Yandang, Mumuye and Fulani, together, to listen to details of the crisis. After listening to all the parties, the deputy governor told them the hard truth: “Nobody can bring peace to you; you must crave for it.

“Peace lies in your very hands. And the government is preaching peace but you prefer violence. You are the ones to suffer the consequences. We are tired of continuously begging you to embrace truce.

“If you invite an outsider to come and assist you to fight, in the end, you are the one to feel the brunt. Peace is the prerequisite for sustainable development.

“In crisis, you and your children will not achieve anything in life. You must shun the sentiments of ethnicity and religion. You must co-habit, whether you like it or not. So, don’t be deceived.” Manu noted that the crisis has brought Taraba State several steps backward.

Herdsmen kill six in cattle market

Despite the deputy governor’s warning on Monday, herdsmen struck at a suburb of Jalingo, the Taraba State capital, on Tuesday, killing six traders at Iware market. The deceased were also robbed of their cash, it was learnt.

Five of the victims are natives of Mayo-Lope, Lau Local Government Area which is already sacked by herdsmen violence. The other victim, whose name was given as Ethan Nast, is a resident of Damsa Local Government Area of Adamawa State.

The victims were accused of cow rustling. But a dependable source said: “The men, already displaced by crisis involving herdsmen in their area (Lau) on Tuesday came to Iware market with their cows to sell, do some other businesses and alleviate their suffering. But they were trailed by their assailants all the way from Mayo-Lope, who hacked them to death at the market square.”

The source added that the killers disappeared immediately after the attack.

Eyewitnesses said the killers invaded the market as though they were traders.

A source said as the market began to swell with buyers and sellers, the attackers emerged from the crowd in large numbers and started attacking the victims with machete. Four bodies were counted immediately.

One of the victims identified as Baban Lumu, a cement dealer from Mayo-Lope, was fleeing from his attackers to a nearby police post. But no sooner had he arrived the police station than he fell down and died from the multiple cuts inflicted on him. Police recovered N80,050 from him. Another victim died in hospital.

“The market was disrupted as everyone ran for dear lives,” an eyewitness told The Nation.

Armed policemen, led by a Divisional Police Officer (DPO), Abubakar Inusa, a Chief Superintendent of Police (CSP), arrived the scene in the nick of time. They were seen battling hard to restore normalcy and convey the injured to the hospital.

Three persons who were seriously injured were taken to the Federal Medical Centre (FMC) Jalingo, but one of them died in the hospital of “excess bleeding.”

Six bodies were deposited at FMC’s morgue. The arrival of the bodies threw the hospital into mourning with many patients, particularly women, wailing and weeping.

Police spokesman, David Misal, who confirmed the attack and killings to our correspondent, said: “Six people were killed at Iware market by yet-to-be-identified persons.

“Some people brought cows to the market to sell but were attacked and killed when information got to herdsmen that the cows were stolen ones,” he said.

Misal, who said the police were able to restore calm in the area, disclosed that the Police Command was gathering intelligence on how to trace those behind the attack and whether the attack was a spill over from the violence in Lau.

“We are trying to find out the perpetrators who took the law into their hands instead of reporting to us, if really a case of cattle rustling was established,” he said.

Governor condemns killings

Governor Darius Ishaku has condemned the killing of traders by herdsmen in the state. He said although cattle rustling is a crime that cannot be condoned by the authorities, the allegation that the victims had stolen cows was not enough reason to kill them.

The governor visited the scene of the incident on Tuesday while returning from Makurdi, Benue State, where he had attended a function with the Benue State governor, Samuel Ortom, and Middle Belt leaders, calling for the restructuring of Nigeria, particularly the security architecture.

The governor on Wednesday met with the Commissioner of Police in the state and the Divisional Police Officer of the area “to look into the details of the killings and for proper handling of the matter.”

Speaking with our correspondent, Governor Ishaku said: “The victims were accused of stealing cows, but that is not enough reason to waste their lives. It is unfortunate that today, everyone has the audacity to kill at will. The security architecture of this country must be restructured.”

The Yandang community in the state on Wednesday said the killing of six Yandang traders at Iware market square brought the total number of its natives killed by herdsmen to 62, only from last Sunday.

Leader of the Yandang ethnic group, Alfred Kobbiba, who condemned the attack and killing, said the victims were not cattle rustlers.

“All the six people killed in Iware cattle market are well known to me and I can attest to their good character. The cows they brought to the market for sale were their personal cows. Our people are in the business of cattle rearing too, contrary to the claims of the attackers.

“If the cows were really stolen from them, why didn’t they report the matter for their cows to be returned? Instead, they killed the people and disappeared.”

Kobbiba, a Special Adviser to Governor Darius Ishaku on Sustainable Development Goals (SDG), said they were demanding justice over the dastardly act.

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