By Sunday morning, the one million-plus faithful of the Catholic Archdiocese of Abuja had been directed to stage a peaceful protest on Monday, January 15, 2018, against wanton killings and other forms of insecurity in the country. “All priests, religious and lay faithful of the archdiocese will be part of this protest,” reads an announcement on the church’s bulletin this Sunday. “The priests, religious, C.M.O., C.W.O., C.Y.O.N. (youth), knights and all other groups are to come out in their uniforms.”
The protest has been postponed to a date yet to be announced, but the anger of the Catholic faithful has been palpable. Perhaps a hundred million other compatriots have felt likewise since New Year’s Day: Hired assassins suspected to be Fulani herdsmen had slaughtered 73 people in two rural communities of Benue State, central Nigeria, and injured scores more. A cultic gang shot dead 16 and wounded several more Christians who were returning from a vigil mass to usher in the new year at Omoku, Rivers State, southern Nigeria.
There have been mass protests against the killings – by widows, youths and other groups — in parts of the country, and posts on the internet have been dripping blood. Feelings of insecurity are everywhere.
The 73 dead in Benue have been given a mass burial on January 12. That same night, the killers felled no fewer than 10 innocents in a village in southern Kaduna. The leader of the gang that shot church members at Omoku, Mr. Igwedibia Johnson, aka “Don Waney”, has been trailed and killed; his exotic mansions have been demolished by the state. No news concerning the murderers of Benue people yet.
Thousands more of innocent men, women and children have been killed in like manner in Benue, Kaduna, Adamawa, Plateau, Taraba and other central states where herdsmen and crop farmers struggle over grazing fields.
The popular view in Nigeria is that the herdsmen are protected by the federal government. Almost all the security agencies are headed by the Fulani. Under President Muhammadu Buhari, a Fulani who also owned hundreds of cattle heads, the herders have been emboldened. None of them has ever been caught, unlike members of other criminal gangs from other parts of the country.
There is no doubt that the herders know the assassins that have been killing for them. There are indications that word is usually passed beforehand in Fulani communities in areas to be attacked. Some soldiers and policemen allegedly used to give way for easy passage of the attackers.
What is the truth? Enlightened folks like Governor Nasir el-Rufai of Kaduna State have made some revelations. Back in 2012, he tweeted: “We will write this for all to read. Anyone, soldier or not, that kills the Fulani takes a loan repayable one day no matter how long it takes.” Two years ago, el-Rufai said his government had traced the attackers (who were then killing scores in southern Kaduna) to Niger and Chad – and placated them with money.
Several Fulani elders have referred to cattle rustling as the killers’ source of anger. Besides, militant youths in the troubled areas were said to have attacked the herders and their cattle. A number of Fulani herdsmen were killed in Mambilla, Taraba State, last year.
Another source of trouble is the anti-grazing law passed by the Benue State government. After the latest killings, officials of the Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association of Nigeria (MACBAN) have called press conferences to warn that the killings would continue until all anti-grazing laws were repealed. Despite that they issued the threat publicly, none of them has been questioned for complicity in the Benue killings. At their press briefing on January 14 in Abuja, they demanded compensation for no fewer than 1,000 of its members including women and children killed and 20,000 cattle rustled between June 2017 and January 2018 during crises in the various states.
President Buhari has not made a forceful statement on the murders of innocents by suspected herdsmen. Many from the south are amazed that his government declared unarmed IPOB members terrorists and sent military operations codenamed “Python Dance” and “Crocodile Smile” to the eastern and southern parts of the country, while it sent the police to Benue. The police chief said what happened in Benue was “communal clashes” .
On media platforms, Nigerians have reacted angrily. The government’s inability to tame the killer herders has been cited as one example to show that the US president Donald Trump was right in describing African countries as “shithole” recently. Nigeria is fast becoming a failed state, many say.