For the past two years, victims of Taraba crisis who were forced out of their homes and made refugees in their own land have been living in serious pains and anguish writes MAIGIDA FACII
The Fulani/Farmers crisis and other communal conflicts in Taraba, north-eastern Nigeria has not receive the luxury of international media reportage because of the activities of the Boko Haram insurgency which dominated the international media space.
Though, well reported by the local national dailies, the Nigerian government apparently preoccupied by the activities of Boko Haram sect, neglected the atrocities committed by the Fulani militia in the same north east state.
Despite the number of lives lost and property destroyed in the middle belt states of Benue, Nasarawa, Plateau and Taraba in the northeast described by many as the worst ever crisis in Taraba since its creation, not many are aware of the atrocities committed by the Fulani herdsmen in the state.
Since December 2013, armed Fulani men invaded Taraba through Nasarawa and Benue axis and killed over 1,484 people in the state between December 2013 and June 2015 according to Nigeria Security Conflict and Analysis Network, (NSCAN).
According to the report, over 500,000 people were allegedly forced out of their homes and made to fled the state to take refuge in neighbouring Benue state, even as over 2,400 others are living in four camps in Bali.
A visit by our reporter to the four camps in Bali located at Legislative Quarters, St. Paul Catholic Church, NKST Church and Tiv Traditional Council Hall where over 2,400 Internally Displaced Persons are currently living revealed a pathetic story of Nigerians in their own land.
The 73-year-old Mama Esther Nachigh who lost her husband and two children to the Fulani bullets lamented that life has been frustrated and annoyingly meaningless to them in their camps.
“Life has been terrible for us. Most of our people who were killed during the crisis were not buried because the attackers laid siege on our communities. Most women are now widows and children orphans. Many have been maimed and left vulnerable.
See the condition of our children, most of them are without clothes, we can’t even feed them. Our people are still being killed and we can’t even recover their corpses for burial.
“Despite government efforts at ending the crisis our lives are still not safe here. We are Nigerians not foreigners and if we can’t be guarantee security in our land, then it’s unfortunate,” she lamented.
Mr. Mike Tyobee who is the camp leader told our reporter that for over a year, no relief materials came their way from either state or federal government. He informed that hunger, potable water, malaria and typhoid fever among others were the major challenges facing the IDPs.
Mike appealed to the state and federal governments to come to their aid by providing them with basic necessities of life, saying those who managed to return were still being attacked and killed by the herdsmen, urging the state government to ensure security of lives and property for them.
“If only the task force put in place by Governor Darius Ishaku to ensure peaceful return of IDPs to their places did it work killings would have stopped by now. But the task force did not do its work and today we are practically abandoned.”
At Santa Maria Catholic hospital where many of the IDPs are still wallowing in pains, it was one sad story after the other. A eight months old baby, Theresa Tersoo who was shot on the thigh with her mother when armed Fulani militia invaded their house on December 14, 2015 was lying hopelessly on her mat when our reporter visited the hospital.
Her mother, told our reporter that they were deep asleep when the gunmen invaded the house and open fire on them, killing two members of the family instantly.
Medical officer of the hospital, Mr. Isaac Akperekpe told our reporter that they have three severe cases that needed immediate referral to tertiary hospitals, but were just managing them because the victims can’t afford to pay the money which runs in millions.
The medical officer added that they have treated and discharged over 400 victims between 2014 and 2015 out of which 23 died while on admission in the hospital.
“Because ours is a faith based organization, many people preferred to be treated here. We had cases here that ordinarily we would have referred them to other hospitals, but they refused to go on referral because they can’t afford to pay. You know they have just return after attacks on them and they have nothing on them.
“Our financial position is seriously coming down. We have exhausted medical stocks we have on victims of crisis and and we can no longer cope because of the volume of patients we do receive on a daily basis following renewed attacks on the returnees.
According to him, the hospital has received over 100 victims of attacks so far this year and the number is still rising as victims were being brought to the hospital on a daily basis.
Business owners recount loses
Recounting his bitter experience in the series of crisis in the state, a businessman Mr. Emeka Chinweokwu (aka Emmy-V) who is a major MTN and Globalcom telecommunications partner in Taraba state said he lost over N50.357 million in the attack in Wukari on February 23, 2014.
According to him, his one storey building located in the heart of the town was burnt down by the attackers with goods worth over N31 million made up of smartphones, computers, recharge cards, printing machines and other accessories destroyed.
“Because we had to flee just to save our lives,” he added “we couldn’t picked anything from the shop and my other outlets located in other parts of the town. All my shops were burnt to the ground with goods worth over N50.357 million,” he sobbed as he managed to call the figures.
Like many other business owners, traders and even farmers another business owner Mr. Albert aka Presidoo, a Nigerian Brewery key distributor also in Wukari told National Mirror that his consignment which arrived Wukari a day before crisis broke out in the town and others in store totalling N25.12 million were destroyed and part of it vandalise by the attackers.
Albert who now eked a living selling recharge card and through a local restaurant around Takum junction in Wukari told our correspondent that he has to start from the scratch take care of his wife and three kids.
“My family members have been putting pressure on me to relocate, but Taraba is like a home and I can’t just relocate. I am trusting God that I will make it here again and I want to appeal to both the state and the federal government to assist us,” he appealed.
The effect of the two year old crisis with pockets of killings still been witnessed in places like Gassol and Bali local government areas has left farms deserted, small communities like Dan-Anacha, Sabon-Gida, Ananum, Ibua and other towns are today not bobbling with human and economic activities on account of the crisis.
Taraba governor, Darius Ishaku have consistently asked the people of the state to give him peace and he will give them development. On account of this, most IDPs have returned to their homes but not without challenges. There are cries from many returnees that their crops which they managed to plant to keep life going have become grazing fields of the herders who sometimes kill them if they dare to stop them.
Tiv Traditional leader in Bali local government area of the state whose people were killed and forced out of the state, Zaki David Gbaa (The Ter-Bali) commenting on the condition of his people lamented the challenges facing his subjects.
“From November last year to date, we recorded over nine separate attacks with more than 16 deaths. Our children are out of school and most of my people are without food and shelter. We have cases of malaria and other diseases which are killing our children.
“We commend the governor for his efforts to ensure that peace return, but there are some people sabotaging his efforts because of the atrocities they committed during and after the crisis which they want to keep under cover.
“Most of our lands have either been sold out or taken over by other people. On a daily basis now, people are being brought in trucks and made to settle on our lands all in a bid to stop our people from returning to their ancestral homes. Senator Bwacha representing Taraba South in this 8th Assembly has already raised a motion to this effect.
“We made bold to tell the people behind this that they are ‘day dreaming’. We are compiling such cases and we will soon take them to court. We are indigenes of this place and nobody can intimidate us,” he said.
The hinterlands of Dan-Anacha, Sabon-Gida, Bornon Kurku, Naguru and other interior villages according to reports are still regarded as “no go areas” especially for Tiv farmers. Torkula Dooior a resident of Dan-Anacha lamenting the lost of his farm to grazers said the Fulani herdsmen have converted their farms into grazing fields.
“We are back to square one because the Fulani herdsmen have graze over our crops and any attempt to resist them is tantamount to inviting death. Just recently Mr. Emmanuel and his wife Mbawuan were slaughtered after they resisted some armed Fulani men from grazing on their farms.”
Fulani debunked allegations
On their part, the Fulani herdsmen denied any wrong doing talk more of being behind the killings. According to the chairman of Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association, Alhaji Mafindi Umar Danburam said Tiv and Jukun have been rustling their cattle in the past years in Wukari and Takum.
According to Mafindi over 17,000 cattle belonging to the Fulani herdsmen were rustled between 2003 and 2015 in Wukari and Takum axis of the state, querying that “how do take someone’s livelihood and you expect the person to be quiet.”
“We have lost a lot, 500 cattle of my people were rustled in Jibu ward of Wukari around March last year, same period at Kashimbilla in Takum local government, about 200 cattle were rustled by people suspected to be Tiv. So, you see the problem. We are not criminals or trouble makers as we are being branded,” he said.
Stakeholders in the state have attributed the persistent killings in Taraba on the issue of land, but Mr. Freeman Tar disputed this narrative. Chairman Muslim Council of Taraba State Inuwa Jauro who is a Fulani man said many people have mistaken the crisis in the southern and central Taraba to a religious crisis.
“What is happening in Southern Taraba is not a religious crisis, it is on land that they are fighting. The origins of the area don’t want people coming from outside to come and settle on their land. Anybody who tell you is a religious crisis is lying,” he explained.
But Mr. Tar Freeman who is a scholar argued that those killing people were from states like Katsina, Gombe, Kano and Zamfera among others and were bringing their people to takeover land in Taraba. He insisted that there is a conspiracy of ethnic cleansing against the Tiv farmers in Taraba.
Stakeholders seek FG intervention
While the blame game continue, stakeholders want the Federal government to come to the aid of the people who have been abandoned to their fate with no hope of rescue in sight.
The bellwether in this call is the Catholic Bishop of Jalingo Diocese, Most Rev. Dr. Charles Hammawa who said the killings in the state has adversely affected the economy of Taraba and Nigeria.
Hammawa want the federal government to intervene in the herdsmen/farmers crisis in the country and permanently bring the ugly development which has killed many to an end.
“Taraba was badly affected by crisis between 2013 and 2015. Many lives and property worth hundreds of millions of naira were lost and even now, killings are still going on in Bali and Gassol local government areas.
“Churches, Mosques and other precious property were destroyed. We the Catholic Church alone lost seven main parishes and over 3000 out stations were burnt during the crisis. The church has try to reach out to the people affected by the crisis, by providing food and shelter and other things to alleviate their suffering.
“But you see, the Church and the state government cannot do it alone. I therefore, appeal to the General TY Danjuma (rtd), who is an illustrious son of Taraba and chairman of the federal government committee on the rehabilitation of the Northeast affected by Boko Haram to include Taraba in the rehabilitation programme.”
The bishop wondered why other areas in the state are relatively peaceful with exception of Gassol and Bali chiefdoms and called on the traditional rulers of Gassol and Bali to put in more efforts in ending killings in their domain and to foster peaceful coexistence among diverse religious, ethnic and political groups in the state.
Today, life has become so cheap in the crisis prone central and southern zones of the state. The pathetic situation of internally displaced persons (IDPs) in the state is indeed worrisome; IDPs mostly farmers can not go their farms, schools and hospitals have remained closed for two years, children are out of school and many of the IDPs have not return. Thousands of them are still hovering around Taraba/Benue border axis where there seem to be relative peace.
For many of the IDPs and business owners who have lost their sources of livelihood, life has no meaning to them any longer. The prayer on their lips is that the federal government, Philanthropists and the international community should come to their aid.