Who is fuelling the killing fields?

Yesterday, Amnesty International released a distressing report on the senseless killings currently going on in Nigeria. By their research and assessment, at least 1,813 people were killed from January to date, across 17 states in the country. This death toll almost doubles that of the entire 2017 count. The people were killed as a result farmers-herders conflict, communal clashes, Boko Haram insurgent attacks and banditry. They concluded correctly that: “By failing to hold murderers to account, Nigerian authorities are encouraging impunity that is fuelling rising insecurity across the country.” The Nigerian State is clearly failing in meeting its constitutional obligations of security provisioning for citizens. I believe that there is a consensus that things cannot continue like this and government must address the security situation with the objective of securing significant improvement. 


This week, the issue on the front burner is the latest incidence in Plateau state, where armed gunmen attacked 11 villages on 23 June for at least seven hours and killed at least 200 villagers without intervention from security forces. The security agencies should have been able to prevent the massacre because the violence in Plateau started after an initial attack, which was followed by reprisal attacks from Thursday 21 so the security agencies should have been there to ensure that the escalation that happened would have been nipped in the bud. The Chief of Army Staff recently indicated that the Nigerian Armed Forces are deployed in active operations in 32 states of the Federation. Why then do large-scale killings of Nigerians continue in spite of the large-scale deployment of security personnel? Why are the perpetrators of these atrocities not held accountable? These are the questions pushing many Nigerians to interrogate whether there is indeed a plan to continue to escalate mass killings.


One of the markers of the escalation and spread of the killing fields is the rise of reprisal attacks as a group seeks to avenge some earlier attacks, which in turn results in further retaliation causing a chain of attacks that raises the number of victims thereby creating a self-generating process of expansion of atrocities. Premium Times (25th June) outlined the time line of earlier attacks that led to the Saturday massacre of mainly Christian mourners in Barkin Ladi, Plateau State. In most cases however, the incidents that lead to the attacks by herdsmen are never reported because they do not support the thesis that the “established truth” is that Fulani, Muslim herdsmen are engaged in a premeditated, planned, President Buhari supported plot to kill all Middle Belt Christians and take their land.


Such one-sided reporting is usually justified by statements purporting to come from the Fulani herdsmen claiming that they had indeed carried out the massacre because some of their cattle have been killed. The problem is that in many cases, such statements are fabricated by certain elements who are determined to escalate the killings and enflame passions for their political purposes. One such example is the so-called Fulani Nationality Movement (FUNAM), which I first noticed following the Benue mass killings of January this year. Following the latest Plateau attacks, the Movement purportedly issued a press release on 25th June stating: “The killings in Barkin Ladi was (sic) motivated by previous killings of FULANI men and women by Birom youths in collaboration with certain minority ethnic groups in PLATEAU. We hereby justify this retaliatory attack and warn that we shall continue to defend ourselves and uphold the FULANI heritage now and in the future. Let it be known that the Fulani Special Force coordinated the attacks.” The statement then added that: “For the avoidance of doubt, our heritage is that ANY ATTACK ON A SINGLE FULANI IS AN ATTACK ON ALL. ANY OF SUCH ATTACKS MUST BE COUNTERED WITH TRIPLE MEASURE”.

To further enflame passions, the statement continues:  “That we have said it several times that Plateau is an indigenous territory of the FULANI people. We are the first to settle in Plateau-Benue axis thousands of years ago. We shall take and possess every inch of this land; a conscious attempt to rewrite history and distort, manipulate or destroy our past will be resisted with all the might at our disposal.” Since that day, this statement has been trending on social media and massively circulated on WhatsApp. Since January when I first noticed statements by FUNAM, I have made enquiries about them among researchers and stakeholders and no one knows the group. The so-called leaders and signatories of the group, Badu Salisu Ahmadu and Umar Amir Shehu have not appeared in any press conference or interview, the messages are simply sent out on the internet.   

It is well known that one of the techniques of hate crime is mirror imaging what you imagine to be the intention of the enemy by writing up and articulating it in their name and distributing it to mobilise and rally your partisans pushing them to attack the other. This technique was used effectively in January this year over the Benue massacre. The same FUNAM was said to have distributed a press release on 13th January 2018 stating: “That the killings in Benue of Tiv is well deserved. It was a revenge attack on the series of onslaught on the Fulani which was most horrendous on November 17 2017 when 30 Fulani men and women were killed in Nasarawa State. We notice the recalcitrant culture of the Tiv people as demonstrated even during the 1804 Jihad when they obstructed our ordained conquest of Nigeria.” The statement then added: “That we have asked all Fulani across West Africa to raise money and arms to prosecute the oncoming war. We call on all Fulanis to prepare for this Holy War. There is no going back. All over the world, Nigeria is the only country given to Fulani by God.” The conclusion was along the same vein “That the Cattle Colony is the only solution to the crisis. Whether the Federal Government or State Governments accept or not, we have asked all Fulani herdmen all over West Africa to move to Nigeria and penetrate every corner for the upcoming Jihad. We have asked them to be armed since it seems it is the only language Nigeria understands. The Nigerian Government has failed to protect us.” Intellectuals then take such statements and cite them as evidence that there is indeed a conspiracy to wipe out their group. It was not possible for a pastoralist group to issue such incendiary statements that are bound to lead to further attacks on them. To reinforce the arguments that the statements come from them, similar statements are then issued purporting to come from Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association, which has come out on several occasions to say fake statements are issued in their name. 

What we are witnessing is therefore a situation in which criminality and mass killings are occurring and to further escalate the killings incendiary statements are attributed to groups that did not make such statements to encourage even more mass killings. I do not think such actors are doing any good to their cause because killings and atrocities do harm to all parties. Fuelling mass killings is the greatest disservice we can do to our people. Let us not forget that Cambridge Analytica was paid to come to Nigeria in 2015 to promote such discord using exactly the same techniques. What is most worrying for me is the way so many Nigerians, including intellectuals are losing their capacity for critical thinking and believe every conspiracy theory they see on the social media and WhatsApp, which has the capacity to spread fake news very widely in just a few minutes. 

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