Residents flee Niger community after midnight massacre
By JOHN ADAMS, MINNA
Within two hours, a horde of night marauders rendered their homeland desolate, razing as many homes as they could, after killing over 21 residents of the bubbling fishing community. One week later, the scars are more visible, the pains hurt deeper as bloodstains and mass graves of victims stare survivors in the face, creating an atmosphere of fear and insecurity.
That is the lot of the entire Etogi community in Mokwa Local Government Area of Niger State where no less than 21 residents were murdered in an early morning attack on Saturday, May 13, 2017 by armed bandits suspected to be Fulani herdsmen.
The two-hour attack, described as the worst across the state in the last two years, rendered many of the community members widows, widowers and orphans.
The memory of the Black Saturday will ever remain indelible in the minds of the over 1,500 members of Etogi community who are predominantly fish farmers.
Genesis of the problem
According to 32-year-old Nda’Isa, one of the sons of the Chief Imam of the village mosque who was killed in the attack, life can never be the same again in the community after over 60 years of peaceful co-existence.
“We were told that our fathers came and settled here because of fishing and have lived here peacefully for over 60 years now without any problem. These people (Fulani) have also lived in this community with our fathers peacefully without any problem until about four years ago when this issue started.”
Also speaking in the same vein, an indigene of the community, 52-year-old Alhaji Abubakar Tahir told our correspondent that the advent of dry season farming in Nigeria and the need for the people to embrace it, is largely responsible for the trouble between the community and herdsmen that has lingered for close to four years now.
Tahir explained that the genesis of the problem was the fact that the riverine community was predominantly a fishing one but due to dwindling availability of fish in the waters, the people then decided to take advantage of the dry season farming to make ends meet.
According to him, “that was what led the villagers demanding that the Fulani should relocate to a particular area and allow them use the place that the Fulani had hitherto used for their grazing but they can return with their cattle after they (villagers) must have harvested their rice and other farm produce.
“Unfortunately, the Fulani who had stayed in the community for long grazing their cattle, were impatient and could not keep to the agreement by insisting on grazing anywhere they want. As a result, they always allowed their animals to destroy the crops of the local people”.
He pointed out that the farmers did not take kindly to the continuous destruction of their farms produce and this has been responsible for the crisis between the people and the herdsmen in the last four years.
Saturday Sun gathered from a source close to the community that the Emir of Bida, who is the Etsu Nupe and Chairman, Niger State Council of Traditional Rulers, Alhaji Yahaya Abubakar had severally intervened in the crisis with a view to bringing the friction to an end but his efforts did not yield the desired result.
One of the Emir’s interventions, it was learnt, led to some of his palace guards being held hostage by the community to demand the release of their members who were arrested and detained by the police after one of the previous clashes.
This development was said to have angered the Emir who decided to pull out of any peace settlement between the warring herdsmen and the community.
According to the source, “there is nothing the Emir has not done to settle them but all his efforts were frustrated by the community who insisted that the only settlement is for the Fulani to move out of the community after over 60 years of peaceful co-existence.
“They said since the Fulani have refused to respect the agreement of allowing them use their land for dry season farming, and are allowing their cattle to continuously destroy their farm produce, they must leave the community.”
It was as a result of this disagreement that the Fulani herdsmen decided to relocate from the community about two months ago with a threat by the alleged mastermind of the attack, Alhaji Tanko Yuguda, the largest cattle owner in the community that the village will hear from him.
Although no Fulani person was found in the community as at the time our correspondent visited the scene of the attack, a member of the community, Mallam Salihu Usman said that Tanko Yuguda had claimed that some of his cattle were missing after the last face-off and therefore requested that he should be allowed to come and search for his missing cattle but this was turned down by the community.
A youth in the community, Suleiman Adamu who narrated to our correspondent how the incident happened said that the community was not surprised about the attack because of the threat by Yuguda before he moved his people out of the community.
Suleiman who claimed that he was hiding under a tree within the community during the attack, alleged that two of Yuguda’s children, Nda and Babare led the attackers to the community and were taking them from one house to another, showing them who to be killed.
“What I am telling you is the truth because these people (Attackers) did not know this village and they don’t know anybody but it was Tanko Yuguda’s children who led them, showing those that they wanted them to kill.
“They went to the house of the village head and asked him to run away because he has been supporting them and that was why he was not killed. He just came back because the Deputy Governor is around here today”.
However, he disclosed that the Deputy Village Head, 75 year old Alhaji Amodu Tela was not so lucky as he was shot dead in a bathroom where he had gone to ease himself before the early morning prayers.
It was further gathered that the attackers, after killing those in the mosque praying, went from house to house, asking the people to show them where they kept their money and after collecting the money, shot them at close range.
The richest businessman in the community, Alhaji Abdullahi Yanda was shot dead in front of his wife after they had collected his N3million cash. The only woman who was killed in the attack, Zainab Suleiman, a 46-year-old mother of four children was shot because she refused to show the attackers where her husband who was among those killed in the mosque kept his money.
The most pathetic of all the killings was that of a man, identified as Baba Nda, his wife and six children, leaving their three-year-old son, Mohammed.
Five kids still missing
Five children, aged between five and 10 from the community are still missing as they were said to have run towards the river during the attack and may have drowned in the river.
Our correspondent gathered that the attackers had a field day carrying out the heinous act despite distress calls by the community to the nearest police station in Katcha due to the difficult terrain.
Etogi community is situated at the bank of River Niger and the only means of transportation to the community is by boat. A journey from Katcha, where the nearest police station to the community is located, is about one hour, and thirty minutes, and no commercial boat operates in the night.
The attackers were said to have arrived the community by boat and left immediately after the two hours operation, heading towards Jebba, according to an eyewitness account.
Residents fleeing in droves
The community is now deserted as women and children were seen moving out of the community with their belongings, and heading towards the river to board the next available boats to neighbouring villages to take refuge.
We’ll protect the community- Govt
Meanwhile the Niger State Acting Governor, Alhaji Ahmed Mohammed Ketso has paid a visit to the community for on-the-spot assessment with a warning that the government will no longer fold its hands and watch people slaughtered like animals under whatever reason by armed bandits in the state.
The acting governor who was shaken after listening to testimonies from members of the community on how victims were murdered by the bandits after collecting their money, said that the government will do everything to put a stop to what he called “senseless killings”.
“As a responsible government, we can not fold our hands and watch the people being killed like animals under whatever excuses. This type of senseless killings will no longer be tolerated by the government.
“We will do everything possible to protect the people because that is our responsibility as a government. What I have seen here today and the testimony by the people, is a crime against humanity which must not be allowed to repeat itself.
“We have witnessed a number of killings here in the state and it is high time we rose to the occasion”, he stated, adding that “nothing is worth the lives of the people”.
Alhaji Kesto who was accompanied to the community by the state commissioner of police, Zubairu Muazu said the state government will work closely with all the security agencies in the state, especially the Nigeria Police so as to check the activities of the armed bandits, stressing that “as a government, we will assist them logistically, and we have started discussion with them”.
Also speaking after going round the community to assess the extent of destruction by the bandits, the police boss described the massacre as a “heinous crime”, assuring that the perpetrators will be fished out and punished accordingly.
Litany of woes
The state government’s warning may have been informed not only by last Saturday’s attack, but by the series of attacks by bandits suspected to be herdsmen and cattle rustlers.
Between December 2016 and now, the state has witnessed at least 15 bloody attacks on communities with 50 people killed and 102 injured.
Properties worth hundreds of millions were lost to these attacks and over 5,000 people displaced from their ancestral homes.
On December 4, 2016 at Kaura and Gbada, Shiroro Local Government Area of the state, about 30 armed bandits suspected to be herdsmen, stormed the community in a commando manner by midnight shooting sporadically.
At the end of the invasion, five people were killed while 20 others were injured and about 300 cattle rustled. Six days later, December 10, hell was let loose again, this time around in Baga, Alawa, Tungan Sakai, Laye and Dnakau, still in Shiroro Local Government as cattle rustlers suspected to be herdsmen numbering about 50 stormed these communities at 1am.
At the end of their operations, four persons were killed and seven others injured while no fewer than 1,000 cattle and 50 sheep were stolen. While these communities were picking their pieces and licking their wounds, another set of armed bandits came calling again on December 14, 2016 at Kukoki, in the same Shiroro Local Government.
The bandits, about 50, stormed the community and attacked the people, leaving six dead, 15 injured and 50 cattle rustled.
Similarly, on December 20, Kaure, Ajatan and Kwati communities still in Shiroro got their own share of the attacks.
Armed men also suspected to be Fulanis invaded these communities at 7am. At the end of the siege, three people were killed, 25 injured, including women and children while 100 cattle and sheep were taken away.
That attack was the last in 2016 as the bandits, probably went on December break only to resume their hostility this year. On January 5, they launched their first attack of the year at Angwar Umadi, in Shiroro Local Government. A midnight attack by suspected herdsmen led to the death of an SS II student, while five people were injured, 50 cattle and 100 sheep were taken away.
Almost three weeks later on January 24, 2017 at Sabon Daga community, Bosso Local Government Area, 50 herdsmen, invaded the community at 2am following a disagreement with the community over grazing land. A member of the community was said to have confronted a herder for allowing his cattle into his yam farm which led to the death of the herder.
The reprisal attack led to the death of four people including a policeman and civil defence officer. Another 15 people were injured, 6,000 displaced and N700m worth of properties including farm produce destroyed.